LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The most visible part of what Arkansas State Police do can be seen on any given day on any given interstate. A trooper in a crisp blue uniform and campaign hat, the white cruiser & blue lights pulling someone over or writing a ticket.
But off of the roadways of the Natural State, deep inside Arkansas State Police Headquarters, ASP Director Col. Mike Hagar described the important work being done by investigators tackling stacks of cases behind closed doors in small offices.
“There is part of the State Police out there that your average citizen doesn’t know about,” Hagar said. “There are a lot of cases that are pretty complex. It takes a lot of investigative work.”
Chief among those complex investigations are cold cases. Leads have been followed, suspects cleared and evidence collected, but none of it has solved the cases. Sometimes the trails go cold for years, if not decades, letting killers get away with murder.
Still, even with the challenges facing his agents, Hagar said criminals who think they may have gotten away with their crimes should not be so certain.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” he warned them. “We have a lot of really good investigators.”
Major Stacey Rhoads is at the tip of the spear of the ASP Criminal Investigations Division, leading the way for those state investigators. She is now developing and building the ASP Cold Case Division and has more than 20 years in CID.
Rhoads has seen it all in her law enforcement career, from camping out for days during standoffs and shootouts with killers while eight months pregnant to being part of solving high profile murder cases making national headlines. She’s a Marine veteran driven by getting results, and she says the ASP Cold Case Division is getting them.
“A 2013 homicide in Saline County. We got a DNA hit and proved who had strangled a woman in Saline County,” she said, outlining a recent success.
The ASP has always investigated its cold cases, but in 2020 it started this unit specifically dedicated to the purpose. Time and manpower were limited, though. This year the agency has been cleared to add special agents to its cold case ranks.
It can be a taxing job. Rhodes explained that investigators carry those unsolved cases with them for years.
“We take it personally, and as time goes on we tend to lose a little hope in that,” she said. “And this gives us that hope back.”
Rhoads explained that the focus when cold case investigators set their sights on heating up a case isn’t looking at what past earlier detectives did or did not do but rather to see if there is something, anything that can lead them to an answer.
“Their goal is not to look at the case with a critical eye. We don’t go to a case and say look what this guy screwed up. That’s not our focus,” she said. “Our focus is is there enough content to pull a string and unravel the case. We’ve been successful doing that many times so far.”
That moment of finding a new spark in a cold case is what Rhoades says is the goal of her team.
“When you can go to that person and say, ‘You thought you were going to get away with it. Now you’re coming with me.’ There is no better feeling than that,” she said.