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10 Investigates discovers ‘no arrest deserts’ in Columbus where murders remain unsolved

Between 2017 and 2021, more than 300 murders have gone unsolved in Columbus. Some people believe a "no snitching" code in the streets is preventing justice.

Bennett Haeberle

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Brenda Johnson thinks people know who killed her son.

The hard part is getting them to talk to police.

“Nobody is going to talk if they think they’re next,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of people out there who knows. I know they know. I know who knows but they won’t talk.”

Her 29-year old son, James Johnson, was shot at a Sunoco gas station in the Hilltop last October.

His death is one of more than 300 murders in Columbus that remain unsolved dating back to 2017.

A 10 Investigates’ review of homicide data shows of the 660 murders over the past five years, the Columbus Division of Police have made arrests in a little more than one out of every two killings.

What’s more – our investigation discovered more than a dozen “dead zones” or “no arrests deserts” – parts of the city where police have been unable to make arrests – leaving murders unsolved.

We found 16 geographic areas of Columbus where clusters of unsolved murders happened within a few hundred feet to a half-mile of each other.

Silence appears to be a common theme.

At a time when so many are talking about increased violence in America, our investigation found that a street code that pushes retaliation and silence over cooperation with police could be the lynchpin in keeping many of these case unsolved – robbing families of justice.

Both police and the families we interviewed expressed frustration at the silence, at retaliatory killings and at the overall mistrust of police that may be further complicating resolving these cases.

We also found a disparity and overrepresentation of Black victims in our community.

In a county that is two-thirds white, two-thirds of the murder victims in Columbus since 2017 have been Black.

The map below shows every murder in Columbus since 2017.

The red dots represent unsolved cases – dots that are blue are those “cleared” by arrests.

Take a look at the more detailed maps below.

We named these areas ‘dead zones’ or ‘no arrest deserts’ and they span from the north end, to North Linden to a southside apartment complex in the Hilltop neighborhood -- where unsolved murders are sprinkled from block to block.

The maps below show sections of Columbus where these unsolved killings are clustered together.

Credit: Google

The above map shows an area of Columbus just north of Morse Road and south of Tamarack Circle. This area also hosts four unsolved murders – including the shooting death of 15-year old Dawuan Lewis-Taylor.

Credit: Google

The above map shows an apartment complex just south of the I-71/I-70 split. The apartment complex is also home to four unsolved murders.

Credit: Google

The above section of the map shows the Hilltop area of Columbus where killings remain unsolved