MetroQ&A: Jack Maxwell, Philly’s cold case specialist

Drexel University

Jack Maxwell is a cold case specialist. Over a 40-year career in law enforcement, Maxwell spent a majority of his career on special investigations on both the state and federal level. For the past 20 years, he’s sat on the board of the Vidocq Society, a club of detectives and forensic experts who meet in downtown Philadelphia monthly to help solve cold cases from law enforcement departments from across the country.

He’s currently an assistant teaching professor of Criminology and Justice studies at Drexel University.

What is your role with the Vidocq Society?

I’ve probably been a member for at least 25 years. I’m on the executive board.

I cannot say that I directly solved any of the cases over the years, but I feel as though myself and others have given some real good suggestions and advice that has led the investigating agency to have a successful conclusion one way or the other.

Do you get cases from the big cities like New York, Boston, or Washington?

A lot of the departments are small. They have limited budgets. They are working through the crime lab [and] in their state and there is a waiting list.

What does the Society do?

We make suggestions [on what should be done.] Sometimes our experts agree to review results, or help get evidence expedited, and once its expedited maybe that leads to a successful conclusion or elimination or whatever. We can help move the investigations along. So it’s just the idea that they go back and they’re armed with ideas and I’ve never seen the attendees at any particular meeting not have some good advice and suggestions for the presenters.

There was talk about the book about the society, “The Murder Room,” by Michael Capuzzo, being optioned into a movie. Any news on that front?

Carol Mendelsohn, the creator of the “CSI” television series, she had one of her writers George Nolfi assigned to us and he was trying to write a TV pilot based on the “The Murder Room.” So I don’t know about a movie but I do know there was a television series planned and that was about three years ago. I think the pilot was not successful.

What cases stand out after 30 years?

Well, the Boy in the Box. And of course officially it’s not solved, but the Vidocq Society through the efforts of the gentleman who just passed away, Bill Kelly, who worked in a forensics lab at the time of the case. … we had a theory, Philadelphia homicide had a theory on who did it, and there are some complications legally. The person who is giving the information, on the advice of their doctors and lawyers, has asked not to go public, but we feel as if we know who did it. So technically it’s solved but it’s still not solved.

What is it about cold cases that are so appealing to you on a personal level?

I created the cold case squad in Philadelphia Homicide when I was chief of detectives. Mainly because the case that got me thinking was Marie Noe, she killed eight of her kids, and she was never was indicted until we got back involved, and a writer for Philadelphia Magazine took an interest in the case. She ultimately confessed, but she got away. And so its the basic idea that you’re speaking for the dead. Speaking for those who can’t help themselves.

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