Why fewer murders end with ‘case closed’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Remember the classic TV crime drama, Perry Mason?

A murder was committed, police made an arrest and Mr. Mason, with his great legal mind, would get the killer to crack on the stand, all within an hour. That is still the basic formula for law enforcement on TV in this day of Law and Order or CSI.

But the reality is, fewer and fewer murders are being solved in an hour, in weeks or even in years.

Homicide detectives deal with a backlog of cold cases while more and more family members of murder victims agonize over knowing their loved one’s killer remains on the loose.

One of Many Unsolved Murders

Jeff Rogers

Jeff Rogers

Jeff Rogers loved the outdoors, strumming the guitar and making his younger sisters laugh. His mom has plenty of pictures of the 25-year old outside fishing and hunting. She also watches video of Jeff serenading his younger sister Mary with a corny song he made up.

These are cherished memories for a family surrounded by pain. “There is no greater pain, and as a parent, you just can’t imagine what you would do if this happened,” says his mother Nancy Euler.

Rogers was murdered in 2008 when intruders stormed his Kansas City, Kan. home, shot and stabbed him. The killers remain on the loose.

No suspects and no clues mean no answers for his family.

“We’ll always relive it. Holidays. Anniversary days. Until something happens that we have some type of closure,” says his uncle, John Frishman.

Roger’s Murder reflects a disturbing trend across the metro and the nation.

Fewer murder cases are being solved.

Fewer murders solved leaves more families frustrated

“Its just not right that somebody could do something like this to her and still be walking free.”

Nationwide, 90% of murder cases were solved back in the decade of the 1960’s. But in 2007, that number dropped to 61%.

The NBC Action News Investigators, along with Scripps Howard News Service, discovered this after examining thousands of unsolved murder cases from FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data.

Former FBI Agent Jeff Lanza calls the Uniform Crime Report, “like a report card for crime in this country. If we don’t have reports from local police departments around the country, there are gaps in information. “

In Kansas City, 82.5 % of murder cases in the 1970s resulted in the arrest of at least one suspect.

But the percentage of solved murders between 2000 and 2008 shows a much different story.

Fewer murders, 62%, ended with a suspected killer under arrest during those more recent years.

A recent annual memorial service for the group Parents of Murdered Children reflects this national and local trend.

Person after person arrived to honor a murdered loved one, whose case has gone cold.

“Its just not right that somebody could do something like this to her and still be walking free,” said one father who mourns the loss of his daughter.

Why are there so many unsolved cases?

“What you see in gangs or around drug sales, is a culture of, ‘We don’t talk to police’.” – Capt. Rich Lockhart

With advances in technology, many expect murder cases to be wrapped up quickly. So why is there a trend that shows otherwise?

“I think it’s a trend we were aware of. It’s not something we are very happy about,” says Capt. Rich Lockhart, spokesperson for the Kansas City Police Department.

Lockhart points to key factors such as an increase in drug traffic and gang violence since the 1980’s. Many of the players involved in those crimes are not exactly willing to work with the police.

“What you see in gangs or around drug sales, is a culture of, ‘We don’t talk to police’,” Lockhart added. “Even though your friend just got shot you don’t want to talk to police because you, yourself, could be the person on the other side of the table.”

Reporting murders brings city dollars

The FBI has no record of murders being reported from KCK police for 10 years between 1994 and 2004.

Police agencies are not required to report to the FBI the number of murder cases they investigate and solve but departments are certainly pressured to do so.

Not reporting costs a city federal grant dollars. That money can go to buy resources in order to target a particular crime in certain areas of your city.

Former FBI agent Jeff Lanza says, “The police departments in those areas may have to address those issues based on those numbers. They change their approach to things and they can lower the crime rate and make the city safer.”

Our investigation discovered some police departments, such as Kansas City, Kansas, were not always reporting their crime statistics to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI has no record of murders being reported from KCK police for 10 years between 1994 and 2004.

When asked why, a police spokesman says that a new administration has since decided to provide the FBI with that information. A check of our records shows KCK began turning over the data in 2005.

States like Kansas now have laws which require police departments to hand over that information to state law enforcement agencies, which in turn send it off to the FBI.

With help from Scripps Howard News Service, you can check the rate at which murders are solved in your area using an interactive chart.

The chart taps date from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, which tracks the rate at which homicide cases are “cleared”, or solved.  Clearances are recorded in the year they occur, which may be different from the year of the homicide.  This also means the number of clearances reported in any time period could be greater than the number of homocides reported.

The Uniform Crime Report reflects homicides cleared through arrest.  The FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report defines a solved homicide as one in which police have identified the killer.

Several local murders remain unsolved

Do you have information that might help solve a cold case?
Related Links
The Kansas City chapter of Parents of Murdered Children and Other Survivors of Homicide keeps track of local homicides in the Kansas City area, including those which remain unsolved.  They say these are among the unsolved murders in our area:

Wes Binder was found in his front yard in Raytown beaten to death 12/5/09.

Tammy Cochran was found in a burning car on the side of the road 3/5/08.

Lloyd Mincks died when a trailer hitch was thrown through his winshield as he drove home on 4/5/02.

Chris Bartholomew was killed as he was picking up a friend, recently home from military service, in Westport on 5/20/07.

Robert Nunley, Jr. was found shot to death in his car on 6/29/01.

Jeff Rogers was shot and stabbed to death by intruders he didn’t know on 4/9/08.  He was able to describe his attackers to police before he died.

Shirley McKeown disappeared after going out for a day of shopping garage sales.  She has never been found, but her car was found covered and with blood inside, parked in a driveway.  She was 71.