‘Unsolved Philadelphia’ shines light on forgotten cases

Twenty-two-year-old Melanie Colon disappeared in May with acquaintance Reynaldo “Chino” Torres. Her bullet-riddled body was found in a wooded area four days later. Torres’ whereabouts are still unknown.

Franchesca “Cheka” Alvarado, also 22, traveled to Atlantic City in March with a male friend. He returned, but she hasn’t been heard from since.

Both women will be featured on upcoming episodes of “Unsolved Philadelphia,” a series on public access channel PhillyCam that acts as the city’s own “America’s Most Wanted.”

“We would love to spotlight any case that’s unsolved, but one of the driving forces is whether family members are willing to talk about the case and are wanting to get justice, wanting to share their story,” said executive producer Grady Jones, who two years ago founded the show. “You’d be surprised – not everyone does.”

In this instance, both families have been extremely active in helping to keep awareness of the cases alive – and in helping each other. “Franchesca’s family us about Melanie’s case,” Jones said.

“Cheka’s family has been really looking out for me,” Colon’s brother Ralphiee said. “Any news media they get interviews with, they tell them about Melanie’s story and to hit me up.”

He said he hopes the show brings his family’s long search for answers to an end. “Getting closure for Melanie will be the biggest weight lifted off all of our shoulders,” he said. “Someone out there knows something and I believe someone out there’s going to say something. Hard work does pay off – my sister always told me that.”

“We want to show how we live daily and, hopefully, we can show other people going through the same thing to never give up, because there is hope.”

In an attempt to continue spreading the word, the two families will have a table at Philadelphia’s “One Billion Rising” advocacy event on Feb. 14, hosted by Women’s Way in LOVE Park at 2 p.m.

‘Labor of love’

Jones, who called his show a “labor of love,” said the the idea came to him in 2006 when he was shooting an independent film around the city.

“We noticed there were a ton of vigils and memorials around for people murdered,” he said. “From that, we started thinking about doing a documentary and started the process of doing interviews with people.”

“One of the things we noticed was that most cases were still unsolved,” he said. “And we said, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can start a show to help spread light on cases no longer in the mainstream media.'”

“Unsolved Philadelphia” airs at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays on Comcast channel 66 and Verizon channels 29 and 30.

Making a difference

The show has already garnered tips leading to arrests in at least two cases, Jones said.

– A woman was arrested in May of 2011 for a Juniata hit-and-run the year before that killed 29-year-old Liliana Acevedo. The suspect’s trial will soon start.

– Jones said an arrest was also made in the 2005 shooting death of 18-year-old East Germantown woman Chakia Saunders after a segment on her murder aired.

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