Almost half of homicide cases go unsolved in Los Angeles County, leaving family members and loved ones with few answers to their grief.
The numbers have been revealed as part of the Getting Away with Murder project by the L.A. News Group. Reporters gathered and examined murder cases committed in L.A. County from January 2000 to December 2010.
But it's the personal stories that really bring the severity of the unsolved crimes to light, like Margaret Gutierrez-Ramirez. Her son, Tony, was shot and killed at a party in 2002. He was 17.
"I wanted to committ suicide when Tony died. It was so hard. And nobody knows. Everybody can say, 'I feel for you,' or I've had people say, 'You're still mourning? It's been 12 years!' and I'm like, you don't understand," she told reporters.
Frank Girardot is a senior editor with the L.A. News Group, which includes the L.A. Daily News and Pasadena Star News. He joins Take Two with more.
What inspired you and your colleagues to take on this gruesome subject?
"Well the voice you just heard – Margaret Gutierrez Ramirez – is actually the inspiration for much of the project, especially her son Tony. About three years ago she sent me a series of text messages, unsolicited, describing her pain and her family's pain at Tony’s death. Tony was a good kid, teenager, wrestler in high school, went to a party in a neighborhood near his own. Things got out of hand at the party. Tony was leaving the party and ran into some guys who were intent on killing people, and unfortunately Tony died. One of the striking things that his mother said at that time was she didn’t know if she should have taught her son to duck and cover. So that happened in 2002 and she reached out to me nearly a decade later, and police had no answers about her son, whom she called Lil Tony. She asked me if I would look into it and I said sure. When I did, I realized, there must be a lot of Lil Tonys out there. Well, it turns out that between 2000 and 2010, there's 4,682 Lil Tonys and Lil Michaels and Lil Antonias. The scope of unsolved murder in Los Angeles County is astounding."
Each case is an individual case, an individual story with a real human being. But as you looked at all of these numbers broadly, what were some of the themes that emerged to you?
"We found out a couple of things. No. 1 I think, and critically, was that people of color, Latinos and blacks, are far less likely to have their homicide cases solved than whites or even Asians. We found that men were less likely to have their murders solved than women, and that police departments handled homicides in a variety of different ways. Some were very adamant that they weren't going to close a case until there was a prosecution. Others, like the Los Angeles Police Department specifically, were more willing to close cases for what they called 'other reasons.' And those other reasons can range from they're identified a suspect who's dead to they've identified a suspect who’s in Mexico. So there's all these themes in this data that's running through it, but the main theme is that there are all these grieving families out there in search of an answer, and they haven't really been able to grasp on to anything that will give them comfort or hope."
What are some things that keep a homicide from being resolved?
"Well, police and experts will tell you that witness participation is critical. And in a lot of these gang cases, and the gang cases make up the bulk of these unsolved homicides, witnesses are reluctant to participate, and because of that reluctance, police are never able to put together a case. If you don't have a witness, how can you say who did it?"