These Student Detectives Are Real-Life Nancy Drews

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Once a week, at the University of Pittsburgh, a group of students pore over the grisly details of homicide cases that are older than the students themselves. These amateur detectives—22 women and 3 men—call themselves Students Conquering Cold Cases. They gather in a classroom at night, plotting out theories on whiteboards while projecting the victims’ neighborhoods via Google Maps onto giant television screens, hoping to help families find closure after the violent deaths of their loved ones.

Before joining the club, members must go through an application and interview process and must maintain a 3.25 grade point average or above. Emma Stewart, a sophomore and the vice president of communications for the club, is a psychology and philosophy major who hopes to pursue a career in behavioral analysis for the FBI or the government. “It’s been a great way for me to engage in the criminal justice field,” she says, “rather than just learning about it in a class.”

Currently, the club is investigating a John and Jane Doe who were discovered partially and fully skeletonized as well as two homicides of elderly women in the Pittsburgh area. They do this by interviewing witnesses, family members, law enforcement officers, and first responders involved in each case. They’ve also Skyped with an FBI agent to get more intel.

Started in 2015 by undergrads Nicole Coons and Hannah Eisenhart, the club was inspired by the disappearance of a local 21-year-old woman and was advised by Ron Freeman, a retired Pittsburgh police commander in charge of violent crime investigations. Freeman stepped down in 2017 and a new advisor took over. While the club has yet to solve a cold case, this doesn’t deter the hard-working students from continuing their investigations. “Collectively, we all have the same main goal,” says Stewart. “Solving these cases and bringing peace to family members and the community.”

By Jennifer Chen


Photo by Heather Mull; Emma Stewart, Vice President of Commications (left), and Tiffany Lee, Vice President of Students Conquering Cold Cases

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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