Michigan State University students are working with MSP to help crack cold cases

Program is bringing more focus to cold cases

EAST LANSING, Mich.Michigan State University students are working with Michigan State Police to help solve murders through a new pilot program at the school.

They’re trying to solve mysteries, murders that have occurred years ago -- sometimes decades ago. They sift through old pictures, maps, recordings and other documents.

“Young girl that was hitchiking, that was the last time she was seen. And then about a few weeks later she was found dead,” MSU intern Antonina Cinnamond said.

Cinnamond is doing something she dreamed of, but didn’t know was possible. She’s working to find bring answers to families.

“We get to look at some photos, some interviews, with some people that knew the victim, maps,” Cinnamond said. “This was a really good opportunity to get hands-on experience with, like, some real police work and some real investigative skills.”

Cinnamond, along with Baylie Kaiser, are Michigan State University students who are part of a pilot program that allows them to work side by side with Michigan State Police detectives to work on solving cold cases while getting college credit.

“We’re looking at fingerprints, photos of evidence,” Kaiser said. “So, starting from the beginning, trying to get a sense of who everyone is.”

“It’s certainly no secret that law enforcement as a profession has been struggling with recruiting for several years now,” Lt. Erik Darling.

A lack of officers means a lack of time and effort on these cold cases.

“The kids are so energetic. I mean, they’re digging in every little minute detail and that’s what we really need and that’s what we’ve needed for years,” Det. Sgt. Larry Rothman said.

Rothman leads the interns and the investigations. One of those cases is the 40-year-old murder of Mary Alice Ellicott in Saline.

“We actually took the students out to the crime scene where her body was,” Rothman said.

Kaiser said one of the hardest aspects of the work was trying not to think about the case when they go home.

“If you have homework, or other classes, or another job, because this is so interesting you want to think about it all day,” Kaiser said.

“They’re young minds and I think technology has come a long ways,” MSP victim advocate Jessica Espinoza said.

Espinoza teaches the college students about how to deal with victims’ families while working on the cold cases.

“Some of them have not had contact with law enforcement in several years, maybe decades. The way that we approach that is important,” Espinoza said.

Cinnamond said Ellicott’s murder has captured her attention.

“I just want to figure out where was she for those three weeks. What happened to her? Where did she go?” Cinnamond said.

The hope is the students’ curiosity and energy just might be the thing that could crack some of the cases.

The next set of student sleuths interns will start in January. Eight students will be part of that team.

Read: More Investigations coverage

Have a case you’d like us to look into? Reach the Local 4 investigative team at 313-962-9348, or email Karen Drew at kdrew@wdiv.com.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.