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Cold case homicides and assigning priority for investigation: a review of available literature

Katrina Nurthen (Strategy and Coordination Group, Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, Australia)
Luke van der Laan (University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 6 May 2022

Issue publication date: 24 August 2022




The purpose of this scoping literature review was to identify and consolidate all available theories and methods for cold case homicide evaluation, solvability and priority ranking that would serve to guide a broader exploratory study and future research.


The paper presents the findings of a scoping literature review. The review forms part of a broader exploratory study. The scoping literature review sought to identify reported evidence from the extant literature in identifying and defining key concepts relevant to cold prioritisation. It also sought to identify any knowledge gaps relevant to the scoping review question.


The review suggested that internationally, there is a wide variance and inconsistency in the processes, methods and criteria used by policing agencies to evaluate and prioritise cold cases for investigation. Despite this, there were four themes that could be regarded as [parameters for future cold case research: cold case evaluation and review, prioritisation methods, solvability and prioritisation systems and tools. The review revealed several gaps in the literature. No papers could be found discussing the allocation of individual priority rankings based on any kind of weighted criteria system or model. Further, no information could be found in the available literature on any automated systems, online tools, algorithms, or applications utilised when evaluating or prioritising cases.

Research limitations/implications

The research results are limited in that it is possible that relevant extant literature exists that was not discoverable using the scoping review search strategy.

Practical implications

The paper is a part of a broader exploratory study that seeks to develop a framework for cold case prioritisation that, in a time where public scrutiny has increased, has increased transparency with clearly articulated criteria for evaluation and process.


This paper assimilates the extant literature associated with cold case evaluation and prioritisation and presents a summary of themes and gaps in knowledge that informs future research.



Nurthen, K. and van der Laan, L. (2022), "Cold case homicides and assigning priority for investigation: a review of available literature", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 45 No. 5, pp. 741-756.



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