New Cold Case Homicide Hub launched in Victoria

23 May 2021

New Cold Case Homicide Hub launched in Victoria featured image

Victoria Police unveiled the Homicide Squad Cold Case Hub on Sunday 23 May 2021, a purpose-built online interactive platform hosted on the organisation’s website, designed to bring public attention to some of the more than 200 unsolved cold case deaths that currently sit within the squad’s files.

The Hub is based on a model used by the Toronto Police Service in Canada, which Homicide Squad officer in charge Detective Inspector Tim Day observed first-hand during his 2018 Churchill Fellowship.

“It’s about providing a single source of truth, reaching people who don’t watch the news or pick up a newspaper anymore. Many are now on social media and we need to leverage that medium to assist us in investigating these cases,” Det Insp Day said.

“Systems and processes that don’t evolve, quickly become obsolete.  We need to constantly strive to find new ways of doing business.  We expect that this hub will get more people talking, asking questions, and making enquiries, which will result in the discovery of new information – the production of new leads.”

Each case package promoted on the hub – the first of its kind in Australia – includes background on the investigation, a photograph of the victim and a personal appeal from the investigator to the public for information.

A direct link to Crime Stoppers Victoria is also provided so information can be reported directly, easily and confidentially by members of the public. The Crime Stoppers program was incidentally established by another Churchill Fellow Geoff Wilkinson in 1987 after visiting the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom to study developments in police-media relations.

While many of the cases have been highlighted in the media or subject to public appeals from police over the years, this is the first time a dedicated multimedia website has been established by Victoria Police to give the community easily accessible direct information on unsolved murders.

With the ‘True Crime’ genre becoming exceedingly popular in society, Det Insp Day points out that the Hub’s point of difference is that it contains only factual information from investigating police.

“Many people may think they know these cases inside-out from what they’ve seen on the news or heard in podcasts.  The point is, if you’re not the Homicide investigator – you’re not going to know the real facts.  This is not about entertainment – it’s about forensic purpose.” Tim said.

“Now you can hear case details directly from the investigator, see photos, and watch video snippets.”

“Whilst not the panacea to solving all homicides, it’s a first step in a new initiative. I expect it to evolve rapidly as we receive readback from the public and practitioners.”

Over the past 20 years, the Victoria Police Homicide Squad has maintained a solve rate and a conviction rate well into the mid 90th percentile, a rate that eclipses most police forces across the globe.  However, with unsolved cases from as far back as 1951 remaining on the Homicide Squad’s Cold Case books, Det Insp Day said the squad would need to continue to innovate and draw on information from the public, to solve these ever-increasing complex crimes.

“One of the things that were reinforced to Tim during his Churchill Fellowship was the high amount of community support we have for investigations in Victoria – cases are regularly and routinely solved thanks to the information and assistance provided by members of the public, and this is not always the case in other parts of the world,” said Victoria Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Robert Hill.

Five cases are featured on the Hub at its launch, with two new cases to be added each month.

  • The fatal shooting of 34-year-old Jane-Thurgood Dove outside her Niddrie home on 6 November, 1997;
  • The murder of teenagers Fiona Burns and John Lee, who were last seen hitchhiking between Adelaide and Melbourne in October 1990;
  • The brutal assault of Samantha Mizzi in St Kilda on 30 March 1994;
  • The death of 42-year-old Christopher Phillips at his Cheltenham home on 1 May, 1990; and
  • The fatal shooting of Christos Saristavros in the car park of a licensed premises in Box Hill on 22 October, 2000.

Anyone with information about any of these cases is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report at www.crimestoppers.com.au

Visit the Homicide Squad Cold Case Hub at www.police.vic.gov.au/cold-cases

“I am honoured to have received a Churchill Fellowship. The development of the Hub is based on my Fellowship findings and recommendations. The opportunity to collaborate and learn from our global law enforcement partners, to inform best practice and innovation in our work as criminal investigators within Victoria Police and Australia more broadly, has been invaluable,” Tim said.