In a new deck of playing cards that aims to solve Rhode Island’s cold cases, the four traditional suits have a new twist — each card features red text with the words “UNSOLVED HOMICIDE.”
Launched by local detectives and available for purchase, each card features bolded red text above a photo of a victim, their name and a description of their case.
On the deck’s King of Hearts, Carl Seebeck smiles from the card face, which reads: “On August 29, 2008 at 4:00 a.m., Carl Seebeck was walking on Broadway in Pawtucket on his way to the bus stop when he was shot and killed. Witnesses heard loud music, a car accelerating and observed a suspect fleeing the area.”
Seebeck’s daughter, Kristen Butler, said that her father “was rough around the edges, but he had a heart of gold.” Butler is still seeking resolution, often checking with law enforcement on the status of her father’s case: “I call on my dad’s birthday, I call … around Father’s Day, I call around the anniversary and then I call around the holidays.”
Butler hopes that the cards — part of an initiative started by Pawtucket’s Detective Susan Cormier last year to raise awareness of cold cases — may encourage people to come forward with tips that could help law enforcement reach a resolution. The cards feature unsolved homicide cases from across the state that date back to 1947.
In these types of cases, “it’s kind of at a standstill where you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Cormier said. Often, cases remain unsolved for years because they fall off the public radar.
“The most common line I hear from people (is), ‘I thought that case was already solved,’” Cormier said. “When it’s no longer in the public view, they think that the case is solved, and they just didn’t hear anything more about it.”
She thinks that these cards will correct such misconceptions and “get the community talking once again … to generate some new leads.”
Cases also go cold because people with information are unwilling to share it with detectives at the time of the crime. But often circumstances may have changed, and the cold-case cards may encourage people to share tips that they were hesitant to disclose when the case was fresh, Cormier said.
“Now, people have moved, they’ve gotten older, they don’t see that person who may have been a suspect anymore, they live in a different state. … Loyalties change, and people are more apt to come forward,” she added.
In addition to selling the cards to the public on the Cold Case R.I. website, Pawtucket’s Cold Case Unit has sold 4,500 decks to the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute, where they are then sold to inmates.
The cards have already generated many tips, Cormier said. If these lead to solved cases, she will explore the option of swapping these cards out for new ones and creating a second edition of the deck.
While these cards are new to Rhode Island, the concept has existed for decades. To help soldiers during the Iraq War, the United States distributed cards featuring Saddam Hussein and members of his army. And in 2005, a sheriff in Polk County, Florida decided to use this strategy to help solve cold cases. Today, 20 states including Rhode Island and three different countries have cold-case cards.
The cards have been particularly successful in nearby Connecticut, where detectives have created four decks featuring different victims. Connecticut’s first edition of the cards helped solve six cases, its second edition helped solve 10 cases and its third solved four more, according to the CT Department of Correction website.
Cormier brought her deck of Connecticut cold-case cards to her bosses and proposed creating a deck for Rhode Island. They were enthusiastic about the idea, so she pitched it to the executive board of the Department of Corrections and then the company that supplies the commissary in the ACI, which agreed to sell the cards — and no other playing cards — to the inmates.
Cormier sent letters to all of Rhode Island’s police chiefs, asking their departments’ detectives to submit their cold cases for the initiative.
Although there was an application process that required a consent form signed by victims’ surviving family members, exactly 52 cases were submitted, just enough for a full deck.
“The families absolutely loved it,” Cormier said. “They were very pleased to see that … people were still working on these cases, and we still cared.”
This was certainly the case for Butler, who sees the cards as both a tribute to her father and “another chance … to get the word out.”
Butler often shares the cards on Facebook and said her friends share them, too. She also carries around a deck and shows them to people who are interested — but she never plays with them.
“I consider them sacred, and I carry them around just as a reminder that it’s not just my family. … There (are) 51 other families that are going through what I’m going through,” Butler said. “It’s almost symbolic, for me to know that I’m not alone in this situation.”
For Cormier, this initiative is all about the families of the victims.
“We just really want to get a resolution for the families, whether there’s someone that can still be prosecuted in the case or not,” Cormier said. “Most of the families … want a face to who did this to their loved one.”