Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rates of unsolved murder by state

News reports based on FBI statistics show that somewhere between 35%-40% of homicides in the US go unsolved in the US today. Uniform Crime Reporting data, available at the state level (excluding Florida), show that right at one-third of homicide offenders remain racially unidentifiable. These unidentified killers are the ones who haven't been caught, which is why law enforcement is uncertain of their racial compositions.

This means we have access to rates of unsolved murders at the state level staring us in the face. Parenthetically, there are presumably a small number of homicides for which a perpetrator's race is reported even though he is never positively identified, which would explain why the UCR data on the racially unidentifiable comes in at 33% while the FBI reports an unsolved rate in the 35%-40% range. Still, the following estimates must be pretty damn close to the real thing.

The following table ranks states (with the exclusion of Florida for which no data are available) by their rates of unsolved murders. It's like golf here--the higher a state's percentage, the worse it's doing:

1. District of Columbia56.1%
2. Illinois55.4%
3. Maryland46.1%
4. New York44.0%
5. California43.9%
6. Massachusetts43.8%
7. Rhode Island42.0%
8. New Jersey41.8%
9. Michigan38.8%
10. Connecticut37.1%
11. Missouri36.7%
12. Indiana36.3%
13. Arizona34.7%
14. Nevada34.6%
15. Ohio31.4%
16. Louisiana31.2%
17. Alabama27.8%
18. Hawaii26.5%
19. Georgia26.3%
20. Kentucky26.1%
21. Texas26.0%
22. North Carolina25.5%
23. Pennsylvania25.1%
24. New Mexico24.5%
25. Arkansas21.7%
26. Kansas21.1%
27. Colorado20.8%
28. Virginia19.8%
29. Oklahoma19.0%
30. Nebraska19.0%
31. Mississippi18.7%
32. Washington17.9%
33. Minnesota17.8%
34. Wisconsin17.5%
35. Alaska17.4%
36. Delaware16.7%
37. New Hampshire15.8%
38. Oregon15.7%
39. Utah15.6%
40. Tennessee14.6%
41. West Virginia12.1%
42. South Carolina10.6%
43. Maine10.4%
44. Iowa9.8%
45. South Dakota9.2%
46. Montana8.2%
47. Vermont5.6%
48. North Dakota4.5%
49. Wyoming4.5%
50. Idaho3.9%

An accompanying visualization is available here.

I wouldn't fault someone for imagining that rural murders must be the easiest ones to get away with. If I leave my house and head west, it's 600 miles of sparsely populated farmland and prairie from here to Denver. How would anyone find a body buried under the great blue sky out there in the middle of nowhere? Yet rural states dominate the bottom of the list, while DC, by far the most urban 'state' listed, has the inglorious distinction of being the worst of the worst when it comes to positively identifying killers. This article on the subject of unsolved homicides from the Scripps Howard News Service gives an indication as to why. It requires a little reading between the lines, of course:
Despite dramatic improvements in DNA analysis and forensic science, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides. National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years.

The majority of homicides now go unsolved at dozens of big-city police departments, according to a Scripps Howard News Service study of crime records provided by the FBI.


Experts say that homicides are tougher to solve now because crimes of passion, where assailants are easier to identify, have been replaced by drug- and gang-related killings. Many police chiefs -- especially in areas with rising numbers of unsolved crimes -- blame a lack of witness cooperation.
Parenthetically, follow AE on twitter @AudaciousEpigon.


++Addition++A sarcastic Steve Sailer comments.


Son of Brock Landers said...

Witness cooperation is a huge problem, which is why even the Obama admin has funded billboard, radio and TV ads with black women as the protagonist with the message 'if you see something, say something'. Baltimore's clearance rate for murders flirted with single digits recently.

Great posts recently on crime numbers.

Jasper said...

The phrase "drug and crime related" echoes again the idea that homicides are primarily a matter of one criminal killing another. Lack of witness cooperation would certainly be an issue in cases like this. Other differences are:

1. police motivation, and;
2. the difference between the "crime of passion" mentioned in the same sentance in which "drug and gang-related" was mentioned.

RE: #1 There will never be any empirical data to back this up, but I'd imagine the motivation by the police expend resources to solve the crime may decrease when confronted with large numbers of these "gang-banger vs gang-banger" situations.

You're a police chief with a limited number of dectives to toss on each homicide and a whole lot of homicides that need solving. Each detective already has multiple cases they're working on when another homicide shows up on your desk. The victim is a known gang member and drug dealer with a long list of priors. You don't know who the offender is of course, but you (and no cop in your entire department is going is disagree with you) know that whoever the offender is -he is almost certainly also a gang member with a long list of priors. How many of your limited, over-taxed, resources do you want to put into finding the offender on this one? The victim was a dirtbag anyway and having him off this mortal coil certainly prevented several future crimes commited by him. Given his chosen profession, the offender himself is likely to be murdered or incarcerated himself within months or a few years anyway given his chosen profession. How hard is the chief going to try to solve this one?

RE: #2: The homicide offender and victim most often know each in some way in a crime of passion. Thus the offender is quite often on the dectives suspect list. In a drug or gang-related murder the only connection between the offender and victim may be that both are criminals. Makes compiling a short list of suspect difficult.

Noah172 said...

Baltimore's clearance rate for murders flirted with single digits recently.

I remember Maj. Rawls, the evil police bureacrat in The Wire, saying something to the effect that getting his clearance rate to 50% one year was an accomplishment for which he had to fight tooth and nail.

It is scary to contemplate that there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people living freely in this country who have literally gotten away with murder.

Even more scary is that fact that a 2/3 clearance rate for murder is really good compared to other categories of crime. The numbers AFAIK for rape and aggravated assault are noticeably worse, and for property crimes, robbery (mugging, store stick-ups), and arson the stats are abysmal. This is all especially true in urban areas compared to rural.

For example, see this table from California for the period 2000-2009:

Steve Sailer said...

A fair number of white people homicides are murder-suicides, which solve themselves. Some others are suicide-by-cop.

About a quarter of a century ago, Congress gave the District of Columbia money to quickly hire 2,000 new cops. A lot of the new hires were semi-literate and their paperwork routinely collapsed in court. There was also the suspicion that a fair number were in the drug rackets themselves and weren't that motivated to solve certain murders.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

A few of the more highly ranked states like Massachusetts and Indiana are non-intuitive. The others seem to fall where one would expect them to.

Anonymous said...

Come on Moses! This is easy.

Indiana --> Gary --> suburb of Chicago, a town with 60% NAMs.

Massachusetts --> Boston, a town with 46% NAMs.

Demography is destiny.

Orestes Brownson

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

The blue states don't seem to be very effective at solving murders.

Anonymous said...

"The phrase "drug and crime related" echoes again the idea that homicides are primarily a matter of one criminal killing another. Lack of witness cooperation would certainly be an issue in cases like this."

More to it than that.

The gangbangers are the most violent therefore also the most likely to beat some random person to death for accidentally spilling some milk on their shoes coming out of a store - true story - but them being a gangbanger means they are *still* covered by witness non-cooperation.

The idea is it's all criminals killing each other isn't so.

(It also helps prevent anything being done about the problem in the mistaken belief that criminals killing each other will eventually solve the problem. It won't while being successfully violent brings a proportionately larger reproductive success.)

And even gangbangers killing gangbangers isn't all that when you consider you *have* to be part of the local gang in some places or you'll be targeted by your own local gang. If after this you end up a victim of the neighboring gang instead it still wasn't necessarily out of choice.

Basically if the percentage of extremely impulsively violent males goes above a certain number then the whole environment shifts to revolve around them nad everyone else has to adapt to it.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Come on Moses! This is easy.

Indiana --> Gary --> suburb of Chicago, a town with 60% NAMs.

Indiana is ahead of Pennsylvania which has the far more problematic city of Philly.

Randall Parker said...

Since Vermont and New Hampshire are small states right next to each other I find the difference between them puzzling.

I'd love to see county-level numbers. Western Maryland is probably very safe. A single city (e.g. Baltimore) can wreck a state's numbers.

Anonymous said...

Florida is an unusual state, so it wouldn't be a fair comparison anyway if we knew. It's a destination for folks leaving other states and countries, bringing their baggage with them. It's a state where mischief often leads to an unhappy ending, coming from outside. That makes it harder to find the killers.

Eklectic1 said...

To Randall Parker:

For almost eight years, until 2009, I lived in New Hampshire and Vermont, right along the border, approximately halfway up those states. I learned of quite a few significant differences between the running of those states. Primary is that VT has a sales tax and income tax, and much better social services in general. NH has neither type of tax, only property tax, and if you are poor, you have far fewer resources available---very little safety net---you can't get free dental care in NH, for instance, whereas in VT you can (they have a dental school in one of their universities). NH citizens do not/will not agree to pay one more cent than absolutely necessary for any state or local service---they are extremely fiscally conservative, to the point of having fewer defaulted mortgages than in most states---so the lower murder clearance rate probably has to do with the fact that law enforcement departments are running very lean and mean and don't have the ability to get the overtime and so forth to clear cases better. VT seems to make extensive use of privately owned resources and set public safety as a higher priority. It also has to do with the kind of universities and schools VT has---some public programs are run in conjunction with their colleges and universities. They have a land trust for lower income citizens to buy into. A bit more support of the extremely poor. More outreach in VT. It's very much a cultural thing in each of those states, and the citizens of each of the two states swear they are nothing alike! NH has some great things, but being more independent-minded and stubborn about what you will allow your government to spend your money on has its disadvantages. Clearing fewer murders would be one of them.

Anonymous said...

Sherlock Holmes would have to take a back seat to what has emerged in reality in Surfside Florida. A group of citizens have worked to pierce decades of time and multiple coverups to expose a ring of murder and mayhem supervised by people wearing badges. A volunteer posse of town residents have uncovered not only the truth about what happened to kidnapped Danny Goldman, but also how it relates to 17 other homicides committed by organized crime figures working in partnership with high ranking county police officials.

Anonymous said...

You have to kidding me. Hello people. How diverse are rural areas. Crimes that are committed in rural areas are probably committed by white people. If there is a murder in a town of 200 or even 2000 people. It's a little like playing a game of clue.

Anonymous said...

The citizens volunteer posse in Surfside Florida has been able to shed new light on 22 homicides ... an amazing and developing situation.

Anonymous said...

As long as we try to keep it to black people killing black people and let the savages keep to themselves, I don't care and I don't think the public kills and the police either. When they are offing themselves at record numbers, you just stop caring. One less black person makes for a better day.

Mary Rayme said...

Thank you for this data. I live in WV and often think that the rate of unsolved murders here is try high, but it is sadly nice to see us here at #41. Finally, something we're not #1 at...

Jackie Lee said...

It's hard to solve myrders within one state when murderers travel much more than they use to. VICAP is accessible for law enforcement but that doesn't help to get tips when information is not fully released across the entire u.s. Some information about current investigations should remain behind lock and key but basic info.(date of murder/weapon/sex of victim/race/age/sexual assault/location of body) should be public information and distributed on a national database. This could help gather tips. I would also love to see this on a virtual map.

Anonymous said...

the states with areas of concentrated black population will always have the highest murder rates. i has always been that way and it will always be that way. blacks like to kill. doesn't matter who as long as they end up dead.

Anonymous said...

In places like Baltimore, the overwhelming majority of murders are committed by black males, aged 17 to 35 with a long criminal history beginning in middle school.
Eventually they too, will be killed or become incarcerated on another charge.
Here's something for the PC crowd:
Blacks are responsible for half of murder in the US. But a break down of that group are the aforementioned black males, aged 17 to 35 who are heavily involved in drug based street gangs. They are roughly 3% of the total population, yet responsible for about 45% of solved murder, but responsible for about 60 to 70% of unsolved murder.
Look at who these unsolved murder victims are and where they live--in places like Washington DC, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, St Louis, Compton, Harlem.
They live as ghosts off the grid. They don't have jobs, don't file tax returns, they don't have legal residences, they don't have utilities in their names. They eat granny's food from EBT, they squat in abandoned buildings, they sell drugs to sketchy druggies. If they have "graduated" from high school, it is nothing more than a meaningless piece of paper given as a social promotion to make the inner city ghetto school "look better" by padding its drop out rate.

John Velman said...

This is a good way to allow us to visualize the unsolved crime, I used to live in Idaho and I moved to Montana about 5 years ago. I would have never known.

Kristin said...

A clearance rate is the percentage calculated by law enforcement to report offences cleared or solved for crime reporting purposes. A case is reported closed or cleared to the FBI when an arrest has been made or exceptional means that cause law enforcement to discontinue investigation and had the case over to prosecution. The clearance rates catagorized by different crimes from petty theft all the wayt to murder can be found on the FBI website at Though these reported clearances are not a complete and thorough truth of how well crimes are being solved. Agencies across the US are not required by law to report clearance rates to the FBI for recording. We are at a 95% rate for reporting (FBI.) Furthermore, there is not a standard practice for how each agency records data to be reported. Some agencies still report via paper and mail and other us the NIBRIS, an electronic filing system. Additionally, the reported data per local agency is not made transparent on the website. The data is available by request but is harder to find. You can find the local data on the NPR wesite at and the Local Murder clearnace rates on the Murder accountability project site. This data is important to encourage transparency, success and efficiency in our local law enforcement agencies.

Anonymous said...

You talk about thinking rural murders would be easier to get away with, but what you are discussing is serial killer type behavior. Driving 600 miles and killing some random person. And that would be hard to solve.

However the vast majority of murders the victim knows their killer. That would make rural areas easier to investigate. You have a smaller number of people with stronger social connections then in urban areas. A 3rd party is also more likely to know who has motive and opportunity.

And plus as another person mentioned it is much less likely to be something that is the result of organized crime where the 3rd party might fear talking to police because of possible retaliation. Not many street gangs running around in Idaho and Wyoming.