In recent decades, the nation’s overall homicide rate has dropped. 2013 - the most recent year for which statistics are available - had the lowest homicide rate, 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people, since 1957.
But as NPR reported earlier this week, about one-third of murder cases go unsolved.
Unsolved cases go into storage and become the propriety of cold case units around the country. In 2009, Gov. John Lynch signed a bill creating New Hampshire’s Cold Case Unit. In 2010, Word of Mouth spoke with Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker (now a N.H. Superior Court judge) about the work of the unit – including what constituted a “cold case." Delker's answer: the case has to have been unsolved for 12 months, with no active leads.
In 2012, NHPR’s Ryan Lessard produced a profile of the unit, as the State Police marked their 75th anniversary. In 2013, the cold case unit was on the chopping block as the legislature massaged the budget for the next biennium. The unit survived and as Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati explained, has a half-dozen staff members and a couple of volunteers investigating the 128 cases currently open.
As the state legislature again grapples with the budget this year, Agati hopes funding for the unit continues.
"We're going to work these cases as long as they let us," he told NHPR.
Investigating these cases isn't easy, but when asked about the biggest obstacle the unit faces in solving them, Agati said it isn't the state of the various cases, or the deteriorating physical evidence, "but talking to people about the past. A lot of people don't want to talk about the past."
Despite these hurdles the unit did have a victory in December last year, solving the 1987 death of Judith Whitney. Using DNA evidence they positively identified her killer as Edward Mayrand, who died in prison in 2011 for another murder in Rhode Island.
You can find the full list of the cases the unit is working on right here.
Click here to take a look at our story map which features cases solved by the N.H. Cold Case Unit.