Another Use for Playing Cards

Note: I'll be back next week with my next post on the Beau Ramsey disappearance. In the meantime, I offer this topic for Missing Persons Monday.

This past December, crime writer Stacy Horn discussed the State of New York dispensing playing cards to inmates that feature photos of missing persons and cold case homicide victims. The obvious hope is that those incarcerated will be able to provide new information on these baffling cases.

With New York's version:

...This deck was developed by Doug and Mary Lyall, whose daughter Suzanne went missing in 1998 when she was 19 years old. The deck comes with instructions about how the inmate can provide tips. The inmate is not required to identify themselves, although they may be eligible for a reward if they do...
Officials in New York are not the only state using this approach.

Since 2005, I saw that more than a dozen jurisdictions have used some version of a deck of cards featuring active investigations.

In reading about the strategy, I had two questions.


1) Do the Playing Cards Work in Generating More Tips?

I researched the issue and did not find the answer.

Ms. Horn's post does not say.

She includes total leads received for about 18 months regarding the cases featured on the playing cards, but, in reality, that new information could have come from numerous sources and not just the decks.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that a pair of cases have been solved using their decks:

In July 2007, approximately 100,000 decks of cold case playing cards were distributed to inmates in the state’s prisons. The two editions featured 104 unsolved cases from across Florida.

Two cases have been solved as a result: the murder of James Foote and the murder of Ingrid Lugo.

This year, state partners once again teamed up to develop a third edition deck. This deck was distributed to 65,000 inmates in all 67 county jails and to 141,000 supervised offenders serving on state probation. The third edition features 52 new unsolved homicide and missing persons cases.
In defense of measuring the approach's effectiveness it can be difficult to track the nature of the referral source when authorities are dealing with so many anonymous tips.

So, do the cards produce new case information?

It seems that this question would make for a difficult yet interesting research topic.

2) Should Missing Children Be Included?

Since the cards are being given to inmates, some who have been or are currently being held on sexual related offenses, I was curious if the cards include the cases of children.

In New York's effort, the answer is "Yes" as two of the fifty-two cards feature victims under 18 years of age.

Doug Lyall, the developer of the cards for New York, stated that he always gets permission from relatives before publishing the selected cases.

I skimmed through the decks of cards in Florida, and it appears that photos for any case featuring someone under 18 was not included, only a summary.

In addition, some of the Florida adult cases highlighted, like this card of 31-year old homicide victim "Pat" Amin, did not include a photo of the victim either:

In my opinion, not including a photo of an adult victim seems to defeat the purpose of the deck--someone seeing a familiar face that results in a new lead.


I think the playing cards are a good idea, but I would like to see a study of the results of this approach.

I would want to know information like:

--Which cases (fugitive, missing person, or unsolved homicide) are more likely to generate tips?

--Should the cards feature "new" investigations exclusively?

--How important is suspect information?
Also, I can understand why parents of missing children may want to have their son or daughter featured on a deck of playing cards as they desperately search for their loved ones.

Personally, I am not sold on giving all inmates cards that include photos of children. It would seem that some of those incarcerated, with lots of free time to conjure up fantasies, may use the cards in a demented way.

Obviously, this will not help society at all when these folks serve their time and are then released.


So, what did you think: should decks of cards be distributed to inmates that include the photos of missing children?


Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
What will they think of next? I think overall this is a good idea. Thinking about that reward, a parole hearing, all that time on their hands--

I don't know about the kid's pictures, though. I wouldn't think a face would be all that much, but on the other hand . . .

I would distribute the missing children card packs in elementary schools. I have heard (don't remember the reference) that only kids seem to recognize the kids on the milk cartons. Maybe it would work with Go Fish too!

Just a thought. This is all new to me.

Ann T.

M. Nicole Wall said...

Thank you, That was kind.

Sue said...

I like the idea of the cards, just not the idea of minor victims being on the cards. I think you're right, it would not be good for society.

wildstorm said...

Very interesting. I would like to read a study conducted on the results of this.

LadyFi said...

Seems like a good idea.. especially if it helps.

Stephanie Faris said...

I wonder why they chose not to include photos of adult victims? What was the point of not including child victims, actually, if it could solve an unsolved case?

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

I think this is a good idea...if only 2 cases get solved, well, that's two more that weren't before and two more families that have closure. Whether or not to include kids...that's a tough one. If it solves a case then yes! But if it's used for other not so great things, then no. I would say it would be up to the families.

AB HOME Interiors said...

I love this concept but I have to wonder if the inmates really CARE?? At that point do they have a conscious? And how easy is it for them to report tips. The program sounds easy, but when you get down to the nitty gritty are the programs ensuring totally anonymity? I have seen a lot of shows on prisons and they have a lot of gangs and cliques. I agree with Ann it may be a good idea to include other children. Great post

Conquer The Monkey said...

I hadn't heard of that but I like that some states are at least trying to be creative in generating leads on cold cases. I agree it is a dicier topic when including pix of children - I think they really need to have a stricter protocol on which inmates get those.....this is a tough one. keep us posted if any studies do come out, this is an interesting idea....

Luisa Doraz said...

With society changing on a daily basis, we need to do what works the best. Have a great week!

BobKat said...

Wow... novel idea! Can't even begin to imagine the potential of this effort, and as Ann T. suggested, including missing children on kids cards.

My one thought is the verbal information on the cards is wasted... has no purpose other than to educate inmates on crime stories; I believe simply a picture, that's it. A picture "speaks a thousand words", and should an inmate see the picture of a victim he/she recalls, it may be all it takes to create loose lips... inmates don't need to know ages or names... in fact, many of us don't remember or even know the names of victims. Children under age 15 or 16 should not be included, period. My opinion.

Amanda West said...

That is really such an out there idea. Not that I'm saying it's not effective, but I really can't say I have an opinion.

I'm still baffled.

CMA said...

love your blog, keep it up
as always, thanks for sharing
and thank you so so much for the lovely comments


Kristin said...

My instinct would be that more adult murders would be solved in this manner.

Alexysc said...

Great post. This is an innovative concept for my country, Malaysia. My opinion is that cards with kid's pictures should only be distributed to those incarcerated with no history of sexual related offenses only.
Perhaps this concept should be analyse and study carefully first before widely implemented.

Rowe said...

I think its a novel idea, SD, and I suppose if two cases have been solved then that can only be a good outcome. Like you, I'm not sure if distributing cards with photos of missing children to prisoners is a good idea, though, again if it means cases will be solved, then perhaps its not such a bad idea.

Ms. Coffee said...

Melting Snow is something that makes me happy as well!

Great list!

Holly said...

This whole idea is fascinating and like you I would love to see more of a study on them. I do think giving inmates the cards with children is a little creepy. I get why some would want it...but I can see bad things happening with that.

susieofarabia said...

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I've enjoyed looking thru yours - I was in police work decades ago myself and I've always been interested in the field. Some very cool stuff you've written about here.