ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – No matter how cold the case, CBS46 crime scene investigator Sheryl ‘Mac’ McCollum will always turn up the heat.
A seasoned crime scene investigator, Mac – as she’s called – is on a relentless quest to solve murders that remain enigmas – no suspects, little to zero evidence and witnesses virtually non-existent.
And she’s the only CSI in town working exclusively with CBS46.
“You might be the last opportunity for this family to get justice. You may be the one who can see something, think of something, connect something that hasn't been done. So, to me, I wake up every morning ready to go,” she said.
In between her CSI day job, Mac re-examines cold cases speaking with families, reviewing notes and pulling in experts who may see something she doesn't.
She founded the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute in 2004, and has built a network of 600 of the sharpest forensic minds in the world.
Firearms expert Dr. Duanne Thompson’s helped Mac for years.
“We've been in rivers, swamps in south Georgia searching for shotguns. We've been at bridges to dig up shells and have encounters with the Klan,” said Thompson. “You don't really say no to Sheryl. It's like a fish you get hooked and you're done.”
Her case files run the gamut, from Georgia's most heinous crimes to its most peculiar: a decapitation in Putnam county to a woman vanishing in druid hills
For Mac, the hunt for a killer is cerebral.
“You have to get in their mind. You have to understand what were they thinking? What did they want to occur? What was their plan? Is this the original crime scene?,” she said.
Mac said working with the public is key, which is one of the reasons she's working exclusively with CBS46 to keep forgotten cases in the spotlight.
“Zodiac, dc snipper, civilians solve crime,” she said. “Help us. That's the most important thing they can do. And on top of that show this family that this community that this state, still cares.”
Her fascination traces back to Bonnie and Clyde, a story she first heard from her mother, a gifted storyteller.
“She's talking about this couple that's madly in love that crisscrossed the united states robbing banks…that’s genius. Like why don't you and dad do that, like why are we broke? To me it became this fascination of why would somebody do that?,” she said.
Now, Mac’s training a new generation of investigators and officers through the institute.
Students are discovering new evidence, new suspects and new angles they frequently share with law enforcement departments across the country.
“There's a lot that goes into solving a cold case. Information would be one, obviously. Evidence would be one and luck. And I'll take luck all day,” said Mac. “It ain't going to hurt my feelings to say well you were just lucky. You're damn right.”
Luck has produced leads in the cases of Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, even the Boston Strangler.
“We've been able to move cases. Some we've changed laws. Some we've gotten information to the victim they didn't previously had that helps them understand what occurred with their love one,” she said.
Attorney Holly Hughes has worked with Mac at the Institute on some of its biggest cases.
She said what's most important about the work Mac’s doing is the compassion she instills in her students.
“We may not solve your case but at the end of the day you will know somebody gives a damn. Cause we care,” she said.