It’s been more than three and half decades since Alvin and Faye Maddux, both 72, were murdered inside their Monticello Road home in Napa. The victims had been dead for several days before their bodies were discovered.
No one has been arrested for the couple’s deaths in February, 1976; the Maddux case remains among nearly 40 unsolved murders in Napa County.
But a suspect in the Maddux murder, along with suspects in eight other "cold case" homicides, may be soon be facing their day in court.
Thanks to advanced criminal investigation technology—such as DNA testing—homicides, rapes and other crimes once classified as cold cases are now very active.
The Napa County Cold Case Investigation Unit was formed to use these tools in solving the county’s 39 unsolved homicides and and eight violent rapes.
Funded by a $500,000 federal grant, the unit consists of seven detectives each from the and the .
Of the 39 unsolved homicides, the cold case unit has developed new evidence and leads on nine they believe can be solved, according to sheriff’s detective Chris Carlisle, who heads the unit.
“We are looking at cases from 1963 to 2007,” Carlisle said. “These are both city and county unsolved cases.”
Modern criminal investigation technology allows detectives access to evidence that either didn’t exist or was in its infancy several years ago, according to Carlisle.
“Of course, the advancement of DNA evidence is probably the most significant in solving cold cases,” he said.
Detective Todd Schulman with the Napa police force and sheriff’s detective Pat McMahon are the coordinators of the unit. Their job is to review all of the county’s 39 cold cases and decided which ones have the best probability of being solved.
“They reviewed all of the old police reports, evidence, witness statements and other factors of the case,” Carlisle said.
The nine cases the unit decided were solvable were pulled and ranked in order of the most likely to be solved to the least.
“But we are certain, all nine cases can be solved,” he said.
“You can’t believe the police reports, witnesses, victim’s family, friends and acquaintances statements Todd and Pat plowed through. Some of the cases had thousands and thousands of pages to review plus all the other physical evidence,” Carlisle said. “It was a huge undertaking.”
Shulman and McMahon examined the statements, determining if more questions should have been asked.
Other items such as cigarette butts and blood stains were given another look.
“We are always looking at any evidence (from which) we can retrieve DNA. We might also do a more extensive search for the murder weapon or if we have it, further testing on it,” Carlisle said.
"We re-examine all of the evidence, which has been stored in our evidence lab, and send off any evidence we consider may target a hit to the State Department of Justice Criminal Division.”
A "hit" or match is when a DOJ criminalist matches DNA to the national computer data bank.
“This will give us the name of the person who matches the DNA evidence we collected from the crime scene, even years ago,” he said. “But just because we have a name doesn’t mean we know where the person is, or if even alive.”
The advancement of DNA has had a profound effect on cold case investigations.
“We can find a tiny bloodstain on evidence 30 years old and come up with a hit. That is of course is if the evidence has been very well preserved over the years, which ours is,” Carlisle said.
If the evidence identifies a probable suspect, and that person is found to be deceased, the case is closed.
Tracking down witnesses is another job entirely.
Shulman and McMahon have traveled the length of the West Coast and to other states to find witnesses.
“It’s a very tedious job. First we have to determine if they are still alive, and are they willing and able to cooperate,” Shulman said.
“Time can make a big difference when it comes to remembering things that happened years even decades ago. Some witnesses don’t want to talk about the crime again. It’s tough.”
Contacting the victims’ family is the last resort.
“We don’t get in touch with them unless we know we are going to go forward with the case. It too much pain for them to relive. Many have gone forward with their lives and tried to put their tragedy to rest,” Carlisle said.
Once the cold case unit is satisfied with the evidence they have gathered, they meet with the district attorney’s office, where Deputy District Attorney Paul Gero is their go-to man.
The law enforcement agencies discuss the evidence and decided where to go from there.
“My job is to determine if our office can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gero said. "We give direction to the investigators as to what we need to go forward and file the case."
Gero said DNA evidence gives “us the best chance to prosecute and get a guilty verdict.”
Gero said, although additional statements from witnesses are also very valuable, it is not as reliable as DNA.
“It can be difficult to find witnesses from an old case. Reviewing a police report 20 years old is always a difficult task, some of those people in the reports may not still be alive, the same thing with witnesses.”
There is no statue of limitations on prosecuting homicides, but rape cold cases are different: The general rule is the statue of limitations is 1988, meaning cases before that cannot be filed.
“However, there is an exception to that rule,” Gero said. “For example if there was a kidnapping connected with the crime, or other felony charges, we maybe can go forward.”
Carlisle said currently there are six cold cases waiting results from the DOJ lab.
“We will be working the other cases soon,” he said. “We will continue to work them until we are satisfied we have exhausted every lead and piece of evidence. But the cases never go away. There is always the potential a witness could come forward. It can be frustrating, but we never give up.”
Carlisle said cold case homicides "are somewhat different.
"We don’t want the victims’ families to think their loved one has been forgotten,” Carlisle said.
“They have suffered a great deal and need to have closure.”