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Hot cards, cold cases: 21 unsolved Jeffco crimes featured on playing cards used by state inmates

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By AJ Vicens

Valentine’s Day 2000 will forever be burned into the memories of two South Jeffco families.

On that day, 15-year-old Nicholas Kunselman and 16-year-old Stephanie Hart were found murdered at a Subway sandwich shop on West Coal Mine Avenue near Columbine High School. More than nine years later, the case remains unsolved.

The Subway murders are among 39 cold cases the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is still trying to solve, and one of 21 now featured on playing cards used by inmates in Colorado’s prisons. The program is run through the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Crime Stoppers program, and it features cold cases from Jeffco, Arapahoe, Boulder and El Paso counties.

“This is just another means by which to get the information out there,” said Cheryl Moore, the Jeffco sheriff’s lone investigator handling cold cases.

Moore said the cold cases she handles, many of which are decades old, rarely benefit from people coming forward with information. “We have to get something out there” to spark action, she said.

Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kathryn Sanguinette said the playing cards were introduced at Colorado prisons at the beginning of May.

"Hopefully some of those cold cases get solved," Sanguinette said.

The cards cost 60 cents a deck for the inmates, and regular cards cost $1.30 — an inducement for the prisoners to buy the cold-case cards.

The DOC is following the lead of the Florida Department of Corrections, which began issuing playing cards featuring cold-case information in 2007.

“We’ve had a couple cases solved because of (the cards),” said Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.

Florida is on its third edition of the playing cards, which have featured 156 cold cases since the first edition. The cards initially were distributed to the state’s 93,000 state prisoners but are now given to prisoners in county jails and people under the supervision of county probation offices. The idea came from a central Florida county jail that wanted to copy the U.S. military’s use of playing cards featuring America’s most wanted enemies in Iraq.

"I think it's a great idea," said Russ VanDuyn of Idaho Springs. VanDuyn's son Rick was shot and killed Oct. 19, 1986, at the Mountain Valley Bank in Aspen Park. He was working for a security company and making a night deposit when he was killed. His case is one of the 21 in Colorado’s deck of cards.

"Anything would help," VanDuyn said. "If (prisoners) are sitting around and playing cards, maybe they'll say something."

VanDuyn added that he'd be surprised if anyone came forward with information now, since it's been 22 years since his son was killed. But he still thinks about his son all the time.

"You don't get over it," VanDuyn said. "You just get used to it."

Moore said the cards rely on the fact that most prisoners are bored and like to talk. More of a motivational factor may be that prisoners “have the desire to help themselves by providing information and receiving benefits in their own case,” Moore said.

For prisoners with no possibility of lesser sentences — someone with a mandatory life sentence, for instance — a tip based on the cold-case cards could mean more money for their commissary account, which is how inmates buy goods.

Moore said she’d be happy to get information on any of her cases, and that the cards are another way to accomplish that goal.

“I’d love to have information on any of these cases,” Moore said. “They all need to be solved, and they’re all cases I care about.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

To learn more about Jefferson County’s 39 cold cases, visit www.jeffcosheriff.com and click on the “Cold Case” link at the bottom of the home page. Or call 303-271-5625.