Utah Cold Case Coalition hopes playing cards may lead to tips in unsolved homicide and missing-persons cases

Officials at the Utah Cold Case Coalition say a deck of playing cards could improve the odds of solving some long-dormant homicide and missing-persons investigations. And they are also upping the reward for tips leading to the closure of one of these hard-to-solve cases.

The coalition has compiled 54 cold cases and had them printed on decks of playing cards that will be sold to the public, organizers announced Wednesday as a preview of “Cold Case Month,” which begins Thursday.

“Our goal is to get the word out, to help these families, to help them bring closure,” said Renee VanTussenbrook, an investigator with the coalition, who spearheaded the playing-card project.

The 54 cases — one for each of the 52 numbered cards, plus two jokers — were chosen from the coalition’s database of more than 400 cases, said Karra Porter, one of the coalition’s lead organizers. The cases chosen have “a great chance of being solved,” she said.

Some of the better-known cases include West Valley City mom Susan Cox Powell (queen of diamonds), 3-year-old Rachael Runyan (5 of clubs), and 6-year-old Rosie Tapia (9 of clubs) — whose case was an inspiration for creating the Utah Cold Case Coalition.

VanTussenbrook said 750 decks were printed in the first run, by Carr Printing in Bountiful. The decks will be sold for $10 each on the coalition’s Facebook page and on eBay.

Some decks will be sold to a specialized audience: Prisoners, through the commissaries of county jails and the state prison, for $1.60 each.

“The guys in prison, they play cards, and they hear things — different people talk,” said Lillie Allen, whose daughter Sheree was killed in 2005. Sheree, whose body was found behind a video-store dumpster in West Valley City, is printed on the 2 of hearts in the deck.

Bobbie Dodge, whose son Cody was shot in West Valley City in 2007 in a possibly drug-related crime, knows about the prison grapevine. “The day my son was killed, Pelican Bay had the word that he had been shot,” Dodge said, referring to the supermax state prison in California.

Cody’s case appears on the deck’s 4 of spades. “These cards will help,” Bobbie Dodge said.

Twenty other states have printed decks with cold cases, VanTussenbrook said, and they have helped generate tips. In Connecticut, for example, four editions of cold-case decks have been distributed in the correctional system, and arrests or convictions were made in 20 of the cases featured in the first three decks, according to the New Haven Register.

The cards were also inspired by decks produced by the military, VanTussenbrook said. During World War II, playing card companies hid maps and information in decks the Red Cross delivered to prisoners of war. A deck listing the most wanted Iraqi government and military leaders — with Saddam Hussein as the ace of spades — were given to soldiers in the Iraq war.

Porter said that for Cold Case Month in August, the coalition will double the reward — to $6,000 — for information leading to the closure of one of its cold cases.