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Sex crimes detectives crack cold cases with innovative technique

Louisville Metro Police Department detectives are cracking cold case rapes using decades old notes and and ingenious spreadsheet.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For decades, previously unknown serial rapists have roamed the streets of Louisville. Now, a pair of detectives in Louisville Metro Police Department’s Major Crimes Division are going back in time, equipped with a new tool that’s providing answers in decades old cases.

In 2015, a state audit found a backlog of more than 3,000 untested rape kits in police storage units across Kentucky. The discovery brought an urgency to fund labs and clear the backlog with the hope that DNA matches may provide long-delayed justice. 

Technicians got started, aided by state and federal funding lawmakers quickly aimed at the problem. However, it would take longer for results, and not all kits provided answers.

While waiting for DNA hits to come back, two LMPD sex crimes detectives got to work connecting clues in cold case rapes in a way that had not been done before. Detectives Lindsay Lynch and Kris Pedigo devised a spreadsheet of information collected by past detectives on more than 1,100 cold case files for rape kits which had been sent off to be tested.

“We did our own legwork, our own boots on the ground legwork, and were able to come up with some real interesting findings,” Det. Lynch said.

Watch part 2 of this story in the player below:

Det. Pedigo called the spreadsheet “a moment of eureka.” With one simple tool, they were able build off the work of detectives before them and make connections in cold cases.

“And it has been exponential, the ground that we have gained. It's immeasurable,” Det. Pedigo said.

The spreadsheet contains victim information, suspect descriptions, locations, weapons used, words spoken, dates and times from the old case files. Detectives can search the spreadsheet for keywords and similarities in cases with two clicks of a button. It may sound simple, but it’s delivering results.

According to Det. Pedigo, the spreadsheet helped them determine at least five serial rapists were in the Louisville Metro area in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

“Once we started realizing what we had, it was almost like it lit a fire,” Det. Lynch said. “Because we wanted to continue. We wanted to help. We wanted to pull as much information possible to find closure for these poor victims.”

While some of the backlogged rape kits did provide DNA hits, others offered no answers. 

The process can be painful for victims, ripping open old wounds. Even if a kit comes back with no usable DNA, advocates must contact survivors about the results. It’s a phone call many do not expect after decades, and some do not want to be involved in prosecuting their attackers.

"A lot of the time, talking about a sexual assault is like reliving being sexually assaulted,” Det. Lynch said. “So, for some victims, they can't do it. They've put it behind them, and they can't do it.”

Dana Lackey is a sexual assault survivor who chose to face her predator in court. Sixteen years after the attack in Lackey’s home, DNA linked Henry Crawford to the sexual assault. Four years later, a judge handed Crawford a 200-year sentence at Green River Correctional Facility.

“There comes a time when you have to make that conscious decision,” Lackey said. “Do I allow this to control me and destroy me, ruin the rest of my life? Or do I take it and control it to make me a better person and to make me do something a little more worthwhile?”

Since the attack, Lackey found purpose as an advocate, working with the Center for Women and Children and serving as its Board Chair.

“I would love to be able to do anything and everything possible to help anybody else that’s been through this, to give them any kind of encouragement or hope that just because it has been two years or ten years or twenty years, it’s not dead in the water. There’s still hope,” Lackey said.

But sometimes justice comes too late. In 2018, DNA evidence showed Crawford raped another woman in 1983. The case was set for trial, but the 88-year-old victim, who had been waiting decades for answers, passed away.

Det. Pedigo met the victim while talking to her about her case, and the two became good friends. He said it was devastating when she passed because she never saw her attacker punished for his crime against her. He won’t be convicted in her case and it will remain unsolved.

“He's still in prison and he’s going to stay in prison and he's going to die in prison,” Det. Pedigo said. “But as I sit here today, he knows that I know, and he knows that she knew.”

Working with their spreadsheet to prevent other cases from going unsolved, the two detectives will be packing up for a trip to Oklahoma where they will interview a suspect.

“What we were able to determine from our spreadsheet is that this particular suspect had a very distinct MO, modus operandi, where he was using specific weapons and doing specific things and saying specific things,” Det. Lynch said.

“Through this spreadsheet and through tedious case study, we were like, these are all him. And there's a stack we're taking with us, and the win is us leaving from this road trip looking at each other after we get a confession,” Det. Pedigo said.

Since the development of the spreadsheet, other police departments have contacted LMPD with hopes a similar system could help others solve cold cases. An even bigger difference could be made by using this model to build a federal system, like the national DNA database, so every police agency could connect the dots with two clicks of a button.

Watch the full story in the player below:

Resources for victims of sexual assault

The Office of Victims Advocacy (KY) within the Office of the Attorney General has victim advocates on staff who can answer general questions about crime victim rights, the criminal justice process and related topics and provide referrals to victim advocates and other resources and services in your local area. Our advocates also provide notification of court proceedings, accompaniment to court proceedings and attorney interviews, assistance filing for victim compensation and restitution, referrals to community resources, guidance with victim impact statements, etc. in cases prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General. The hotline number is (800) 372-2551 or (502) 696-5312.

Center for Women and Families: visit thecenteronline.org or call 1-884-237-2331. For information on safety planning in a relationship, click here.

Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking: visit icesaht.org or find a rape crisis center near you, here.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 

►Contact reporter Chris Williams at cwilliams@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@chriswnews) and Facebook.

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