Cold Cases heat up but remain unsolved

Deborah Kahn has gotten closer to her brother since he was beaten to death five years ago.

She has thought about him a lot, especially since they were once estranged and he was her only living relative. Their lives were different and far apart, professionally, economically and geographically.

He was a bright, contrarian small business owner in Atlanta who was most at home strumming an acoustic guitar at the Red Light Cafe in Midtown, debating friends or playing with his two rescued dogs at his home by the federal penitentiary.

» GEORGIA'S MISSING PERSONS:  GBI cases | Atlanta Police Department cases

She was an art professor at American University in Washington a world away from Chosewood and Boulevard Heights and South Atlanta where her 59-year -old brother lived and worked.

Then she got a phone call saying someone had killed him in the office of his moving business, Danny’s Delivery near Grant Park, possibly with a baseball bat and probably by ambush, five years ago last Sunday.

No one was ever arrested, even after she posted a $20,000 reward through Crime Stoppers. This month she paid $1,900 to mail 12,000 cards to addresses from Thomasville to Grant Park emblazoned with a haunting unanswered question: ” Who Killed Danny Kahn?” It reminded people of the reward.

“When a person is gone, you don’t have anything left except to hope for justice,” said Kahn, 61. “It is all you have to hold on to. It has been so long that you get a feeling …”

Her voice trailed off before adding: “As they say, cases get harder to solve.”

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Kahn and other families of victims are struggling to keep their cases from going cold or trying to heat them back up, using anniversary dates to retell the stories. Atlanta homicide detectives have had a high clearance rate on cases — 84 percent last year, 90 percent in 2011 — but with 19 open cases out of nearly 50 killings this year, detectives have their hands full.

“Generally if you don’t get somebody in the first few weeks, you’re going to struggle,” said Capt. Paul Guerrucci, head of the homicide unit.

Kahn is a realist. She knows police need a tip to solve the case. She hopes the flier will jog will jog a memory or the reward will undermine an allegiance. She knows her best hope is to raise awareness — to keep prodding .

Donna Smith knows the feeling. Her 47-year-old husband, Gregory, was found shot to death in his car shortly after the Birmingham couple had pulled into a Ben Hill driveway on El Paso Road on an Aug. 7, 2010 to visit Lena Smith, his mother.

“Within 20 or 30 minutes of getting to Atlanta, he was gone,” said Donna Smith at interview Monday at Atlanta Police headquarters to raise consciousness about the case. “We need the public’s help. It will be three years of not knowing anything … It has destroyed our lives.”

“As long as there’s breath and strength in my body, I’ll be calling police detectives to ask them what they know,” she said.

Her 22-year-old son wears a t-shirt with the message: “I am Gregory Smith … Do you know who shortened my life?”

Police believe Gregory Smith was the victim of mistaken identity. The Smiths believe they’re being victimized a second time by a “no snitching” practice in the neighborhood. Police are hopeful they recently got a solid lead. Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of up to $2,000, the maximum amount unless there is another source of funds to supplement it.

Investigators ruled out robbery as a motive. Gregory Smith’s money, jewelry and wallet were found on him. At least one possibility is that Smith was a random casualty of a gang fight.

In the Kahn case, the police have suspects but little evidence. Motives are speculation. It could have been robbery: He paid employees in cash and none was found in the office. It could have been an argument: Kahn had a temper. It could have been a former employee angry at being fired. It could have been all three.

Unlike Smith, police believe Kahn probably knew his killer. The office wasn’t ransacked and there were no signs of a struggle even though Kahn was bludgeoned to death.

“It takes a special kind of person to kill a man with his own hands,” said Atlanta Det. Kevin Otts, who has investigated the case for five years. “But I don’t believe for a second that the killer has kept this to himself the whole time. That is a lot to keep on your chest and not be able to talk about it.”

“I just hope whoever felt loyalty back then no longer feels that loyalty to him.”

Kate Krumm is trying to make sure her brother’s case doesn’t get any colder. Patrick Cotrona, 33, was killed during a robbery in East Atlanta in May. Krumm has seen the difference that raising public awareness can make.

Originally the case only got a generic news story. Krumm and her East Atlanta allies went to work, and soon Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed posted a $25,000 reward from the city to help solve the case.

Another fundraiser is scheduled Friday to raise money for information in the Cotrona killing as well as the 1980 slaying of an Atlanta police officer in East Atlanta, Krumm said.

“I wanted to make a big deal of out of it,” Krumm said. “That was my goal.”

Whether it will help solve the case, only time will tell.