‘Nobody really called’: 6 years after her son’s murder, a Philadelphia mother wants answers

Kristian Hamilton-Arthur was murdered in 2017. In the years since, his mother has had to advocate for her son, while simultaneously grieving him.

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Crystal Arthur with photos of her son Kristian

Crystal Arthur is sits on her front porch, surrounded by photos of her son, Kristian. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

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Content warning: This story contains descriptions of violence. 

Crystal Arthur just finished homeless outreach, giving away hot meals, toiletries, and “survival bags.” Her charity work was commemorating the 6th anniversary of her son Kristian Hamilton-Arthur’s death.

Kristian was just about to turn 29 when he was killed. His case, like many in Philadelphia, remains unsolved. His is another story that points to the need to fix an ineffective forensics department.

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The story

Crystal described Kristian as her best friend.

“He was really smart,” she recalled, smiling. “And to be as young as he is … he was, he accomplished a lot of things that by the time he passed away, things that a 35-year-old person or 40-year-old person is just getting to.” While working other jobs, Kristian studied real estate. “He was an investor; he had already graduated from real estate school, and at the age of 21, he bought his first property.”

Kristian visited Dorney Park with friends that day, and arrived home shortly before his mom did.

“It was a beautiful night,” Arthur recalled. “I mean, it was the air was perfect. The temperature was perfect. No clouds in the sky whatsoever.”

Kristian and about two dozen others talked outside when a car pulled up. Multiple shooters began firing, and the panicked group scattered.

“We proceeded to go a block away, and we were just sitting in the car and I noticed the traffic was being directed in the opposite direction.” Arthur was driven closer to the scene, and when she was told her son had been shot, she rushed to Jefferson Hospital. After waiting about 45 minutes, she was told Kristian had no signs of life.

He was five days shy of 29.

The data

Kristian’s case is not an uncommon one.

A 2022 report by the City Controller showed the clearance rate for fatal shootings in Philadelphia was about 42% in 2017, the year Kristian was killed, and has had ups and downs since then, with 36.7% as the average in 2020. Homicide clearance rates in the United States are down as well; data from 2020 shows a nationwide increase in homicide clearances, but not enough to keep pace with the increase in homicides.

In 2020, a study showed that national homicide clearance rates had stark contrasts in terms of race. Cases involving white victims were cleared at 87%, but only 67% for Hispanic victims. Cases in which victims were Black had an even lower rate, just 59%.

At an emergency gun violence roundtable in July, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner called for more forensics funding. “We just spent $250 million on police overtime, but somehow, in five years, nobody can find $150 million to build a state-of-the-art forensic unit that would handle, and I’m not exaggerating, at least 60,000 pieces of physical evidence we have right now that could be tested for DNA.”

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Krasner called the lack of investment “intolerable.”

“There’s all the mothers who would like to know ‘who murdered my son’ … they don’t know very specifically because decisions in this city have been made not to build a state-of-the-art forensics unit, because it was politically more important to people who had the levers of power to do something else with that money.”

Photo of Kristian Hamilton-Arthur sitting on a dresser
A photo of Kristian Hamilton-Arthur in his mother’s Philadelphia home. Kristian was killed on July 15, 2017. His case is unsolved. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

The present

In the immediate aftermath of Kristian’s murder, Arthur grieved and advocated for her son at the same time. “I had to basically reach out to the police about Kristian’s case because nobody really called,” she said.

When Arthur asked the lead detective on the case about surveillance cameras, she was told only six blocks’ worth of footage was available.

“He said to me, ‘What you want me to do, knock on everybody’s door and command them to give [camera footage] to me?’ Yes, yes I do, because if this was a white case, you would have did it. You could have traced where that car came from if you really wanted to do it,” Arthur asserted.

As the two-year anniversary approached, the family was brought into a meeting with detectives, and they were informed that the case was officially cold. It was during this meeting that Arthur was made aware that the gun used to kill Kristian had been turned in anonymously.

Recently, Arthur learned through a casual conversation with a friend that the lead detective on Kristian’s case had retired, and a replacement was assigned. “[The police] couldn’t find the case at first because when they moved from the Roundhouse, they put those cases in the basement of the new building. So they had to go find his case, and it took like two weeks to find it.”

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