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Brian Laundrie manhunt: What makes a case 'cold'?

Some social media users are suggesting the manhunt for fugitive Brian Laundrie is already becoming a “cold case,” meaning crime has no new leads on his location.

Laundrie, 23, is wanted on debit card fraud charges and is a person of interest in the homicide of his fiancée, 22-year-old Gabby Petito. His parents reported him missing on Sept. 17 but recently said the last time they saw him was Sept. 13, and law enforcement has been searching for the 23-year-old for nearly a month.

The National Institute of Justice defines a “cold case” as a case in which officials have exhausted all “probative investigative leads,” which could occur within a matter of months, according to NIJ’s website.

“…There is no official or legal definition of a cold case. Each jurisdiction determines when their cases are ‘cold,'” Ryan Backmann, founder and executive director of a Florida-based cold case advocacy group called Project: Cold Case. “However, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority or law enforcement agencies don’t use an amount of time but instead consider a case cold when all the evidence has been tested, all the witnesses interviewed and all leads exhausted.

He added that “most agencies would not consider a case cold only a month in” regarding the search for Laundrie and that “there is still a lot that investigators can be doing.”

“As long as leads and tips are coming in, I am confident the case is not cold,” he said


Brian Laundrie (Instagram)

Brian Laundrie (Instagram)

Television dramas about cold cases and increased interest from the public often bring renewed attention to cases that froze years ago, and recent advancements in DNA technology have helped solve some such mysteries.

Laundrie and Petito were traveling cross-country in a van they converted into a camper when Petito went missing. Laundrie returned home to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1 in the van without his fiancée. Petito’s parents reported her missing 10 days later on Sept. 11. 


“Two people went on a trip. One person returned, and that person that returned isn’t providing us any information,” North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said during a Sept. 16 news conference. He added later that the focus of the department’s investigation at the time was “to find Gabby” rather than “bring Brian in.”

Garrison told reporters at the time that he knew Laundrie’s location. That changed the next day, when Laundrie’s family filed a missing persons report with police.

FBI agents at the Florida home of Brian Laundrie's parents Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Photo: Paul Best/Fox News)

FBI agents at the Florida home of Brian Laundrie’s parents Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Photo: Paul Best/Fox News)

“We understand the community’s frustration, we are frustrated too,” the department said in a Sept. 17 Facebook post. “For six days, the North Port Police Department and the FBI have been pleading with the family to contact investigators regarding Brian’s Fiancé Gabby Petito. Friday [Sept. 10] is the first time they have spoken with investigators in detail.”

Laundrie’s parents told police that they last saw Brian when he went for a hike at the T. Marby Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve. Law enforcement and FBI officials searched the reserve for several weeks but discovered no physical evidence of Laundrie’s presence there.

There were several potential Laundrie sightings in North Carolina and Tennessee in late September, but neither law enforcement nor the FBI have indicated where they are searching other than the Carlton Reserve as their investigation is ongoing.


Petito’s remains were discovered at a dispersed campground within the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19.

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