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Norwalk Cold Case Cop Finds Hot Leads With New Technology

Norwalk Police Lieutenant Art Weisgerber works to solve cold cases. Photo Credit: Tom Renner
Cold case files that have lingered in Norwalk are kept in folders. Photo Credit: Tom Renner
Sgt. Alex Tolnay of the Norwalk cold case unit examines a phone for finger prints. Photo Credit: Tom Renner
Sgt. Alex Tolnay of the Norwalk cold case unit looks for finger prints on a cell phone. Photo Credit: Tom Renner

NORWALK, Conn. -- Osvaldo Muniz finally met his match in Norwalk Police Lieutenant Art Weisgerber. The Bridgeport man will find out shortly his penalty for a 1988 kidnapping and sexual assault that Weisgerber solved with DNA analysis.

Weisgerber, a 28-year member of the Norwalk force, has worked on cold cases since 2002. There are approximately 40 cold cases files on Norwalk’s books, including the 1986 case of Kathleen Flynn , an 11-year-old girl who was strangled while walking home from Ponus Ridge Junior High. The oldest unsolved case is the 1971 homicide of Earl Collins.

Weisgerber and Sgt. Alex Tolnay work daily on Norwalk’s cold case log. Advancing technology has helped, but the painstaking, detailed and time consuming process still requires patience, experience and hard work to put pieces together from a jigsaw puzzle in which many are missing, old and perhaps gone for good.

Since joining the cold case unit 14 years ago, one of Weisgerber’s projects has including reorganizing files and getting all of the paperwork on to computers. Weisgerber found Muniz when he reorganized a case file and discovered an envelope that appeared to be part of another case in 2011. With the assistance of the Biology and DNA Sections at the Connecticut Forensic Laboratory in Meriden, evidence collected in 1988 was examined in August 2013 and analyzed for DNA. It matched Muniz.

Weisgerber took a confirmation match in November 2013, and Muniz was arrested in December. “There’s a 1 in 7 billion chance that it would match,’’ Weisgerber said, “and it did.”

Muniz, 68, has 37 criminal convictions and was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in 1980. He was released in June of 1988.

The Wolfpit Avenue case occurred on Aug. 4, 1988. A woman said a man dragged her out of a friend’s apartment, took her to a nearby yard and assaulted her. Police developed a sketch of the assailant, but few leads developed until Weisgerber reorganized the records.

The Muniz case shows the complexity that Weisgerber finds every day. “One of the biggest challenges is putting together a complete case file and records,’’ he said. “You have to make sure you’re not missing any information. The second thing is confirming you have all the property. Some evidence is still up at the state lab. I have to account for all the evidence.”

Weisgerber organizes all the information for each cold case in a thick, 3-ring binder. He also updates pictures from crime scenes, taking old 35mm negatives and converting them into digital images. “You can zoom in and out, and get a lot better clarity,’’ Weisgerber said.

Advanced DNA testing and enhanced photography are only part of the arsenal Norwalk police use to investigate cold cases. The department is perhaps the most technologically sophisticated in the region, with a roving crime lab, advanced fingerprint and other forensic testing, and creative use of social and electronic media. Norwalk updates its cold cases on Facebook.

“We got information from a woman in Tennessee who used to live in the Danbury area,’’ Weisgerber said. “People who used to live in Norwalk can now see what’s happening. You have a wider audience.”

Weisgerber and Tolnay also conduct all of the applicant background investigations for Temporary State Pistol Permits issued by the city of Norwalk, which will surpass 400 this year. They respond to crime scenes on a moment’s notice at any time of day and to process and collect evidence at major crime scenes. They are among Norwalk’s most valuable officers.

Weisgerber’s experience enhances Norwalk’s cold case unit. He started his career patrolling the streets near the Norwalk Police Station on Monroe Street. He worked as a detective and crime unit investigator before earning a promotion to lieutenant in 2012.

Sometimes the work gets frustrating, the digging endless. It deters him not a whit.

“I like the cold case work more than the average case,’’ Weisgerber said. “I like to think I can solve them all. I’m always looking for a break. I don’t run them through my head every night, but I think about them. Is there some new technology and DNA we could use to solve it? The most important thing is to pay attention, and keep moving forward.”

Click here to see a list of Norwalk’s cold cases. Contact Weisgerber at 203-854-3164 or 203-854-3028 for tips on cold cases.

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