With time on their hands and patience on their side, a trio of detectives gave up retirement a decade ago to give fresh eyes to old murders. The dedicated Cold Case Unit at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, first formed in 2009, is finding success closing decades-old murder cases. In fact, over the past three years, they’ve closed three cases, sending a clear message to criminals.
In just the past several months, the team has publicly stepped up calls for the public’s help in two unsolved murders. Sharon Gill was killed in 1990. Christine Flahive disappeared in 1995. The hunt is on for the murderers of these two women, and these detectives have a total of more than a century of investigative experience between them.
Sharon Gill, left, and Christine Flahive, right. (Credit: Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office)
Detective Mike Gandy, who started the unit, has deep roots in the community and more than four decades of experience in law enforcement, mostly at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.
Detective Mike Vogel is a veteran polygrapher who also served as a special agent with the Naval Investigative Service, which is now known as NCIS. He is the evidence guy.
“If we’re looking for something in a case,” Vogel said, “I seem to have a unique knack of being able to find things that are missing.”
Kurt Mehl, a veteran detective from New Jersey, is the meticulous organizer in the team. They have a system where they take all the case files and turn that into a comprehensive summary. It requires the detective to read every line of tens of thousands of documents.
That meticulous attention to detail comes in handy when working cold cases riddled with dead ends.
“You have cases where maybe there are numerous suspects and no real evidence,” Mehl said. “You start eliminating suspects and you start closing the doors and it slowly brings you to where you ultimately want to be to the person who is responsible or persons.”
That is, finding the killer and closing the case.
“A big part of this is analyzing what you already have, what else happened here that they missed because simply, they didn’t have time,” Gandy said. “Over the years many detectives have worked on these cases but detectives are working crimes daily and they would say, ‘When you have time look at this case, this case, and this case – and they’re cold cases — but you don’t ever have that time.'”
In that search for clues, teamwork for this team matters. “We work cases together,” Gandy said. “One day we may take two or three statements from a potential defendant and just sit and analyze it together in here and say, ‘Well, why did he say this or why did he say that?’ And we’ll come up sometimes with three different possibilities, and sometimes we’ll come up with one thing that looks definite.”
While DNA can make a difference in solving these old cases, Gandy said their success has mainly come from good old-style detective work, which is getting out and knocking on doors.
One pivotal piece can lead to justice for the victims and their families, which makes it all worth it to these detectives. The detectives said they are not headed to a life of leisure anytime soon.
“Some people are able to walk away from it when they retire from law enforcement and some people just can’t,” Vogel said.