The Murder Police

I don’t recall where I first heard the expression “murder police”. I may have read it somewhere in the past, but it kinda stuck with me. Eventually it came to the point in my career when I started to refer to the detectives who got called out at all hours of the day and night to investigate homicides, assaults where the victim may die, and suicides that may have a suspicious component as the Murder Police. These suspicious circumstances may have been noted or observed by the patrol officer who was sent to the scene (Lord knows we all went to so many of them) or possibly by the Assistant Medical Examiner who also responded to the scene. Additionally, fatal drug overdoses may fall into the suspicious category depending on the circumstances of the death. 

The theory behind these responses is that, in police work, you only get one chance to process a hopefully undisturbed / uncontaminated homicide scene. If by some chance you or your supervisor make a mistake and DO NOT seal off a possible crime scene at the time the victim is found, it will be too late to do so if later the victim dies, and you hadn’t preserved it. The chance to gather information and evidence from that scene would be lost forever.

As far as suicides go, most suicides turn out to be exactly what they appear. But you still have to process the scene of the suicide for two reasons: 1) It helps the Medical Examiner to determine cause and manner of death, and 2), in someways just as important, it helps the family learn without a doubt how their loved one met their death. Heaven forbid, sometime later, perhaps years, a person comes forward with credible information that a death that had perviously been determined a suicide involved some foul play. As long as we processed the scene when the victim was first found and collected evidence, we will always have the ability to go back and re-examine the original investigation. One thing that I have found over the years is that sometimes family members refuse to accept that the sudden death of a loved one is suicide, no matter what tale is told at the scene. 

I spent my police career split between patrol and detectives.  Over the years, like most cops, I got more than my bellyful of responding to sudden or violent death scenes. Often, in cases of sudden death, family members and other loved ones are present. I decided when I established this website I wouldn’t get too dark or too graphic about the things I’ve seen, either on the job or in the military. However, I do reserve the right to change my mind, but for now, I’ll talk about some of this stuff that may be interesting without getting overly graphic about it. 

My time as a Manchester Police Detective may not qualify me as a homicide expert, but certainly over the years I have been involved in many homicide investigations, so I have gathered some extensive experience. The last several years of my career I was one of a group of detectives who got called out on a 24 hour basis to death / murder scenes. When that happened, when I arrived for duty, I was given information and assignments regarding that case.

Manchester PD always had an “A Team” so to speak, of investigators and supervisors who were called in to process potential and actual homicide scenes, and to work the case. I was not one of the folks who processed homicide scenes. Beyond crime scene, detectives would identify, locate and interview potential witnesses, family members, go house to house casing the neighborhood, and when it was time, find and apprehend the suspect. Another assignment would be to investigate and create the victimology of the victim. Attending the autopsy of the victim was another necessary task. 

I was trained extensively in most aspects of crime scene collection, including photography, locating and lifting latent finger prints, DNA and NH and US Supreme Court rulings regarding the admissibility of any evidence developed during a criminal case. Earlier in my investigative career, my partner and I would process our own crime scenes for serious assaults to include sexual assaults, sudden or untimely deaths, suicides and later in my career, electronic devices. But I never processed murder scenes, and that was fine with me. 

All this being said, I guess I’ll get into today’s story. I’ve been asked over the years about my most satisfying moments working as a cop.  If you’ve read many of my stories about police work previously, I may have given the impression that there are not very many such moments. Certainly, they can be few and far between, but it does happen. I’ve been blessed with many such moments. It may be surprising to most folks, some of my most satisfying moments didn’t come during murder investigations. Certainly having been on the team that investigated and helped convict the murderer of Officer Mike Briggs, and the shooter of Officer Dan Doherty were certainly the most satisfying points of my career. Many other satisfying moments came during lesser criminal investigations. Sometimes I was even able to help  people out with day to day problems. Many are not dramatic or very noteworthy. Perhaps they would only be noteworthy to the person or persons I tried to help. But today, I’ll tell you about a murder case where I played a small role, but that role eventually led to identification and the conviction of the murderer in a case which frustrated many of us who worked on the case for several months. 

This murder happened right after Christmas a few years ago. In fact, it may have been the night after Christmas. The shortened story is that the victim was at a local nightclub, and near closing time, he got into a beef with a few other guys at the club. He left, with a friend, they got into a car and headed home. It started to snow , and by the time we had detectives at the murder scene (which was outside in the street) we had a pretty good blizzard blowing and dumping snow and covering the scene. 

The guys who were beefing with our victim got into a car and gave chase while it was snowing. While following the victim’s car, one of the occupants of the chase car leaned out the window and fired a pistol at the victim. In what I can only describe as a once in a lifetime improbable shot, the bullet went through the back window of the victim’s car, striking the victim in the back of the head, killing him, most likely instantly.  

I was called in to work that case. At that point in my career, I was handling many of the autopsies for murders and other suspicious deaths for the PD. I was also taking younger and lesser experienced detectives with me, so that eventually they would be able to attend and function at these types of post mortem procedures. 

I’d like to say a word here about the Medical Examiner (M.E.) and his / her office. The M.Es are not “partners” with police investigators as is often depicted on various TV dramas these days. Their job, as described to me by the Medical Examiner himself, is solely to determine the cause of death and the manner for death. The cause could be as simple as a bullet to the heart, an overdose or a heart attack. The manner of death could be homicide, suicide, natural, accidental or undetermined. 

I’ll talk a little more about the M.E.’s Office in a future story or stories. The M.E. during one of our  unsolved homicides I worked told me, when I was pressing him for certain records or to help me attain them in no uncertain terms that his job ended once his office determined the cause and manner of death. It was my job, not his or his office’s job to conduct the actual investigation. At least, thats how things are in NH, but I assume thats true in most Medical Examiner’s Offices throughout the country.  

Don’t misunderstand me. One of the functions of an autopsy is to collect evidence from the decedent, analyze it and try to determine how, if at all, evidence collected contributed to the decedents death. That is why a police officer is always present, so as not to break the chain of custody of evidence. That detective would take custody of any items collected, document it, safeguard it and enter it into evidence so it can be of value to that investigation. Also, the evidence must be handled in way so it will be admissible in any criminal or civil trial that may come about.

The other job of the detective who catches the ‘post’ or autopsy is to photograph the victim before, during and after the autopsy. In some cases, you take finger prints from the decedent after the post is complete. A gruesome task to be sure, but sometimes necessary. But those things are topics for another day. 

During this autopsy, the M.E. was able to locate the bullet that killed our victim. It was important that I was present when he located it, and was able to take custody of it. The bullet itself was in the victim’s brain and stopped just inside and behind his forehead. During the autopsy, the M.E. was able to form some opinions about that bullet (he is considered an expert and as such he can testify to his opinions later at trial) The M.E used rods to show the path of the bullet, and, combined with other evidence led us to believe the bullet was most likely fired by someone in the pursuing vehicle. We already had information from a witness telling us this was so. But his opinion would bolster that testimony. 

The M.E. theorized that when the bullet went through the rear window of the victim’s car, it expended or lost some of its kinetic energy as it passed through. Therefore it didn’t have enough energy to go completely through and exit the front of the victim’s head. This was a fortunate break for our investigation, although certainly not for the victim.  Otherwise the bullet, if it exited the victim’s forehead could have continued through the windshield and may never have been found. And, if it was found, it may have been damaged enough so as to be useless as evidence. This fact that the bullet was recovered in pristine condition was key, as I will explain. I took my photos, the M.E. had X-rays taken with and without the bullet. I took,  X-ray CDs back for evidence along with the bullet and whatever else we collected.

We worked this case hard for about 72 hours, around the clock, as we always did with homicides. Often we identify the suspect in a murder case in less time than that. In this case we hit a wall. We knew who was in the car, we thought we knew who actually fired that bullet, thereby killing that young man. However, we just couldn’t prove who fired that pistol. No one was talking. We had the bullet, but no gun. Without the gun, the bullet which was recovered intact and therefore suitable for analysis, was no good to us. Of course, we held on to the bullet. 

Well, as I say, the investigation slowly ground to a halt .  We knew the players. We knew, for the most part what happened. Wasn’t exactly a whodunit, but we just couldn’t make that leap to make an arrest. So, the case eventually got assigned to another detective, a very good detective, I might add, and his job was to keep the case open, work on it in between his other assigned cases.  

Many months passed. During that time,I was getting feedback from sources I had on the street that the victim’s father was not happy with our progress in the investigation of his son’s murder.

The information I was receiving was that the victims father, who has had brushes with the law and MPD over the years, is getting impatient and there is concern by some he may go out and track these guys down and kill them. Dad was a genuine tough guy earlier in life, may still have been, but was older. I hadn’t crossed paths with him for several years. But I did take that street talk seriously. 

Anyway, the detective who was eventually assigned to this murder which was getting colder every passing week and month, kept at it. To make a long story short, many months later, his hard work paid off. He turned up the murder weapon, among other new information. His investigation was able to put that gun, in the hands  of the shooter. And guess what? The final nail in the suspect’s case was that the bullet we successfully recovered and stored in evidence, during the autopsy that cold snowy morning after the murder, was proven to have been fired from that gun, therefore by that murderer. 

I didn’t do any thing special during that autopsy. Any experienced detective who went to that autopsy would have done the same exact thing that I did. I worked several homicides, but this one stands out because the bullet that I helped recover and preserve played such a vital role  in holding this murderer accountable for what he did. I did a lot of other work on this case, but I’ll always remember that bullet, that victim and that conviction.  

Manchester Detectives had a tradition that I believe still continues. On the day the verdict comes in on a homicide case, and the day the perpetrator is sentenced, all the detectives who worked that case, if available, go to court. We wear our raid jackets or pin our badges outside our jackets. We are there to show support for any of the victim’s family who may be present. Usually silent support, to be sure. We don’t often get to talk with family members during a murder investigation, other than in an investigative function, which is never pleasant. This is our opportunity to lend the victim’s family support, and also let them know that the victim, no matter who it was, mattered to us. 

Also, maybe just as important, we, or at least I, let everyone who sees us know that we are the Murder Police. I take special pride in that. We caught him. We helped convict him. If you kill someone, we are coming after you. I always like to believe that in some small, but meaningful way we help the victim’s loved ones heal, if just a bit, perhaps supply some closure for their loss, if that is even possible. I was always proud to show up. For several years, I was one of the Murder Police. 

Nothing about this is glamorous. I’ve seen and learned things that perhaps regular folks should never know or see. Sometimes, I got to participate in the actual chase or manhunt. Sometimes even out of state. I made a few arrests during my career of murder suspects. I contributed to the arrest of many more murder suspects, even if I wasn’t personally present when the cuffs went on. 

The work itself was always physically and mentally exhausting. Usually, I didn’t see my wife or kids for days. Went without sleep. When I did sleep I often had bad dreams. I think back about the steaming hot days searching roof tops and highways for a murder weapon. Digging up yards and cellars. Executing search warrants in the nastiest, filthiest tenements where it was hard to believe someone actually lived. Sifting through garbage, dumpsters, whatever it took. All of it had to be done in a lawful fashion, which made those tasks much more complicated and arduous. The slightest misstep could result in a vital piece of evidence being excluded as evidence forever. It was hard work. Today, when I see the cops working crimes scene here in town on TV news, I tip my hat to them but I feel like I’m glad it isn’t me anymore. I don’t miss those phone calls in the middle of the night.

But whenever the subject does comes up, I am always proud to say ”Yes, I was once a Murder Police”.   

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