Rates of unsolved murders in Tri-State on the rise

CINCINNATI - An editorial writer puts it this way: Americans are getting awaywith murder.


Murder, by its very nature is considered one of the most violentacts one person can commit against another. The statistics on thiscrime are used as barometers as to the quality of life one canexpect in any given city. It is often the crime that most timesleads the evening news and, depending on the manner in which it wascommitted, garners the biggest headline.

The Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) crunched the FBI'snumbers and found a nationwide backlog of 185,000 murders in whichpolice have not made an arrest. And those homicide clearance ratesare getting worse everywhere, and that includes here in theTri-State.

We decided to look at Cincinnati's numbers.

Lona Carr of Pleasant Ridge spent three and a half years withthe torture of not knowing who killed her son, Frank Branam, in2002. He was missing for 44 days and 44 nights.

Carr, now the director of Who Killed Our Kids says, "You don'tsleep at night. And you hear all the talk on the streets. No matterhow it happened you hear this person did it. That person did it.You see their friends and you think was it them? Was it thisperson?"

In fact, it was a friend who killed Frank Branam. HamiltonCounty Sheriff's Deputies arrested Dale Crowe, who pleaded guiltyto involuntary manslaughter in 2006. The case closed, but the studythe SHNS conducted shows that in Cincinnati, and other policedepartments across the country, officials are clearing fewermurders.

The city's homicide 20-year average closure rate between 1980and 2008 was 67 percent. The annual rate for 2006 was 50 percent,for 2007 it was down to 48 percent, and down yet again in 2008 tojust 45 percent.

Nationwide, the clearance rate which stood at 90 percent in the1960s is now less than 65 percent.

But experts like Dr. Charles Wellman, a Professor of Criminologyat the University of Maryland, say those declines only happened intwo-thirds of the country's police departments.

"And that says to me if a third of our departments can performwell, even as homicides change, then all of them can do better,"says Dr. Wellman.

Police say murders are less personal now, making it harder toidentify suspects.

Carr says detectives tell her there is also another problem."They have no witnesses coming forward. They have 40 people there,but no one's coming forward on the cases."

Dr. Wellman says departments improve their clearance rates byusing strategies -- such as quickly flooding a murder scene withdetectives -- that have worked in some very violent cities likePhiladelphia. But he says it begins with making homicide clearancea priority.

He says that "big departments, small departments, the chiefmakes it a priority, the resources are provided and best practicesare used, clearance rates go up."

Carr says Cincinnati detectives are doing better than ever atclearing homicides. She says the city has a cold case squad now anddetectives attend her group's meetings, often getting helpfulinformation.

According to Carr, they're putting together a deck of unsolvedhomicide playing cards.

"They're hoping to get 'em in the prisons and the jails, all thelocal jails, and they're hoping that someone will come forward withthe information."

How does your area rate in its ability to solve murders? Find out below.