Crime & Courts

Retired Charleston officer to focus on unsolved cases

CHARLESTON - When Mike Gordon retired from the Charleston Police Department last year, the veteran homicide investigator couldn't help thinking about tough cases left unsolved and the victims still awaiting justice.

So Gordon didn't hesitate when Police Chief Greg Mullen called recently and asked him to return to the department as its first dedicated cold case investigator. For the next 16 months, he will get another chance at cracking a host of frustrating slaying and rape cases, including some that have languished for decades.

"From a personal and professional level, this is an exciting endeavor for me, and I feel flattered to be considered for the job," Gordon said. "It offers another opportunity to bring closure to cases and peace of mind to the families of victims."

Police are paying for Gordon's position with a $299,201 federal grant that also provides money for testing DNA evidence in cold cases. Charleston police have identified 44 killings and 58 sexual assaults in which there is evidence that could yield new leads through DNA testing. The cases date as far back as the 1980s and contain evidence that has not been tested or was tested without the benefit of today's technology.

Gordon worked on many of the cases that are getting another look, including the slaying of Donna Florence, who was stabbed to death and her body mutilated near the Interstate 26 overpass on Meeting Street in July 1997. Another case in contention is the September 2002 killing of 31-year-old Karen Fudge, who was stabbed to death in woods between Walnut Street and the Interstate 26 on-ramp.

Given the grant's limited duration, Mullen said he needed an experienced, detail-oriented investigator who could hit the ground running. Gordon seemed the perfect fit, with 23 years in homicide and a wealth of knowledge and contacts in the community, he said.

"Mike is one of the most detailed and thorough investigators I have ever worked with," Mullen said.

With his chiseled features, probing stare and unflappable demeanor, Gordon comes across as the quintessential old-school detective. He worked some 250 homicide cases during his 30-year career. He used to say there is no such thing as cold cases; there are simply unsolved crimes.

Gordon, 54, retired as a sergeant in July 2008 and went to work as a private investigator and consultant on suspicious death cases. He found the pace of the work a little slow for his liking and jumped at the opportunity to come back in this new role. This time out, Gordon will be a civilian employee with no rank. Though he can sift through evidence, conduct interviews and develop suspects, it will be up to a sworn police officer to carry out any arrests that are made.

Gordon said the job appealed to him because he will be able to focus exclusively on older, unsolved cases. As a detective, it could be difficult finding time to revisit these cases with new crimes always needing attention, he said.

Gordon's initial task will be to pore through and prioritize cold case files, looking for DNA evidence that has the best possibility of yielding suspects. He will work closely with crime scene investigators, detectives and a group of volunteers that has been reviewing cold cases to assist police. That group includes retired detectives, a former pathologist and a psychologist, Mullen said.