Crimewatch: APD Cold Case Unit to merge with Missing Persons

Crimewatch: APD Cold Case Unit to merge with Missing Persons

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The Austin Police Homicide Cold Case Unit is merging with the Missing Persons Unit.

The goal is to get homicide investigators involved in missing persons cases early on, since some missing persons cases turn into cold cases.

Lt. Michael Eveleth point to missing Austin woman, Roxanne Paltauf, as a good example why the two units need to combine.

Paltauf disappeared July of 2006.

She was last seen at a Budget Inn, near I-35 and Rundberg Lane. She was staying at the hotel with her boyfriend, Lewis Walls. Walls reported that Roxanne left the hotel after they had been arguing and that she never came back.

He claims the last time he had seen her was around 8:30 p.m. that evening.

We asked Lt. Eveleth a pointed question.

"Do you think a difference could have been made in the Roxanne Paltauf case if cold case got involved or homicide?"

He replied, "at this point, it doesn't appear that way because our Missing Persons detectives did get out, worked the scene, did everything that they could have done."

Police are also conducting an audit on their outstanding missing persons cases.

Cassandra Sistone is the administrative specialist in charge of the audit.

So far, the audit shows 100 cases but that number is expected to drop.

Police say sometimes, loved ones don't call police to say the missing person is back home or many go back to Mexico.

"The audit is to make sure we have actual missing people in that database."

In the Cold Case Unit, detective Richard Faithful is working the two oldest cases, 19-year-old, Debra Stewart, and 21-year-old, Jennifer Barton. They were last seen May 1976.

Since he took over the investigations, he's noticed similarities. Both disappeared on the same day or within a day of each other. Both were last seen in East Austin around the 11th and 12th Streets area.

Now he's looking to see if they are related. But as with any cold case, there are challenges.

"Probably a lot of these people are dead or not in Austin anymore or they're so old that their memory has changed," said Faithful.

Cold Case investigators currently have 164 cases. They have solved 25 since the unit was created in 2000.

One of the most recent is Debra Baker's murder case.

In looking for other leads in Baker's investigation, officers uncovered evidence that expedited Michael Morton's release from prison.

Morton spent nearly 25 years behind bars for the murder of his wife, Christine Morton. He was released from prison last year after DNA proved his innocence.

Mark Norwood is now charged with Christine Morton's murder. Earlier in November, he was also indicted for Debra Baker's murder.

But the most well-known case and the investigation behind the creation of the cold case unit remains unsolved.

In the Cold Case office, there are models of the "I Can't Believe Its Yogurt" Shop off Anderson Lane in Central Austin, the site where four young girls died gruesome deaths in 1991.

Investigators say they have tested some 200 samples of men to try to match that one unknown male DNA discovered.

This is the one case Sgt. Ron Lara says he needs to solve before retiring.

He's one of the original Yogurt Shop investigators.

"I think it's important for everybody to know that we're very flexible in terms of how we look at that case so if there are other suspects, we look at everything, and that's important for us, that we just don't focus on one thing, we look at whatever tips that come in," said Lara.

Cold Case investigators are packing and getting ready for the move.

They are expected to be in their new office at police headquarters on 8th Street December 7.

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