ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL -- Tom Share of Port St. Lucie sits out on his patio. He thinks for a minute and answers matter of factly. "Feels like it just happened. I think about him every day."
Share's brother John was murdered in 2001. His body was found with nearly 20 stab wounds. "I don't think anything justifies way he was killed," said Share.
Nine years later, the case remains open. Port St. Lucie police Captain Don Kryak says time is their biggest challenge. "You lose witnesses, you lose memory."
With cold cases, Kryak says you need to prevent "tunnel vision." "It becomes a challenge, a barrier, an obstacle to the case so opening it up to another agency, or someone else within the agency... (get) a new set of eyes on it."
Despite a long stretch last decade when Port St. Lucie was Florida's safest city, only half of the city's 23 homicides between 2000 and 2008 were solved.
Working with our partners at Scripps Howard News Service, we analyzed FBI data over the past 30 years, looking at trends and which departments have the most success when it comes to solving murders.
For example, Ft. Pierce police cleared nearly 80% of their 80 homicides last decade. The St. Lucie County Sheriff's office cleared 88% of their 25 murders from 2000-2008. That compares with the overall rate nationwide of just fewer than 65%
It wasn't always that way. In the 1960s, 90% of the country's murders were solved. St. Lucie County detective Fred Wilson says the nation's overall drop off in solving homicides doesn't come as a surprise to him. "Society has changed. The cooperation from witnesses has changed. People's attitude toward crime has changed because they're so inundated with it," said Wilson.
The Scripps Howard study found that when police can identify the killer, 98% of all homicides involving a lover's triangle or lover's quarrel are solved; but just 57% of the killings over gang-related disputes lead to an arrest.
Then there's the issue of staffing. Criminologist Charles Wellford with the University of Maryland says manpower helps. "In one city that we studied where the clearance rate was high and remained high even to today that had a practice of putting 7, 8, 9 detectives on a homicide initially and then having the lead detectives deciding when they’ll come off the investigation. Few cities can afford that," said Wellford.
In Port St. Lucie, they relied on a retired volunteer from Metro-Dade to help out with cold cases. "Of course you're going to hear it time and time again it comes down to budget restraints," added Captain Kryak.
At the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, there are no full-time cold case detectives. A 5-man unit works part-time on top of their normal case load.
Detective Wilson recently unearthed a cold case from 1983. 11 year-old Lora Huizar was last seen at the Two G's grocery off State Road 70 in the western part of the county. Her body was discovered three days later in a drainage ditch.
The area is still rural and Two G's is still standing, but other things have changed. State Road 70 has been widened, and the county's new emergency operations center and fairgrounds sit on the site of the old orange grove where the girl's body was found.
Detective Wilson is still cautiously optimistic that this case could be solved, or at least come to some kind of conclusion. "I don't know if I’d ever catch the bad guy but I’d like to think I could bring it to a point where we'd have some of the questions answered," he said.
Tom Share also has unanswered questions. He says his brother John would be a grandfather today. "I just want to know why, and who... and just get closure really."
Cold case or not, cops vow not to forget about John Share, or any other victim whose family is still waiting for answers.
Captain Kryak with the Port St. Lucie Police Department summed it up this way, "We have obligation to the state and to the people to bring somebody to justice."
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