Finding the missing and unknown: Novel educational approaches to warming up cold cases

Karsten Bettels, Dave Grimstead, Cheryl Allsop, Anna Chaussée, Rachel S. Bolton-King, Caroline Sturdy Colls, Brendan Chapman, David Keatley, Emma Tilley, Jo Turner, Samantha Spence, Annette Marquardt

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In recent years, students in police academies and higher education institutions around the world have worked together to analyse cold cases including long-term missing persons cases in collaboration with investigators and prosecutors. In 2020, three European organisations, the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP), AMBER Alert Europe and Locate International, succeeded in connecting these educational organisations enabling them to work collectively on cases and conduct cold case analyses (CCA) across international borders. The International Cold Case Project (ICCP) learning objectives were to 1) collect the necessary information about the victim, 2) reconstruct the crime, and 3) investigate trace control.
In a learning objective-based evaluation using CAWI (Computer-Assisted Web Interviewing), 76 participating students from the German and International ICCP teams were asked to complete a pre- and post-review questionnaire to self-assess their personal competence development. Participants reported significant increases in competence in all evaluated areas, thus demonstrating that authentic and relevant collaborations can enrich the learning environment, promote the use of professional skills, and provide significant knowledge exchange opportunities between academia and industry.
Drawing on case studies of cold case missing persons investigations and unidentified found remains, this article shares how university academics, students and community volunteers can work together nationally and internationally to find out what has happened to missing people and how we can more effectively identify the previously unidentified. In so doing, we share the expertise required to progress these cold cases and provide recommendations to support other institutions and organisations in adopting this innovative approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-757
Number of pages9
JournalScience and Justice
Issue number6
Early online date22 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Mar 2022


  • Academia-industry partnership
  • authentic learning
  • cold case
  • missing persons
  • international collaboration
  • investigation
  • review


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