Monday, November 20, 2017
Public safety

Clearwater police take another look at unsolved murders

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CLEARWATER

For 10 years, the man who killed Andrea Bolden's husband has walked free, while her daughter grew up without a father.

He's out there right now.

Clarence Bolden was shot in the upper torso when two men burst in on a Thursday night poker game in a cottage off Fulton Avenue in 2002.

The masked men demanded cash from the group and swiped the pot off the table. Another card player was shot in the arm. Bolden, 37, died there that night.

The gunmen were never identified.

For 10 years, Andrea Bolden has waited for justice with no end in sight. Still, she has hope.

That's because Bolden's case is among 37 unsolved homicides that the Clearwater Police Department has assigned to a newly formed unit strictly devoted to solving cold cases.

Clearwater police hope the new unit, made up of two civilian investigators who declined to be identified for this story, will bring new emphasis and energy to cases gone cold.

"I'm so grateful they're not leaving it on the back burner, even after 10 years," Andrea Bolden said.

Sgt. Anthony Monte, a Clearwater police homicide investigator, saw firsthand the difficulties of trying to balance cold cases with day-to-day investigations.

Until this year, Clearwater police gave cold cases to homicide detectives, who were tasked with making progress on years-old investigations while keeping up with new crime.

"We weren't able to constantly work the cases," Monte said. "You'd make some progress and then it would come to a halt. It might take you months before you could get back to it."

Monte helped the homicide unit devise a new strategy: They asked two retired law enforcement officers to volunteer about 10 hours per week to dig into cold cases.

These civilian investigators would retrace steps, interview old witnesses, find unexplored evidence and determine whether new technology, such as DNA testing or fingerprinting analysis, could be used.

"Once you do this job, it gets in your blood. You never really lose that," said Lt. James Kleinsorge, who oversees the investigations. "It helps us tremendously to have former law enforcement that can take one of these cold cases and dissect it piece by piece."

Step one is to reassemble evidence. Documents and photographs, sometimes stored in stacks inside cardboard boxes, must be scanned into a computer database and then organized in three-ring binders.

The process is daunting and can take weeks or even months, detectives said.

"It's a matter of persistence more than it is about finding new stuff," Kleinsorge said. "Crimes are solved with that piece of information that, at first, seems like it means nothing."

• • •

Clearwater's oldest unsolved murder dates back to Dec. 24, 1968.

An elderly couple, Nick and Demetra Jeatran, were bludgeoned to death in their home off Drew Street on Christmas Eve during an apparent burglary. No weapon, motive or suspect has been identified.

A 1974 article in the Times remarked, "No one can begin to calculate the number of man-hours that Clearwater police officers have spent" trying to solve the murder. Nearly 40 years later, they're still working on it.

Interestingly enough, Clearwater's cold case team deemed the Jeatran case one of its most likely to solve. They've prioritized it, pushed it to the front of the heap.

"We want this case solved so that, even after all these years, we can bring some closure to the family," said Detective Thomas Dawe. "They deserve that."

Solving old cases is hard. Family members, law enforcement officers and witnesses move on or die. Evidence becomes stale.

Sometimes, detectives have a good idea of who committed the crime, but may not have enough evidence to prove it before a grand jury. The case remains open until they do.

In the Jeatran case, investigators hope DNA evidence and other leads will allow them to finally close the file. Dawe said having two cold case investigators lead the charge is already helping.

Clearwater police would eventually like to assign a full-time detective to the cold case unit, leaving the civilian investigators to assist. But unforeseeable budget cuts and departmental changes make it difficult to predict when that might happen, officials said.

Other departments in the area have gone that route.

St. Petersburg police established a cold case unit about four years ago. Before that, as in Clearwater, detectives worked the cases when they could.

Today, a full-time detective works with a civilian investigator to tackle unsolved homicides, missing persons and sexual battery cases, said Maj. Mike Kovacsev, who oversees violent crime investigations for St. Petersburg. "It's extremely time-consuming," he said.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has been forced to go the opposite direction.

Due to budget cuts, the department closed down its cold case unit of one full-time detective about two years ago, said spokeswoman Cecilia Baretta. The responsibility of solving the department's unsolved homicides, which date back to 1955, is now shared by several detectives.

They try to keep the cases as active as possible, Baretta said.

"You want to solve these crimes because you want to bring closure to the family," Kovacsev said. "But sometimes, in these really old cases, there's no family left. Then, well, it brings closure to us."

• • •

Clarence Bolden's family knows it might be years before they can identify the man responsible for his killing.

They've heard of crimes gone unsolved for decades. Andrea Bolden knows she might not live to see the investigation end.

But Clarence Bolden's daughter, just 7 when he was killed, says she'll see it through.

"You're always going to want to know what happened and why," said Tyra Bolden, 17. "Even if my mom's not here, I'll still keep asking those questions."

The Bolden family held a vigil in North Greenwood on Feb. 7 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the slaying. At the ceremony, they handed out reward posters offering a $25,000 reward for information. Clearwater police have helped erect a billboard with the same plea.

Anyone with information on any of the unsolved cases is asked to call the department's anonymous tip line at (727) 562-4422.

"If anyone in the community knows anything, we're just hoping they'll come forward," said Andrea Bolden. "This isn't about turning people in, it's about helping a family find peace. One day justice will be done."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.

     
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