KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Police Department has formed a dedicated homicide unit as part of recent organization changes and announced it has cleared a unsolved murder case from 1984.

The newly-formed Homicide Unit went into effect on February 26 and is responsible for investigating all homicides, suspicious deaths, suicides, non-fatal shootings with a victim and any assault in which the victim suffers potentially life-threatening injuries.

These investigations were previously under the purview of the Violent Crimes Unit, which will now focus on robberies, bank robberies, assaults, aggravated assaults with non-life-threatening injuries, work-place violence situations and adult missing persons.

Since its formation, the Homicide Unit has also started reviewing unsolved murder case files. According to release, one of those cases includes the 1984 case of 23-year-old Terry Lynn Kirkland’s death who was found beaten and stabbed to death in April of 1984.

Investigators who reviewed the case identified a suspect who died in 2021. According to the release, the case file was presented to the District Attorney General’s Office, and they found that there was enough evidence in the case file to prosecute the suspect. Because the suspected offender had died, the case was closed.

“I appreciate Deputy Chief Coker and Captain Morrow for their forward-thinking and championing this initiative,” Chief Noel. “With nearly 70 percent of our murder cases in 2023 effectively solved and the closure of a nearly 40-year-old unsolved case, the Homicide Unit has done an exceptional job of identifying suspects and working towards justice for victims and their families.” 

In 2023, Knoxville Police said there have been six confirmed homicides, and arrests have been made in three of those cases. A fourth case is being reviewed by the District Attorney’s office, Knoxville Police added.

The formation of the homicide unit came from structural changes that recently happened in the Knoxville Police Department’s Investigations Bureau, According to the release. Knoxville Police said that the changes were made in an effort to improve the Bureaus collective response, effectiveness and efficiency.

“Homicide investigations, in particular, often require a substantial amount of time and resources to bring those cases to a successful resolution,” Chief of Police Paul Noel said. “When those same investigators are also assigned non-life-threatening assaults or robberies, that takes precious time and attention away from homicide investigations. By devoting a unit almost entirely to homicides and reducing the caseload for homicide investigators, they will have the time and resources that they need to more singularly focus on our most high-priority cases.”