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Prisoners get hands of cold cases

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State prison inmates this week got a glimpse at unsolved Bernalillo County homicides, and all they had to do was say, “Show ’em.”

In April, the sheriff’s department distributed playing cards with pictures and information about 52 unsolved homicide and missing person cases to inmates at the county jail. This week, that program was expanded to all state prisons.

“It’s sort of thinking outside the box to solve some of these cases that have been sitting on the books for 25 or more years,” said BCSO spokesman Sgt. Aaron Williamson. “… The broader net we can cast with these cards, the greater opportunities we have to solve these cases for these families.”

Williamson said 4,000 decks of cards were sent to state prisons. The decks contain information about 44 unsolved homicides, in addition to eight missing persons cases. The card on top has a picture of Sheriff Dan Houston.

High-profile cold cases shown on the cards include the deaths of George and Elma Rigel, an elderly couple found dead at their home in the 300 block of Tyler Road NW in Albuquerque in July 1986. They were found with bound hands and plastic bags tied over their heads.


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Another case, which was reopened this week, is that of Tara Calico, who went missing from Valencia County in September 1988 while on a bike ride.

The playing cards idea came from a larger overhaul of BCSO’s cold case unit. That change included adding two dedicated investigators to cold cases, Williamson said.

Other states, including Illinois, Florida and Washington, have circulated cold case decks in their prisons. Those states have reported at least three solved murders due to tips from inmates who played with the cards.