Chicago detectives utilizing social media to obtain new leads on cold cases

Chicago detectives are using Facebook to generate new leads and attract new attention to cold cases, and according to one detective, it's working.

Penny Krajeski was just a teenager when she was stabbed to death in her Rogers Park apartment. It happened 35 years ago, but her sisters, Nancy and Paula, are still reeling from the pain.

"Nobody knows what it's like until you have to go through it," said Nancy Galanti. "It feels like somebody just ripped your heart out."

Nearly 13,000 days later, the investigation is at a standstill. With the same persons of interest as day one, but just not enough evidence to make an arrest.

"It's one of those cases where we think we know what happened, but we can't prove it at this point," said Det. John Campbell, CPD-area North Cold Case.

Det. Campbell decided to use a new strategy: posting Penny's case on the Area North Facebook page.

"Kind of an investigative technique, just to try and generate new information," said Det. Campbell.

The response surprised him.

"It let us know that there are people out there that think the killers of Penny were charged and maybe in prison, and that was something we didn't expect," said Det. Campbell.

Campbell also received a private message about the case.

"We did have a person come forward, who provided information, that definitely helped this case and definitely pointed it in the direction that we thought it was," said Det. Campbell.

The tip didn't close the case, but Campbell says that's exactly the type of information he's after by using social media to generate new interest and leads.

"It definitely has helped our cases and taken cold cases from being static to maybe some movement," said Det. Campbell.

He walked us through their posting process, using Michael de Filippis' case as an example. 

"We contacted the family, the family provided us a few photos of Michael, and then we put photos of the area where he was killed at," said Det. Campbell.

The more attention a case gets the better. 

"Maybe something stands out, or something clicks in their memory, that ‘hey, I know somebody over there, maybe you want to talk to this person,'" said Det. Campbell.

The more "likes" and "shares" comes with increased monitoring and police deleting comments with wrong information.

"Occasionally, people put things out there that aren't true about the cases," said Det. Campbell. "We go from following up investigative leads to putting out social media fires."

Still, Campbell says, overall, social media has helped more than its hurt by spreading the word and giving tipsters an anonymous way to reach detectives.

"Didn't happen on Mars, this happened down the street from all of us," said Det. Campbell. "What can we do to try and generate attention to it, and get people actively involved in help solving these cases?"

To give families like Penny's, some sense of closure. 

"You never get over it," said Nancy Galanti. "35 years later and here I am still crying."