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Cards could help uncover cold case clues

  • Story Highlights
  • Playing cards distributed in jails contain information about unsolved crimes
  • Officials hope inmates who know anything about the cases will call a hotline
  • Couple whose daughter went missing 10 years ago started the program in New York
  • A similar initiative in Florida resulted in eight arrests and one conviction
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From Kelli Arena and Kevin Bohn
CNN
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TROY, New York (CNN) -- While inmates in jails across New York pass the time by playing card games -- poker, gin rummy and solitaire -- they may also be helping crack cold cases.

Thousands of decks of cards featuring cold cases have been distributed in New York jails.

The idea is simple: Each of the 52 playing cards contains information about a murder, a missing person or another unsolved crime.

Inmates know information law enforcement agents don't, and as corrections officers can attest, inmates love to talk as long as it's not about their own crimes.

The program was started by Doug and Mary Lyall, whose daughter Suzanne went missing 10 years ago after she got off a bus at the State University of New York-Albany.

The Lyalls heard about a similar initiative in Florida where the cards, sent to state prisons and some county jails, resulted in eight arrests and one conviction.

Florida officials say they are close to releasing a third edition deck of cards.

Using money donated to their foundation, the Center for Hope, the Lyalls sent 7,200 decks of cards to New York's local jails.

"It just started to snowball, and we got momentum, and it took a lot of hard work, lot of phone calls, lot of foot work, but it's been worth it so far because we got it off the ground," Doug Lyall recalled.

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The Lyalls know that the work, at times painful, is important. They are convinced that some of the cases will be solved.

"The strength I find is the fact this is a missing part of my life, and I need to find my daughter, and this is our job now. If you have no other job for the rest of your life your job is to find that child that is missing," Mary Lyall said.

Most of the cases featured on the New York cards deal with missing persons, but some show unsolved murders, some dating to the 1980s.

Inmates can provide information by calling a hot line. They're not required to provide their names.

Cindy Bloch, case manager at New York's Criminal Justice Services, said she's encouraged by the response.

"Prior to the playing card program being implemented, we had virtually no calls coming from correctional facilities," she said. "We now have 40 or 50 calls per month coming in."

Sheriff Jack Mahar, who runs the county jail in Rensselaer County, New York, said he replaced all the playing cards in the jail with the cold case cards.

"The people that are here live out on the streets, they grew up out on the streets, they know what's going on," Mahar said.

"Sooner or later, someone will hear, someone talks; it always happens whether it's two days from now or five years from now."

Even inmates think the cards are a good idea. Video Watch how inmates have reacted to the cards »

"Murder's a big issue and kidnapping, you know, even though we're on this side of the fence, most of us don't like those things," said Patrick Devival, a prisoner in the Rensselaer County Jail.

Several inmates said the cards were disturbing to look at, especially when they were just trying to pass the time playing a game. But those CNN spoke to in the county jail all said they looked at them closely.

The Lyalls hope to get the cards in every state correctional facility as well as distribute a second deck with different cases. Right now, though, the county jails are a good start.

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"We have a very high turnover, which is very good cause we keep on getting different people in here all the time, that would give some fresh ideas, fresh information," Mahar explained.

"We haven't had anything to date, but we have our fingers crossed every day."

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