Florida's cold case advisory commission meets in St. Augustine to curb 'silent epidemic'

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A silent epidemic. That's what detectives are calling the growing number of unsolved murders in Florida and nationwide.

According to the state’s cold case advisory commission chairwoman, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, it’s estimated there are more than 80,000 missing persons in the U.S. with foul play suspected and an additional 10,000 bodies that remain unidentified.

“It’s a silent epidemic. It is vast and it is laborious; for that reason, this commission was formed,” Darnell said.

DNA experts, sheriffs and detectives from all over Florida gathered around a U-shaped table in St. Johns County Friday to review three cases that have run cold.

They were the 2015 murder of Putnam County Little League coach Thomas Wall, the 1982 murder of Richard Jackson in St. Augustine Beach and the 1985 murder of Pamela Cantaline in St. Lucie County.

“The more subject matter experts that can look at it and give you ideas, it gives you a better percentage of a possible suspect,” Lt. Robert Dean of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said.

Survivor and founder of Project: Cold Case Ryan Backmann, who years ago pushed for the formation of the commission, also has a seat at the table.

“We have an opportunity not only for me to ask questions that the families want to know, but the investigators look at me and are reminded why it’s so important that they’re doing this good work,” Backmann said.

The goal is for the commission to keep growing.

“The ideal thing would be to have a nationwide, and maybe someday down the road maybe an international, cold case commission,” said Sgt. Dan Janson of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Prosecutors from various counties were also in attendance. They’re crucial because investigators need to know if the cases are prosecutable.

The commission meets quarterly in different Florida cities and provides recommendations to law enforcement agencies.