Homicide Watch D.C., a much-praised combination of true crime blog, case log, document dump and victim memorial, will shut down Wednesday after chronicling hundreds of murders over the past four years, the Web site’s founders say.
The eulogies have already started, with everyone from D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier to victims’ family members lamenting the site’s demise.
Its creators, Laura Amico and her husband, Chris, are mourning, too.
The couple wanted to find a new home for the site, which they created to “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” But after “many conversations” with news organizations, the Amicos did not find any takers.
Photographer Lloyd Wolf, known for his images of street memorials for murder victims, said Homicide Watch, at homicidewatch.org, called attention to cases that would “never clear the bar for news.”
He compared the more than 400 cases Homicide Watch has followed with the wall-to-wall coverage of the 2011 murder of an employee at a Lululemon Athletica clothing store in Bethesda. “Frankly, every piece of attention that was paid to that case was deserved and meaningful, but it happened because it was in a fancy neighborhood,” Wolf said. “There are thousands of other victims whom people are remembering to no public acclaim and to no public help.”
Lanier said she came to see Homicide Watch as one of her department’s “engaged and committed allies” in the effort to reduce homicides. “The closure of the site will leave a void,” she said.
Homicide Watch “is a valuable community service,” said Bill Miller, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The blog highlighted “the impact that violence has on so many lives in the District of Columbia . . . and the commitment and work that goes into bringing killers to justice.”
Laura Amico, who recently started a job at BostonGlobe.com, said she and her husband will update existing cases so that suspects who are cleared of charges are not trailed by inaccurate information. But they will not be adding new cases.
The couple has been living in Massachusetts since 2012, when Laura Amico won a Nieman-Berkman fellowship in journalism innovation at Harvard. She said managing the site, which gets about a half-million page views a month, from hundreds of miles away using interns in the District became untenable.
Amico recently was reminded of the difficulty when she was asked to name memorable moments and cases from the blog’s history.
“Everything that came to mind was from before I moved to Boston,” she said. “The site needs local ownership that is connected to, and known by, the community it serves.”
But the Amicos were never able to reach an agreement with a local news organization, including The Washington Post, about partnering with or acquiring the blog, Laura Amico said. She estimated the site’s annual operating costs were about $60,000.
Amico was a 29-year-old newcomer to the District when she came up with the idea for Homicide Watch, which launched in late 2010. She had covered police and courts in her native Santa Rosa, Calif., north of San Francisco. When she wasn’t able to find a comparable job in Washington, she decided to create one.
She was used to delving deeply into the handful of murders that took place in Santa Rosa each year and wanted to do the same with killings in the nation’s capital, which ended 2009 with 144 murders.
Homicide Watch is one of several blogs across the country, in cities such as St. Louis and Los Angeles, that have sought to circumvent the space limitations and conventions of mainstream crime reporting. Amico said she also was influenced by a local blog about the still unsolved 2006 murder of Radio Free Asia attorney Robert Wone in Dupont Circle. There are now sister Homicide Watch sites in Chicago, Boston and Trenton, N.J., run in conjunction with local newspapers and a university that pay the Amicos to license the platform they built for the original blog.
The demise of the franchise in Washington, which has survived on a combination of Kickstarter funds, ad revenue and free labor, won’t affect the sister sites.
Having a local partner is key, Amico said, because even in the age of Google and online dockets, gathering information about cases requires a lot of shoe leather.
At D.C. Superior Court, that work is done by interns Amelia Rufer, 24, and Imari Williams, 23, a recent Hampton University graduate.
On a recent weekday morning, Williams took a seat in the second row of Judge Rhonda Reid Winston’s courtroom. Sporting an oversize pin that read “This is what a feminist looks like” on the lapel of her pink blazer, Williams cradled two notebooks in her lap as she waited for opening arguments in U.S. v. Claire Rice — the case of a 67-year-old Silver Spring woman who is accused of killing her cousin for insurance money. At the end of the row was a sight to which Williams was not accustomed: a sketch artist. Most of the cases she covers are not high-profile enough to warrant one.
For loved ones of the slain, the blog is more than a news source.
Sandra Sullivan Jordan of Frederick, Md., came across the site in May after her nephew, Elike Richardson, was stabbed to death near Fort Chaplin Park in Southeast.
“This site meant a lot to me,” Jordan said. “I felt connected with him.”
Then she started reading posts from grieving relatives in other cases. “I find myself responding and giving support,” she said.
Some defense attorneys have a dimmer view of the blog because of the potential to influence a jury pool with its combination of photos of victims, outpourings of grief from friends and loved ones, and as-yet-unproven allegations. Amico said suspects, and their friends, loved ones and attorneys, have an opportunity to comment on the site, too.
Amico has on occasion pushed back against the official version of events, most notably in 2011, when she noticed that the D.C. police department’s claim that it had closed 94 percent of its homicide cases in 2011 did not match up with the outcomes listed on Homicide Watch. The blog’s tracking system indicated only 56 percent of homicide cases that year had been closed with an arrest. She learned that the way the department calculated its closure rate conformed to federal guidelines but was “not math that I thought the public understood.”
Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, a media innovation incubator at American University, said Homicide Watch could have benefited from more such insights, which elevated it beyond its sometimes “stenographic quality.”
Homicide Watch is no different from any other media start-up, she said, and has to produce something people find valuable enough to merit their financial support.
Amico said she would have loved to have done more but couldn’t.
“What newsroom doesn’t dream of more resources?” she said. “There is always, with every beat, more that can be done.”