• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"How did you happen to write Cold Case? "

"I've always been attracted to death as a subject, and to people and things that are forgotten. I met this guy who was a cold case detective. I didn't even know what a cold case was, so he had to explain to me what they do. I started imagining these boxes of files in basements that hadn't been opened in forever. He told me that there were warehouses around the city where they had been storing accumulated evidence for over a century. I had to get into these warehouses. I was drawn to cold cases because of that sad aspect of their being forgotten."

"From statistics, it looks like the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be a cold case."

"Also, there's definitely a race element. I looked it up. If you're black, your case is four times as likely to go cold."

"How did you choose the four cases out of the thousands that you found?"

"I didn't want it to be all success stories. I picked cases that I thought gave an overview. I picked the Jean Sanseverino case because I wanted to have several cases that were never solved. Because that's the reality. Most cold cases will never be solved.

"I also wanted to have an old case. Several that I was looking at were from the 1930s. But I thought it would be better if I could find some people still alive to talk to. With cases from the '30s, chances were that I was not going to find anyone.

"I decided to write about Jean Sanseverino because I liked her and identified with her. I felt I could tell her story better. So I was given permission to read through the 1951 detective files -- Jean Sanseverino was murdered in Brooklyn in 1951. In these files detectives were constantly doing things that I didn't understand -- ignoring suspects that I thought were compelling."

With computer search capacity not available to detectives in 1951, Ms. Horn did much research on the cold cases about which she chose to write.

Sylvia Krumholz was Jean Sanseverino's roommate at the time that Jean was murdered. Chances are that she might be alive. "I wanted to find her," said Ms. Horn. "She was my holy grail. I called every Krumholz in the phone book in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Florida. I would say 'Did you have any relatives in your family named Sylvia?' I figured that she might have married and gone by another name. Then I checked all the census records and I found three Sylvia Krumholzes and I tried to track down their families and again, any trace of her had disappeared."

As I read The Restless Sleep, I wondered how Ms. Horn felt, knowing that she lived in a city where there also lived murderers who had never been caught.

"It freaked me out, but at the same time I felt almost impervious because of where people are getting murdered. I have this printout of all unsolved homicides in New York going back to 1985. The print out is three inches high. I looked at my precinct, the Sixth. In the Sixth, the number of unsolved murders would fill maybe two inches on one page. There are perhaps nine unsolved murders -- that's it.

"But then if I go to one of the worst parts of Brooklyn, it's page after page after page after page -- roughly 9,000 names. I became obsessed with studying these names. I looked for patterns. Like how many men, how many women, how many black men, how many white men, how many children. Anything I could think of I counted. I don't fall into any of those categories. There's only one category that I'm going to fall into soon, that of elderly women who lives alone.

"Certainly I protect myself in ways I never used to. Like I used to buzz people into my building without asking, 'Who's there?' Now I ask and if I don't think they're telling me the truth, I don't buzz them in."

"How do the police feel about your book?"

"My two biggest fears were how the cops were going to respond to the book, and how the family members of those who were murdered would respond. I sent all of them copies and then I waited. The cops responded first and they were thrilled. The whole time I was writing it they were saying, 'You're never going to get it right, you're never going to get it right.' When they read the book, however, the police, without exception, said, 'You got it right.' Even when I was critical of something about the police department the police said, 'You were fair and it was true.'"

Ms. Horn's descriptions of relations among workers on cold cases interested me, as did her descriptions of these workers' dress and behavior.

That so many of the police were handsomely, even expensively garbed, came, Ms. Horn said, "as a shock at first. At One Police Plaza [NYPD headquarters], they all are extremely well-dressed and elegant. The closer you get to power, the more attractive and better dressed they are. I've never been allowed on the floor where the police commissioner is. The highest I went was the chief of detectives. Which is pretty high.

"One thing that was funny is this. If you watch TV, you get a sense that there's this rivalry between the FBI and local police. They hate each other. I spent a lot of time in squad rooms, and you can always tell the FBI when they walk into the room. The way they carry themselves, there's definitely an NYPD way, a presence, and there's definitely an FBI presence. You can instantly tell who's who.

"FBI guys, they are so fucking arrogant. They walk in and they act like they own the place. Whenever I see them on TV, where they're basically assholes, it's, 'You do what we tell you to do, and we won't give you any information, but you have to give us information.' It's exactly like that in real life. Exactly.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Sponsor Partners


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!