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Using New Media To Address 150 Unsolved Murders In Durham, NC

crime scene tape
Ian Britton
Flickr/Creative Commons

There have been 17 murders in Durham so far this year, a number that is pretty average for the past five years or so in the city.  But the Durham Police Department isn't just focusing on investigations that are current, they are also making an effort to investigate more than 150 murders that are still unsolved. 

Sergeant David Piatt, with the Homicide Investigation Unit is keenly aware that the families of those victims are still waiting for answers,.

"I don't think you can say one person is more important than the other.  They all deserve closure,"  he says.

Now, the Durham Police Department has launched a new section on their website devoted to these unsolved homicides. 

Delois West has been an investigator with the Homicide Unit since the 1980s.  She says there are major challenges in trying to solve cases which can sometimes be decades old.

"You know trying to locate our witnesses.  People pass away.  Trying just to locate family members can be tough,"  West says, adding that she's been amazed at the response from the public to the new website.

One of the reasons the number of unsolved homicide cases in Durham is so large is because of one decade, the 1990s.  Sgt. Piatt says 95 of the 150 unsolved homicides occurred between 1991-1999.  Crack cocaine surged into the growing city, and brought drug-related violence. 

At the same time, Sgt Piatt notes, there was an influx of immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

David Barry “Butch” Bullock, 27, of Durham was shot to death during the morning of March 25, 1997.
Credit Durham Police Department
David Barry “Butch” Bullock, 27, of Durham was shot to death during the morning of March 25, 1997.

"So we now have a population that is maybe a little distrustful of the police from their experiences elsewhere," says Piatt, and that created a perfect storm. "This all occurs, and at the same time our staffing was still based on what we had in the 80s."

Piatt says that many times a detective would be assigned a homicide, and the very next day they would be assigned another one. "They are many days where we had double homicides."

One of those unsolved cases is that of David Bullock. 

David "Butch" Bullock was murdered in 1997 when he was 27 years old.  His mother has continued to search for Bullock's killer since that day. 

Delois West is the investigator on the Bullock case.  She says after all these years, you create relationships with the victims families and that makes all the hard work worth it. 

West says she looks forward to the day the David Bullock's killer is found and she gets to call his mother and tell her that her son's murder is finally solved.

"I can't wait to tell her that, one day."

You can browse the complete web-based listing of Durham unsolved crime here.

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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