How Do I Deeply Research Murder Cases?

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Murder cases provide fascinating fodder for research papers and psychological studies. If you're researching an older murder, though, reliable information can be hard to find. You don't have to abandon your project just because the murder is old, though. Several research methods can help you learn more about the case.

1 Court Cases

If the murder went to trial, court records are an ideal starting point for your investigation. Court records are public records, which means you can request copies of the records from the clerk of the court in which the case was heard. Many courts also publish documents online. If the case was a federal one or federal lawsuits arose from the case, federal courts maintain a public docket, but you will have to pay for each document you download.

2 Police Investigations

Arrest records are public records, which means you can contact your local police department to request them. You may also be able to interview the detectives who worked on the case. Such interviews can give you starting points for further research questions. For example, you might not otherwise know that there was a second suspect or that the victim had been unfaithful in her marriage.

3 Newspaper Archives

Old stories about a case can give you new avenues to explore and fill in important holes in your knowledge. Reporters assigned to police and courtroom coverage often seek out facts, angles and people connections that wouldn't be covered in the normal course of business by official sources. Many newspapers maintain online archives, but if your local paper doesn't, contact the paper to ask if it maintains records in compendiums or on microfiche. Internet archives may also serve as a helpful source for old newspaper pieces.

4 Deep Research

If the case was a well-known one, it could be the subject of scholarly research. Scholarly databases, such as Jstor or Google Scholar, can tip you off to psychological or legal studies that have been done on the case, and may also afford access to "Law Review" articles that offer legal analysis. True crime writers are another seldom-considered source for human contacts and document names. Some include bibliographies with their books, and most cite sources directly on the pages where they are mentioned. Like news reporters, true crime authors seek out unusual and hard-to-find material and sources.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.