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March 21st, 2013

Two New (ish) Blogs You Might Want to Check Out

Slate has a crime blog which is run by Justin Peters, Slate’s crime correspondent. Peters posts at least once a day, it looks like, and from what I can tell his writing is well informed and researched.

The second on is Homicide Watch DC. From their site: “Homicide Watch is a community-driven reporting project covering every murder in the District of Columbia. Using original reporting, court documents, social media, and the help of victims’ and suspects’ friends, family, neighbors and others, we cover every homicide from crime to conviction.” There should be something like this in every city.

This is a detail from an undated NYPD photo with the caption, “Lost children.”

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February 18th, 2013

How many murders go unsolved?

From a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal about the homicide clearance rates for 2012:

“When the cold cases aren’t included, the NYPD solved 57% of the year’s 419 homicides, said Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the NYPD.”

He’s referring to the practice of including homicides from previous years that have been cleared this year in the current numbers.

But the percentage of unsolved murders could be even higher than that. A case is cleared when an arrest is made. (There is also something called exceptional clearances. A case is “exceptionally” cleared when the murderer has been identified definitively—by a substantiated confession for example—but the murderer has since died, or is in a country that refuses to extradite him.) But of the cases where an arrest has been made, if it turns out later that they arrested the wrong person, or if the case goes to trial and the person isn’t found guilty, the police department doesn’t go back and adjust the clearance rates. So they will add in murders that were solved, but they do not take out others that weren’t.

Also, I studied the numbers very carefully (my book came out in 2005, so the numbers I looked at were 2003 and earlier) and I found that an unsolved murder has up to 5 – 10% chance of being cleared within one year after it goes cold. After two years, that chance decreases to less than 1%. Not a lot of cold cases get solved, ultimately. If I did the math right, they’re saying they cleared 75 cold cases. That sounds high to me, given the fact that the Cold Case Squad is about a quarter of the size it was when I wrote my book, but plausible. Also, the cold case detectives are not the only ones working unsolved murders, and I don’t know which cases they are including in that number.

A case folder from an unsolved murder.

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January 15th, 2013

A Moving Piece about the Recent Rodney Alcala Conviction

It was written by Sheila Weller, the cousin of one of his victims.

“On a hot July day in 1977, one of New York’s ugliest summers, my 23-year-old cousin, Ellen Hover, left her Third Avenue apartment. She had an appointment with a young photographer who had asked to take pictures of her. His name, he’d told her, was John Berger …” The full story is here. It’s worth reading. She makes it very clear why it matters to prosecute these old, cold cases.

This is a screenshot of the news from two years ago, when it was announced that Rodney Alcala would be extradited to New York.


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December 21st, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Before I wish everyone happy holidays, I want to note that one of the creepiest serial killers in my lifetime, Rodney Alcala, just pled guilty to the 1971 murder of Cornelia Crilley and the 1977 murder of Ellen Hover. (If you are not familiar with him, google his name, but wait until after the holidays. It’s an ugly story.)

I want to thank the Manhattan District Attorney’s Forensic Sciences/Cold Case Unit, Assistant District Attorneys Melissa Mourges, Chief of the Forensic Science/Cold Case Unit, Martha Bashford, Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit, Alex Spiro, and Detectives Wendell Stradford, Robert Dewhurst, and (ret.) Stefano Braccini of the NYPD’s Cold Case Squad. There’s more information in the DAs press release here.

I know there’s no such thing as closure, but if one of the things we can do for the friends and family of the victims is to allow them to see at least some justice served, then you all have certainly done the best that could be done for them.

As always, I’m posting this very old picture of someone from the NYPD coming out of a helicopter dressed as Santa. Yes, it’s a little sad with the World Trade Center towers in the background, but come on. This is pretty cool. I wonder where they were off to.


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