Most likely to be a homicide victim?

Click on the "Documents" tab above for a full-size version of this graphic. (Todd B. Spidle/Sunday News)

Who is most likely to be the victim of a homicide? And whose case has the best chance of being solved?

Inside Story's analysis of the 236 Lancaster County homicides from 1990 to 2010 showed that clearance rates vary based on victim demographics, such as age and gender, and also where the death happened.

For example, investigators solved nearly all cases with child victims. But nearly one-third of local unsolved homicides involve black men ages 18 to 35 who died in the city.

Local investigators said the most significant factors affecting whether a homicide will be solved include the relationship between victim and killer, and the circumstances of the death, such as domestic violence or a drug dispute.

A clear relationship between the victim and killer generally makes a case easier to solve, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said.

Homicides where the relationship is not obvious, such as a shootout between rival drug dealers, can be more challenging, he said.


About 60 percent of local homicide victims are male. The clearance rate for male victims' cases is 85 percent, compared to 94 percent for female victims.

Men are the victims in most drug- or gang-related homicides, which can be harder to solve, officials said.

Most female homicide victims die in cases of domestic violence, where there may be a history of trouble and obvious suspects.

Of the 60 female victims age 18 and over whose cases are solved, two-thirds were killed by a current or former husband or boyfriend. Fourteen of those 40 cases were murder-suicides.

Nine women were killed by another relative, such as a son or grandson. Five others knew their killer, including an employee or neighbor.

Only in very rare cases were women truly random victims of a killer they had never met. Two female bystanders were killed during city gun battles, and two were the victims of robbery.


In the last 20 years, 57 Lancaster County children and teens have died in a homicide.

The only unsolved cases are two unidentified baby girls whose bodies were found in trash bins.

The list of potential suspects is generally shorter with child victims, said Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Patrick Quigley, the Lancaster troop's chief investigator of cold homicide cases.

The public also is more likely to cooperate with investigators.

"When a kid is hurt or killed, we get more information than with a guy who was standing on the corner who was shot," Quigley said. "It seems to be worse, more heinous."

The perpetrator in 32, or 58 percent, of the solved cases was a parent or a parent's current or former partner.

But police must be very careful before accusing a parent of a child's murder, Chief County Detective Michael Landis said.

"If you're wrong about that, the emotional trauma caused to the family is just tremendous," he said.

Another relative, such as a brother or cousin, killed eight children and teens. Baby sitters shook or beat three infants to death.

Five girls died in the 2006 Amish schoolhouse shootings in Nickel Mines.

Seven children and teens died under other circumstances, such as domestic violence or a drug overdose. One city boy was a shooter's unintended target as he watched a fight through an open window.

• People age 60 and over are the least likely age group to die in a homicide. And local investigators have solved 100 percent of their cases.

Half of the 12 victims age 60 and up were killed by a relative, such as a husband or son. Five were victims of robberies or home invasions.

People in their 20s make up the largest group of local homicide victims, with 27 percent.

Cases involving victims in their 30s have the lowest clearance rate, 75 percent.

Those statistics mirror crime trends nationwide, said Dr. Mary H. Glazier, chair of the sociology/anthropology department at Millersville University.

"Old people worry about crime, but it's young people who are victims," she said.

Location plays part

Homicide is more common in the city than all other parts of the county combined.

There were 122 city homicide victims from 1990 to 2010, compared to 114 elsewhere in the county.

City police cleared 85 percent of homicides. Police elsewhere in the county cleared 93 percent.

The circumstances of city homicides often differ from deaths elsewhere in the county, MU's Glazier said.

"The urban phenomenon is a little different than a rural or suburban setting," she said. "It's more likely to be a whodunit in the city."

Outside the city, most homicides are domestic. The victims in 44 percent of the solved cases were children killed by a parent or parent's partner, or women killed by a husband or boyfriend.

Another 31 percent were killed by another relative, friend, neighbor, roommate or co-worker.

In the city, the most common homicide circumstance (20 percent) is also domestic: a woman killed by her husband or boyfriend. Fourteen percent of city victims were children killed by a parent or parent's partner.

But three of the five most common city circumstances were far less prevalent elsewhere in the county.

Sixteen percent were fights between acquaintances or strangers. Another 14 percent were drug-related. And about 10 percent occurred during fights within a crowd or between groups, including gangs.

Many of those large confrontations likely were drug-related, Lancaster Police Captain of Detectives Kent Switzer said. The groups may have had earlier, minor run-ins that were unreported, so police might not know the true root cause.

"It tends to be an escalating series of events," Switzer said.

Large-scale fights were far more common in the 1990s. The last death during a group fight happened in 2007. The last deadly fight that police specifically identified as gang-related was in 2000.

Both city and county detectives said the wave of violence that accompanied crack cocaine's arrival in the late 1980s- early 1990s seems to have subsided.

In the last three years, city police specifically identified a single homicide as drug-related.

Drug- and gang-related cases often have special challenges, police said. The killer and victim might have no obvious ties. And reluctant witnesses are more common, largely due to fear.


Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately likely to be victims of homicide here and in other parts of the country, MU's Glazier said.

Whites make up 88.6 percent of the county's population, and 53 percent of its homicide victims.

Hispanics are 8.6 percent of county residents but 17 percent of homicide victims. Blacks are 3.7 percent of the population but 24 percent of victims.

Homicide cases with white victims have a 93 clearance rate, compared to 85 percent for Hispanic and 80 percent for black victims.

Glazier said the variation in clearance rates likely is related to the circumstances of the homicides, such as the relationship between victim and killer, and whether the crime occurred in public.

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