Duo keeping area's cold cases alive
Don Pollock and Nuno Tavares spend their days trying to solve mysteries. More specifically, they’re hoping to solve cold cases in Placer County.
Pollock, a detective with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, and Tavares, an investigator with the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, have been reviewing cold case files since 2008.
Their work is funded through a Department of Justice grant specifically targeting cold cases with potential DNA evidence.
Placer County was one of five agencies to receive funding in California, Pollock noted.
The first months were devoted to reviewing cold cases to determine which had potential DNA evidence.
In the end, the unit is focusing on 35 cold cases — the oldest dating back to 1962.
“In the past, cold cases were worked on when people had time to do it,” Pollock said. “The Crimes Against People Unit was so overwhelmed they had no time. Now there are two detectives dedicated to cold cases.”
Nevertheless, the work is
agonizingly slow and tedious.
“It’s been frustrating to go through and try to build a case on leads that are continually coming up dead-ends,” Tavares said.
Both officers recognize that witnesses no longer have clear memories or may have died.
Still, they believe there are other individuals who may have information that could lead to an arrest.
“It’s really important that people think back if they recognize the names or family,” Pollock said. “Perhaps they were scared to come forward then, but the relationship has now changed. We have a unit to accept information and to act on that information.”
And they have the option of remaining anonymous, Tavares stressed.
“Keep in mind these victims were sons, daughters, parents. They have loved ones still alive who want to see a resolution to these cases,” he said.
Their job is made more difficult when a body is found, but there is no missing persons report on file.
In some cases, the report may have been taking in another part of the country.
When a missing persons report is made, law enforcement collects DNA from family members. Without DNA, they are unable to identify the victim.
“We’re hoping when we take DNA from Jane or John Does, we can match family members already in the system,” he said.
Tavares knows that identifying a victim can give the victim’s family a small measure of peace.
“All parents hold out hope, but somewhere in their hearts they know their child is dead and want to give them a proper burial,” Tavares said. “We want to help those families find closure.”
For Pollock, the focus is on bringing the perpetrator to justice.
“There are several cases where there’s no doubt in my mind who did it. It’s a matter of gathering those bits of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they’re guilty,” he said. “I’ve learned not to get excited until the cuffs are on somebody.”
In the meantime, Pollock continues to plug away at what may, at times, seem like a never-ending task.
“Somebody out there thinks they got away with murder. To think that somebody took the precious life of somebody and is out there walking the streets,” he continued. “Not only do they need to be brought to justice, but they must be prevented from doing that again.”
“We want to bring justice to the victim, to make society a safer place,” he said. “A person who has killed will kill again if they remain free.”
Both men are hopeful the statewide mandate to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested on felony charges will lead to a break in their investigations
The DNA samples, which are processed at one lab, are then compared to evidence from crime files.
“They’ve got hundreds of thousands (to process). But they’re catching up,” Pollock said. “We’re hopeful for a match.”
Although grant funding may soon disappear, neither man is ready to give up.
“We have a lot of work still to do,” Tavares said. “Putting these cases together and getting an understanding of them has taken a lot longer than what we anticipated.”
Cold case homicides in Colfax area
Matthew Bosek – Caretaker and employee of the Esoteric Fraternity in Applegate, Bosek, in his 70s, was shot and killed on Aug. 5, 1973, while working in the garden.
Amber McDonald – A runaway from Hayward, McDonald’s body was found over an embankment off I-80 at Gold Run on March 6, 1984. The 14-year-old was last seen getting into a blue low-rider vehicle driven by a Mexican male in the Vacaville area. She had apparently run away before to meet a boyfriend in Reno.
Geraldo Alvarez – The body of the 45-year-old Fresno resident was found at a Caltrans dumpsite off I-80 east of Secret Town Road on Nov. 30, 1987. Alvarez had been shot several times.
John Douglas Ingham – The body of the 47-year-old Reno resident was found in the Sierra off Interstate 80 on Aug. 29, 1990. He was last employed at ShopKo in Reno.
Hugh Gresham and Jacqueline Barton – The couple, both in their late 20s, were found shot to death in their Ponderosa Way residence on Jan. 7, 1991.
Alwin Schoefer – A woman driving by Schoefer’s Ponderosa Way residence on Aug. 7, 1992 saw smoke and contacted a neighbor, who discovered padlocks on the entrances. Schoefer’s body was found inside and his wallet was discovered at a garbage dumpsite in Nevada County.
Jane/John Doe Cold Cases
Oct. 3, 1972 – Responding to a report of a burning log at I-80 and Drum Road in Baxter, California Highway Patrol officers and Placer County Sheriff’s deputies, found the body of an unidentified male. The victim was wearing a hospital gown and was wrapped in multiple sheets and a multicolored blanket. An autopsy revealed the victim was bedridden, malnourished and alive when he was set on fire.
Jan. 6, 1985 – Two hunters found a human skull off Boole Road near Canyon Way. Additional bones were later found and determined to belong to a 16- or 17-year-old female.
Aug. 4, 1986 – PG&E workers found a human skull in a drainage ditch near Highway 20 and I-80. The skull is believed to be that of a Caucasian female in her mid-teens to early 20s.
Feb. 10, 1990 – Two hunters found the body of a white or Hispanic woman, about 5’ to 5’4” in her late teens to early 20s, off Yankee Jims Road. She had been deceased for 12 to 16 weeks at the time of the discovery.
Alma Root – The 14-year-old was last seen on Jan. 1, 1980 when she was picked up by her boyfriend, Scott Petschek, at her grandmother’s Applegate residence.
Eric Gammelgard – The 23-year-old Meadow Vista resident hasn’t been seen since 1992. His family said he had a “risky lifestyle” and may have been targeted for an unpaid drug debt..
Any information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone committing a crime may result in a cash award. Anonymous tips can be made through the Placer County Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-923-8191.