London police: Expert praises city cops for perfect clearance rate for homicides over past eight years

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It’s been more than eight years since the last unsolved homicide in London.

City police have laid charges in two separate years-old homicides in recent months, bringing closure to victims’ families and boosting the sense of public safety in neighbourhoods left shaken by the pair of previously unsolved shootings.

A Western University criminologist believes laying charges in homicides also cuts down on future killings.

“Higher clearance rates are co-related with lower homicides in subsequent years,” said Prof. Mike Arntfield, a former London cop now specializing in cold-case investigations.

The charges deter possible future offenders while putting potentially violent people behind bars, preventing them from committing future offences and associating with other criminals, Arntfield said.

“When you remove major players, it has a positive effect,” he said.

In May, police charged William McDonald with second-degree murder in the death of Jonathan Zak, 29, whose body was found in a park near Boullee and Victoria streets May 31, 2012.

McDonald was already in custody since being charged three months earlier with second-degree murder in the death of Emmanuel Awai, who was gunned down inside his Connaught Avenue apartment on Dec. 28, 2016.

Two weeks ago, police charged three men with manslaughter — one remains on the lam — in the killing of Mark McCullagh, 36, who was shot March 9, 2015, while taking out the trash at his English Street home.

Investigators never stopped working the two cases, said Det-Sgt. Alex Krygsman, calling information from the public “critical.”

“In both cases, over the course of time, investigators were able to gather evidence to move the matters forward bit by bit. In the past number of months, in each case, additional evidence was gathered which led investigators to establish reasonable grounds for criminal charges,” Krygsman wrote in response to a list of questions from The Free Press.

The passage of time can both pose challenges to investigators and benefit them.

“Physical evidence may degrade and be lost. Potential witnesses may move away and finding them may become difficult. In some cases persons with knowledge may pass away and their information is lost to us permanently. Memories may also fade, making the gathering of evidence from witnesses more difficult,” Krygsman wrote, adding scientific advances are constantly being made.

“In London, investigators often review the evidence collected in unsolved homicide cases to explore the possibility that new and improved forensic testing techniques could yield results that can be used to advance investigations.”

Arntfield, who penned a best-selling book on unsolved London-area killings, praised city police for achieving a perfect homicide clearance rate over the past eight years, noting the median rate for solving such crimes in American cities is just 66% and dips as low as 11% in some places.

“Those were both tough cases, especially the McCullagh one,” Arntfield said of the two death probes.

Now, the most recent unsolved killings in London are the 2009 deaths of Lisa Johnson-Leckie and Anthony Manning.

Leckie’s friends and family have worked over the years to keep her story in the headlines, speaking to the media and holding vigils on the anniversary of her death. Investigators have issued near-annual pleas for anyone with information on her death to come forward.

Manning’s death, on the other hand, has largely faded from the public radar.

Both cases remain open, Krygsman said, noting no unsolved homicide investigation is ever closed.

“In some cases investigators may unfortunately exhaust all investigative leads available to them, and investigations may slow down,” he wrote.

“A new piece of information or evidence is all that is needed to drive the investigation forward again.”

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

twitter.com/DaleatLFPress

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Unsolved London homicides over last 20 years

— Lisa Johnson-Leckie, 25, was found dead in her Southdale Road apartment by her common-law husband on March 24, 2009. Police never released a cause of death. Her nine-month-old baby was safe in his crib.

— Anthony Manning, 39, was found shot to death in the bathroom of a Cleveland Avenue apartment on May 8, 2009. Police arrested two men, but released them without charges.

— — —

Q & A with London police Det.-Sgt. Alex Krygsman, a homicide investigator:

Q: This year London police announced charges in two homicides from past years. Were police actively investigating both cases all along, or was it new information that brought investigators back to the cases?

A: Police had been investigating both homicides since they occurred. In both cases, over the course of time investigators were able to gather evidence to move the matters forward bit by bit. In the past number of months, in each case, additional evidence was gathered which led investigators to establish reasonable grounds for criminal charges.

Q: What type of work are investigators doing after the crime scene is cleared? Can you tell me about the importance of this work?

A: After the initial response and immediate investigation at the scene, investigators could be involved in a variety of activities such as: interviewing potential witnesses, seeking out additional witnesses/evidence, analysis of evidence including consultation with the Center of Forensic Science, liaising with experts such as medical professionals. Where charges are laid, investigators work with the Crown’s office to ensure complete disclosure of the evidence is provided expeditiously and to prepare witnesses for the court proceedings. As trial preparations are made, the investigation often continues in order to ensure that the investigation is complete and all possible evidence is gathered. In cases where reasonable grounds to lay charges have not yet been established, the investigation remains open as investigators continue to search for and gather evidence. In addition to continuing the investigation, another important aspect of an investigation is working to provide assistance to victims of crime, including their families, by keeping them informed about the investigation, as much as possible. This is sometimes a difficult thing: there needs to be a balance between providing information so that families are informed and ensuring that information is protected in order to safeguard the integrity of an ongoing investigation. We cannot inform families and friends of everything we are doing. Since some of the work going on is not visible to them and we can’t talk about it, families and friends can sometimes get the impression that nothing is being done, causing frustration. We understand their frustration and have to ask for patience and trust that we are doing everything we can to solve the case. Crisis support is available to be provided by the LPS Crisis Intervention/Victim Services Unit and/or arranged through community victim’s assistance agencies, and where charges are laid and a matter proceeds to the courts, investigators continue to work with families with the assistance of community support agencies and the courts, to guide them through the process.

Q: What role did information from the public play in the Zak and McCullagh homicide investigations, respectively?

A: In both cases information from the public was critical. As in all investigations, investigators relied on information provided to them by witnesses to move these investigations forward. Investigators worked with the information that was received from members of the public, along with other evidence gathered, in order to arrive at grounds for charges.

Q: How does the passing of time make homicide investigations more challenging?

A: The passage of time can definitely present challenges to homicide investigations. Physical evidence may degrade and be lost. Potential witnesses may move away and finding them may become difficult. In some cases persons with knowledge may pass away and their information is lost to us permanently. Memories may also fade, making the gathering of evidence from witnesses more difficult.

Q: Can the passing of time ever be beneficial to investigators?

A: The passage of time may also be beneficial to investigators. The area of forensics is constantly evolving and advancing; these advancements have produced additional evidence in other cases, and I expect that in the future there will be other opportunities for more advanced forensic examination of potential evidence to advance investigations. In London, investigators often review the evidence collected in unsolved homicide cases to explore the possibility that new and improved forensic testing techniques could yield results that can be used to advance investigations. In terms of potential witnesses who have information to provide: those who may have been reluctant to assist initially may reconsider with the passage of time. Perhaps they have moved on from those associated with the crime and no longer have an interest in protecting those people. Perhaps they have experienced other life changes and have made the decision that withholding information is no longer an option for them. We have seen this in some of our investigations, and we encourage anyone with information on a homicide or other case to come forward if they’re feeling that way.

Q: For how long will police actively investigate a homicide?

A: No unsolved homicide case is ever closed. A case will remain open and active with the objective of gathering evidence to provide answers to the families of those who have lost their lives. In some cases investigators may unfortunately exhaust all investigative leads available to them, and investigations may slow down. A new piece of information or evidence is all that is needed to drive the investigation forward again. The London Police Service Major Crime Section presently has carriage of unsolved homicide investigations as well as several ongoing missing person investigations, some of which began years ago. None of them are closed; each of them remain open and while we haven’t yet been able to arrive at the truth regarding the circumstances of each of those cases, we continue to follow up on any investigative leads that we are able to gather. Again, anyone who has information about any of these cases is encouraged to come forward and provide it to us, regardless of how much time has passed, and we will investigate.

Q: With these two cases now closed, is there another past homicide investigation police will now devote extra resources to?

A: Although charges have been laid in both of those cases, work remains to be done as they make their way through the courts, and resources will be required to continue that work. Having said that, as I said there are also a number of active investigations in progress related to other cases both past and present. If anyone wishes to come forward and provide information about any of our unsolved homicides or missing person cases, we are prepared to receive it and investigate, and we strongly encourage those with information to provide it to us. We would like nothing more than to be able to provide answers to those who have lost their loved ones to homicide or whose loved ones are missing.


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