What happens when a child goes missing in the 1960s, before the age of photos on milk cartons and Amber Alerts? How do you convince authorities she is not a teenaged runaway during a time where so many were leaving home? How do you live with the fear that she is dead and her killer lives in the community?
These are the questions too many families of the lost faced, not only in the 60s but for decades. These are the questions I am examining in my latest writing project where a teenager hopped in a car - against her mother's wishes - with an older man and his friends. She drove off with them and never returned.
Family and friends suspected she was murdered. For years, police were convinced they knew who killed her. Decades would pass before there was an answer.
The question we may now ask ourselves as we go about our lives, passing those we think we know, is unsettling. How often are killers walking among us?
The FBI Uniform Crime Report estimated that, as of 2019, there were 250,000 unsolved murders in the United States. Some of those killers may be dead themselves. Some may have committed multiple murders. More than likely, most already have criminal records. The killings are in large cities and small, rural communities. The killers, if studies on solved cases prove true, likely knew the victims.
Finding justice for the dead can be difficult. Experts, using FBI crime reports, found only 62 percent of all murders were closed, or solved, in 2017. .
But some of these cold cases are being solved - some old, some new - with increased frequency thanks to forensic science and people finally coming forward with information years, even decades, later.
For the families seeking answers and those in the communities shaken by these crimes, there is hope these killers will eventually be standing in a courtroom facing a judge. Until then, the killers will continue to walk among us.