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34 Year Old Cold Case Cracked by IRSC's Institute for Cold Case Investigation

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File IRSC photo from April 2019 courtesy Molly Bartels
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Indian River State College
After reviewing records at the Medical Examiner's office, they discovered that a cause of death had in fact been reached by the medical examiner concluding that Patterson committed suicide.

Fort Pierce-April 11, 2022: The Indian River State College’s Institute for Cold Case Investigation has put-to-rest a 34 year old murder case.

Institute founder and Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Kimberlie Massnick said the Indian River County Sheriff's Office gave her class the case last fall. It involved the death of 28 year old Steven Patterson who was found burned to death, seatbelt fastened, inside his car in a rural area of Indian River County back in 1988. Suicide was suspected, some suggested it was a homicide involving a drug gang. For 34 years the Sheriff's Office had the cause of death listed as ‘undetermined’.

Last fall, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office turned the case over to Dr. Kimberlie Massnick and her students at Indian River State College.

“Originally it was looked at as a suspicious death," said Dr. Massnick. "His sexuality was brought into it, potential drugs were brought into it. So all of that needed to be re-looked at.”

The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office gave the class over 500 pages of documents. Dr. Massnick and her students spending weeks pouring over the case file.

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File IRSC photo from April 2019 courtesy Molly Bartels
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Indian River State College
Dr. Kimberlie Massnick is pictured standing on the right over seeing her Institute for Cold Case Investigation class.

Eventually, after reviewing records at the Medical Examiner's office, they discovered that a cause of death had in fact been reached by the medical examiner concluding that Patterson committed suicide. But that conclusion never got to the detectives investigating the case because the conclusion was reached in 1992, in a hand written note from the medical examiner, a note that got over-looked 4 year’s after Patterson’s death.

"We actually had one student who worked at the medical examiner’s office and was able to look at the medical examiners files from back in that day. The medical examiner actually changed the death certificate from that suspicious death, un-determined, to actually a suicide based on the investigation that the sheriff had done, but the two pieces never got to each other.”

Dr. Massnick called it a case of "miscommunication", adding that "back then we didn’t rely on email to communicate the way we do now.”