The Theory Of Natural Selection And How It applies To Police Work, or, The Thinning OF The Herd

After I got some time and experience under my belt in the world of law enforcement, I came to the conclusion that we were fortunate indeed that most criminals were not rocket scientists. Of course, we dealt with some clever offenders, but we didn’t deal with too many arch villains, and that was a good thing. 

My agency, and I think this was true for most municipal police departments, often solved far more murders than not, and the more serious the crime, the better record we had for clearances, arrests and convictions. This is important, because in most cases, identification and apprehension of the perpetrators of these crimes (most all crimes) is an important part or step in the healing process of the victims and those that were close to the victims. 

It may be that with serious violent crimes, more resources are assigned to investigate those crimes, as opposed to the “run of the mill” misdemeanor or property crimes. Please understand that when I say “run of the mill” I’m not minimizing the effect that even those crimes such as simple assaults, thefts, burglaries have on the victims, and they can very have serious effects on the victim in many ways, including physical, psychological and financial. 

However, beyond certain Federal law enforcement agencies, resources for local police departments are always limited, and in any case are not infinite. As a result, the detective supervisor as well as the detective managing his or her assigned case load must effectively organize his or her time along with whatever tools and skills they do possess. To do so, they must prioritize the cases assigned to them and make maximum use of whatever assets that may exists.  

In the years that my partner and I investigated financial crimes, we normally carried an assigned, combined caseload that was usually about 100 cases. Each case a crime, albeit some more serious than others. This type of caseload guaranteed that many cases assigned to us did not get the attention they should have, and some got no attention at all. Furthermore, I doubt that there were many local police departments within the state of New Hampshire that had two detectives assigned full time to investigate fraud cases. 

In a perfect world, every criminal act would be fully investigated and each perpetrator, no matter how minor, would be identified and held accountable for their act. As we all know, we don’t live in that utopian reality. Add to that, that there are just a certain percentage of crimes where there is no evidence ever discovered that would lead to identification and arrest of the offender. Those crimes exist, despite modern techniques such as recovering DNA, digital photography, just to mention a couple. Unfortunately, I’ve worked on some of those cases, and despite the fact that my agency and the taxpayers invested a lot of time and money into my training, that’s just the way it is sometimes. 

The book club I belonged to recently had our monthly meeting (VIA Zoom) and it was suggested I compile a list of the ten most stupid criminals I’ve encountered. I decided not to do exactly that, but, based on that suggestion, I did decided to compile some examples of foolish  criminals and how they led me and other crack investigators I worked with to unravel and connect together the pieces of the puzzle left for us by the perpetrators.  

The first one that comes to mind today is a bank robbery where the robber entered the bank, passed a note to the teller demanding money and that he had a gun. The teller complied, the suspect fled the bank, leaving his note behind which was taken into evidence. As it happened, the note was written on the back of a personalized deposit slip, torn out of a checkbook, which identified the account holder. Almost too good to be true, so the investigators thought when they discovered it, the person who’s account the depot slip used to write the note on, turned out to be the robber. I don’t believe any further comment is necessary. 

In another bank robbery, (I believe this one was in Haverhill, Ma) the teller gave the suspect a packet of what we called “funny money”. This was a packet of money to be mixed in with money given to bank robbers, and in this case it exploded (problem number one) a short time after it was activated. The robber fled the bank with his money, using a bicycle (problem number two) to effect his getaway. I’m guessing his license was under suspension for drunk driving and he didn’t want to get into trouble for that, therefore the bicycle. In this case, three things happened as the robber bicycled his way through traffic downtown-He was splattered with red dye (problem number three) the funny money contained tear gas which came pouring out of the bag as he peddled for all he was worth (problem number four) and, a patrol officer sitting on the side of the road (problem number five) thought the sight of this guy was suspicious and stopped him to investigate. It may have been that the cop heard the robbery call over the radio, but either way, the case was solved, mostly due to the behavior of the imbecile who decided robbing a bank was a good idea. Which, after thinking about it, was really problem number one. 

And, while on the subject of bank robberies, I worked one where the suspect tried to disguise himself as a tree, before going into a local bank and robbing it. I never really understood why the guy thought dressing up as a tree was a good idea for this endeavor, but he did. He then fled, to his apartment as it turned out, still disguised as a tree. Problem was, while we were canvasing the neighborhood, some of his neighbors saw him run into his house, yup, dressed up as a tree, and from there the case went down. Turned out, this robbery, and the bank video of the walking tree holding up the bank made national news. I have to admit, it’s not every day that a walking tree robs a bank. 

Then there were always the hit and run collisions where one party flees the scene after the collision, without identifying him or herself as required by law, and is thoughtful enough to leave one of their bumpers with their license plate attached to it at the scene. Finding such a bumper in this fashion was something commonly referred to as a “clue”. I was always grateful for that type of cooperation by the offender. Each one was another mystery solved by the crack investigators at the Manchester Police Department. (sarcasm intended). 

On a more serious note, there was the day I was directing traffic when two blocks away from me, at about noon time, a drunk driver flew through a red light at high speed and T-Boned a car  containing two middle aged ladies who had gone out together for lunch. I ran to the scene. The drunk fled the scene, leaving a considerable amount of debris behind, and one women dead and the passenger seriously injured. I remember a bystander standing next to the victim’s drivers door, holding up her head, in his hands, obviously in shock. 

I took one look at the drivers face, and knew immediately she was deceased. I’d seen enough dead people by that time during my police career. I didn’t have to search for a pulse to know she was gone. Not very scientific, but no less accurate. I tried to calm this person. He mumbled, in incomplete sentences, trying to explain to me that he couldn’t just let her head hang out the window like it was. I gently took the victim’s head into my own hands, telling the bystander that it was OK, she was gone, and I’d take care of her. I suggested he go back to the curb and take a seat. I gently laid the victim’s head onto the drivers door. 

For days, maybe weeks, I woke up while I slept, sweating, seeing the face of the poor deceased woman staring up at me, or in some cases down at me as I lay. The fact that I played a role, albeit minor, in the apprehension of this murderer helped somewhat, but did nothing to end my nightmares, dreams and nocturnal visits from and of her for a long time. 

Just in case the seriousness of this incident made you forget the theme of this essay, I’ll remind you by telling you that the killer drunk also left his bumper, with his license plate behind at the scene. He also left several witnesses that were able to give a physical description of both the accident and car. My brother, also on duty near by, ran to the scene. One of us, I don’t remember who, possible both of us at separate times called in the plate and the BOLO (Be On The Lookout). As horrible as this scene was, it was somewhat comforting to have my brother there. He had also been directing traffic a block away from me. 

By the time the suspect got to his home, several Manchester cops were waiting for him. He was arrested and taken to a hospital where his blood was drawn. And, yes, he was eventually convicted on negligent homicide, arising from the fact that he was highly intoxicated, at noon time, no less. I believe the traffic reconstruction team determined that he flew though a busy inner city traffic light, without touching his brakes at over 60 miles an hour. Witnesses described the suspect, after coming to a stop, sitting for a minute, apparently trying to decide what his next course of action would be, and after viewing the carnage he caused, then decided to flee, apparently shrugging his shoulders and leaving both of his victims for dead. The arresting officers described the driver as highly intoxicated when they made contact with him, a short time after the collision. 

Continuing on a somewhat serious note, I am reminded of a night some time ago when I was working in the Domestic Violence Unit. My partner was off that night, so I was flying solo. I was in the station, and I was following, on the radio, a call where patrolmen were sent to a domestic assault. I was trying to decide if my presence was needed at the scene, but the cops made an arrest and transported the suspect to MPD for booking before I headed over. 

I went down, spoke with the arresting officer. I learned it wasn’t a serious assault, in terms of bodily injury, making it a simple assault, domestic. Since I wasn’t doing anything important, I thought I’d assist in the case by conducting a post arrest interview of the suspect. After he was booked, I asked the suspect if he wanted to tell me his side of the story. He was more than agreeable to do that. So, I brought him up to the detective division, and went over his Miranda Rights, which he promptly said he understood and eagerly waived and signed off on them. 

After chatting him up a bit, I asked him what happened. I always remembered his answer. He matter of factly told me he just gave his girlfriend a “Bitch Slap”. He said it was no big deal in any case. I asked him what  a Bitch Slap was. He answered by saying “You Know, a Bitch Slap. You’re a cop”. I’m guessing he thought cops bitch slapped their girlfriends and wives all the time. I assured him that I did NOT know what a bitch slap was, and asked him to explain further.  

Apparently eager to get into my good graces and win me over, he then explained by saying, “you know man. It’s when your old lady gets out of line and is acting like a (expletive deleted, and he didn’t use the word bitch) and you have to whack her a few times to straighten her out”. 

I know many batterers feel that way, but I thought it was remarkable that in this situation he would actually explain his thought process to me. Guess he figured being a guy I was a kindred spirit. Or maybe my attempt to establish a rapport with this guy worked too well. Anyway, I stopped him asked him to repeat what he said, and I got it all down on paper word for word. He obliged. I guess he really believed he didn’t do anything wrong. Either way, I figured him for part of the herd that was thinning. The thinning part.  

I had hoped that there would be a trial and I would get to testify to what he said to me, word for word in open court, but he got a lawyer, and no competent lawyer would let his client go to trail after making such a statement. So, he eventually pled out, and this saved the victim from having to testify against him. I was certainly successful in locking him into an incriminating statement (a confession). The case was no longer a “he said, she said” type of incident without witnesses. However, I really can’t pat myself on my back too hard. It was the suspect who helped me make the Patrol arrest stick.

Then there was the case of a serial rapist who insisted to me that because his girlfriend agreed to have sex with him in his apartment, it can’t be considered rape if he forced her to have sex with him anywhere else. And he did admit to forcing her to have sex with him multiple times after that. He just thought once a women consented to have sex with him, that consent is forever cannot be withdrawn. I wished him good luck with that defense. 

On a lighter note, I remember a time when myself, my partner and a Secret Service agent were working on a pretty large, multiple state, payroll check counterfeiting ring. The ring was initially working out of Manchester, which is how I got the case, and eventually, after they thought we were getting hot, they fled to Providence where they set up and continued without skipping a beat. This was big case, if there is such a thing as a big financial case, in that it cost various banks and business around the country over six figures in losses. The core group involved in this criminal ring were from Liberia.

We identified a woman, from Liberia, who we felt was complicit and had valuable information on the case. We paid her a visit, and convinced her to come in for an interview. She kept her word, and showed up at the station as agreed.

We go down to the lobby, and she was with a male subject. He was also from Liberia. We told him he could not be present during the interview. Both subjects spoke decent English, with an accent, however the woman told me because she was from Liberia, she needed to bring her friend to translate. I figured she was going to pull the common ‘no speak a da English’ routine so I shrugged my shoulders figuring I had nothing to lose and agreed. What did I know about Liberia? We didn’t have anyone nearby who spoke Liberian in any case. As it turned out, I didn’t know very much about Liberia.

The four of us got to an interview room, we turn on the recorder and we started asking the “translator” our questions for him to then ask our suspect in Liberian. Try to imagine what we thought when the translator turned to our suspect, and repeated everything we said in ENGLISH! The suspect then answered the translator in English, who then turned to us and repeated what she said in English. 

My initial reaction was just to let my jaw drop while this comedy played out. My partner was no less speechless. We looked at each other in amazement, and after we regained our composure we threw our “translator” out and told him to get lost. Who knew they spoke English in Liberia? Certainly not my partner or I. Guess we assumed they spoke some exotic African tongue. Not so, we learned. We finished the interview just fine without the assistance of a Liberian translator. 

Of course there was the time I stopped a guy for blowing a stop sign. Inner city neighborhood, he didn’t roll through it, he blew through it without touching his brakes. It was so blatant and so unsafe (he could have killed someone if he hit a pedestrian or another car) so I had decided before I stopped him that I would most likely write him a summons for blowing the stop sign.  

So this guy tells me he didn’t have his license with him. And so the interrogation as to his real identity began. He gave me a name and a date of birth, and when I ran it, it didn’t come back to anyone. No License, no driving history, no warrants and no MPD contacts. I’d been around enough to know he was lying about his identity. Failing to identify yourself to police when driving a motor vehicle is an arrestable offense. Pretty sure the driver knew that which only served to make him determined to stick with that story. 

I went back and spoke with him for a while, but he insisted that was his name, date of birth and he had a license and had no explanation as to why I couldn’t find any info on him. But, he persisted. Now normally, I would give the guy a summons for the M/V violation and cut him loose, but there was no point in doing that because the summons would be meaningless without his real name and information. I knew he was lying, and I knew there was a reason he was lying. 

So, finally, out of desperation, I asked him to tell me what his astrological sign was. This was something my brother had told me in the past that had worked for him. Most people know their own astrological sign, but don’t know the signs for months other then their own. This question immediately stumped him. I worked on him for a few more minutes and he finally admitted (because he didn’t know what astrological sign he was) he had been lying to me. So, I placed him under arrest, and naturally, once he told me his real name, I found his license was under suspension and I charged him with several misdemeanors. 

When I wrote my probable cause affidavit, I listed the fact that he did not know his astrological sign when asked as I questioned him about his true identity, among other things, in order to justify my continued detention and questioning of him. Both judges, at arraignment and at trial apparently bought into it and ruled my stop and extended detention was both legal and justified. 

Of course, there have been many people I stopped who identified themselves as other friends and relatives to avoid tickets or arrest, and some of those unfortunates gave names and dates of birth that belonged to people whose license were under suspension themselves. 

One interesting case I worked when I was investigating Financial Crimes was the case of an elderly gentleman who passed away in his apartment. His niece had gone to the apartment to organize and clean it out a few times, and when she did she noted certain things disappearing from the old gent’s resident between her visits. She also found checks that had been missing from the guy’s checkbook, and apparently he always kept accurate and precise records when it came to his bills and bank accounts. 

Well, I got the case, and eventually found that a third had been writing out the stolen checks to himself, using his real name, forging the dead gentleman’s signature then cashing them. When I subpoenaed the victim’s bank records, I learned the missing checks had all been dated prior to the victims death, but cashed or uttered after the day the victim died. All were indicators pointing to a suspect. 

Well, without going into a long story about the investigation itself, (which I got a lot of satisfaction from) I found the person to whom these stolen checks were made payable to and cashed by was the victim’s next door neighbor. He was thoughtful enough to use his real name, his real identification and pose for the digital high tech cameras at the bank each time he cashed one of the stolen and forged instruments. He used different bank branches which he thought would be less suspicious. It wasn’t. Each forged check he cashed counted as a felony. 

The suspect agreed to come in for an interview. As he told me, he was sorry for his neighbors death and he certainly had nothing to hide. Prior to the interview, the niece had made up list of things, with good descriptions, that suspiciously disappeared from the apartment. She told me that on her first visit, she took clothing and laid it out on the bed trying to select what her uncle would be dressed in when he was buried. Each time she went back into the apartment, more and more of those items were disappearing. 

So, this character, a rare bird indeed, came into MPD where my partner and I interviewed him. He strongly denied stealing and forging any of the checks. His alibi was that he had loaned money to the victim while the victim was still alive and the checks in question had been written out to him by the victim before the victim died. He stood by that story and we couldn’t shake him off it. With the exception of homicides, its rare to get a criminal case where the victim is not alive. Unlike most forgery cases, our victim was dead, so we didn’t have him to dispute the story and testify that he did not write these checks. 

However, I noticed what I knew would be the hole in whatever fable the suspect tried to weave for us immediately when he arrived at MPD. I knew I had him the moment I first laid eyes on him. The suspect was wearing one of the victim’s winter coats that the niece pulled out of the closet and left on the bad the first time she visited the apartment. The next time she went to the apartment, she noticed it was gone and had listed it to me as stolen with great good description. I said nothing about the coat until we were nearing the end of the interview which, until that point, hadn’t been very successful. 

Finally, after deciding I was not going to listen to anymore falsehoods, I just ordered the suspect to remove his coat. I then told him he could leave, minus the jacket. The suspect was stunned. It was cold and snowy out (It was a cold winter day) and he arrogantly demanded the coat back. I just told him the coat was stolen from his neighbor and was evidence of the crime of burglary and I was seizing it as evidence. You could see the blood (and his confidence) drain from his face. Obviously, I was just toying with him at that point and tried to act indifferent about it. He sat back down and with a little more prompting, gave us a full confession, all of which, the entire interview, had been recorded with his permission. 

He had entered the apartment several times after the victim’s death using a key that the victim left under his welcome mat. While still alive, the victim had told his neighbor about it so the neighbor could get into the apartment if ever the victim was in distress. For each time he admitted to entering the apartment, using the key, I charged him with a burglary of an occupied dwelling, a Class A Felony here. Each check he stole, forged and presented to be cashed was a felony level forgery. I smiled later as I wrote my affidavit for his arrest warrant with a significant list of charges. He was not getting any breaks from me. 

The case made the newspaper up here, but he never did get any jail time, despite the heinous circumstances (I think he did a few days in the local jail until he made bail). The excuse used by the prosecutor was that the crimes were not violent. I would argue that the theft from a deceased person was a special case, and should be treated that way. Alas, such is the nature of the system, the “anything but go to trial syndrome” that often exists in many prosecutors offices figured in the final disposition here. 

Even though I had a full, legally obtained confession with details on video for each crime he was charged with, the case was pled out, without my knowledge or input. Anyway, I was always thankful to the suspect in that case for posing for those cameras, using his real identity while he committed those crimes and being foolish enough to wear one of the items he stole to the interview with me.  Maybe he was just pompous. Perhaps he was even a bit of a sociopath. Believe it or not, he was still very disturbed and  impertinent over the fact I seized the jacket he was wearing. He demanded a ride home. In many cases, I would have obliged. But as far as I was concerned, he could go screw himself. I wanted to put the cuffs on him myself once I got the arrest warrant, but a hard working patrol officer went looking for him as soon as the warrant was placed in the system. He got to him first and locked him up. In the end, this suspect wasn’t quite so high and mighty when he stood in front of the very lenient judge, sometime down the road. 

I think the last tale for todays dissertation might be my all time favorite. Near the end of my career, I had obtained an arrest warrant for a guy who was involved in the check forgery ring that I mentioned earlier. I went to Providence one day looking to round up the suspects in that case along with the Secret Service, R.I. State Police and the Providence Police. We located and locked up several of them, but this particular suspect fled before we found him. 

The suspect we didn’t locate had warrants in NH from me, as well as warrants for him in Rhode Island for a similar list of crimes, He knew he was wanted in both states, so he laid low to avoid capture. Not low enough as it turned out. The week before I retired, I got a call from the Federal Prosecutor in Rhode Island. He told me the following story:

This guy, who was the last person in the scheme to avoid arrest (In Manchester I arrested 25 people and three others who were prosecuted Federally) was driving down I-95 in Massachusetts late one night. As it happens, the guy got stopped by a State Trooper for a motor vehicle violation. When the trooper spoke to wanted subject, the suspect stated he left his wallet at home and didn’t have his license with him. Instead of giving the trooper his real name and date of birth in order to avoid being arrested on those warrants, he gave the trooper a real name and date of birth of someone he knew that had a valid license.  

The trooper went back to his cruiser and ran the information. After about ten minutes, several police cruisers, both troopers and local cops converged on the scene, weapons drawn. The suspect was ordered out of the car, then pulled to the ground and was handcuffed while the barrel a shotgun was pressed up against the back of his head. Needless to say, this guy was both shocked  and perplexed about the treatment he received and the seriousness with which the cops treated him, considering he was only wanted for some fraud type crimes.  

It seems that unbeknownst to him, person whose the name and date of birth he used to avoid getting locked up on the warrants, actually had a warrant out for him, and the warrant was for murder. I think it was issued out of Virginia. He also matched the general description of his friend, which is one reason he used that identity. So, the suspect spent the next few hours trying to convince the Massachusetts State Police he really wasn’t the guy wanted for murder, but he was really wanted out of NH and RI for various other offenses, and he had given them a false name. I laughed my ass of when I heard this and I thought, hey, this isn’t a bad note to end my career on. However, before I was done, I was involved in a few more memorable  arrests. 

Looking back, I was always thankful that most of the criminals we dealt with, especially those who committed heinous crimes were not criminals like the Joker or the Penguin, and in the end, most would go on to become the part of the “herd” that was being thinned. 

2 thoughts on “The Theory Of Natural Selection And How It applies To Police Work, or, The Thinning OF The Herd

  1. Marty, I love how you set the back drop of this story by explaining how the system works. As you related some of the different cases you have worked on, I found myself smiling, laughing, sad, frustrated or angry. A whole range of emotions! I love your writing and appreciate your sharing of so many experiences.

    Like

    1. Thanks Joan, for taking the time to both read it and comment on it. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s apparent we need to talk more often. Talk to you soon and stay well-Marty

      Like

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