The FBI Uniform Crime Report states there are more than 250,000 unsolved murders across the USA, a number that grows by 6,000 a year. Why the staggering backlog? Only 5% of America’s busy police departments can afford a staff of cold case investigators.
With many communities at a boiling point, a small army of volunteers — with law and order and public safety in their DNA — are stepping in to help overwhelmed agencies.
Los Angeles-based documentarians Thomas J. and Dawna Colbert began their private effort to recruit a nominal cold case team back in 2011. Most of the Good Samaritans were former law enforcement students from Tom’s 18 years at the state’s Office of Emergency Services school, the California Specialized Training Institute (Camp San Luis). But word of mouth quickly brought more specialists from around the nation, offering their expertise by fax, phone, the internet and in the field.
Now a decade later, the 40-member task force led by retired FBI agents provides a combined 1500 years of skill sets in policing, criminal justice, forensic, academic and investigative knowledge. Credited with cop-crowdsourcing and cracking some of America’s most difficult mysteries, their nickname has been branded: The Case Breakers.
With the support of government and corporate partners, this non-profit entity has three goals: solving cold cases, funding more volunteer teams, and promoting careers in all branches of public service.
About the Founders
Tom and Dawna Colbert crossed paths in 1990 while each was trying to solve a crime that personally affected them. Both cases led to arrests and convictions; they were later separately portrayed in TV movies for those efforts.
Since their 1993 marriage, they’ve supported public safety causes and humanitarian missions. A few samples:
2004-2011: Shannen Rossmiller (left-center, at FBI seminar) was a savant, a municipal judge and a mother of 3 when the 9/11 attack hit. Furious, she taught herself a 4th dialect, Arabic, so she could sting terrorists online. She was credited with more than 200 cases of actionable intelligence and takedowns around the globe. But when the FBI wouldn’t fund this hero’s work, the Colberts did – for 8 years.
2009: Outraged by four separate anti-Semitic graffiti attacks on a Jewish preschool, the Colberts recruited a diverse group of citizens – Christens, Muslims and atheists – to fund and mount a security camera system (Rabbi at far-left, with camera company owner). As one contributor put it, “3-to-5-year-old kids shouldn’t have to face swastikas at drop-off.”
2010-11: With a dozen police and fire agencies facing budget and jurisdictional-response time concerns in their rural county, the Colberts invited all of the chiefs and their mates to a pair of backyard BBQs for casual introductions and initial discussions – media and politicians not invited. The events also honored their department officers and firefighters of the year.
2012: The Colberts spent many Saturdays with their pre-teen kids in the kitchen of their county rescue mission. Despite the community’s weekly generosity of materials and food, the couple learned of the shelter’s financial shortcomings. Months into assembling their national cold case team, they found time to organize a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser for the mission (Tom with shelter director).