Fiona Brookman's research highlights difficult to solve characteristics of murder investigations

A major piece of research is examining the characteristics of difficult-to-solve murders – and how detectives may be able to confront them by changing their practices.

The study, led by Fiona Brookman, Professor of Criminology at the University of South Wales, will also examine how the nature of murder investigations themselves may inhibit the likelihood of a homicide being detected.

Prof Brookman, whose acclaimed work around homicide typology entered the 2006 Murder Manual, hoped the study would provide findings to improve the solvability of difficult cases.

The chair of the Criminal Investigation Research Network (CIRN) is currently analysing the data gathered during intensive interviews and observations of detectives in the UK and the United States.

She hopes to publish the paper within the next year alongside colleague, Prof Edward R Maguire, of American University, Washington DC.

The paper is entitled Difficult –to-Solve Homicides: a UK-USA Comparison, and is likely to be published in either the Policing and Society journal or the journal of Homicide Studies.

Prof Brookman said: “Drawing predominantly upon qualitative data gathered during ethonographic research at homicide units in both countries, we explore the similarities and differences in the characteristics of difficult-to-solve homicides.

“We also consider the extent to which the characteristics of homicides and the characteristics of homicide investigations impact upon the solvability of homicide.

“We consider why such cases are difficult to solve and what might aid detectives in improving clearance rates for these most challenging cases.”

Although she would not disclose any initial findings, Prof Brookman told that a murder was generally more likely to become undetected in the UK if it was the result of a shooting. She said this was often due to gang-related behaviour where witnesses were intimidated or members knew how to successfully dismantle a crime scene. She added that the proof of this in the UK was statistically significant.

The UK research involved interviews with detectives in six different forces and the focused observation of detectives in all different roles in one particular force during active investigations. Meanwhile, in the USA, three forces were observed in depth. All forces remain anonymous.

Prof Brookman also observed Senior Investigating Officers (SIOs) in the UK during their training period – and when they went out to work on cases. Murder scenes, meetings with forensic scientists, house-to-house enquires, court hearings, and interviews with suspects and witnesses formed part of the study.

She said: “I got a sense of how they were trained to do their work and I then went out and observed them on real homicide investigations.”

Prof Brookman’s “typology of homicide” was published in the Association of Chief Police Officer’s (ACPO) Murder Manual 2006 – and for the first time gave SIOs a categorised view of particular murders. This included the often under-publicised “confrontation homicide” – between unrelated males – where fights often spiral out of control and result in murder.

This article appeared in the Police Oracle.

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