In the mid-1990s, the Fairfax County (VA) Police Department observed what Detective Sgt. (ret.) David Rivers of the Metro Dade County (FL) Police Department was doing with homicide cases, and discovered he was instrumental in developing a cold case squad to focus on unsolved murders. As the supervisor of the squad, Rivers' unit was responsible for the investigations received on more than 1800 open homicide cases that dated back to 1951. When Fairfax County Police noted Rivers' accomplishments, the department implemented their own cold case squad in 1995.
For the first year, the Fairfax County Police Department had to locate and centralize their case files. Initially, the department could not find people who wanted to work in the squad and consequently, it became a training ground for young recruits and inexperienced officers. However, in the year 2000, Detective Robert J. Murphy and Detective Steven Milefsky, two experienced veterans of the department, approached their boss and told him they were both challenged by murder cases and wanted to work on those types of cases. They were granted their wish. These two detectives now comprise the cold case squad, where they have remained for the past 7 years.
Detectives Murphy and Milefsky understand the value of focusing on cold cases and acknowledge their work embraces a sense of law and order, crime victims, and the community. With the advent of a DNA database in Virginia, their ability to effectively work these cases grew exponentially.
Both Murphy and Milefsky recognize the impact their work has on surviving family members. Historically, families said they were not treated well and, in some instances, the family members of victims made valid points. Families assumed they were forgotten. Consequently, survivors had a tendency to harbor hostility and resentment towards the police and, oftentimes, detectives were the objects of their venting process.
With the advent of the cold case squad, Detective Murphy acknowledges," It's pretty rewarding when we go out and meet the families. Nine times out of ten, when we contact the families, we see gratitude." However, Murphy also acknowledges that when he and Detective Milefsky enter the lives of the victims' families, they also reopen emotional wounds. He adds that families desire accountability and need to know the facts of the case to help them process their grief. The detectives are able to apprise the families of the case status of their loved one, keep them updated on any new developments and, in the case of a successful investigative outcome, they can be informed of who committed the crime.
In 1992, a woman in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County was murdered. The victim, Marilyn Bandera, was a shop owner and married with two children. Her husband discovered her when he came home for lunch. She had been stabbed 169 times, and there was evidence the victim had fought her attacker. The perpetrator of the crime had apparently cut himself on a knife found at the scene of the crime. The detectives obtained a hit on the DNA, and he was later apprehended.
Detective Murphy worked the case for a long time. He stated, "It was one of those cases that haunted you. The victim was a good person, a good citizen, a mother." The defendant was charged with and pled guilty to capital murder. The victim's husband was not in favor of the death penalty. Respectful of the husband's wishes, the prosecutor agreed to a sentence of life plus 30 years. Summing up his long, involved efforts to solve this crime, Detective Murphy said, "That was a very rewarding case."
Detective Murphy acknowledges one of the biggest cases of his career is one that is ready to go to trial; it involves a young couple, Rachael Raver and Warren Fulton, who were college students at the time of their murder. They went to a bar on a Saturday night and never returned home. Both were shot and killed, and Rachel Raver was raped. A DNA hit pointed to a serial murderer, Alfredo Prieto, who has been on death row in California since 1990.