Detection avoidance and mis/unclassified, unsolved homicides in Australia

Publication Date12 Dec 2019
AuthorClaire Ferguson,Amber McKinley
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
Detection avoidance and mis/unclassied,
unsolved homicides in Australia
Claire Ferguson and Amber McKinley
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to begin to explore whether and how the use of detection
avoidance(DA) by offenders leads to a so called‘‘dark figure’’ of unsolved homicidesthat have been mis/
Design/methodology/approach Australian Coronial data and inquest findings are used to examine
how DA impactson determining homicide, andcases remaining unsolved.
Findings Results show DA behaviours perpetrated by offenders may be catalysed by other
challenges,and may lead to homicides being mis/unclassified and unsolved.Findings indicate there is a
small dark figure of mis/unclassified homicides which eventually become known and investigated as
homicides in Australia.The number of unsolved homicides may be greater than officialdata reveals, due
to some casesremaining mis/unclassified.
Research limitations/implications Results are likely to underestimate the prevalence of mis/
unclassified homicides due to the invisibility of cases and the difficulty establishing rules to include
suspected but unprovenhomicides. The variable nature and impactof DA behaviours also limits results,
along withjurisdictional differences in Coronialdata.
Practical implications This discussion explains DA behaviours impact on determining and
investigatinghomicide and the necessity of future research.
Originality/value Mis/unclassified homicides as unsolved homicides have not been discussed
previously. This discussion is the first to conceptualise mis/unclassified homicides as a dark figure of
unsolvedcases, and the first to attempt to gauge the problem.
Keywords Coroner, Homicide investigation, Death investigation,Detection avoidance,
Misclassified homicide, Missing person
Paper type Conceptual paper
Cold case homicides are generally defined as those that have not been solved within one
year, which are not being actively investigated due to a lack of new information (Geberth,
2006;Quinet and Nunn, 2014). Annually about 15 per cent of cases are unsolved in the
same year they are reported in Australia, with proportions varying across different States,
Territories and years sampled (Bryantand Bricknell, 2017).
In recent years, more focus has been devoted to clearing unsolved cases in Australia. For
several states this has resulted in a flurry of cold cases being solved, including 17 cases
from previous reporting periods in Queensland in only two years (Queensland Police
Service, 2017). Along with solving known cold case homicides, there has also been
increased attention paid to resolving a small number of deaths and disappearances that
were previously closed by Coroners or police as non-suspicious yet continue to be
suspected as homicides by authorities. Deaths and disappearances being closedwhile still
perceived by police and coroners as suspicious most often occur due to a lack of
unequivocal evidence of homicide,often due to efforts by third parties to conceal evidence.
In this discussion, known deaths previously classified as non-suspicious but eventually
Claire Ferguson is based at
the School of Justice,
Faculty of Law at
Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane,
Amber McKinley is based
at the Charles Sturt
University, Albury,
Received 4 September 2019
Revised 29 October 2019
Accepted 18 November 2019
DOI 10.1108/JCP-09-2019-0030 VOL. 10 NO. 2 2020, pp. 113-122, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jPAGE 113

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