Cold cases in South Lake Tahoe about to get ‘fresh set of eyes’

The South Lake Tahoe Police department currently has 13 cold cases dating as far back as 1970.
Provided / SLTPD

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Lieutenant Jeff Roberson says he never forgets a name or a witness and if someone describes the circumstances, he can usually name the case.

“Sometimes when a case does drop off, you take it personal,” he says, and at times asks, “what else could I have done?” He explains leads are exhausted, there’s no direction to go, and the case has reached a halt—gone cold.

The South Lake Tahoe Police department currently has 13 cold cases dating as far back as 1970. The department is about to receive some help with them. A group of retired investigators seeking to make a dent in the nation’s cold case list is turning to South Tahoe’s mystery cases. Roberson says they’ll provide a “fresh set of eyes on cold cases.”

Retired investigators are volunteering their time to provide a fresh set of eyes on the 13 cold cases with the City of South Lake Tahoe’s Police Department.
Provided / SLTPD

The Retired Investigators Guild has offered $10,000 worth of hours, potentially more, to the city. The nonprofit is a team of expert retired and former major case investigators.

“This is a group of guys who have been cops forever,” Roberson says. They’ve investigated high end crimes and serial crimes all over the country he explains.

Roberson says he and the department hopes the group can provide fresh perspective with new investigative direction after evaluating work already done on the cases.

In his years with the department, Roberson has seen a hand full of cold cases resolved. Sometimes, he says, it’s about waiting for technology to catch up, “Just because I [knew] who the suspect was, that doesn’t give me enough to prosecute,” referring to the 1980 murder of teen, Richard Swanson.

The 16-year old was beaten, wrapped in duct tape and left to suffocate in a south Y gas station storage room where he worked. DNA on the duct tape matched DNA taken during an unrelated booking in 2011 of main suspect Andrew Evan Sanford. The department had uploaded the duct tape DNA sample to the Combined DNA Index System -CODIS- prior.

He says other times, relationships change and people want to talk. He discusses the U.S. Gasoline Station shooting on Lake Tahoe Boulevard in 2013. “There was significant change in one of the witnesses’ perspectives of her relationship and basically called and said, ‘I know who did this.'”

Roberson says, “Not all cold cases have bad endings.” He describes an 18 year-old missing person’s case, resulting in the missing victim being found alive. Through a series of events the victim was arrested in Seattle and her prints matched a set from a work application in the early eighties.

The lieutenant says there is a spectrum of reasons for a cold case. Some are homicides, and other times people just want to be off the grid.

The Tribune plans on doing a series in the future, discussing each cold case in South Lake Tahoe.

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