We have seen a lot of reaction from a recent WKYC-Plain Dealer joint investigation of patterns that indicate the presence of serial killers in Cleveland.
Viewers understandably have a lot of questions, and our own Andrew Horansky and The Plain Dealer's Rachel Dissell tried to answer some of them during a Facebook Live chat yesterday.
TRACKING CLEVELAND'S KILLERS: Where they could be hiding
With our investigation continuing, here are some more detailed answers to your most frequently-asked questions.
What can/are local police doing about this?
Cleveland Police confirm that they continue to investigate the cases mentioned in our report. Yet a Plain Dealer investigation last year found they may be short on manpower, with just 13 homicide detectives in the unit. Eric Witzig, a retired homicide detective from Washington DC, tells Channel 3 News that a detective should work no more than 4 cases per year. Yet we know that Cleveland Police have also taken a proactive step to form a homicide review task force which has since opened the door for collaboration. Agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are better able to lend support to murder investigations.
What is the FBI doing currently?
A spokesperson for the FBI tells Channel 3 News that the alleged serial killings fall under the jurisdiction of the Cleveland Police Department. Though the FBI serves on CPD’s homicide task force, Cleveland detectives remain the lead, receiving FBI support when needed.
Is Cleveland going to put something in place to make the public aware of the number of unsolved cases and the common ground they might have?
There is no indication that Cleveland police will make public their number of unsolved cases. As for the common ground among some of them, police have never denied the possibility of a serial killer, yet never declared one, either. When confirmed, it is recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice that police issue a warning that there is a known series of murders so that the public can protect themselves. Since local detectives never found a hard link among the killings, they never made this pronouncement.
Does this seem to happen more in Cleveland than in other areas? (i.e. Torso murders, Anthony Sowell, etc.)
No. Tom Hargrove with the Murder Accountability Project says that serial killings are far more common than people realize and are hardly unique to Cleveland. With that said, he suspects that Cleveland has experienced a significant number of them.
Has the overall murder rate in Cleveland increased recently?
No. Last year (2017) saw a slight dip in the overall murder rate from 2016, which marked the city’s deadliest year in a decade. Across the country, however, murder rates are generally up.
Why has this taken so long to get out in the open?
Many families in 2012-2013 began to suspect the work of a serial killer, particularly around East 93rd, however police never pronounced one. The theory returned to light in early 2017 when the body of Alianna Defreeze was found. It was then that the Murder Accountability Project came forward with a new algorithm that could find patterns in the murder data, and a case could be made for at least the possibility of serial killings. To this day it is still not clear whether Defreeze’s murderer actually was one. Though he confessed to killing her, he did not admit to killing anyone else.
Should residents be concerned? What should we do?
Be vigilant and share any tips with police. Statistics show that when murders are solved with less frequency, fewer people come forward with information. Yet small details can make a big difference. Retired homicide detective Eric Witzig says there are often witnesses to a crime, but their information does not always get to police.