Cold Cases: An Exploratory Study into the Status of Unresolved Homicides in the USA

  • Sarah L. Stein
  • Erin Kimmerle
  • James M. Adcock
  • Sara Martin
Keywords: Cold cases, homicides, cold case teams, solvability factors, unidentified dead, best practices, Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR).


Over the years, the interest in cold cases and the solving of unresolved homicides has been in the fore front for many law enforcement agencies.  There has been little to no research conducted, however, that specifies how many cases exist in this country and what factors contribute to successful resolutions.  In 2010, ScrippsNews reported that from 1980 to 2008, based on the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) clearance data, the USA had accumulated nearly 185,000 unresolved homicides.  Until now that number had neither been validated nor refuted.  This research identified, with confidence, over 230,355 unresolved homicides for the period 1980-2014.  The only other known source, the Murder Accountability Project, reflects that the figure is closer to 235,000 with thousands being added yearly.

 Besides the crime data containing the number of homicides and their respective clearances, this research also identified how most police agencies regard cold cases; the design and make up of a cold case unit and what factors affect the solvability of these cold cases.  Furthermore, as part of the concern regarding unresolved homicides, the unclear status of the “unidentified dead” in the USA was also reviewed.  The process attempted to properly identify and clarify those issues while describing the procedures being utilized, all working towards a “best practices” approach.  


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