TAMPA, Fla. – Prison inmates are getting a present from the state of Florida: playing cards. For detectives looking to solve dozens of cold cases, it’s the start of a game of Go Fish that might pay off big.
On Tuesday, Florida’s 92,000 state inmates started getting one of two decks that between them highlight 104 of the state’s most troubling unsolved murder and missing persons cases.
“What better way to get them talking than to have cards with the cases on them?” said Special Agent Tommy Ray of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “These are people who have been in there for years. That’s the best source of information. There are a couple of high-profile cases I think we’ll get solved.”
Ray helped launch the statewide program after he and colleagues on a cold case squad in Polk County got the idea to produce a similar deck for county inmates there in 2005. They were inspired by the famous most-wanted deck of Saddam Hussein and other fugitives issued to U.S. troops shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Soon after the Polk County cards were issued, they generated a tip. Two men have been charged with murder in the 2004 killing of one of the victims on the cards, Thomas Wayne Grammer.
Other law enforcement agencies have caught on. Authorities in San Diego, Kansas City, Mo., and Odessa, Texas, are among those who have created their own decks, and Ray said he has gotten inquiries from as far away as Australia.
For the state program, authorities printed 85,000 decks featuring the first 52 cases, and started handing them out Tuesday to inmates at Wakulla Correctional Institution in the Panhandle town of Crawfordville. In a few weeks, 15,000 decks with 52 different cases will be distributed.
The King of Spades in one deck is Tiffany Sessions, a 20-year-old University of Florida sophomore who disappeared on Feb. 9, 1989. The Queen of Diamonds in that deck is 12-year-old Jennifer Odom, a Pasco County girl whose body was found on Feb. 25, 1993, six days after she disappeared.
Sessions’ card features her smiling face. Odom’s card has a picture of a sweat shirt and her book bag because authorities didn’t want to give the state’s sex offenders pictures of children.
The state attorney general’s Crime Stoppers Fund is paying the $75,000 cost of the program — about $68,000 to produce the cards and $7,000 for rewards, an agency spokeswoman said. The Polk County deck was produced with help from the local Crime Stoppers program.