New state unit could solve cold cases

Mary Lyall smiles after receiving the New York State Liberty Medal from Sen. James Tedisco.
Mary Lyall smiles after receiving the New York State Liberty Medal from Sen. James Tedisco.

Imagine the unthinkable: your loved one goes missing or was the victim of an unsolved homicide.

It can happen to anyone. We go to a store with our child and turn our head for a moment and they’re gone.

We shout their name and run back and forth through the aisles as panic begins to set in. Usually, after a few moments of what feels like an eternity of sheer terror, we find them safe and sound. 

Now, imagine if those 30 seconds of not knowing becomes 30 days, 30 months or even 30 years. That’s the quiet desperation felt every day by families of missing persons and victims of unsolved homicides. 

When someone goes missing, initially there’s a lot of media coverage and investigative focus towards a case. The unfortunate reality is if a case is not solved in a relative short amount of time, leads tend to go cold and attention and precious resources often turn elsewhere.

Yet the search for answers by the families trying to find their missing loved ones and get justice for an unsolved murder continues.

No one understands that feeling of longing for answers more than Mary Lyall of Ballston Spa, whose daughter, Suzanne Lyall, has been missing since 1998 when she was last seen getting off a bus at the University at Albany. 

Over the past 20 years since Suzanne’s disappearance, Mary and her late husband Doug Lyall, have channeled their energy and turned their own family’s personal tragedy into something positive to help other families of missing persons in New York state and across the nation.

The Lyalls founded the Center for Hope and helped get “Suzanne’s Law Campus Safety Act” passed in New York to require all colleges in the state to have plans that provide for the investigation of missing students and violent felony offenses committed on campus. 

Mary and Doug’s impassioned advocacy on behalf of their daughter and all families of missing persons helped get “Suzanne’s Law” passed on the federal level in 2003 as part of the national Amber Alert bill to require that police notify the National Crime Information Center when someone between the ages of 18 and 21 is reported missing.

Last month, the state Senate passed my legislation, “Suzanne’s Law — the Assault-Free School Zone” bill (S.2881/A.6582) to increase penalties for assaults and abductions on school grounds by one category higher, resulting in stricter penalties and longer prison sentences.  After all, we increased penalties to create speed free and drug free school zones but ironically we haven’t increased penalties when students are physically harmed at schools.

Now we’ve turned our attention to a new cause to help families of missing persons and crimes of violence that haven’t been solved: the creation of a New York State Police Cold Case Unit. While the Division of the New York State Police certainly has outstanding staff that work very hard on solving cold cases, there’s a need for a dedicated team of professionals to focus exclusively on cold cases day-in and day-out.

Posted on the state police website alone, are upwards of 150 unresolved cases spanning as far back as the 1960s. These cases should not just be collecting dust on the shelves. The technology has changed exponentially over the years and with DNA testing and new tools to solve crimes, evidence and witnesses in cold cases should be continually re-examined and looked at with a fresh set of eyes. It might be one small clue that could break open and solve any one of these cases.

Other states are already doing this. New Hampshire created a Cold Case Unit in 2009, which has been successful in helping to close several cold cases and bring sustained media and public attention to unsolved homicides and missing persons cases in the Granite State.

The creation of a dedicated Cold Case Unit in New York State within the state police will help keep hope alive for families, bring criminals to justice, and perhaps, solve some cold cases.

Sen. Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-REF-Glenville) represents the 49th State Senate District which includes parts of Saratoga, Schenectady and Herkimer counties and all of Fulton and Hamilton counties.

Categories: Opinion, Schenectady County

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