Police academies and universities collaborate through international cold case analysis project

With police tape in foreground, a group of students in boiler suits walk though forest and investigate a mock-crime scene

For some years now, students have been introduced to the analysis of cold cases and long-term missing persons cases at police academies and various universities worldwide.

Now, the Police Expert Network on Missing Persons (PEN-MP), AMBER Alert Europe and Locate International have succeeded for the first time in connecting educational organisations working on these cases with one another across national borders.

Involved in this unique project are the Police Academy of Lower Saxony (Polizeiakademie Niedersachsen) from Germany, where cold case analyses have been taking place since 2014, as well as the universities of South Wales, Leeds Beckett, Staffordshire, Winchester and Central Lancashire (Great Britain) and Murdoch and Newcastle (Australia).

The primary objective of this international collaboration is to enable young police officers and students to establish a close link between theory and practice in cold cases. It also enhances their investigative mindset by drawing on and learning from students from a variety of disciplines including criminology, policing, forensic science, psychology, forensic archaeology and anthropology.

Ten of Murdoch University’s Criminology and Forensic Science students – from Murdoch’s Bachelor of Criminology, Bachelor of Science, and Master of Forensic Science courses – have been provided the unique opportunity to work on the cold case project.

Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Dr David Keatley, and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science, Brendan Chapman, were able to initiate the global exchange as a result of their wide-reaching collaborator network connected to the Cold Case Review @ Murdoch initiative.

“Because it’s an active case, we and the students have signed confidentiality agreements which prevents us discussing the actual case, but I can say this type of unrestricted access that the German Police are offering is an amazing opportunity for our students” said David.

Prior to starting the case, the students will receive training in cold case investigation by the Detective Director of the Lower Saxony Police Academy Karsten Bettels.

Mr Bettels is no stranger to homicide cases, having come from an extensive career as a homicide squad detective prior to becoming an educator.

“Karsten brings such an amazing amount of experience and knowledge in investigating homicide cases,” Brendan said.

“He lectures at the Lower Saxony Police Academy and came up with the cold case review as part of the course offering there.

“Working with Karsten, Murdoch University students are now embarking on their own cold case review of an actual open case.

“Having Murdoch students able to tap into that expertise and combine it with a cross cultural experience is unique globally. This has never been done before. Anywhere.”

Murdoch University Pro Vice Chancellor, Grant O’Neill said the international collaboration between the universities and the police academies was a significant development in the delivery of the criminology and forensic science courses.

“To enable our students to work in collaboration with students from universities around the globe, and the police academies, on an actual cold case will be invaluable in their education,” Professor O’Neill said.

“They will learn on the job while applying the theory and education from their studies, while also learning as part of the collaboration with their peers from the other participating universities.

“The work of Brendan and David in introducing our students to this collaborative network and to work on an actual cold case shows the value of the forensic and criminology courses at Murdoch University, with educators who have that experience and expertise.

“I’m looking forward to hearing of the outcome of the collaboration and their work on the cold case.”

Details of the cold case review project

Cross-border analysis of cold cases

After being given a theoretical introduction to the basics of cold case analysis, in particular in understanding the victim and the crime scene, four multidisciplinary teams from the participating academies and universities, consisting of forty-five students, are now analysing an attempted homicide of a child and a long-term missing person's case.

Expansion cold case analysis project

The results obtained will be made available to the investigating authorities responsible for cold cases in Germany. The public prosecution offices, including the Public Prosecutor's Office in Verden (Germany), which provided the cases, attach great importance to having well-trained young academics in the police, and hope that this will lead to more institutions working together on cold cases internationally.

Forensic and Criminology students wishing to get involved in Cold Case Review @ Murdoch can email David and Brendan at

Murdoch now offers a Master of Criminology, the only university in Western Australia to offer this unique course, in which you can gain a competitive edge and learn specialised knowledge and advanced skills needed to respond to a wide range of tasks in the criminal justice system and the field of criminology. 

Posted on:

14 Dec 2020

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