In late 1993, the Criminal Division of the Washington State Attorney General's Office undertook a 3-1/2 year research project, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, to study the investigation of child abduction murder cases.
In this first research project, published in 1997, researchers reviewed more than 600 child abduction murder cases across the United States, then interviewed the investigating detectives. This data provided law enforcement valuable insight into what investigative techniques tend to be most productive.
Now the Attorney General’s Office has released a follow-up study, including 175 additional solved cases. The additional cases generally reflect and support the findings in the original report with several significant and definite differences:
- With more killers identified, researchers found threat that the killer will be a friend or acquaintance is nearly equal to that of a stranger.
- The probability that the killer’s name will come up during the first week of the investigation has decreased.
- The use of pornography by killers as a trigger to murder has increased.
- In 74 percent of the missing children homicide cases studied, the child murder victim was female and the average age was 11 years old.
- In 44 percent of the cases studied, the victims and killers were strangers, but in 42 percent of the cases, the victims and killers were friends or acquaintances.
- Only about 14 percent of the cases studied involved parents or intimates killing the child.
- Almost two-thirds of the killers in these cases have prior arrests for violent crimes, with slightly more than half of those prior crimes committed against children.
- The primary motive for the child abduction killer in the cases studied was sexual assault.
- In nearly 60 percent of the cases studied, more than two hours passed between the time someone realized the child was missing and the time police were notified.
- In 76 percent of the missing children homicide cases studied, the child was dead within three hours of the abduction–and in 88.5 percent of the cases the child was dead within 24 hours.
Key recommendations to protect children:
- Be aware that children are not immune from abduction because they are close to home. More than half of the study’s abductions took place within three city blocks of the victim’s home.
- Be certain that your children are supervised – even if they are in their own front yard or neighborhood street. Approximately one-third of the abductions studied took occurred within one-half block of the victim’s home.
- Teach your children not to ever approach a car– whether the occupant is a stranger or not– no matter what the occupant the tells them or asks them.
- Be aware of strangers and unusual behavior in your neighborhoods. Many child abductions are witnessed by people who do not realize that a crime is being committed.
- If your child is ever missing, CALL POLICE IMMEDIATELY. An immediate response to a missing or abducted child may be the difference between life and death.
Download the entire report
Meet the research team