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Durham betting on playing cards to solve homicides

Homicide investigators hope something as simple as a deck of playing cards can lead to closure in more than 50 of the city's unsolved crimes.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Nobody would blame Ellma McNair if she turned bitter. She has lost two children to murder – most recently, her son, Sharrod.

"He was just a soft-hearted, sweet guy," she said Thursday.

Sharrod McNair was 20 years old when he was shot in the chest outside Durham's Marvell Event Center on Dec. 31, 2006.

McNair says she's forgiven his killer, but she wants to know who did it.

"It's just something that's strong, that I really want to be taken care of," she said.

Her daughter, Tamikal McNair, says the need goes beyond curiosity.

"When my brother died, a part of me died, too, and I've been lost ever since," she said.

McNair's case is one of 53 unsolved homicides featured in a deck of playing cards (one card profiles two cases) that Durham Crime Stoppers will soon distribute to area jails and detention facilities, such as the Durham County Detention Center, Polk Correctional Institution in Butner and Central Prison in Raleigh.

Through donations, the organization has printed up 1,000 decks that showcase victims, locations and descriptions of unsolved homicide cases in Durham and Durham County that date to the 1980s.

Investigators hope the cards will trigger inmates' memories and that they will call Crime Stoppers' anonymous tip line. They could even receive award money for information leading to a felony arrest.

"I know inmates have some information," said Lt. Stan Harris with the Durham County Sheriff's Office. "It could definitely break a case wide open for us."

Cpl. Marty Walkowe, who coordinates Durham Crime Stoppers, says he already gets calls from inmates about cases and hopes the playing cards will increase the number of tips Crime Stoppers receives.

He says he's looking for any information about the cases and isn't worried about false tips.

"The investigators' job is to discern whether it applies to that case or if that information is erroneous," Walkowe said.

Pat Ellis, chairman of Durham Crime Stoppers, said the idea came at a training conference and that other parts of the country, such as Florida, have seen crimes solved because of the cards.

"Somebody knows something about these homicides," he said.

Ellis says he hopes to get donations to be able to order more – each set of 1,000 costs about $3,700.

Tamikal McNair just hopes the cards work.

"I've been angry for years, and all I ask for is closure," she said.



Erin Hartness, Reporter
Pete James, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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