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Florida’s top prosecutor hopes a few hot hands can solve some of the state’s coldest cases.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody said she plans to distribute 5,000 decks of cards inside jails and prisons featuring photos and information about unsolved crimes – including homicides and missing-persons cases.

In a statement announcing the initiative, Moody said she hopes the cards will jog some old memories that could spur fresh leads.

“I have seen so many stalled investigations get new life after someone came forward with groundbreaking information. Sometimes that new information comes from criminals or co-conspirators who have a change of conscience, or maybe they are motivated by a reward,” Moody said. 

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Booking photo next to playing card.

Florida officials solved Ingrid Lugo’s murder case after an inmate identified Bryan Curry, left, as her killer from a deck of cold case playing cards. (Manatee County Sheriff’s/Florida Attorney General’s Office/Florida)

Dormant cases, she added, aren’t always revitalized by high-tech forensics.

“We are giving cold case cards to inmates, but we are not playing games. This low-tech approach to generating tips may prove to be an ace up the sleeve as we continue to bring finality to seemingly unbreakable cases,” she said.

The decks will be given to prisoners at 60 county jails and 145 facilities managed by the state Corrections Department.

Moody said her office will collaborate with the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers, Florida Sheriffs Association, the state’s Corrections Department and also Season of Justice, a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping cold cases warm.

Florida cited the success of the strategy in other states.

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Three playing cards with homicide victims and a missing person featured on them.

Florida officials are giving out playing cards to inmates featuring information on cold cases and missing-persons cases to help solve stalled investigations. (Florida Association of Crime Stoppers)

Connecticut investigators, officials said, solved 20 cold cases through the initiative. South Carolina dealt the cards and cracked eight stalled investigations.

Florida will offer $9,500 jackpots for tips that result in arrests, and informants can maintain their anonymity.

Moody noted that a prior version of the program launched in 2007 helped to solve a Florida murder.

Construction workers found Ingrid Lugo, 34, dead in a retention pond in Bradenton, about 45 miles south of Tampa, in 2004.

The case had gone cold when she was featured in a deck of playing cards distributed in 2007.

An inmate who came across the six of spades alerted officials that he served time with a man named Bryan Curry and believed he was involved in the slaying.

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Joe Winkler holds up a pair of playing cards featuring homicide victims.

Joe Winkler, assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, announces a new initiative to distribute playing cards featuring cold cases and missing-persons cases to inmates. (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office)

After Lugo called off their engagement, Curry strangled her to death. He was arrested and ultimately convicted of murder after a 2008 trial. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In another example of the program’s success, an arrest was made in the 2004 murder of retiree James Foote after an inmate saw a seven of clubs that summarized the killing. Foote had been found in a Fort Myers parking lot with a gunshot wound to his chest.

The Lake City prison inmate told authorities that Derrick Hamilton had boasted to others about the crime.

He was arrested in 2007, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Law enforcement agencies in Polk County, Florida, were the first to distribute cold case playing cards to inmates in 2005, which led to the resolution of four unsolved crimes.

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deck of playing cards featuring homicide victims and missing persons.

These playing cards feature information on homicide victims and missing persons. (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office)

According to the nonprofit Project Cold Case, the rate at which homicides are being solved in the U.S. has declined by more than 20% over the past five decades.

More than 72% of homicides were solved in 1980 compared to just 51% in 2021. To address this, Moody announced in February a new state cold case investigations unit.

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“This effort aims to address some of Florida’s most haunting cold case homicides,” Moody said in a statement. “By spotlighting these cases within correctional and detention facilities, the collective hope is to generate leads that will aid in solving them, offering much-needed closure to the families and loved ones of the victims.”

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