Edmonton conference brings together investigators, families of unsolved murder victims

With every unsolved murder, approximately seven intimate family members are left behind to grieve the death of their loved one. That's the introduction to a keynote address on unsolved murders, or so-called 'cold cases,' that is part of a Victims of Homicide conference in Edmonton May 15 and 16.

Edmonton's historical homicide unit had 183 unsolved murders, as of March 2017

An RCMP vehicle is parked near a property in Strathcona County in April 2015 as police search a property in connection with a homicide. (CBC)

With every unsolved murder, approximately seven close family members are left behind to grieve the death of their loved one.

That's part of a keynote address on unsolved murders, or so-called "cold cases," that kicks off a Victims of Homicide conference in Edmonton May 15 and 16.

The conference is meant to bring together victims' families and individuals who will explore the circumstances of those touched by murder.

It's a group that is largely unrecognized in academic research and often neglected by programs aimed at assisting the bereaved in general, said Ashley Wellman, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Missouri.

Her keynote address, "Understanding the Lived Experiences of Cold Case Homicide Survivors," is scheduled for the afternoon of May 15 at the Delta Edmonton South.

There are unique characteristics that go with an unsolved case, said Wellman in a telephone interview Friday.
Little research has been done on the families of homicide victims whose cases remain unsolved, said Ashley Wellman, criminal justice professor, University of Central Missouri. (supplied)

For starters, these survivors don't have finality; they don't have an end, she said.

"There is intense and immense hope," she said. "The families believe, in most cases, that there is potential for a resolution."

'An obsession'

Wellman will address what justice looks like for these families, and how they move forward with the homicide still being part of their lives.

"These families harbour a lot of anger and blame towards law enforcement," Wellman said.

They look to police for answers and when the police have no answers, these families will try to solve the case themselves, she said.

"It almost becomes an obsession," said Wellman. "It becomes a way for them to have ownership."

As of March 17, 2017, the Edmonton Police Service historical homicide unit had 183 unsolved murders from 2014 and earlier.

Any unsolved homicides after 2014 are not yet considered historical, a police spokesperson said in an email.

Survivors can be overcome with fear and a lack of trust, looking at everyone they come across at work, at the grocery store, on the street, as someone who potentially could have killed their loved one. 

Wellman recounted the story of one survivor who told her, "When I don't know who it is, I also don't know who it isn't."

The conference will include representatives from Alberta Justice, Correctional Service Canada, the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, Victim Services Advocates, psychologists, as well as the loved ones of murder victims.