Cold Case Squad: Modern-Day 'Sherlock Holmes' Team Takes on Oregon Slaying

Photo: Modern-Day Sherlock Holmes Team Takes on Oregon Slaying: Killing of Leah Freeman, 15, Was Cold for 10 Years. Then The Vidocq Society Got Involved.
Share
Copy

In the summer of 2000, 15-year-old Leah Freeman went missing in Coquille, Ore. For almost a week, the Coquille Police Department, led by Chief Mike Reeves, treated it as a missing person case, believing that the teen had run away.

Yet on the night the teen disappeared, an ominous discovery was made. A man picked up a shoe by the side of a town road. He thought it belonged to his daughter. It was not until days later, after the town's search for Leah had grown increasingly anxious, that he turned the shoe over to police.

The police identified the shoe as Leah's. On it they discovered blood.

Six weeks passed before Leah's mother, Cory Courtright, got the call from police that would end her hopes that Leah was still alive. Another discovery had been made.

"I still let the denial take over," Courtright said. "I wanted to... I wanted to go back in time. I didn't want, I didn't want to go home. I didn't want to hear the final news. I didn't want to hear it."

A search team had come upon a macabre scene just off an isolated lumber road about five miles outside of town.

Leah Freeman's decomposed body lay on a steep hillside, apparently dumped from the road above.

Case Goes Cold for 10 Years

For 10 years, the case went unsolved. Authorities say circumstantial evidence pointed to Leah's 18-year-old boyfriend. But there was no hard evidence to link him to the crime.

Then a new police chief, Mark Dannels, took an aggressive approach to the case. A room at the police station was devoted to the unsolved mystery.

What Dannels did next would finally open a possible way forward. He called The Vidocq Society.

The Vidocq Society

Known as the heirs of Sherlock Holmes, the Philadelphia-based Vidocq Society gathers ace detectives from around the world to solve the world's most perplexing cold cases. The group -- formed by freewheeling forensic sculptor Frank Bender, FBI and U.S. Customs agent William Fleisher and preeminent forensic psychologist and profiler Richard Walter -- has pledged itself to a grand quest for justice.

"People think of them as wizards who sort of peep and mutter and go into a back room and come out and say, 'He did it,'" said Philadelphia crime writer Michael Capuzzo, who profiles the group in his book, "The Murder Room."

Dannels said he did not hesitate to call for outside help.

"In a cold case, I'll take any resource I can to help solve this case," Dannels said. "And when we have something of that magnitude offer up services, we're all over it. ... And when you bring all this expertise together... it's one stop shopping. You got all the expertise in one room at one time."

Vidocq Society: Famous Cases

The society is named after Eugene Francois Vidocq, Napoleon's chief detective and the father of modern criminology. Vidocq was practicing rudimentary police science 100 years before the FBI or Scotland Yard was even formed.

The Vidocq Society is filled with colorful characters. Fleisher, the customs agent, is a "tough, skeptical Philly guy," Capuzzo said, who specializes in lie detector test analysis. Fleisher explained the society's criteria for taking a case.

"Case has to be over two years old," Fleisher said. "And we have to have police cooperation."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...