Charles Brewster has basically given up.
He doesn’t even count the years since a jogger stumbled upon the body of his 26-year-old son Barry “Scott” Brewster beneath an arroyo bridge at the edge of a Northeast Albuquerque park.
He thinks it’s 16, but this summer will mark the 20th anniversary of the grisly discovery.
The slaying joins nearly 500 other cold case files, dating to 1971, in a secure vault at the Albuquerque Police Department headquarters.
According to Detectives Oscar Medrano and Ric Ingram, cases like Scott Brewster’s go cold, and stay cold, for a variety of reasons: retiring homicide detectives, non-existent evidence, no witnesses.
With the city experiencing record-breaking homicide numbers – 75 in 2017 – the cold case count likely will rise, too.
But Ingram said the rise in homicides could equate to more staffing and, as a result, more cold case detectives being hired.
Currently, three detectives oversee hundreds of cases that remain inactive without a lead, are extremely time intensive and rely on old-school police work in addition to technological advances.
“We have to use our time wisely,” Medrano said.
For a cold case to become active, it starts with a break that can manifest in many ways – an anonymous tip, a guilty conscience or a DNA match.
A bloody Band-Aid
For convicted killer Jedidiah Rose, 38, it came down to a bloody Band-Aid.
Rose confessed to the 1996 murder of Richard Brodbeck after lab tests matched his DNA to a bloody Band-Aid left at the scene.
Rose told police he beat Brodbeck to death with a vase and other objects before stealing his car.
A longtime friend of Brodbeck’s found his body beneath a pile of laundry the day before his birthday. He would’ve been 44 years old.
“Then the waiting started,” the friend said during a phone interview Wednesday.
The waiting stopped more than two decades later when she received a phone call from a detective.
“It was like, ‘We found him,’ ” she said.
The woman was subpoenaed for an interview with the district attorney, but Rose pleaded guilty before it went to trial.
“He pled out to a lesser sentence than I would’ve given him,” she said.
The woman sat with Brodbeck’s family in court as a judge handed Rose a 10-year prison sentence.
In an email Friday, Brodbeck’s sister told the Journal the family was disappointed at the length of time Rose will spend behind bars but said she was thankful to the cold case detectives for not giving up on her brother’s murder over 21 years.
“Without them we would not have made it through this process,” she said.
“We always felt that this case would be solved. It just took longer than we had hoped.”
After Rose’s trial, family and friends laid a rose at a plaque for Brodbeck at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden.
“We were all relieved and sad,” his longtime friend said of the occasion. “It’s closure, but it still hurts.”
Brodbeck would’ve been 65 now.
Plea deals and confessions don’t always come.
Medrano said even with something so certain as a hit on a DNA profile, that’s only the beginning of a long process.
“I’m going to work it all the way through until I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “It’s very time-consuming.”
Medrano solved his first cold case in December, almost two years after opening the file.
While Ingram said homicide detectives can sometimes close a fresh case in a few months, it took Medrano six months just to “strip the case down.”
Medrano said that involves diligence and “old-school police work,” going over every report, interviews, evidence, phone records and crimes scene photos.
“Knocking on people’s doors, interviewing people, looking at the reports, analyzing everything in the case file – you’re going to have a lot more success,” he said.
Medrano said two people were arrested after he solved that case in December and now face indictments. But that’s about all he’ll say.
Medrano wouldn’t identify the suspects, the victim or any other case details.
When asked, Ingram said cold cases are very sensitive and need to go through a court process before any information is released, since it could complicate the investigation.
Although Ingram said cold cases become harder to solve the more time passes, Medrano said he believes the chances also go up as new methods of testing evidences are derived.
“In time, we’re only going to be able to do a better job,” he said.
Families left wondering
Yet, many cases remain cold and families are left wondering.
“I think about him a lot,” Charles Brewster says from his home in Ocean Springs, Miss.
The ashes of his son sit in an urn on a table in the front room.
“Still a lot of pain in my heart every damn day,” he said.
The whole family – Brewster’s parents, sister and nieces – uprooted to Mississippi less than two years after his son’s death.
Then, he said Albuquerque police stopped responding to their emails and stopped checking in about the case.
Brewster’s father is quick to admit he holds some grudges.
“I felt like I was just thrown away,” he said. “It’s just a cold case that’s going to stay like that until hell’s frozen over.”
Brewster holds the two detectives who initially took his son’s case – Carla Gandara and Rick Foley – in high regard.
“They kept us in touch all the time,” he said. “That helps. You’re not left in the cold someplace, like I am now.”
There were leads here and there, but Brewster said it wasn’t long before shifts in administration, along with a new police chief, led to those detectives leaving and radio silence for the family.
“With what happened there, I want to forget Albuquerque,” he said. “I guess you use the old saying, ‘When I die, maybe I’ll see him again. But only if he’s going down the same place I am at.’ ”
Medrano and Ingram said for families still waiting, communication is key.
“It’s a sensitive nature when you’re calling people and asking them: ‘Hey, can we talk about your loved one that was murdered?’ ” Ingram said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about it.”
Charles Brewster has their number now. He said he will use it.