PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Longtime cases waiting to be solved in Washington County will have a chance at moving forward, even decades later.

New grant funds will ensure the county’s recently opened Cold Case Unit will be funded through 2026, long after it was launched in 2020.

“We have families that are still grieving. We have the unresolved open wounds, not only in families but in our community,” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said. “We wanted to make sure we could actually deliver on what we had hoped to be able to accomplish. That first arrest proved this was a worthwhile endeavor for us.”

Three years after getting the initial federal funds to create the unit and cover the work of detectives and researchers, Washington County made its first arrest earlier this year when Robert Atrops was accused of killing his wife, Deborah, 35 years ago.

The grant funds through the U.S. Department of Justice prioritize prosecuting felony-level cases with the help of DNA as technology becomes more advanced.

“We’re taking the modern science and the modern approaches and we’re applying that to older cases, cases that might’ve been investigated when DNA isn’t even on the horizon,” Barton said.

This week, Washington County commissioners voted to approve an additional half a million in federal dollars to keep the unit running through 2026. 

The DA’s office has at least 43 cold case homicides going back to 1968 — 14 of which have DNA — with more possible in the other 29 cases. With the new funding for the unit, the DA’s office will be able to branch out into other “cold” crimes.

“I’ve never liked that phrase because it’s really not cold to the family, to the friends, and to the victims. For them it’s a very hot button, very present issue that they’ve never forgotten about and we haven’t either and that’s the key here,” Barton said. “That also can apply to significant cases like sexual assault cases where we have extended statutes of limitations in Oregon, thankfully, which is a good thing the legislature’s done.”

As detectives continue to pore over these cases, DA Barton says there’s a reason they’ve kept them open, and as loved ones never gave up fighting for justice, neither will they.

“We can’t deliver on everything. We’ve got over 40 unsolved homicides and will not be able to solve all of those. It’s hard to accept but it’s a true reality. But boy, if we can solve two, three, four, five and so on — I’ll feel really good about that,” Barton said.

The district attorney couldn’t go into further detail but says they’ve identified some other cases in the mix that have a good chance of moving forward and hopefully solved soon. KOIN 6 will continue to follow up.