- FUN FEATURES
Playing cards has long been a traditional way for people to pass the time, whether it be by themselves or with a group of friends.
It is also a regular activity for inmates who, having been sentenced to years behind bars, use it as a way to fill the hours.
However, the Connecticut Department of Correction is hoping that this common recreation can help solve some important unsolved cases.
Recently, the DOC produced a special Cold Case deck of playing cards. The 52 cards in the deck feature unsolved homicide victims, missing persons, and other cold cases dating back decades. For instance, on the eight of clubs is a picture and information about Rontisha Carroll, who was 19 when she was murdered in the fall of 2007. And there's William Spicer, Jr., depicted on the king of hearts, who, at 82 years old, was murdered in 1995. The six of diamonds features 26-year-old Erika Cirioni, who has been missing since New Year's Eve 2006.
There is also the jack of spades, on which is pictured 31-year-old William Smolinski, Jr., who has been missing since Aug. 24, 2004 and is now presumed dead.
His parents, Cheshire residents Janice and Bill Smolinksi, thought of utilizing these types of playing cards years ago, comparing them to the cards soldiers used in the war in Iraq that featured prominent figures and targets.
Though everything "takes so long," Bill Smolinski lamented, he is happy the cards have finally been produced, although his son's card is missing a key fact: a $60,000 reward for information leading to return of his son's body.
"I'm a little upset that was left off the card," he admitted. "But, these types of cards have worked elsewhere, so why not here in Connecticut?"
Janice Smolinksi, who has become an advocate for the families of missing persons everywhere, said it was a few years ago when the DOC told her about these playing cards, but it wasn't until the last few weeks that they finally became a reality. While the cards are being distributed to inmates in the prison system, Janice Smolinski also hopes that local Police Departments would be able to obtain copies of the cards, perhaps in the form of a large poster, to hang up in their lock-ups.
"Some tips can come from this," she said. "I hope they will sell the cards as well. They need to get in as many people's hands as possible."
Besides unsolved homicides and missing persons, which have a name and photo attached to the card, there are cards that feature unidentified remains with computer composite drawings of a face but no name. It is the hope of the DOC that tips from inmates will lead to the arrests and convictions of those involved with the numerous cold cases.
"They'll change the cards over each year to feature different people," Bill Smolinski explained. "Every family deserves a chance."
The cards are being distributed to more than 18,000 inmates in the state, without a cost to Connecticut taxpayers. According to the DOC, the funding for the Cold Case cards was obtained through seized assets from previous criminal cases.
"These cards are being distributed in an effort to generate information and leads in solving these cold cases," the DOC Web site states. "Every tip has the potential to bring law enforcement one step closer to obtaining justice for victims and a sense of closure for their surviving family members."
For the Smolinski family, they believe there are people out there who know what happened to their son, but are refusing to talk and are hiding behind lawyers. Their son went missing more than six years ago, and his pickup truck, with his keys and wallet inside of it, was found in his Waterbury home driveway not parked in its usual spot. His dog was also left behind, something they say he would never do.
Police chalked it up to an adult wanting to get away, but as the days, months, and years passed, it became obvious to the family that something terrible had happened to their son.
Janice Smolinski doesn't know for sure that, if the case had been handled differently from the onset if it would have saved her son but, now, she is resigned to the fact that Billy, as she calls him, is dead.
"We want to have a grand jury, whether it's state or federal. I was told people were looking into it, but it's considered almost a last resort," she said. "People are hiding behind their lawyers, but we want them to speak under oath."
Local police agencies, state police, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been involved in the case over the last six-plus years. The family also hired a private investigator to keep law enforcement’s feet to the fire. Not wanting the missteps and hurdles they have had to endure to affect other families, Billy's Law was introduced into Congress by U.S. Representative Chris Murphy in the last session. The bill is currently being discussed in the U.S. Senate.
The crux of the law is to strengthen missing persons laws and to inform and train local and state law enforcement agencies on how to collect DNA and handle a case, regardless of the age of the person who has gone missing. The family has also worked to help strengthen databases and make sure they are connected and accessible by the public, not just law enforcement personnel. The information you get from the system is only as good as what's entered, and that needs to be consistent, Janice Smolinski said.
According to her husband, Janice Smolinski talks to whomever calls and offers guidance and a shoulder to lean on. It is something that he admires greatly, and finds it hard to talk about at times.
"The phone rings here 24/7 and Jan has helped so many people who have loved ones who went missing," Bill Smolinski said, grasping his wife's arm and holding back tears.
For more information on the Cold Case playing cards or to view the deck in its entirety, visit www.ct.gov/doc.
For more information about the Smolinskis’ struggle to find their son, visit their Web page, www.justice4billy.com.