'We do not forget about them.' NJ state police unit aims to solve decades-old cold cases
The New Jersey State Police Cold Case Unit works to bring justice to decades-old cases and closure to the victims' families.
For nearly two years, this state police unit has been digging through the past, working to solve cold cases where all leads were exhausted, sometimes decades ago.
"We'll go back as far as we can," says Sgt. Joe Itri. "If there's a really old case, but we think that there's potential to solve it, it's worth solving."
Last week, the unit positively identified a missing woman found murdered in Warren County in 1991. For 30 years she was only known as "Tiger Lady" after the tattoo on her left leg.
"Clean slate. We had nothing on her, we had no idea who she was or where she came from," says Detective First Class Rick Kuhrt. "That tattoo was the red herring. The family members had no idea she had a tattoo."
Kuhrt and the unit did something different than past investigators. They used genetic genealogy by taking DNA from a tooth and matching it with genealogy databases.
"It gives us possible matches that we could have with our unidentified victim," Kuhrt explains.
That led them to Desi Baker, of Pennsylvania, and a DNA confirmation that "Tiger Lady" was his niece, Wendy Louise Baker.
"I said our job is to bring her home to you, and now she's home with you," Kuhrt says.
With "Tiger Lady" positively identified, detectives are now working on another cold case from Warren County: the body of a teenage girl found in a cemetery in 1982. She is known as "Princess Doe."
"She had multiple facial and head fractures," says Detective Matthew McConville. He adds that investigators in 1982 and afterward ran down more than 600 leads on "Princess Doe."
"The priority is to identify who she is because there's a family out there that doesn't know where their daughter or sister went," McConville says.
The state police have 200 open murders and missing persons cases from as far back as the 1930s and takes additional cases referred from local law enforcement.
"We're making it known that these cases matter. We do not forget about them, we are working on them, and everybody has value," Itri says.
Anyone with information on the murder of Wendy Baker, the identity of "Princess Doe" or any other cold case can call the unit at 833-4NJ-COLD.