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Justice Served Cold

The nation’s first official cold case squad teaches the bad guys that there’s no statute of limitations on murder.

October 01, 2004  |  by Ramesh Nyberg

Well, our girl wasn’t your average shoplifter. She would steal stuff that was nailed down and steal the nails, too. So her honesty was certainly in question. But when she gave up Nathaniel Williams, she was right on the money about everything.

We surprised Williams at the office of his parole officer one morning in Atlanta and extradited him back. Thanks to his angry ex and a couple of other witnesses we tracked down, we convicted him on a crime he had eluded for 17 years and got him sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Clearing Difficult Cases

In another case, a young man asked to meet us at a restaurant. He said he could give us everything on the Abraham murders, and we would be able to arrest everyone involved. We all doubted it.

The Abraham case had happened nine years before. It was the triple murder of three innocent elderly people a week before Christmas. One of the victims was the wife of prominent Miami businessman Anthony Abraham who owned a big car dealership.

Everybody knew Anthony Abraham, and the case was as high-profile as they come. The assigned squad worked hundreds upon hundreds of leads and got nowhere. It was kind of like we were in the red zone on this case and we just couldn’t find a way to push the ball over the goal line. We’d tried everything we could think of on this case, so we were skeptical that a tip from a guy we met at a restaurant would help us put the ball in the end zone, especially not nine years after the bodies were discovered. Still, we met with the informant.

And we were glad we did. He handed us the killer on a silver platter.

Once a Detective

Sometimes our leads come from detectives who have rotated out of Homicide but keep mulling some of their cases. That’s what happened a while back when a former detective who had long since left the unit called just to catch up.


Detectives from Miami-Dade PD’s Cold Case Squad present a plaque to retiring detective and former Marine Al Singleton. (Left to Right) Sara Times, Greg Smith, Singleton, Ramesh Nyberg, and Terry Goldston.

“Hey,” he said, “if you get time you should take a look at that Vincent Ferrari case. We were always close, and maybe a fresh effort could get it closed.”

The subject in that case had been known from the beginning, but no one would testify against him. So he was never put in handcuffs.

But the hunch of a former homicide cop is nothing to dismiss. So we dug into the case. We made plans to revisit the witnesses, but first we ran a new background on our subject, just to see where he was these days. We found that he had been arrested in a small town in Wyoming not long ago.

This new bit of information made us ask one key question: What on earth was a guy born and raised in Miami doing in Wyoming 13 years after he was the prime suspect in a murder? We decided to go to Wyoming and find out.

It turned out that one of his old Miami buddies had found a job out there and invited our suspect to come on up. And then our suspect promptly got himself busted. We met with the local police department and got the names of all of his street associates from his arrest records. We even got the names of a couple of ex-girlfriends. Then we interviewed them all.

What we learned is that our suspect had a big mouth. He hadn’t been able to resist letting his new associates know about his status as the big, bad drug dealer from Miami. So he bragged about his exploits, including Ferrari’s murder. We got four witness statements from people he had told about the murder. When we got back home, the Dade County State Attorney’s Office gave us an arrest warrant for first-degree murder.

Arrests by Proxy

One of the duties of the Miami-Dade Cold Case Squad is to lend assistance to detectives from visiting agencies when they come to town to work their leads. If they haven’t been working with a specific squad on something, we play host to whatever they need, even if it means helping them find a hotel room. We’ll take them around to find addresses and witnesses, afford them our interview rooms, and even make sure they find a place to quench their thirst at night.

All that effort pays off, too. We make great out-of-town contacts when we need help in other jurisdictions. So much so that when rotation detectives are looking for a contact in another town, they often come to us.

We’ve even been asked to work a case for an out-of-town agency. One of the most unusual requests we ever received was from the Austin (Texas) Police Department. They called up and asked us to meet a cruise ship at the port, as one of their wanted murder subjects was on board. We told them we’d be happy to do so and asked when they would be arriving to come do the interview.

Much to our surprise, they said they wouldn’t be coming. The Austin detectives wanted us to do the interview. They arranged to FedEx us their entire case file so we could get up to speed on it. Sure enough, the case file arrived and two days later so did the cruise ship.

With a crash course on this Texas homicide, which occurred in a place we had never been and involved people we’d never met, my partner and I sat in the interview room with this suspect and started talking. An hour later, we had a complete confession.

I’m not sure it would happen that way every time, and I’ve never had to handle a case by proxy that way since, but sometimes when you work cold cases, you just have to be flexible and willing to try new things. And so does your department.

We’ve found that investigating cold cases is not easy, and it often involves dedication of both investigative and financial resources.

Putting an old case together for trial is not inexpensive. It often involves travel. This has especially been true for us here in Miami-Dade County, historically a pretty transient community.

But the cost is worth it. We discovered that once we got the department’s backing for the Cold Case Squad and closed our first homicide that it caught the attention of the press and led to good publicity for the Miami-Dade PD. Then word spread and the leads started coming in.

So did the arrests. And believe me, when you put the cuffs on someone who thinks he “got away with murder,” it’s a sweet feeling. It’s even sweeter when that jury says, “Guilty.”

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Tags: Miami-Dade PD, Cold Cases, homicides

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