Nine Myths About the Aftermath of Homicide

for Those Left to Grieve

Hollywood, social media, health care providers, and even well-intended friends hold some fairly inaccurate and dated assumptions about the aftermath of murder on those left to grieve.  Let’s clear them up, shall we?  Here are just nine myths along with a suggested podcast interview about that presumption.

Most murders are solved.

Nope.  The rate of “case clearances” has declined despite improved technology. According to the FBI in 1962 there was a 92% reported clearance rate.  By 1994 it fell to 64%.  Four years ago it dipped to an all-time low of 54%.  Today the chance of someone being held accountable is almost a flip of the coin.  People are getting away with murder.

There are many reasons for this.  Some are due to staff shortages among homicide detectives and forensic investigators, court backlogs that have worsened since COVID, fewer precincts reporting their data to the FBI, slower response times, an increase in stranger-to-stranger killings, and a decline in witness cooperation.

I discussed how a cold case homicide impacts a loved one on my podcast (Domino Effect of Murder) with Kathryn Simpson. She discussed her mother’s unsolved homicide on June 10, 2020 (in which police and criminal justice officials were suspected of thwarting the investigation).

Most women victims are killed by a stranger.

So not true.  Instead of females being cautioned against walking or driving alone at night, lest we meet a Ted Bundy, we’d be much safer off to avoid home.  Home is where most women are murdered.  Their intimate partner (or former intimate partner) is the usual perpetrator.  It’s just one reason we need to slow walk dating before we allow someone into our lives and our beds. (Most men, on the other hand, are killed by other men outside the home.)

Retired detective Josephine Wentzel gives us a closeup account of her daughter’s brutal murder at the hands of her new boyfriend on January 17, 2024. He nearly got away with it. A similar story can be heard from the lips of Shelly Edwards Jorgensen from February 16, 2022.

We, as a group, are rarely exploited.

If only that was accurate….  Sometimes I think we have the word “Vulnerable!” tattooed on our forehead in the first weeks following the homicide.  I’ve written blogs on the ways the media, death care industry professionals, crime scene cleanup crews, and the criminal justice system have exploited us.  See earlier postings from Oct 7, 2023, Sept 20, 2023, Sept 10, 2023, and Aug 28, 2023.  Knowledge is power!

Back on September 15, 2021, I discussed unethical business practices within the crime scene cleanup industry with Holly DuBois, CEO of Diligent Decon. Similarly, the soon-to-be-released podcast episode featuring Heather Leigh of Greenhaven Memorial Gardens of S. Carolina will reveal predatory practices within funeral and burial businesses.

Academia Studies Us.

Where? Most scholarly research is focused on the perpetrator (especially serial murderers) or the social factors that contribute to crime. Also popular are the nuances of what happens at trial and in prison. But there are many yet-to-be-researched topics concerning homicide survivors. Examples would be a study to understand the impact of the homicide of a sibling when the perpetrator is a parent. Another unexplored area is the experience of “conflicted grief” following the homicide in a troubled relationship. There’s a lack of investigations into the impact of being falsely accused and/or falsely convicted of the murder and then exonerated. And what about the question of the frequency and nature of retribution by supporters of the accused against the family already in grief? (Are you a grad student in search of a thesis? A professor on the hunt for an elective class to offer? Hit me up!)

Most murders are resolved through a jury trial.

Only in Hollywood and Netflix.  The reality is much less dramatic.  Of the 100% of known murders, only half (roughly) will lead to an arrest.  Approximately 95% of that 50% accused of murder will take a plea to a lesser offense.  Only 3% will go to trial and the rest dismissed.  This means the defendant gets less time and we get less information. The prosecutor gets “a win” and the press still gets the story. Seems everyone is happy with this arrangement. I had a defense attorney who worked on death row murder cases tell me, “We don’t have a judicial system anymore. What we have is a paper-shuffling factory.” This is “justice” in the United States today.

Agape Garcia knows all too well what it’s like to cut to the chase with a plea bargain. Her fiance pled to a lesser offense. There was no trial. We hear Agape tell us about the time she nearly became a murder victim while pregnant on September 14, 2022.

We get support from old friends and colleagues.

Not gonna happen.   Well, a handful of friendships last and even deepen with a tragedy like murder.  But most survivors report avoidance.  Within a few months, most friends develop compassion fatigue or simply don’t wish to be associated with “that scandal” anymore.  We homicide survivors also pull away from others.  The net result is a palpable loneliness and stigma.  (See post from February 11, 2024).

After the parents of Jeanne Dotts Brykalski were murdered by intruders, Jeanne was shocked to discover that she was abandoned by longtime friends and neighbors. It’s a common refrain heard among homicide survivors. Listen in on November 10, 2021, and May 8, 2024.

We are wanted in the courtroom.

Not by a long shot.  Unless we are called as a witness, we are considered a nuisance.  Attorneys and judges don’t want to deal with a sobbing family.  We make juries uncomfortable.  The defendant sure doesn’t want us around. And, the ACLU actively blocks the adoption of Marcy’s Law for Victim Rights and isn’t so happy about us delivering Victim Witness Impact Statements either.  About the only ones glad to see us in the halls of justice are the media.

Who would know better than an attorney? Former prosecutor Rachel Robinson of Colorado discusses the new specialty within criminal law known as “victim rights law” wherein victims are represented in a criminal trial to ensure their rights in the courtroom, that they aren’t forgotten or silenced. She can be heard on February 8, 2023.

We get “closure.”

Closure?  As in “ending” or “finish” or ”resolution?”   Hardly! The deceased will always be dead.  The price tag of murder will always set us back – especially time off work, the funeral and the burial. Trauma does a number on our brain and health, too so we end up at the doctors more often.  And the lack of closure doesn’t even begin to address the realities of a hung jury, a case dismissal, or a cold case homicide.  Most homicide survivors are offended by the word “closure.”  To us it sounds a lot like a Hollywood ending.

The wife of wrongly-convicted “murderer” Temujin Kensu gave us a painful but clear picture of how her husband was wrongly convicted of murder from hundreds of miles away from the crime scene. He’s still being held. It’s been decades. His innocence is being touted by judges, FBI agents, politicians, and others. Hear Temugin’s wife on Domino Effect of Murder on June 14, 2023. Likewise, the homicide of Hope Reger’s unarmed son was dismissed by a Grand Jury. She takes us through her ordeal on March 16, 2022. No closure for them (or others).

We are broken.

This is partly true.  For a minority of people, peace of mind never comes.  They remain stuck in their grief and bitterness.  It’s not an even playing field out there.  Those who lack resources, who’ve had previous tragedies, those wrongfully convicted of the murder, and some who simply had pre-existing conditions (like depression, social isolation, panic disorder, poor physical health, OCD, or poverty) have difficulty bouncing back.

Even with the best of care and passage of time, we will all have our scars. They change us but do not always define us.

In time, the majority of survivors find a new normal, adjust, and go on to have meaningful lives.  They weren’t the lives they planned, but the ones they created to make the best of a bad situation.  The homicide will always be a prominent chapter in their history but not the entire story. They lend a helping hand to those who follow and raise their voices to make our needs known.  And they appreciate and remember those people who assisted them along the way.

Survivors who came out stronger for their loss are the mainstay of the podcast Domino Effect of Murder and willingly stepped up to the mic (often for the first time in telling their story). Join us, won’t you?

Murder breaks all the sacred rules, knows no fairness,

and can never be undone or compensated. 

It provokes fear and rage,

and tempts us to battle it on its terms instead of ours.

Murder drives even the most loving and compassionate people

 to the edge of that fine line

that separates our respect for life,

from our violent potentials.

                                          —–  Carrie M. Freitag

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

Click this Amazon link:   https://www.amazon.com/What-Now-Navigating-Aftermath-Homicide-ebook/dp/B0BXND9DQR

I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!