“Murder will out,” the saying goes from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Sadly, many murders, in reality, are never solved, and many murderers go free to murder again and again. Thankfully, the dedicated detectives in various cities’ cold case squads around America strive to make Chaucer’s saying come true. Stacy Horn examines some of the history, detectives, and cases of New York City’s Cold Case Squad in The Restless Sleep. It is an unshrinking, intimate, in-depth account that draws you in emotionally; when a case seems to reach a dead end or when things don’t seem to be progressing for the detectives, you as reader experience some of their frustration. There is profanity in the book, which may put some people off, but The Restless Sleep deals with a profane world - the profanity of murder far exceeds mere words.
The format and organization of The Restless Sleep is similar to the way in which cold cases themselves evolve over time. Cold cases are often worked on over the years by several different detectives, and each leaves the file with a DD5: “DD5 stands for Detective Division 5. Every time something is done on a case, it’s written up on their standard follow-up form, a DD5, and added to the case records.” The alternating cases Stacy Horn writes about are also like that; the continuing developments in one case covered in an earlier chapter are brought up again in a later chapter. She does this for various reasons (a new detective is assigned to a case covered in an earlier chapter, for example, or cases are linked together, or a case goes to trial) which work to great effect but can be a bit frustrating to readers getting caught up with a case, only to have to wait until a later chapter to discover its eventual resolution.
Despite the best efforts of police, detectives, and our judicial system, the grim reality is that murders often go unsolved, and murderers do walk the streets, free to kill another day: “Since 1985, in New York City alone, the killers of 8,894 people remain free,” the author writes. But, thanks to people like the detectives she writes about, some of these cases are cleared, some families are given a sense of resolution, and at least some murderers who thought to get away scot-free are proven wrong.
Some of the cases Stacy Horn writes about include that of Linda Leon and Estaban Martinez; a couple of drug-dealers who are brutally tortured and shot to death around Christmas while their kids are in another room, soon to discover the horror of seeing their parents’ dead bodies. Bar-hopping off-duty police officer Ronald Stapleton is meat-hooked in the eye and killed by two people with mob connections. Fourteen-year-old Christine Diefenbach goes to buy a Sunday newspaper: “Four hours later her body is found twenty feet from the Long Island Rail Road tracks, at the top of a small wooded hill.” These are just a sampling of the cases covered in The Restless Sleep. Many are linked together, seemingly unrelated murders that are actually committed by the same person(s). Following the detectives as they figure out these links, especially when they were unnoticed or not noticed by the detectives who preceded them, is fascinating.
The numbers of members of the NYC Cold Case Squad have been dwindling, due to such factors as detectives being promoted at a high rate, some retiring, and newer powerful units like Counter Terrorism getting: “all the people they feel they need. The Cold Case Squad has shrunk from fifty-two members to thirty-two.” Still, the ones remaining carry on, trying to make the “sleep” of murdered victims a little less restless by catching their murderers. Everyone involved in the police departments, detective squads, and forensic science labs working to make America safer deserve our heartfelt thanks. I’m glad to give The Restless Sleep a high recommendation for Stacy Horn’s unflinching rendering of the New York City’s Cold Case Squad and the crucially important work they do.