Extremely Cold Case

Victim's descendant: It's all gone now. The house, the money...
Detective Vera: ...the suspects...
Cold Case, "Torn"

A professional detective applies their crime-solving skills to an old historical mystery. Either the mystery has remained unsolved in the interim, or the detective has found reason to suspect that the original solution was flawed.

Differs from a usual situation of Revisiting the Cold Case because everybody involved in the original incidents is dead. This means the detective has no opportunity to re-interview witnesses or suspects and is forced to rely on what physical and documentary evidence remains. It also affects the framing of a successful outcome, since it's too late to make things right for the original victims (although in some cases there may be a living relative whose situation will be affected).

Often appears as the premise of a Something Completely Different episode for an established detective.

Examples:

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    Literature 
  • In The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey's fourth novel featuring Inspector Alan Grant, he's laid up in hospital with a broken leg and passes the time re-investigating a murder from the 15th century. Famous because, rather than have him investigate a fictional case, Tey used the real incident of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.
  • In "The Musgrave Ritual", a young Sherlock Holmes not only resolves the disappearance of a butler but also locates a historical artifact, the crown of King Charles I. The butler had also discovered this, and got as far as the chest containing the crown, but was left to die by his accomplice/ex-lover.
  • In A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, Ellis Peters' fourth Felse Investigates novel, George Felse goes on holiday and is invited to attend the opening of a historic tomb in the town where he's staying. It's discovered that the tomb's occupant was apparently buried alive, and figuring out the truth about her death becomes the B-plot to the more recent violent death that's the main mystery.
  • In The Wench Is Dead, Colin Dexter's eighth Inspector Morse novel, Morse is laid up in hospital and passes the time by re-investigating a murder case from Oxford in 1859, which he suspects resulted in three wrongful convictions. (The murder case is fictional, but inspired by a real 1839 case.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Inspector Morse: In "The Wench Is Dead", Morse is laid up in hospital and passes the time by reinvestigating a murder case from Oxford in 1859, which he suspects resulted in three wrongful convictions. (The murder case is fictional, but inspired by a real 1839 case.)
  • Used as a quick gag on an episode of Monk: while playing undercover as a security guard of a museum and pondering the clues of the murder of the week, Adrian randomly points out to Stottlemeyer that a Neanderthal skeleton that is on a nearby exhibit shows signs of having been murdered, rather than the natural causes the exhibit says were the cause of death (and that none of the anthropologists or analysts or other people who have seen it in the many years since being unburied noticed).
  • New Tricks: Although the entire purpose of the UCOS team is to investigate cold cases, they cover new ground in "A Death in the Family" when Stephen Fisher of MI5 asks them to investigate a murder that took place in 1851.
  • Cold Case: A few of the episodes go back to the 1930s or earlier. In these cases, the detectives often complement their interviews of living witnesses (who can be scarce) with interviews of their descendants, diaries, letters and recordings of them while they were still alive. The investigation is almost always triggered by the recent death of a relative of the victim.
    • In the series premiere, Lilly asks what's the coldest case ever and her old partner claims that it's Lucy the Australopithecus, because someone bashed her head in with a rock. note 
    • In "Beautiful Little Fool", the team investigates their coldest case up to that point, the murder of a flapper in the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The only living witness was a little girl at the time of the murder, and getting an interview with her (now an old, reclusive socialite in her family's mansion) is an additional challenge. Solving this crime has legal effects in the present day because the murder weapon is proven to have been stolen from the victim, and the police confiscates it from the murderer's grandson.
    • In "Torn", Lilly and her team investigate their coldest case ever, the murder of a woman who was killed in 1919. They soon learn that she may have been murdered because of her activism for the women's vote. The only person from the original investigation still alive was a young child at the time.
    • In the same episode, Lilly and Scotty revisit the storage for really old cases (before World War II). Lilly reads through some files from the 1910s and pokes fun at how lacklustre they are. One comments that "The suspect is a man with a mustache", and that's it. The implication is that they could take any of them right there and get closer to the truth.
  • The PBS documentary series History Detectives investigated the Austin Axe Murders of 1885-1886 using documentary evidence, psychological and geographical profiling. They concluded that the likely murderer was one Nathan Elgin who was shot by police while attacking another woman shortly after the last murder. At the time the murders took place, the idea of a Serial Killer simply did not exist, and the locals were convinced that it was the work of a gang or some kind of moral degradation driving the town's men crazy.

    Web Original 
  • From Gizmodo: 9 Historical Murder Mysteries Solved More Than A Century Later:
    • The death of Antoine Mauroy, a Parisian madman who received several blood transfusions from animals in 1667. The physician who performed the transfusion was tried for murder and acquitted. The madman's wife was subsequently accused and convicted of poisoning him, but she was suspected of having help from the doctor's enemies.
    • The death of Cangrande della Scala, ruler of Verona who passed right after conquering Treviso in 1329. A 2015 autopsy revealed that he had been poisoned with foxglove.
    • The deaths of Francesco de Medici and his wife within a day of each other in 1587. A modern autopsy determined that Francesco had died of malaria.
    • The assassination of Giuliano de Medici during the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478. An encrypted letter deciphered only in 2004 revealed the identity of another plotter, the Duke of Urbino.
    • The deaths of 17 people found in a 13th century well in England. Identified through DNA as members of a single Jewish family, their deaths were also found to be not from natural causes.
    • The death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, confirmed to be from natural causes.
    • The boy in the cellar, a 15/16 year-old boy buried in a 17th century cellar in Maryland, determined to have been murdered.
    • The death of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1821, attributed to gastric cancer in a modern autopsy.
    • The death of Tycho Brahe in 1601. Suspected arsenic poisoning was ruled out by testing his beard in 2012.

    Real Life 
  • Atapuerca's "Skull 17" has been lauded as the oldest unambiguous instance of murder, about 430,000 years ago. The owner of the skull, a male Homo heidelbergensis, was hit with a hard object, possibly a rock, in two different areas of the skull shortly before his death, thus excluding an accidental impact or fall. A little more ambiguous is "Skull 5" from the same site and similar age, which received a single blow to the face and died months or years later from an infected tooth broken by that impact. Atapuerca itself has instances of cannibalism going back over 800,000 years, but it can't be excluded that those bodies were eaten after their natural death.
  • The non-fiction book Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigative Techniques (2006) argues that the coldest criminal case ever investigated is the death of Ötzi the Iceman ca. 3300 BCE. He was found 5,000 years later in 1991 and initially mistaken for an accidented mountaineer. Once dated better, he was speculated to be an accident still, or a ritual sacrifice (which would make his death not a crime under the law of the "jurisdiction" it was committed in), but further testing, using the same techniques employed in modern crime investigation, found unambiguous evidence that he had fought for his life against several people before being murdered. Now we know where he was before his murder, what he ate, how many people were involved in his killing, that they were all men from the area, and that he tried to save another wounded man by carrying him over his back before he met his fate.
  • Spanish criminologist Francisco Pérez Abellán investigated three magnicides from the 19th and early 20th century in the 2010s:
    • He found that Juan Prim (Spanish PM shot in an ambush in 1870) was strangled in his bed while he was recovering from the shooting, concluding that he was victim of a more elaborate conspiracy than commonly believed.
    • He ruled that Mateo Morral, the anarchist that tried to kill King Alfonso XIII during his wedding day in 1906, was murdered while in police custody and could not kill himself as historically recorded.
    • He confirmed that José Canalejas, Spanish PM murdered in 1912, was indeed murdered the way he is said to have been in History books, but also found that his killer, the anarchist Manuel Pardiñas, did not kill himself to evade arrest. Instead, he was beaten and then shot twice in the head by Canalejas' bodyguard.
  • The Saskatoon Police Department accepts tips leading to the identity of an unidentified woman nicknamed "The Lady of the Well", even though her murder has been dated to the 1910s according to the items found with her. The body was found in 2006.
  • In 2007, the students at the police academy in Fürstenfeldbruck investigated the unsolved Hinterkaifeck family murder of 1922 as if it was a new case. They agreed on a prime suspect, but did not make his identity public out of respect for his still living relatives.
  • The disappearance of a 16-year-old servant girl named Emma Alice Smith in rural Sussex in 1926 was reinvestigated as a murder in 2009, after a short film was made about her. A dying man had allegedly confessed the murder to Emma Alice's sister in his deathbed in 1953, but she had herself died without reporting it and the man's name was unknown. After the investigation, however, the police accepted a different theory about her disappearance (that she had eloped with a married man to Ireland) and closed the case.

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