Southern inhospitality - a killer from Shreveport flees to Ann Arbor
Last week's column about police pursuits reminded me of a case where a Southern department must have had a “no chase” pursuit policy and a murderer escaped as a result. In the police academy, a recruit is taught to treat every traffic stop as dangerous. Academy instructors remind recruits, “You never know who you are pulling over. The driver might have just committed a murder and there may be a body in the trunk.”
Academy recruits will often exchange “knowing” glances that communicate, “Yeah right, what are the chances?” Off hand, I can remember three times this happened with cases involving the Ann Arbor Police Department.
In one such case, it started in Shreveport, Louisiana. A 19-year-old fellow rode his bicycle over to an older gentleman’s home to visit. The middle-aged man and the 19-year-old went for a drive together.
He was driving on a highway when a local Louisiana police officer - unaware a murder had been committed - put his toplights on and tried to make a traffic stop. The young murderer sped away.
The officer then activated his siren. Both murderer and pursing officer were on an expressway now and when the youth did not pull over, the officer shut down his emergency equipment (top lights and siren) and got off on the next freeway exit. Either his department had a no chase policy or they did not want local officers chasing on a freeway. Either way, the suspect headed to Atlanta, Ga., and family.
Once in Atlanta the scared young suspect showed his relatives the deed he had done. One of his relatives convinced him that the he should get rid of the car and body quickly. The suspect and kin drove in two cars to the train station and parked the car with the victim’s body in the trunk. The murderer and complicit family member then went back home to plot the young man’s escape.
In the meantime, the victim’s car was identified because it belonged to a missing man out of Shreveport. Shreveport investigator’s found the murder suspect’s bicycle near the victim’s home. Witnesses had seen the killer and victim together on the day of the disappearance. Connecting the dots the Atlanta and Shreveport detectives figured out that the suspect had jumped on a bus headed north to Ann Arbor, where the suspect had more family.
The Southern detectives called the Ann Arbor Police Department and in rather short order the suspect was arrested in town. Chief Greg O’Dell, who was a detective and polygraph operator at the time, was assigned the case on the Ann Arbor end of it. We were in constant communications with Shreveport detectives, who actually “owned” the case.
Normally in a homicide case the detectives involved, who have jurisdiction and will be working the case through court with their prosecutor’s office, handle the interview of the suspect. In this case however it was decided by all parties involved that Ann Arbor investigators would interview the suspect.
Greg O’Dell and I were picked to conduct the interview. Greg did most of the interview while I served as note taker and supervisor (I was Greg’s boss while he worked in the detective bureau).
The calm head, intelligence and matter of fact manner that would be Greg O’Dell’s trademark throughout his fine career immediately established itself. Interviewing a suspect in a major crime is like peeling the layers of an onion. The first version is usually the least truthful.
Greg and I never raised our voice to the killer. After each version of the suspect’s story Greg and I would look at each other, pause for dramatic effect, shake our heads as if disappointed and look again at the killer.
Greg would compliment the suspect that the version had some truth in it, but would remind the suspect that we had lot of information that was uncovered by the police in Shreveport and Atlanta. “Now let’s go through this again ” Greg would prompt. In the end the killer made a complete confession.
I spent my 40th birthday with Greg O’Dell travelling to Shreveport to testify in that killer’s case. Greg was a good travelling companion and a great police officer. He earned his way to the top by hard work, confidence in his subordinates and attention to detail when faced with decisions. His death is unimaginable and has deeply saddened all of Washtenaw County Law Enforcement. Rest in Peace Greg.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com. He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.