March 4, 2013
For survivors, cold case investigators and the public, solving old homicide cases offers the perfect win- win situation. Beyond the altruistic benefits, though, cold case squads provide a goldmine of good ink for law enforcement agencies. So what's the ultimate bad ink? Botched investigations. Lawmen will go to great lengths to hide their dirty laundry – such as Harris County Sheriff's Office Case No. 84-137640.
by James R. Melton
When Joe Floyd Collins awoke on October 12, 1984, he was exactly six weeks shy of his 46th birthday. Life expectancy tables generously offered him another 32 years on earth. On that autumn evening, as the sun sank over the Southeast Texas prairie, the squeeze of a trigger instantly changed the prospect of a long life into the reality of an early grave.
For the middle-aged man some knew as Floyd and others called Joe, luck was fast running out. But the robber who shot him had the unexpected good fortune to gain the oddest bedfellow — the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
Fumbling and stumbling from the outset, Texas's largest sheriff's department all but guaranteed a killer would get a free pass and Joe Floyd Collins's murder would wind up quickly — and quietly —in the cold case bin.
Even a quarter of a century later, Sgt. Eric Clegg said he had searched all of the Harris County Sheriff's Office’s cold cases from the 1980s. He couldn't find records of the one-of-a-kind robbery-murder at a liquor store in Huffman, a mix of suburbs and farms at the county's far northeast corner. In 2009, Clegg was one of two sergeants assigned to the cold case squad.
A year later, presented with the victim's name, a date, crime details and the actual Harris County Sheriff's Office case number, 84-137640, the sergeant acknowledged the case's existence and reopened the investigation.