In 1990, Stacy Horn invented the Internet—or at least its New York variant, the online community known as ECHO. She recounted her adventures in Cyberville and the “morbid memoir” Waiting for My Cats to Die. Now, with The Restless Sleep, Horn proves herself a top-notch journalist, delivering stories from inside the New York Police Department’s Cold Case Squad—the nation’s largest office devoted to solving forgotten murder cases. She spilled her investigative techniques to Boris Kachka near her Greenwich Village home.
Why cold cases? It’s such a dead-end area, literally.
It’s the idea of resurrecting these lives—who were they, what happened to them? And the idea that nobody ever answered for this terrible, terrible crime.
So how exactly did you get in good with the cops?
I called the Cold Case Squad, and they said, “Well, you gotta go to the deputy commissioner for public information.” I said, “Let me just come and talk to you. What if we hate each other?” It was very awkward. These are homicide guys doing this for a billion years, and here I am saying, “Oh, murder, it’s so interesting!” One guy leaves the room, bored; this other guy’s just looking at me. To break the ice, I said, “Don’t you just hate dating?” And it worked.
What surprised you most in your research?
I was so looking forward to all the old evidence; there are warehouses around the city. That was my holy grail. The department did not want to give permission, but once I got in I saw why—there’s very little prior to 1980. They didn’t start getting serious about saving this stuff until DNA started being used forensically.
You did manage to follow a case from the fifties, but the cops made no progress. Did that frustrate you?
It did. But realistically the cops would say, “We want to catch the murderers who are still alive so they don’t murder anyone else.”
Still, these cops aren’t always avenging angels.
The one that I was most nervous about was Deputy Chief [Joseph] Reznick, who took over the division at the end. He’s a really smart guy but just a terrible manager, and morale plummeted. And so I tried to give him a break. But he really is kind of a dick. The day after our interview, the word came down that no one was ever allowed to talk to me again.
After spending all your time with cops, have your politics changed?
I’m still very liberal, I’m still pro-privacy. But I wrote this book in the years following 9/11 and I concede that there are issues. In many ways, cops are like pit bulls. But the answer isn’t to hire poodles. It’s to come up with better leashes.
Author, The Restless Sleep, Viking