True Crime Stories: Clues to a Cold Case Brings Closure

When someone is murdered and the killer is never found, the family members of the victim have to live with terrible unanswered questions. It is this distress that motivates people who work in law enforcement to open cold case units. Sometimes advances in technology or further investigation can help solve cold violent crimes, which offers some peace and closure for those family members.

Criminal fingerprint card and magnifier, top view

One of the useful things about fingerprint images that are lifted from crime scenes is that they are preserved forever. Sometimes, it just takes a cold-case investigator to resubmit fingerprints to the FBI’s AFIS system to get a new hit and thus a new lead, even for very old cases such as the following.

On the morning of Sept. 1, 1966, 49-year-old Everett “Red” Delano, a Navy Veteran and a father of three, was working alone at Sanford’s Garage in Andover, New Hampshire when he was shot in the head three times and left to die. The murderer and thief stole about $100. Everett was found by two teenaged boys about 30 minutes later and they got him to a hospital, but he died the next day.

At the crime scene, there were three bullets, a cigarette butt and, most importantly, a fingerprint lifted from the sink faucet. At the time, police conducted dozens of interviews with witnesses, including some who had heard the gun shots. The fingerprint was also sent to the FBI. But by the end of 1966, all the leads were exhausted, and no suspects were identified.

In 2009, the New Hampshire Department of Justice created a special cold case unit, but this case was so old that it wasn’t initially reviewed. However, one of Delano’s daughters, Darlene, brought the case to the attention of the unit in 2013 and they resubmitted the print from the crime scene to the FBI’s database. The FBI’s integrated automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) became operational in 1999 and now has over 70 million subjects in the criminal master file. This time there was a match with a known criminal named Thomas Cass.

Thomas Cass was 20 years old in 1966. He was convicted of many crimes over the years including larceny, armed robbery, assault, escape, drug possession and drug manufacturing. He spent 10 years in prison but was out on probation in 2014.

The police began interviewing people connected to Cass after his fingerprint was matched. His first wife told police that Cass was proud of his past criminal history and boasted that he would hurt people to get what he wanted. Another ex-wife told more stories of his violence including a time he left the house with a gun to retaliate against a man who owed him money. She also said she had witnessed him beat people brutally.

The police interviewed Cass several times and while he was open about his past criminal history, he said he had only been in New Hampshire once in his life and denied ever having been to Sanford’s Garage. On February 14, 2014, police returned and told him they had forensic evidence found at the crime scene and asked if he wanted to come clean. He admitted that it was possible he had been to the gas station but stated that he wanted to speak to an attorney.

Four days later, he bought a gun and shot himself in the head. The woman living with Cass, Jane Spainol, found him and called 911. She told the investigators that he had made it clear that he didn’t want to die in a square box and that he said he believed that he was going to be arrested soon for a cold case investigation.

The identification of Cass by his fingerprint from the crime scene along with the fact that Cass committed suicide was enough for him to be convicted, and also for the victim's family to feel confident that they finally found the person responsible for taking Mr. Delano's life.

The Delano family released a statement saying: “We are also grateful to the many friends and neighbors who supported our mother Blanche and our family and assisted with the investigation in 1966 and beyond. Your dedication and perseverance honors our father's legacy and helps to provide justice for our family.”

Learn more about how HID is delivering biometric solutions to protect and empower citizens.