Javish Sanchez crouched on the floor of Lorena’s Grocery in Southwest Philadelphia in September, cradling the body of his mother as she lay riddled with bullets. “I wiped the blood from her face and that was it,” he said the day after the murder.

Sanchez’s aunt and uncle, who owned the neighborhood bodega, also died in the same brutal robbery and execution. Now LPC Grocery, Sanchez still works the counter. As far as the murders, investigators are stumped, Sanchez said.

“I hate to say it, but they’ve got nothing,” he said. He is not alone — the city’s homicide clearance rates have declined from a 2009 high of 76 percent to 69.6 percent in 2010 to 60.1 percent in 2011. National figures are following the same path.

“The frightening aspect is that we have more police officers than ever, we have DNA and other technology, and yet the [national] clearance rate has fallen from 80-something percent to 62 percent,” said Director of the International Homicide Investigators Association and former FBI agent William Hagmaier.


He cited increased spending on antiterrorism efforts that slashed homicide budgets, resulting in training cutbacks, savvier criminals schooled by criminal reality and procedural shows and the reluctance of victims to talk in many cases.

Local law enforcement agreed with Hagmaier’s last point.

“The hardest type of cases are those where we’re not getting a lot of cooperation from the neighborhood,” homicide Capt. James Clark said, adding that Commissioner Charles Ramsey recently gave him more manpower to ease caseloads. “Obviously, it makes it a lot harder to arrest someone when people in the neighborhood know who did it but refuse to tell homicide detectives.”

The sentiment hit home with Sanchez. “The only thing I can say is this: Somebody knows something and they’re not saying anything. The way we treated people, they should talk if they have any mercy. I guess I’m just waiting for justice from God.”

Factors behind murders

Hagmaier said a spike in violence is likely in the next decade.

Most violent crimes are committed by those aged 18 to 24, a currently underpopulated pocket due to low birth rates in the early 1990s.

Other factors include returning veterans whose adjustment problems often manifest violently — “After almost any conflict, the United States usually has a spike in violent behavior,” Hagmaier said.

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