2015 The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

Unsolved Homicides


About the Project

More than two years ago, the mother of a murdered son whose killer was never caught called to share her story of anguish. Moved by her grief and frustration, our editors embarked on a data project to determine just how many similar cases go unsolved in Los Angeles and, more importantly, why.

Over the next 18 months, this news group chased down details of more than 11,000 homicide victims in an 11-year period from more than 50 law enforcement agencies.

First, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner released a database of the names of 11,244 victims who had been killed between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2010. The data listed a wide range of information: case number, name, birth date, race, gender, death date, location, investigating police agency and cause of death for each victim.

In some instances, the details were scant: skeletonized remains were found, a cause of death couldn’t be determined and identification couldn’t be made.

To determine if a case had been solved, we contacted more than 50 law enforcement agencies for their assistance. After months and months of research and repeated requests, every law enforcement agency in the county cooperated.

The end result is a first-of-its-kind database of nearly every unsolved homicide in L.A. County over the 11-year span this project studied.

From the data we learned:
  • Of the 11,244 homicides, 4,862 remain unsolved and the status of 682 cases are unknown.
  • Homicides of young Latino men are twice as likely to go unsolved in LA County.
  • Being a young, black man in South L.A. is more dangerous than living in Honduras.
  • Despite a decline in violence, the unsolved rate hasn’t changed.

We built an interactive database and invited the public to share their information. From there, we launched a yearlong series of stories looking at communities with a disproportionate unsolved homicide rate. We told about the detective process, and how cold cases sometimes get solved. We also used compelling video and long-form narrative to share the lingering grief of families who have no closure.