Police are also significantly less likely to identify killers of racial or ethnic minority children. Only 13 percent of non-Hispanic white child murders went unsolved, compared to 24 percent of black infants and youths and 27 percent of Hispanic children.
"This is not a race thing, but a class thing. It comes down to whether or not you have money," Hawkins said. "If a killing happened in Beverly Hills, I can guarantee that (police) will get to the bottom of it. But if the killing happens in South Central (Los Angeles), they won't."
Gender also matters, the study found. Twenty-two percent of the killings of male children went unsolved, compared to 17 percent of female children. Although the difference between genders is much reduced among infants and very young children, the killings of males are consistently less likely to be solved throughout all age groups.
"This country has always had more compassion for the murders of little girls," Hawkins concluded.
But nothing seems to matter more than geography. Just as with adult homicides, child killings are more likely to be solved in some cities and states than others. Worst was the state of New York, where police reported not solving 32 percent of their juvenile homicides. At the other extreme were police in South Carolina and Wyoming, who reported solving all but 5 percent about their cases.
High failure rates in homicide investigations often reflect failures of will by local political leaders to make murder cases a top priority, according to crime experts.
"The one factor that stands out is the leadership of the police department," Wellford said. "If they're committed to clearances, if they make it a priority, if they provide the resources and demand that their investigators use the best practices, we always see increases in the clearance rates in those communities."
Parents groups in recent years have developed strategies to help police locate child killers.
"We've formed our own cold-case squads. We will call detectives to talk about cases. This keeps the cases in their face," Hawkins said. "And we will go out to the neighborhoods ourselves to post signs. We'll beg people to put up rewards for information. We also help put up billboards. We have to start holding parents, law enforcement and the whole communities accountable."
Cases in West
Number of children murdered from 1980-2008 and percentage of unsolved cases.
Colorado — 696, 11.4%
Idaho — 139, 7.2%
Nevada — 394, 20.6%
Utah — 287, 9.4%
Wyoming — 79, 5.1%
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