Crime solvers

They're going to get you.

That's the message that investigators with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office want to get across to homicide suspects throughout the area, and they have the numbers to prove it.

Of the 20 homicides the department investigated in 2006, only two remained open by year's end.

This gives the department a homicide clearance rate of 90 percent, which is better than many similarly sized departments across the state, and typically better than the national average.

The FBI will not release its national crime arrest rate until May but in 2005 the rate was at 62.1 percent.

That same year the RCSO was at 80 percent.

Many in the department attribute their success to the major case squad - a quick response unit consisting of up to 10 violent crime detectives, all volunteers, who are dispatched to homicides and other high profile cases.

Maj. Ken Autry believes that having the department's most experienced investigators working together in a unit, in addition to what he calls the "best crime scene techs in the region," have enhanced their ability to solve the tough cases.

"All that put together is why we're so successful on solving homicides," Maj. Autry said.

Still, without the help of the community, little could get done, said Sheriff Ronnie Strength.

Sheriff Strength said he was pleased with the help his department received from the community, and this year's high homicide clearance rate stands as a testament to their assistance.

The outpouring of information and other tips from the community was especially high during the investigation into the rape of a 74-year-old woman in her Summerville home last month, said Investigator Steve Fanning.

He said it took 73 leads from citizens before they had the enough information to make an arrest. Without the calls from concerned citizens, he said detectives often find themselves in a situation in which information grows stale and memories of the incident dwindle.

To date, the RCSO is still investigating two homicide cases from 2006.

John Grimes III and Isaiah Selman were killed only weeks apart this summer and police have yet to make any arrests.

Mr. Grimes, 27, was gunned down while riding a bike near the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and 12th Street in the early morning hours of June 24. He died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

On July 10, the body of Isaiah Selman, 28, was found near 3011 Old McDuffie Road by a landscaper at the nearby Living Word Christian Center after he spotted smoke coming from across the road.

Mr. Selman's body had been dumped at the site and lit on fire. An autopsy later revealed that he had died from asphyxiation and witnesses reported seeing duct tape over parts of his face.

Investigator Fanning said both cases have been difficult because detectives had very few leads to follow.

He said in the killing of John Grimes, very few people in the community have come forward with information. On the other hand, the investigation of Isaiah Selman's murder was complicated not by a lack of information about Mr. Selman's death, but by the way he lived his life.

"He was known to basically sleep at different residences and there was no one place that he claimed as his home," Investigator Fanning said. "He was very sporadic in his movements."

Mr. Selman was also known to block all of his phone calls, he said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

SOLVING THE CASE

Homicide clearance rates around the state in 2006:

- Savannah-Chatham County Sheriff's Department: 72 percent (29 homicides, 21 cleared)

- Macon Police Department: 92 percent (12 murders, 11 cleared)

- Bibb County Sheriff's Department: 100 percent (four murders, all cleared)

- Columbus Police Department: 63 percent (16 murders, 10 cleared)

- Richmond County Sheriff's Office: 90 percent (20 murders, 18 cleared)

Sources: Sgt. Melanie Hoffman, Macon Police Department; Capt. Mike Smallwood, Bibb County Sheriff's Office; Megan Matteucci, Savannah Morning News; Investigator Steve Fanning, Richmond County Sheriff's Office

BY THE NUMBERS

RICHMOND COUNTY CASES FOR 2006

Armed Robberies

57 percent clearance rate

Incidents: 352

Arrests: 43

Cleared: 157

Rapes

75 percent clearance rate

Incidents: 91

Arrests: 6

Cleared: 62

Aggravated assault

79 percent clearance rate

Incidents: 223

Arrests: 81

Cleared: 95

Burglary

19 percent clearance rate

Incidents: 2,855

Arrests: 165

Cleared: 388

Child molestation

80 percent clearance rate

Incidents: 128

Arrests: 40

Cleared: 62

Note: cases may also have been cleared if found to be false, the victim declined to prosecute and other reasons.

Source: Investigator Steve Fanning, Inv. Keith McGarity.