A five-part series by The Charlotte Observer revealed that the officials assigned to investigate suspicious deaths routinely fail to follow crucial steps, raising questions about the accuracy of thousands of rulings. The effects of a botched investigation on surviving family members can be devastating. Killers can go free. Widows can be cheated out of the life insurance payments they deserve. In some cases, reporters found, grieving relatives were forced to launch their own inquiries into how a loved one died. Compiling the report wasn't easy. Observer reporters first requested the state's database of suspicious deaths in early 2012. For 18 months, the state stalled and provided incomplete data. In the summer of 2013, the Observer threatened legal action. Only then did the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner turn over its complete database.