AKRON, Ohio -- Detective Bertina M. King is the only officer currently investigating the city’s backlog of more than 900 unsolved rape cases. She’s working part-time on the cases outside of her normal daily assignments investigating murders, felonies, rapes and robberies.
“This is where we keep all the cold case files,” Detective King said, as she walked through a large storage room inside the Akron Police Department.
“This goes to 1998 in this drawer and then we’ll start ‘98 across and it goes all the way up to the current files,” she said, pulling out the drawers of a stuffed-full filing cabinet.
The cabinet contains the cases with rape kits recently back from the state crime lab and are now sitting practically untouched.
“We need to act on them to get the victims notified and people arrested,” King said.
Investigating the 900-some cases is extremely time consuming. Detective King has to actually leave her office and track down old victims, witnesses and suspects from years ago and then bring the case to the prosecutor.
“If I actually do it full-time it would take only take me 42 years to finish all of them,” King says.
King and her colleagues at the department have applied for a $1-million grant to form an investigative team to work on all the cases.
“What we're looking for is three detectives; we’re going to have a crime analyst to help keep our files together,” she explains.
The grant would also pay for victims’ advocates and assistance as well as new office equipment including a dedicated phone line, printers, scanners and a new filing cabinet.
The team would also have to create a database for the cases and then log the details of each case into it.
“You want everything to be scanned into the computer, all reports, all evidence, so if another jurisdiction were to call you, you could just email them,” she said.
King says the cases are so old that in some of them the victims have passed away or moved on with their lives. In others, the suspects have moved to other states, been convicted of other crimes, or were never identified.
She also says she has to personally knock on many of the victims’ doors and carefully ask them to relive some of the worst moments of their lives.
“People are like, ' Oh my God, I thought you would never find out who did it to me,' or, 'I thought that you guys didn’t care,'" she said.
“This lady was inside of her apartment with her two children sleeping, knocked her down and proceeded to rape her,” King says reading from one of the case files.
“This is one that we’d like to look at a little bit more,” King says after glancing over the file from the early 90s.
If and when the department gets the grant money, King says the team’s priorities will be the cases close to the statute of limitations and finding suspects with multiple rape victims.
“I don’t want them to look at me and say, ‘well you didn’t do anything about my case,'" King said. “It’s something that I don’t want to re-hurt you or do any more harm but I just feel like if I can help a person, that’s what I’m here for,” she said.
Detective King says there is a good chance several of the suspects in the unsolved rape cases are linked to other crimes in other jurisdictions.
If the department is awarded the grant King says the team will likely be able to get a good handle on the cases in just three years.
The department should hear on the status of their application in October or November.