Kathryn Morris stars as Philadelphia homicide detective Lilly Rush, who investigates long-unsolved crimes, cold cases. In the pilot episode, Lilly investigates a 1976 case involving a teenage girl who was beaten to death on a tennis court during a party at a plush estate. A maid to a wealthy family, Bonita Rafaela (Lillian Hurst), claims she witnessed the murder of teenager Jill Shelby (Kate Mara). Now dying of cancer, the maid who remained silent, wants the killer brought to justice. Rush reopens the case, in which two brothers were originally suspected but not charged due to their powerful society family.
Lilly interviews several witnesses: Jill's best friend Melanie (Lisa Waltz), and her boyfriend, Todd Whitley (D.W. Moffett) (who is now married to Melanie) and his brother Eric (Michael Reilly Burke). The evidence points mostly to Eric, now a troubled alcoholic, but lawyer Todd has secrets of his own. Determined to uncover the truth, Lilly must force the Whitleys to confront their dark past despite resistance from everyone involved in the case, including the victim's mother (Elizabeth Franz).
Philadelphia, 1976 ("More than a Feeling", by Boston, plays in the background). Two teenage girls are walking on the street, headed for a party. At the house, the maid, Bonita, tells the two brothers who are throwing the party that their parents wouldn't want that. One of the boys asks his brothers if Jill is coming. The other boy says of course. The girls arrive at the party. Jill kisses one of the boys. Next thing, we see Jill's body laying on a tennis court, covered with blood.
Cut to 2003 ("Soul Searching", by Soul Hooligan, plays in the background).
Credits roll as the scene goes on.
It's a crime scene. Detectives Lilly Rush and Chris Lassing arrive to check on a triple homicide. They survey the scene along with Detective Nick Vera. Nick tells Lilly that a civilian wants to talk to her at police headquarters. She asked for "the lady in homicide." Lilly seems a bit annoyed. At police headquarters, Lilly meets with her boss, Lt. Stillman. Lilly asks about the civilian and Stillman says he told Nick to take care of her. Lilly says Nick's a pain in the ass. Stillman tells Lilly to talk to the woman and calm her down. Outside headquarters, Lilly meets with an old woman. The woman asks if Lilly "does murders", Lilly says she investigates them. Her name is Bonita Rafael. She says that she saw the murder of a girl on a tennis court in Chestnut Hill. Flashback to 1976 - Bonita is in her bedroom. She hears a noise and look out of the window. She sees a man hitting a girl really hard.
Cut to 2003, Lilly asks if she called the police. Bonita says she thought it wasn't her business. When Lilly asks when it happened, Bonita says 1976. Lilly is stunned, immediately asking why she's only saying this now. Bonita says she had a son and needed to work but now that she has cancer, she wants to end this. The girl killed was Jill Shelby, beaten to death in 1976 and the case was never solved. Stillman asks Lilly if she really wants to reopen a 27-year-old case. He says that the witnesses will be pretty shaky. Lilly says that time can be on their side—people who weren't willing to talk them might talk now, like Bonita. They take the box to the office and ask Detective Will Jeffries about the assigned detective on the case, Britt. Will says Britt was an excellent detective. The main suspects at the time where the two brothers who were throwing the party. One of them, Todd Whitley, was Jill's boyfriend. He was supposedly violent to the girl but the boys belonged to a very rich family, and no one could really talk about it. Lilly wants Will and Nick to take the case but Stillman says she should take the case. She doesn't like it very much, but Stillman doesn't give her a real choice.
Lilly is now talking to Jill's mother, Evelyn Shelby. She says that a witness came forward and they have new direction in then case. Evelyn is resistant to talk about it and Lilly is annoyed by that. Lilly brings up Todd Whitley and Evelyn says that Todd was lovely to Jill; and that she still sees him and Melanie—Jill's best friend—because they are now married. Lilly says she's reopening the case. Evelyn says that no one was able to solve it in all these years, and she doesn't want to go through that again. At the office, Lilly complains about how Evelyn is not willing to help. She asks who's this for. Stillman shows her a picture of Jill. Lassing, Lilly's partner, comes around. He's annoyed that Lilly's working on a cold case and not on their triple homicide. Lilly blames Stillman; says she'll only do another interview and then she'll be back. Lilly says to Stillman she's going to talk to the Whitley brothers now. Todd is a superstar lawyer, while Eric is a little problematic - divorced, alcoholic, without a specific job. Stillman says she should talk to Eric first. Lilly meets Eric while he's going out of his house. He seems to be a scared person. She asks about Jill and he says he can't talk to her, because his brother and him were treated like suspects back in 1976. Lilly says that is was an open secret that Todd hit Jill. Eric says Todd loved Jill. He doesn't want to talk anymore. Lilly asks how Jill was. Eric says she was nice—when you were alone with her. And when they were not alone, she ignored him.
Flashback to 1976 ("You Sexy Thing", by Hot Chocolate, plays in the back) - A few kids at the party are playing Spin the Bottle; Eric, Jill and Melanie are there. Jill refuses to kiss Eric, because of Todd. Eric says that she already kissed two other guys. Jill says she's not into it. Melanie kisses Eric, but he's still very upset. Cut to 2003 - Lilly says Jill was kind of a @#$%& to him. Eric says that was just the way she got sometimes. Eric says he has to go. Lilly asks if he did any sports in high school, because he looks kind of athletic. Eric says he wrestled for a year.
Lilly meets with Todd Whitley who thinks it's about Eric. Lilly says he doesn't look surprised it might be about Eric. Todd says it's "patterns of behavior". Lilly shows Todd a picture of Jill and asks if he recognizes her. Todd is disturbed. He says this was painful for a lot of people, and that she should leave it alone. Lilly says she can't do it, it's an open case. Todd asks Lilly how someone like her becomes a cop. She sarcastically says it's bad education, limited talented. He says she should be married and living a good life. Lilly says no one ever asked, and there she is, working homicides. Todd says that as he told back in 1976, he spent the night with his brother. Lilly notes that it was actually a lawyer who said that, in a statement three weeks later.
Todd says his father owns half of Philadelphia. Lilly looks at him like this doesn't mean anything to her; and Todd says that people like to see families like his in trouble, so they hired a lawyer. He adds that maybe her kind of people doesn't do that, but his kind of people do. Lilly asks if they do that even when there's nothing to hide. Todd says he can't help her anymore, and gets up. Lilly says she heard he married Melanie. Todd says Melanie can't help her either. Lilly asks if he still has a problem with violence, and that she knows he once beat Jill up so hard she got three stitches. Todd says she's wrong as the cops were back in 1976 - it was Jill's father who beat her up regularly. Lilly is waiting for Evelyn in front of her house - it's not the one she used to live. Lilly asks about all the injuries Jill had as a kid. Evelyn says it's because she played hockey and soccer. Lilly says her husband was a mean drunk, so she knows the difference between a sports injury and a trip down the stairs. She asks Evelyn if her husband beat Jill up. Evelyn says her husband was in Houston the night Jill died. Lilly says that not what she asked, Evelyn replies that her husband has been dead for 9 years. Lilly notes that now Evelyn works in a shelter for battered women and children. Lilly shows Evelyn a picture of Jill, from the case's file. Evelyn says she was the one who took the picture. Lilly says she just can't see how Evelyn can forget about Jill. Evelyn says she thinks about Jill everyday, and that this ruined her life. Lilly says it still matters. Evelyn says it's too hard to go back. Lilly says she can't walk away from Jill because she's a part of her, and there's new hope now. Evelyn asks - what if Lilly doesn't solve the case? Lilly replies asking - what if she does solve it?
Lilly and Evelyn go visit Melanie who says her husband doesn't want her talking to Lilly. Lilly asks if she doesn't want to solve the murder of her best friend. Evelyn tells Melanie this is important to her. Melanie agrees and lets them in. Lilly asks why Melanie came to the party with Jill but left alone. Melanie says she drank too much and had to go home. Lilly points that back in 1976 Melanie made a big point of saying she didn't think Todd had killed Jill. Melanie says that's because the detectives made a big point of asking it. Evelyn says that the cops were fixated on the Whitleys, and overlook Tim, the cook, who was with the girls that night. Melanie says Tim had told Jill to stop by at his house later, if she wanted. Back at police headquarters, Lilly is telling Lassing how it's weird that no one really looked into this guy who was the mother's and best friend's main suspect. Lilly says Tim is locked up in Frackville. Lassing doesn't believe Tim will talk to her. Lilly says she's an optimist. Lassing is not really excited to go with Lilly, but ends up going. Lilly and Lassing now talking to Tim. He's doing five years for forgery. Lilly asks if he was ever involved in a more serious crime. Tim says if she means Jill Shelby, no; because he's a cerebral criminal. Lilly asks if Jill came up to his house a lot. Tim says she and Melanie did, to get high. Lilly says Melanie thinks Tim killed Jill. Tim says that if Melanie married the prime suspect, she'd better point to someone else. Lassing says that Jill's mom also thinks he did. Tim says that a woman lives in a certain world, and if a neighbor kills her daughter, that world is a lie. Lilly says that Tim's alibi was going to bed at 10 p.m. that night. Tim says that the detective kept his word. He was actually with "a friend" that night - Bobby Jordan, a college boy from down the street. In 1976, they asked Det. Britt not to document it, but he believes Bobby will confirm his alibi now. Lilly asks if Jill ever talked to him about Todd. Tim says they told him everything, even things that they didn't tell each other. And that while Jill complained Todd didn't treat her right, Melanie was sleeping with him. Lilly and Lassing are stunned.
They visit Melanie again. She doesn't want to talk to them. She says that Eric showed up at their house drunk, after 6 years being sober. She adds that she told Lilly about Tim, so she doesn't know why Lilly is still bothering them. Lassing says that Tim has an alibi, and that they know about her and Todd. Melanie asks why does this matter. Lilly says it's because when Melanie tells them a lie, even a small one, it makes them think she's hiding other things. Lassing asks what Todd did to Jill that night. Melanie says it wasn't Todd, she knows it because she was with him that night. Flashback to 1976 ("I'm Not In Love", by 10 CC, plays in the back) Todd, Eric, Jill and Melanie are sitting near the pool. Todd makes a comment about Jill's top, which has printed the American flag. He says she looks like a patriotic streetwalker. Jill says it was on "Seventeen", and leaves, upset. Eric asks Todd why he has to be a jerk, and Todd tells him to go comfort Jill. Eric goes after Jill leaving Todd and Melanie alone. Melanie says Todd could use a good manners school. She says she could give him a tutorial....upstairs! Cut to 2003 - Melanie says she's obviously not proud of that. Lassing says it looks like Eric had strong feelings for Jill. Melanie says so what, Lassing asks then why Eric fell off the wagon just because Jill's name came up.
At a park where people are exercising, Lilly is hiding behind a tree dressed in running clothes, watching Todd Whitley. She throws water in her face to look like she's sweating and leaves her hiding spot, to run into Todd "accidentally." They start talking about the case. Lilly says she knows Todd was with Melanie that night. Todd says then she understands why he wouldn't want people to know it. Lilly says she does, but he could've just said he was sleeping, instead of that he gave Eric an alibi. She says Eric did it, and that's why Todd can have a normal life and Eric's a mess. She asks if Eric's alcoholism started after the murder. Todd says he can make Lilly's life very difficult. Lilly asks if he's covering for Eric. Todd asks what's the point of all that, after so many years. Lilly says people shouldn't be forgotten, even if they are her kind of people. They don't have a lot of money, they don't have lawyers, but they matter. They should get justice too. Todd says Lilly is a crusader. He laughs and wishes her luck.
That night, Stillman talks to Lilly at the office. He asks if sleeping is an optional thing to her. Lilly says she isn't tired, but she does look tired. Stillman says that the commissioner looked at her case today. He and Todd and Eric's father went to college together. Apparently Todd called the commissioner about Lilly. Lilly says Todd is a baby, and that she doesn't care. Stillman advises her to be careful. Nick shows up and says Eric Whitley is on the building, because he was arrested for drunken driving. Lilly runs to see him. Lilly meets Eric in the hall. He says it's her fault he crashed his car, she says the only thing she did was bring up Jill. Eric says their lawyer called the commissioner. Lilly tells him she already knows about that. Eric asks then why doesn't she back off. Lilly says that's because she feels they're one scotch away from a good conversation. Next day, Lilly arrives at the office and Evelyn Shelby is already there with Lassing. She shows them a box full of stuff about Jill. Lassing tells Evelyn they're closing it on Eric Whitley, she's a bit surprised. She's open Jill's yearbook and points to a boy, Charlie Winters, who once came to Evelyn and her husband saying that the Whitleys got away with murder. Lilly asks why that isn't on the file, Evelyn says it should be because her husband told the police. Lilly says that if Det. Britt talked to Charlie they would have a record. She asks Evelyn if her husband could have lied about telling that to the police. Evelyn says that when she asked him about it, he said she should stop pointing fingers at the Whitleys. She looks at Lilly and says they both know how it's like to have a husband fail them. Lassing looks at Lilly surprised and Lilly is very embarrassed.
Lilly and Lassing go talk to Charlie at his workplace - a meditation retreat. He's surprised that they finally want to hear about Jill. He's angry that no one took him seriously before. Lilly asks Charlie to forget it and tell them what he saw. Flashback to 1976 Charlie is almost "passed out" in a lounge chair. Eric and Todd come around, and they're arguing. Eric is asking Todd why he had to use his jacket, and that now it's ruined. Todd tells him to stop thinking about the stupid jacket and leave things with him. Todd walks away holding a tennis jacket covered with blood. Charlie watches all this, shocked. Cut to 2003 - Charlie tells that after that Eric and Todd took the car and left, and he got out of there too. Lilly asks why Eric was so worried about his jacket. Charlie tells that there was one year when Eric did wrestling, and Todd couldn't wrestle. And that was probably the only thing Eric was better that Todd at.
Lilly now goes to talk to Melanie. She tells Melanie that Todd was seen with the murder weapon. Melanie insists that she was with Todd that night, but Lilly says he could have left after Melanie fell asleep. Melanie says maybe Todd was covering up for Eric, but Lilly says that that's accessory to murder. Melanie is disturbed. She says that she wants to tell something to Lilly, but that if she does she can't go home. Lilly says she can help her with that. Melanie tells that Todd and Eric talk and argue every night; and that Todd keeps telling Eric to stay away from Tabby - that's their aunt Tabatha, who lives in Chestnut Hill, close to where they used to live. Lilly tells Melanie to get her kids and come with her. Later that night, Lilly is leaving the Police Headquarters. She's at the parking lot. Todd appears. He asks where Melanie is. Lilly says she's safe. He's angry and tries to take Lilly by her arm when she's walking. He demands to know where Melanie is. Lilly asks if that's how he handles women he can't control, and if that's supposed to scare her. Todd says he wants to make her think. Lilly says she's not like the girls he's used to. He can't charm her, and when that doesn't work, talk down to her, and when that doesn't work, get aggressive. She says she's not Jill or Melanie, she's the police and they're at the Police Headquarters. Todd asks if that's how she's going to talk to him. They're standing face to face now. Lilly asks if he's going to kill her in the parking lot of Central, and if he thinks he's getting away with it again. She says she knows about Tabby, that there are officers at Tabby's right now and that she'll have a warrant tomorrow morning - and that whatever he's hiding there, she's going to find. She whispers that it's over. Todd says he can't protect Eric anymore. Lilly asks him to come inside and give her a statement. He agrees. Inside, Lilly tells Stillman that Todd is blaming Eric for the murder. Stillman asks Lilly if she believes him. Lilly says she doesn't know and that she has to find Eric.
Next scene, Eric is drinking at a bar. Lilly sits next to him. She orders a scotch and soda. Eric says his brother has forbidden him to talk to Lilly. She says Todd has been talking to her a lot. Eric says Todd puts himself in a different category. Lilly says that Todd told her that Eric was in love with Jill and he saw Eric and Jill together that night. Eric repeats that he can't talk to Lilly. She asks what happened to his jacket, and Eric says he doesn't know. He orders another drink. Lilly says there isn't time for another one, because she has to arrest him. She tells Todd said Eric did it and then came to him for help, and that the two of them buried the racket at their Aunt Tabby's house. Eric asks why would he kill Jill. Lilly says because she humiliated him. Eric can't believe Todd's pinning it on him. Lilly says it's Todd's word against his, so if Eric has anything to say to her, he should do it now. Eric says that Todd ruined his jacket, and left it all covered with blood. Eric adds that Todd was the one who humiliated him, not Jill.
Flashback to 1976: Eric and Jill are making out in the tennis court. Todd shows up, wearing Eric's jacket. When Eric points out Todd is wearing his jacket, Todd tells him to shut up and that he is "so pathetic". Todd and Jill begin to argue and call each other names. Todd yells at Jill to shut up. She says "screw you", and gives him the finger. Todd hits her really hard and she falls on the floor. He keeps hitting on her, now with a tennis racket. Eric watches it shocked and hurt, but doesn't do anything. ("Have You Ever Seen The Rain?", by Creedence Clearwater Revival, plays in the back) At police headquarters, Eric is giving Lilly his statement. At Tabby's house, Lilly and Stillman find the murder weapon. Lilly arrests Todd and takes him to the station. The rain is pouring when they arrive there. Eric is also being arrested. Bonita, the maid, watches the two men get arrested. Melanie and Evelyn Shelby are there too. The episode ends as a rain-soaked Lilly looks around and "sees" Jill Shelby.
- Kathryn Morris as Lilly Rush
- Justin Chambers as Chris Lassing
- Thom Barry as Will Jeffries
- John Finn as John Stillman
- Jeremy Ratchford as Nick Vera
- D.W. Moffett as Todd Whitley (2003)
- Lisa Waltz as Melanie Whitley (2003)
- Michael Reilly Burke as Eric Whitley (2003)
- Sherman Howard as Tim Dorn
- Elizabeth Franz as Evelyn Shelby
- Lillian Hurst as Bonita Rafaela (2003)
- Kate Mara as Jill Shelby
- Tim Choate as Charlie Winters (2003)
- Mo McRae as Burke Kelvin (scenes deleted)
- Kip Martin as Todd Whitley (1976)
- Finn Wittrock as Eric Whitley (1976)
- Becki Newton as Melanie (1976)
- Diana Burbano as Bonita Rafaela (1976)
- Robert Walters as Charlie Winters (1976)
- Croix Lazzara as Brayson
- Jeremy Dunn as Police Officer (uncredited)
- First ever episode of Cold Case.
- Thom Barry is billed over John Finn and Jeremy Ratchford in this episode, but after them in all subsequent episodes.
- This episode has no opening credit sequence. Many of the shots in the opening come from this episode, including the case folder with the name J. SHELBY on it, the shot of a pair of hands in handcuffs, and the shot of Lilly in the rain.
- The triple homicide in a restaurant that Lilly, Vera, and Lassing investigate at the start of this episode would later be solved in the second season episode "The Badlands."
- This case was apparently based on the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley; brothers Michael and Thomas Skakel (Kennedy relatives) were suspects. Michael was indicted in 2000 and convicted in 2002.
- The caption at the opening teaser only gives the place and time as "PHILADELPHIA 1976", omitting the actual date, as given in later episodes. Additionally, the first scene in the present features of the place and then-present time of "PHILADELPHIA 2003", which was dropped in subsequent episodes, presumably once the structure of the show having been established.
- The scenes where Mõ appears were deleted, but he would later appear in Saving Patrick Bubley.
- The original cut featured a character named Walter Deep, a city bureaucrat and nemesis of Lilly's, played by Gregg Henry. Lilly's line about Vera being "a pain in the ass" was originally meant to be in reference to Deep.
- Jeffries was played by actor Mel Winkler in the original cut.