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Ohio cold case squad makes progress on decades-old cases

Ohio cold case squad makes progress on decades-old cases
By Marika Price with NBC News
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Detective Jeff Seevers retired after 15 years of leading the Washington County Ohio Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit.

Most days, Detective Jeff Seevers spends his time in a room surrounded by white boards and case files. For a working detective, it's not too strange a scene. But Seevers isn't a working detective - he's a 58-year-old retiree choosing to spend his golden years poring through documents and analyzing old interviews. All in the name of solving cases - cold cases.

"It's like reading a good book. You want to keep going and see what happens," Seevers told Dateline.

Detective Jeff Seevers (far left) and Detective Bruce Schuck (far right), two members of the Washington County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Squad. Detective Jeff Seevers

In 2008, after 15 years leading the Washington County Ohio Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit, Seevers was ready to shift his focus from law enforcement to his lawn care business. It didn't take much time, however, for the longtime detective to get drawn back in by the lure of the unsolved mystery. In 2011, just three years into his retirement, Seevers was approached by Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks to look into some cold case homicides. And the Washington County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Squad was born.

The five-person team -- made up of Seevers and his partner, Sheriff's Deputy Bruce Schuck, a special agent, and two attorneys -- brings more than 80 years of experience and top-notch determination to the table.

Most recently, the squad re-examined the 1992 murder case of Patsy Sparks, an 18-year-old woman who was missing for two years before her body was found in a wooded area of Ohio. Seevers and his team were able to obtain new evidence that has now led to an indictment more than a quarter century after Patsy's disappearance.

"We're just trying to get answers for families," Seevers said. "You have to find out what this person was like and see who they hang out with. You end up learning a lot about who the person once was.

Here's an edited conversation between Dateline and cold case Detective Jeff Seevers:

Dateline: How does your squad get a case?

Det. Seevers: If there was a homicide today it would go to major crimes. If six months goes by and they can't go anywhere with it, or there are other cases at that time, the sheriff would review it and make the decision to see if it would go to our unit.

Dateline: What is the review process like?

Det. Seevers: We pick the case by the clear-ability of it. The unfortunate thing is that the case files are so large. One case is 20,000 documents. Each of the investigators gets a copy and then when they review that, we get together. At that point we start building an investigation after we strategize everything.

Dateline: How many cases do you research at one time?

Det. Seevers: We dedicate 100 percent to one case. We don't allow ourselves to work more than one case at a time. It keeps us focused.

Dateline: How important is the family's involvement?

Det. Seevers: It's very important. Once we are 100 percent sure the family is not involved in the crime, we try to make sure they are included. We want to make them a part of our team, because we are giving all of our resources to find their loved one.

Dateline: Does any case stand out to you?

Det. Seevers: I don't want to take anything away from the other cases I've worked on, but in 2016 we went to trial for the 1981 murder of Lieutenant Ray Clark. I remember telling my wife, "I want to help find out who did this."

Dateline: How many years did you work on that case?

Det. Seevers: It was close to a year and a half before we made an arrest. We didn't have a cold case unit back at the time when it happened. In 2002, we were reviewing it again, but we had another homicide that called us away. When the sheriff asked me to start looking at cold cases this was the one he wanted done.

Dateline: What are the most important qualities to have as a cold case detective?

Det. Seevers: Experience and determination. We bring 80 or so years of experience together, and each one of us has our own sense of expertise. Once we get momentum going, then we start building it and moving forward. Sometimes at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., I may text my partner with a thought and, you know, he'll text me right back.

Dateline: We get a lot of cold cases submitted to us. What steps do you recommend families take to get answers?

Det. Seevers: They should get in contact with the investigators and establish communication with them. Start to build a relationship with detectives and keep checking in every now and again. But remember, it's not always a guarantee that [detectives] will provide information, because they may feel a family member is involved. Family members or close friends are usually the people who are looked at first.

For more of Dateline NBC's reports on cold cases, read articles from our digital series 'Cold Case Spotlight.'

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