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The Police Investigation Into Elliott Smith’s Death: Cold Or Open Case?

Elliott Smith


In the police investigation into Elliott Smith’s case, it’s important to understand the difference between an open case and a cold case. If you look at the definition of cold case, you get something like: a case ‘that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect’. This could very well correspond to Elliott’s case, as the police investigation seems inactive but the police have always told me the case was not cold but open. Thus, I directly asked homicide detective James King, who is still in charge of the case, to explain the difference between a cold case and an open case, and here is his answer:

‘This case is not technically a “cold case” because that term (as we use it at Robbery Homicide Division) refers to an unsolved murder in which all leads have been exhausted. Elliott’s case is an “undetermined” death investigation that will remain open until south time as a definitive conclusion (i.e. homicide, suicide, accident etc) is reached by the police.’

By this, I understand that they consider that not all leads have been exhausted, which could also be interpreted as they consider they have one lead, meaning a suspect, and I don’t think I am reading too much between the lines…

Typically an investigator will work the case until all credible leads are exhausted, and detective King has let me know in previous conversations that this could take very long, even forever. If all credible leads are exhausted and there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that a specific individual committed the crime, then the case is usually administratively cleared as unsolved or filed as cold (inactive investigation), which, I repeat, is not the case for Elliott’s. This is not unusual though, there are hundreds of other open cases in Los Angeles (and everywhere), and for example, the high-profile case of Tupac Shakur, who was killed in Las Vegas in 1996, is still an open case.

Does it mean the police will solve the case? Maybe, maybe not. ‘will remain open until south time as a definitive conclusion (i.e. homicide, suicide, accident etc) is reached by the police’ is detective King’s answer, but he also added this:

‘Lastly, I, like you, have not forgotten this event, and as is the case with all unsolved investigations that I have undertaken, I retain hope that someday someone will provide first-hand information that will enable us to reach an unequivocal conclusion.’

He retains hope to solve the case is the key here, and so far this is all we have.

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