Meet the Homicide Detective Using ‘Serial’ to Try to Solve Another Murder

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In the wee hours of the morning on January 1, 2012, 24-year-old Mike Pimentel was searching for a bite to eat in the recently gentrified Toronto neighborhood of Liberty Village when he became separated from his friends. Shortly after, police believe he engaged in a confrontation with a man and a woman that left him with fatal stab wounds. He died in the hospital on New Year’s Day.

Though detectives have gathered numerous clues related to the murder, the couple is still on the lam and the case has gone cold. But now, Toronto police are trying to capitalize on the widespread popularity of the true-crime podcast “Serial” to help find Pimentel’s killer.

Each Saturday, the Toronto homicide unit releases a new clue related to the murder with the hope that they’ll generate tips that can help solve the case. The first clue was a screenshot of surveillance video that shows a woman police believe was with the man when he killed Pimentel; the next week, police tweeted out photos of a blood-stained hair extension, black snakeskin pumps, and a set of keys with a Moroccan flag keychain. The squad plans to release the final clue they can share with the public this New Year’s Eve.

The concept of rolling out clues each week is derived directly from “Serial,” Toronto homicide Detective Tam Bui told me by phone. He got the idea after he and his wife fell into the habit of listening to “Serial” before bed. Detective Bui says detectives and Pimentel’s family wanted to do something for the third anniversary of his death and figured that taking a “Serial” style approach could help “tease this out, draw a little bit of interest.” He even reached out to Sarah Koenig to tell her about his plan, but she has yet to respond.

People have a real appetite for cold case and historical murder — that sense of injustice that time has gone by and the family’s hasn’t had closure — and there are often clues,” Detective Bui said. “When our investigation stalled, one way we can try to move it forward is putting out information to the public.” Detective Bui, an avid social-media user, decided Twitter would be the perfect platform to disseminate the clues.

Pimentel’s family was 100 percent onboard with the approach, says Detective Bui, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it. “The first thing we did was talk to the family and say, ‘We have an idea for a media campaign.’ We wanted to make sure they weren’t offended by anything we put out.”

The Toronto homicide squad is fiercely protective of the anonymity of its tipsters, so Detective Bui declined to acknowledge if the social-media campaign had helped yield any case leads. But he did say that Twitter users had been tremendously helpful in identifying information pertaining to the released clues, like the brand of the jacket the female suspect was wearing or the flag keychain’s origins. 

Detective Bui said that one of the reasons he respects “Serial” so much is that he’s impressed with the amount of work that must’ve gone into researching a cold case. “I have mad respect for Sarah. I know these cases we disclose are 25, 50, 100,000 pages long,” he said, so picking through every detail and creating a compelling story out of them is pretty impressive.

As for his own “Serial” theory? Detective Bui hasn’t listened to the final episode yet, but his own personal opinion is that we should put a lot of stock in Jay’s testimony and the fact that he admitted to a serious crime. .”He was able to take them to the car, able to draw them the diagram of where the body was buried,” he said. “So I certainly believe portions of Jay’s account.”

Sounds like he’s still just as unsure as the rest of us.

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Detective Uses ‘Serial’ to Solve Another Murder