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When crimes don’t get solved within a single book, readers often get mad. This is an interesting conundrum that I think comes from watching television. I don’t really watch television, but I am well acquainted with the police procedurals where a crime occurs and is solved within an hour. While this model works well for television, it is quite far from what actually happens in an investigation. While I don’t watch much television, I am a fan of true crime podcasts and vlogs. My favorites are the ones that don’t sensationalize crime, but work to try to help law enforcement and family members get answers. Sometimes cases are showcased that took place ten or twenty years ago. Occasionally, there is a case that happened fifty or more years ago, and descendants are still searching for answers.
The Sylvia Wilcox Mystery series is about a former cop turned private investigator. Private investigators have limited resources when it comes to solving crimes, and they must follow rules to avoid being in a position where they can be sued or fined. That means solving every single case is just unrealistic. This is also true of police forces. According to the FBI stats for homicide solve rates for 2017was 61.4%. This lines up with Statista.com’s figures for 2019, which show that the rate remained steady at 61.4%. So, if this is the case, close to 40% of homicides are not solved. The crazy thing about that is homicides are solved at a higher rate than other crimes. Likely because police departments want to tackle the worst crimes and get closure for families, but that also means that a lot of other crimes go unsolved. The chart from the FBI website is below:
So, when we take this information into account, it seems that the television shows we watch are making a few adjustments for entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that method. I love Criminal Minds just as much as the next person, but I also spend far too much time listening to true story to allow the “every case gets solved in an hour” ideology to inform my stories.
Sylvia Wilcox has a few unresolved issues in her past. To be honest, so do I, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say, so do most of us. This is life. Everything is not so cut and dry and easy. There are times when situations become complicated and we find ourselves unable to resolve a serious issue and we have to move on. Later on, we may come back to the situation and bring some closure to what haunts us. Other times, that is not possible. This is the paradigm from which I write and live my life. Realistically, there are some crimes and situations that will not be resolved.
Here are some great true crime podcasts and vlogs that I listen to on a regular basis:
Extensive examination of missing person and cold case murders. He interviews law enforcement and family members to help piece together the mysteries surrounding the cases.
An in-depth look into missing person cases. Marissa does a fantastic job pulling together experts, family members, friends and law enforcement officers to provide and overview of the person who has vanished.
Jerri Williams is a retired FBI agent who is trying to get the word out about what the FBI actually does. She interviews other retired agents and provides a wealth of knowledge about what this often misunderstood agency does on a day-to-day basis.
Why True Crime?
I started listening to more true crime shows once I discovered that there were over 40,000 unidentified deceased persons in the United States. The fact of the matter is that we can’t expect law enforcement to take care of everything that happens in society. We must help them as much as we can. That staggering number of unidentified persons left me feeling cold and helpless, but it turns out there are things an average, everyday citizen can do. Here are a few suggestions:
Share true crime links on your social media.
When Amber Alerts pop up, verify that they are still active and spread the word.
Pay attention to your surroundings-If something looks wrong alert authorities.
If you hear a strange story, and a body shows up later, tell the police the story. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but without a proper investigation, we’ll never know.
I occasionally try to help identify Jane and John Does on the Namus website. This is not a task for the faint of heart, and I only do that once or twice a year-if I get a hunch. So, these are the reasons why I listen to true crime shows, and it’s also why I try to add a small element of reality to my crime fiction.