Photo via Doyle Murphy
St. Louis police investigated 188 murders in 2016.
St. Louis city police investigated 188 killings in 2016 — the last one an apparent murder-suicide in Dutchtown on the afternoon of New Year's Eve.
That's the same number as last year, when homicides spiked to a twenty-year high.
"It certainly wasn't a great year," concedes police Chief Sam Dotson, "but we're nowhere near the all-time highs we had."
This is true. The annual death toll regularly topped 200 in the mid-1990s. In 1993, a staggering 267 people were murdered in the city. In comparison, Dotson points out, a yearly index of the most serious crimes has fallen to levels unseen since the early 1970s.
A measure of what police call "person crimes" — a category that includes murder, assault, robbery and rape — used to affect more than 30 out 1,000 people in the 1990s. Now it's about half that.
"We are significantly safer than we were just 25 years ago," Dotson says.
But the killing during the past two years — 376 murders in a city of just 315,000 people — stands out, and likely remains among the nation's highest per capita.
A young mother, 21-year-old Brandi Hill, was driving with her child and a pregnant friend on May 22, when two men ambushed her on Washington Avenue. One of the men shot her in the head, shoved her body into the street and drove off with the baby in the backseat, police say.
The men tossed the baby, still in a car seat and miraculously uninjured, onto the road a few miles away and dumped the car, authorities say. One of the men turned himself in, but the man believed to be the shooter was later killed in Illinois
during a shootout with police.
On September 12, a 54-year-old woman was walking at about 10:30 p.m. in the Central West End when she was shot dead. Monica Shaw was targeted at random
by teens from O'Fallon, Missouri, according to police.
On November 9, Maggie O'Brien's co-owner Pat McVey was found slumped in his Ford Explorer
on the shoulder of Interstate 55 near Loughborough Avenue. The beloved barman had been shot to death in the middle of the afternoon, and police have yet to find the killer despite a reward that's now topped $90,000.
When Chief Dotson spoke to the Riverfront Times
recently about crime in the city, the murder total was 181. Another seven people were killed during the next nine days. Murder is one of the most difficult crimes for police to stop, the chief says. A bunch of burglaries? A string of robberies? Car break-ins on a neighborhood street? Police have multiple ways to intervene. Murder is harder.
"I can't be there when two people get into a fight over a girl and have guns and start shooting at each other," Dotson says.
The roots of murder are complicated and extend far beyond the police department to education, courts and societal problems, such as poverty and drug abuse, the chief says. The community is also "awash in guns" thanks in part to the state legislature's penchant for weak laws, and critics are often satisfied to dismiss the problem of violence as a "city problem," according to Dotson.
"It's almost a code for racism," he says.
The solutions will take years and political will that extends beyond an election cycle or two, Dotson says.
Nine days after his remarks, at 1:35 p.m. on New Year's Eve, his officers responded to a bungalow in the 4400 block of Spring Avenue. Inside, they found the bodies of two people. One was a killer who committed suicide, police say. The second was the victim, the 188th person murdered in St. Louis last year.
Update 1:44 p.m.: St. Louis police have identified the suspect and victim of the New Year's Eve murder-suicide as James Aubochon, 32, and his 28-year-old wife, Stacey Aubochon. Police believe James fatally shot Stacey, and then killed himself.
See also: 2015 Was a Deadly Year in St. Louis. Can We Stop the Violence?
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