Since crimes of all sorts underlie my books, the NY Times piece “What Improves The Chances Of Solving A Murder?” caught my attention. Huh, I thought. I’m really not sure.
Pause for a moment and guess. A solution in the first day or two? Nope, according to John Skaggs, a retired detective from the Los Angeles Police Department who supervised more than 200 homicide investigations.
That’s because “sometimes it takes a few days for something to develop.”
“The Trace”, an investigative news outlet focusing on guns and crime, compiled data from 13 law enforcement agencies. According to these data, clearing murders (investigations that are completed, usually in an arrest) generally takes a while.
Only two cities of thirteen with recent data cleared most of their murders in two days (Louisville, KY and Boise, Idaho).
Easy-to-clear cases (“self-solvers), about 15-18 percent of the total, are easy because there’s “a smoking gun when the cops get there or it’s on video”. The rest require more work.
Apparently, if you want to kill someone you know and not get caught, your chances are better with a firearm, not a knife or the like. Gun murders occur more often when the wrongdoer and victim don’t know each other.
Sustained investigative effort: For homicides, success after the first few days is associated with “greater success in gaining the cooperation of key witnesses.” Apparently, eyewitnesses are crucial to success in most murder investigations. And, more murderers are arrested when more detectives and patrol officers respond to a case and therefore more witnesses are found.
One key reason why solving murders and capturing a perpetrator is critical? Getting caught is a real deterrent vs. the punishment levied because criminals often don’t know what that punishment is.
Some lessons here for crime writers? 1) Give your detectives/cops a fair amount of time to solve the crime so readers can learn what detectives and police actually need to do with that time (e.g. identify and use eyewitnesses). 2) Let the murderer describe that/why they don’t want to be captured. 3) Balance choice of murder weapon with whether they know their victim.
Finally, writers with no/little criminal experience like me need a friendly professional (police person, etc.) willing to answer our questions (thanks, RB Coffin).