A group of investigators from the Tulsa Police Department — a national leader in clearing homicide cases — is working to change the way the world cracks unsolved crimes.
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Click here for a list of high-profile Tulsa cold cases as yet unsolved.
In early 1975, Mike Huff was just a Tulsa Police Department cadet working what would become his first homicide case. He was one of the first cadets employed by the department, working full-time while attending college until age 21, when he could be sworn in as a full-time officer.
Higher-ups had tasked him with searching for a missing law firm employee named Geraldine Martin.
The 28-year-old Tulsan had disappeared that Feb. 5 from the parking lot of the downtown campus of Tulsa Junior College after leaving an evening art class. Although called a missing-persons case, police suspected foul play.
“It did not matter what we called it,” Huff says. “We had the gut feeling it would end up a tragedy.”
Police eventually discovered Martin’s body on Feb. 24 in an abandoned apartment complex at 1129 N. Osage Drive.
She had been kidnapped, sexually attacked and strangled.
Huff did not know then that after three years of doggedly following leads, Tulsa investigators’ evidence trail would end and Martin’s murder case would go cold.
He did not know that a serial killer had lived in Tulsa in 1975 and added Martin to his list of victims.
And he did not know that the case that began his career would later mark a career-defining shift — a potential worldwide change in how cold cases are tracked, shared and eventually solved.
In 1980, after four years on the street, Huff was promoted to corporal and transferred to the Homicide Unit.
“For years I would follow leads assigned to me (that) referenced the Martin homicide,” he says.
Assembling the team
Today, Huff is the Tulsa Police Department’s homicide supervisor, overseeing the 185 cold cases the department is tracking. Some cases go back as far as 1968. And each case presents an always-shifting challenge for Tulsa’s one cold case detective, Eddie Majors.
Each case presents a myriad questions that must be answered, far beyond merely “who.”
Is the evidence still in police custody? Was anything returned to the victims’ families? Did the victims’ families keep it? What tests were run on that evidence? Were there witnesses? Are those witnesses still available to be questioned again, if necessary?
“There is no set time on solving a cold case,” Majors says. “Each case is unique in its own way. You may have a case where there was evidence with possible DNA and the lab looks at it and determines that it is degraded to a point that there is nothing there to test.”
Majors, along with volunteers called the Gray Squad, are proving that cold cases aren’t unsolvable. Since Majors began in 2003, he and the Gray Squad have solved four cold cases: the 1998 murder of Patrick Eli Woods, killed during a home invasion robbery; the 2005 murders of Geraldine Lawhorn and Donna Stauffer, both discovered murdered in their homes as a result of the same suspect; Ruth Izaguerre, found murdered in her home in 2001; and a 2001 drug-related homicide.
“My goal is to solve one or more a year,” Majors says.
For Patrick Eli Woods’ family, the work in the cold case division has provided closure. Majors says key witnesses provided information indicating Jason Hooks as the perpetrator. Officers came in contact with Hooks after receiving a domestic complaint from his girlfriend. Upon running a records check, officers determined that a warrant for first-degree murder was outstanding. In 2005, Hooks was arrested and, during an interrogation with Majors, confessed to Woods’ shooting.
“The family was ecstatic that finally their son’s murder case had been solved,” Majors says.