December 2005, on his way home from work, accountant Lewis Shayne was stabbed
to death outside his Forest Hills, Queens
killing was tragic, but luckily, not common. The murder rate in New York City had dropped
tremendously since the early 1990s, when there more than 2,000 homicides
annually. Investigators, meanwhile, concluded that rage, not robbery, was the
likely motive, typical of the diminishing number of random crimes in the
victim’s safe neighborhood.
in one way, Shayne’s murder was disturbingly
because, four years later, detectives have still not cracked the case, despite
several leads, including a witness who called 911 describing the killer as a
5-foot-7 white man in dark clothing who was seen running away from the scene.
with major forensic advances and falling murder rates, the city's yearly
homicide clearance rate remains at the same level as it was 15 years ago --
with a little more than 70% of the cases solved.
students are always shocked that almost 3 out of 10 get away with murder --
that's pretty scary," said Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at John Jay
College who studies the
city's homicide rate.
Theory One: New Priorities
Palladino, head of the Detectives Endowment Association, blamed the 72.2%
overall clearance rate in 2008 on the NYPD's new effort to use investigators to
solve crimes previously given scant attention. "Years ago, detectives only
investigated the major crimes," he said.
department now assigns detectives to petty larcenies traditionally handled by
beat cops, according to the union.
now we take cases on everything, even if someone leaves a bag behind a chair
and it gets stolen," one veteran detective based in lower Manhattan told The Post. "Now a grand
larceny is getting as much attention as a homicide, which isn't a bad thing if
we had the personnel to do it."
Sept. 11, 2001, the department has slashed the Detective Bureau by 15%, from
7,100 detectives to the current 5,500. Despite that, police spokesman Paul
Browne stresses, "the NYPD continues to maintain a murder clearance rate
that is at least 10% better than the national average" -- which was 61% in
Theory Two: CSI Conundrum
TV. Criminals are also becoming tech savvy.
has increased to help investigations and also help criminals," said Staten
Island DA spokesman William Smith.
cited the recent case of Douglas Mercereau, a Staten
Island fire marshal, shot three times in the head by his wife as
he slept in their bed on Dec. 2, 2007. Janet Mercereau tried to cover up all
the evidence -- including fingerprints, gun shot residue, hair fibers or any
blood splattering -- by washing her clothes and placing the gun through a
dishwasher. She was sentenced to 25 years-to-life last week.
it wasn't enough to get her off, lack of DNA evidence has hampered other cases,
said Joseph Pollini, an assistant professor at John Jay College. "The TV shows criminals
how not to leave trace evidence behind or any witnesses. It's sort of an education
for the criminal."
also misleads jurors, who expect a much higher level of forensic proof than
real-world technology can provide.
Theory Three: Don't Snitch
who wrote a book called the "New York Murder Mystery," said that
cracking murders is harder in today's "don't snitch" climate.
"There's some sort of ethos with poor young minority people not to
cooperate with police," he said. "So police are suffering from
strained relationships with the communities they are supposed to protect and
there has been a huge drop in overall killings, murders of African-Americans
has remained largely the same. The number of whites murdered decreased 46%,
from 276 in 1999 to 147 in 2008, according to the state Department of Criminal
Justice Services. But the number of black victims has only decreased by .03%,
from 363 in 1999 to 350 in 2008.
Theory Four: DA Discretion
Famed homicide detective Vernon Geberth, who headed the Bronx
Homicide Task Force, blamed district attorneys. "[Detectives] have to wait
for the DA to approve their arrests, which is a really bad thing."
Prosecutors are more concerned about
maintaining near perfect homicide conviction record than arrests, Geberth
the end, it may be a combination of all these things -- as well as the nature
of modern murder itself. In 1963, the national homicide clearance rate was as
high as 91%. But gangs were not as widespread then, or as violent, and the drug
trade was in its infancy.
a random murder can be easier to solve than a premeditated one. Witnesses are
more likely to cooperate, community outrage is greater, and killers are more
apt to make errors.
if Lewis Shayne was killed -- as investigators believe -- by someone he knew,
no one is talking about it. There's not enough physical evidence. And the
person who was most affected, the victim's ailing mother, has since died.
Friend Ben Gamoran says Shayne's old buddies are trying to use his estate funds
to hire a private investigator.
someone doesn't have any family," he says, "there's no pressure on
the police to solve the case."