A true crime television show played a major role in the arrest last week of a Minocqua man accused of killing his wife back in 1982.
According to the Oneida County sheriff's office, a team from the Oxygen series "Cold Justice" helped local investigators prepare the evidence in the 36-year-old Barbara Mendez murder case for the district attorney's office.
Robin Mendez, 69, was arrested last week and charged with first-degree murder in connection with his wife's bludgeoning.
According to Oneida County sheriff Grady Hartman, it was Barbara Mendez's daughters, Christy Mendez Wadas and Dawn Mendez Shape, who initially contacted the television show which focuses on re-investigating murder cases that have "lingered for years without justice."
The series follows veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who partners with seasoned detectives, to solve old murder cases. Together with local law enforcement from across the country, the "Cold Justice" team has successfully helped generate approximately 35 arrests and 18 convictions, according to the show's producers.
"The daughters of Barbara Mendez proposed the idea to the Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office several years ago," Hartman said. "The Sheriff's Office reached out to 'Cold Justice' based on the daughters' request and coordinated with the Cold Justice Team to be in the area at the end of January 2018 to assist investigators. The Cold Justice Team provided fresh eyes and resources as the Sheriff's Office investigative team worked to put the case together for presentation to the District Attorney."
"We investigated the Cold Justice Team before they came and were told by those who had worked with them that they were very professional and helpful," Hartman added. "We found this to be true, based on our experience with them. The Cold Justice Team was an integral part of the success of our investigation."
The story of the Mendez case will be the first episode in the program's 2018 season, which will air in June, Hartman told the Lakeland Times.
"I haven't watched it," he said. "(Capt.) Terri Hook has watched them all."
Hartman said the sheriff's department has been in contact with program representatives for a few years.
"They were reviewing the case and getting their stuff together and it all kind of came together for us earlier this year," he said. "We did our due diligence, looked at it and we thought 'Cold Justice' brought a lot to the table."
Hartman said the show's staff has "a lot more resources" at its disposal than his department does and it was worth the risk of working with a television show to be able to bring closure to the survivors of Barbara Mendez.
"We decided, 'Yeah, we're gonna take a chance.' Even a shot in the dark is a chance to bring some closure for this family," he said. "We were gonna do whatever we had to do that."
"We were so excited to work on this case," Siegler said in a statement. "We came because the daughters of Barbara Mendez asked for the Oneida County Sheriff's Office and us to work together. And the story of what happened to Barbara Mendez broke our hearts."
A few hours after Hartman's Lakeland Times interview Thursday morning, Hook sent out a press release to media outlets in the area.
"Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman and Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek would like to thank the Cold Justice Team for their assistance with the Robin Mendez case," Hook said in the press release. "Their assistance was significant in the compilation of the case for the district attorney."
Barbara Mendez was found dead April 28, 1982 at her place of employment, the former Park City Credit Union in Minocqua. According to the criminal complaint, investigators believe she was blundgeoned with a tool used in the upholstery business while closing the office for the day.
Mendez, who is being held on $250,000 cash bail, is due back in court Thursday for an adjourned initial appearance.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com
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