ASHEBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation says there are currently about 270,000 unsolved homicides in the United States, with that number increasing by about 6,000 every year.

The trouble is that only about 7% of our country’s police departments have designated cold case units, and with too many new cases coming in, they’re often left struggling to keep up.

On a Monday night in Asheboro, SBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Nate Thompson stood in front of a room of more than 50 people inside the Randolph County Public Library, to talk about what the agency is doing to help. While the SBI is an assisting agency, it is looking to lead the state in how it approaches some of today’s most exciting technology when it comes to cracking cases that have been sitting on shelves.

“I do want to help the general public in what’s the next step,” Thompson said, after several people asked him questions about cases they were familiar with, many, with victims they were familiar with.

According to Thompson, the national homicide solvability rate is about 66 percent. In North Carolina, it’s more like 82 percent.

“We solve a lot of our homicides,” he said.

But when multiple agencies become involved, many with different capabilities or resources, Thompson said being on the same page is paramount.

“It’s a force multiplier when everybody’s involved and everybody works together, and you put politics aside, and your ego aside and you really try to solve the case,” he added.

The gaps in standards and training are emphasized when it comes to modern-day technology being used to solve the coldest of cases, including those with unidentified victims.

Investigative genealogy.

In other words, using genealogy compiled through databases containing using consumer DNA to identify suspects in violent crimes. However, Thompson detailed law enforcement cannot see the DNA makeup submitted to the databases, just the person’s genealogy, which they can then use to identify a suspect, whose DNA they could then compare to evidence.  

“Here we are 2023 and they’ve been able to solve it,” said Jennifer McCollom, who attended Thompson’s talk.

Thompson explained 545 cases with an unidentified victim gave been solved since law enforcement started utilizing it.

When it comes to how genealogy is applied in investigations, Thompson said the SBI wants to lead the state in the best practices.

“It only takes one agency to mess up, and it ruins that tool for other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Thompson points to two cold cases that were recently solved in the Piedmont as proof of the power of genealogy in investigations; the 1992 murder of Nona Cobb which was solved 30 years later, and the 1987 murder of Mary Mathis Davis that was closed last month.

“I think that gives closure to a lot of, maybe the victims’ families and stuff like that,” McCollom said.

Thompson said the next step, however, is going to take more manpower. He’s currently lobbying the general assembly for 13 positions to fully outfit the SBI’s cold case unit. Two of those positions, he detailed, would be genealogists performing investigative genealogy.

“Over time, relationships change. People get divorced, people aren’t friends anymore. Guess what? That case that was unsolved, there may be someone there that knows something that’s willing to talk,” he said. “You just have to go and re-approach them again.”