8 Devastating Consequences of Unsolved Homicides on Victims’ Families

Losing a loved one to violence is a traumatic experience, but the impact of unsolved homicide cases on homicide victims’ families can have devastating consequences that last for years. As a cold case family advocate and researcher, I have seen firsthand the long-lasting effects that unsolved homicides can have on victims’ families. I explore below the eight devastating consequences of unsolved homicides on victims’ families.

  1. Prolonged grief and trauma – The trauma of losing a loved one to violence can have a profound impact on the mental health of survivors, particularly if the case remains unresolved. Studies have shown that family members of murdered individuals are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the lack of closure and resolution (Altholz, 2020; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Mastrocinque, et al, 2015). The fear and uncertainty that come with an unsolved murder can also have lasting effects on the mental and emotional well-being of survivors. They may experience feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness, as well as a loss of trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system (Altholz, 2020; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022).
  2. Financial burden – In addition to the psychological impact, unsolved homicides can also have financial consequences for victims’ families. They may face significant expenses related to the investigation and funeral, as well as ongoing legal fees if they seek compensation through the courts (Altholz, 2020; Williams & Rheingold, 2015).
  3. Strained family relationships– Unsolved murders can also put additional strain on family relationships, as survivors may struggle to cope with their grief, feelings of blame, resentment, guilt, and anger (Armour, 2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015).
  4. A sense of injustice – Research has shown that families of unsolved murder victims often experience a profound sense of injustice, which can result in a lack of closure and ongoing pain. They may feel that the killer has gotten away with the crime and that their loved one’s death has not been given the attention and justice it deserves. Families may experience frustration and dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, especially if the investigation is stalled or the perpetrator is not brought to justice (Altholz, 2020; Armour, 2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022).
  5. Community impact – Unsolved homicides can also have a lasting impact on communities. For example, residents may live in fear and insecurity or may experience a loss of trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system (Altholz, 2020; Morris & Scott, 2022;
  6. Lack of support and resources – Recent studies have shown that families of unsolved murder victims are often not given adequate support or resources. They may struggle to access information about the investigation or obtain counseling services to help them cope with their loss (Altholz, 2020; Armour,2002; Connolly & Gordon, 2015; Reed & Caraballo, 2022; Stretesky, et al, 2010).
  7. Marginalized community impact- The impact of unsolved homicides on victims’ families can be particularly pronounced for marginalized communities, such as people of color or low-income individuals, who may experience additional barriers to accessing support and resources (Altholz, 2020; Morris & Scott, 2022; Petersen, 2017; Sharpe, 2015)
  8. Social anxiety – The stigma associated with homicide can lead to social isolation and a lack of support for the families of victims, especially if the case remains unsolved (Armour, 2002; Huggins, et al., 2020; Mehr, 2015; Ngu, 2018).

In conclusion, the impact of unsolved homicides on victims’ families can be far-reaching and long-lasting, touching every aspect of their lives from mental and emotional health to financial stability, and relationships. It is important that the criminal justice system recognize the importance of bringing closure to these cases and providing adequate resources and support to the families affected. These devastating consequences of unsolved homicides on victims’ families illuminate the need for more support and resources so they can cope with their loss. This can include counseling, support groups, financial assistance, and advocacy for a thorough and timely investigation.


Altholz, R. (2020). Living with Impunity: Unsolved Murders in Oakland and the Human Rights Impact on Victims’ Family Members. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3618573 or Doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3618573

Armour, M. P. (2002). Experiences of Covictims of Homicide: Implications for Research and Practice. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 3(2), 109–124. Doi: 10.1177/15248380020032002 https://journals-sagepub-com.library.saintpeters.edu/doi/epdf/10.1177/15248380020032002

Connolly, J., & Gordon, R. (2015). Co-victims of Homicide: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 16(4), 494–505. Doi: 10.1177/1524838014557285 https://journals-sagepub com.library.saintpeters.edu/doi/10.1177/1524838014557285 Huggins, C., Hinkson, G., & Charles, K. (2020). “He Was a Good Boy”: The Caribbean Black Mothers’ Experience of Coping and Grief With the Homicide of Their Sons in Trinidad. Journal of Black Studies, 51(5), 411–432. Doi: 10.1177/0021934720915441 https://journals-sagepub-com.library.saintpeters.edu/doi/10.1177/0021934720915441

Mastrocinque, J. M., Metzger, J. W., Madeira, J., Lang, K., Pruss, H., Navratil, P. K., Sandys, M., & Cerulli, C. (2015). I’m Still Left Here With the Pain: Exploring the Health Consequences of Homicide on Families and Friends. Homicide Studies, 19(4), 326–349 https://www.academia.edu/36694536/Im_Still_Left_Here_With_the_Pain_Exploring_the_HealthConsequences_of_Homicide_on_Families_and_Friends

Mehr, N. (2015). Stigma formation: the lived experience of homicide loss survivors. [dissertation, Northcentral University]. Proquest https://www.proquest.com/openview/d6fe3a68a2e5f26c68d6ef323b88d88a/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750

Morris, K. G., & Scott, J. C. (2022). “No One Can Feel My Pain”: The Experience of Black Women Survivors of Homicide Victims and System Agents’ Perspectives on the Impact of Homicide in the Boston Area. Homicide Studies, 0(0). Doi: 10.1177/10887679221139500 https://journals-sagepub-com.library.saintpeters.edu/doi/full/10.1177/10887679221139500

Ngu, K. (2018). Uncovering the Hidden Narratives of the Coping Mechanisms used by Families of Homicide Victims. [dissertation, University of Colorado Boulder] https://scholar.colorado.edu/concern/undergraduate_honors_theses/m900nt89w

Petersen, N (2017) Neighbourhood context and unsolved murders: the social ecology of homicide investigations [Abstract]. Policing and Society, 27:4, 372-392, Doi: 10.1080/10439463.2015.1063629 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10439463.2015.1063629?journalCode=gpas20

Reed, M. D., & Caraballo, K. (2022). Voice of the Victims: Accounts of Secondary Victimization With the Court System Among Homicide Co-victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence37(13–14). Doi: 10.1177/0886260521989732

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Sharpe, T. L. (2015). Understanding the Sociocultural Context of Coping for African American Family Members of Homicide Victims: A Conceptual Model. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 16(1), 48–59. Doi: 10.1177/1524838013515760


Stretesky, Paul & Shelley, Tara & Hogan, Michael & Unnithan, N. (2010). Sensemaking and secondary victimization among unsolved homicide co-victims. Journal of Criminal Justice 38(5), 880-888. Doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.06.003.


Williams, J. L., & Rheingold, A. A. (2015). Barriers to care and service satisfaction following homicide loss: associations with mental health outcomes. Death Studies, 39(1-5), 12–18.

Doi: 10.1080/07481187.2013.846949 https://web-p-ebscohost-com.library.saintpeters.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=1&sid=832b8936-dc 4b-4248-89dd-339b6d284427%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT 1zaXRl#AN=100071670&db=aph

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