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Unsolved: An Inside Look at the Cold Case Program at Western Michigan University

Have you ever wanted to help solve a cold case?

Some students at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo are doing just that.

They’ve already helped Michigan State Police solve one case, and are pouring through a fresh round of cases and evidence this semester.

These student’s aren’t doing suspect interrogations, but they are helping State Police with what can be one of the most time consuming parts of a cold case.

“So at first we started scanning documents from cold cases that detectives have given us to do. Then we make that into a collapse pdf file for detectives to look through on their phone to make it easier for them to go through big binders full of just paperwork of all of these cases,” said one student.

Condensing all that material down from boxes and boxes of files to a searchable PDF saves detectives countless time and energy when chasing down potential new leads, and sometimes those leads or ideas on where to turn next come straight from the students.

All that meticulous work paid off in 2022 when State Police announced the arrest of a man tied to a west Michigan cold case.

“I know it makes it sound really good, doesn’t it? I love this. We have 100% success. I keep telling everybody that real quick,” said Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten who leads the program.

“I think for me the kind of biggest moment was attending Patrick Gilham sentencing. I was involved with the Roxanne Wood case, and getting to go down there and see that moment of justice and closure and get to meet her family really just drove home how big and important the work we’re doing here is,” said Student McKenzie Stomman.

And all that ‘in classroom’ experience is translating to invaluable ‘real world’ experience.

“These students really are the leaders of tomorrow. They are the most educated people that we have in American society. And so regardless of what they decide to do, how cool is that that they have seen in detail what a police file looks like? They have seen in detail what good policing looks like? I think that’s really important considering many of the controversies that are going on in American society today,” said Dr. Kuersten.