Cold Case Files
Sometimes murderers get away with their crime. Time goes by. Evidence is destroyed. Witnesses die. These are the types of challenges cold case investigators like Mike Burke must overcome to bring heinous villains to justice, sometimes decades after the trails have cooled.
In 2003, Burke retired from the Oklahoma City Police Department as a detective after 19 years of solving murder investigations. Three years ago, he went to work with the district attorney to track down killers who escaped the justice system. “There are a lot of them,” Burke says.
He chooses most cases on a solvability factor — cases with evidence but no conviction are most attractive because they are the easiest to solve. Sometimes Burke will pick a case with no evidence, if there is a clue.
He solved his oldest case just a few months ago. Virginia Keegan was found dead in October 1976. After more than 30 years, charges have been filed against her suspected killer thanks to Burke’s cold case investigation.
Burke is currently handling an open 1952 murder case. “The trouble is, a lot of the evidence has been destroyed. That makes it very frustrating at times,” he says.
Right now, Burke primarily works alone. His partner with the OCPD recently retired, but he expects to have a new partner again soon. Burke also receives help from Barton Carl, a volunteer retired neurosurgeon who searches through databases to find records for key cases.
At times, Burke focuses on only one case. Other times, he will investigate 10 simultaneously. “It just depends on if clues are coming in,” he says.
Burke isn’t hindered by time restraints regular investigators face. When he was a detective with the OCPD, as time went by, new cases would arise and old cases would shuffle to the backburner. He had to give his attention to what was most pressing. These days, he can work long periods of time on one case.
“I’ve even solved some of my old cases that I couldn’t solve before,” he says.
The older a case is, the harder it is to solve. Simple tasks that would have taken five minutes years ago when the cases were new, can take five days today.
“I’m looking at a case from 1983, and I’ve spent days and days trying to find people who have disappeared all over the country,” Burke says. “Sometimes, when I find out where they are, I find out that they’re dead.”
Burke uses police databases, arrest records through the FBI and OSBI, and private databases to search for witnesses who have fallen off the grid. He also contacts family members, if he can find them.
The OCPD has had cold case units off and on throughout the years, but a Federal grant to send cases off for DNA analysis allows the unit’s current iteration. “DNA is a wonderful thing that allows you to solve cases you couldn’t before,” Burke says.
The UCO Forensic Science Institute some-times assists in cold-case reviews, and often hosts the meetings of the Oklahoma Cold Case Investigators Association.
Detailed information on numerous cold cases from across the state can be found at www.coldcaseokc.com. According to the website, Edmond resident Pamela Tinsley got on a motorcycle at Lake Overholser in 1986 and was never heard from again. There have been some developments in the case in the last couple years. Anonymous phone calls and a never-before-opened letter have injected new life into the search.
Alan Rehrig, an Edmond High School graduate, was found dead in Oklahoma City in 1985. Rehrig was found in his vehicle, having suffered two gunshot wounds. Police initially assumed the cause of his death to be suicide, but they found no weapon in the locked vehicle.
Burke encourages anyone with information regarding an ongoing investigation to leave a voice mail with the cold case unit at 297-1127, or an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers at 235-7300.