UNCC grad student puts smarts to work for CMPD

There are 600 unsolved murders in Charlotte going back several decades.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There are 600 unsolved murders in Charlotte going back several decades.

"It's a lot like fishing: you can sit there for hours and hours and not catch anything," said Sgt. Darrell Price, who heads the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Homicide Cold Case Unit.

At the Law Enforcement Center there are storage rooms filled to the brim with boxes and boxes of files from all the unsolved cases.

Imagine having to go to those rooms and search through the files to follow up on a vague anonymous tip.

"You can't go back and ask follow up questions, it was almost an impossible task, so we were losing so much good information as a result of that," said Price.

Enter 32-year-old University of North Carolina at Charlotte grad student Hannah Donaldson. As a child she always dreamed of catching the bad guys.

"It bothered me that people would glorify Jack the Ripper, whereas I always wondered who the victims were," she said.

Donaldson, who has volunteered for the Cold Case Unit for a couple of months, in her spare time is studying for her Masters in Criminal Justice and working another job.

She is also very talented when it comes to computers.

"So I was trying to wrap my mind around how this would help, just briefly, I couldn't-- until Hannah walked in and we started talking," said Price, who is a veteran of 30-plus years.

Donaldson came up with what amounts to Google for the Cold Case Unit.

"Incorporated every factor that I could come up with for victims, suspects, witnesses, family members and locations, everything pertinent to the file," she said.

Now Price and his four investigators can enter a few vague facts and accomplish in minutes what would have taken days.

"We were able to go back with this database, with very limited information and find that case within about five minutes, ordinarily we probably would have searched and searched and probably given up," he said.

Given his long stint in Homicide, Price knows what it's like to be able to tell a family 'we've solved your case.'

"It's so rewarding you could not put words to it."

It's a feeling that Donaldson hopes to be able to share.

"That's what we're working for, that's the whole point of what we do, that's the reason we come in here and work," she said.


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