The idea of becoming a big city homicide detective
actually began when I was in high school.
I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and watching Dragnet on TV.
The job looked like it was fun and
However, there was little
opportunity to be a detective where I lived.
The small East Texas town of Vidor where I grew up had little employment
Little did I know that an
opportunity would present itself in a few short years.
Military service was one way out of a small
The other option was college.
I didn’t have the money to go to college, so
I put the idea of being a police detective on the back burner and chose the
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1966. The USAF was the fulfillment of another
life’s dream. I was following in my mom
and dad’s footsteps. They were both in
the Army Air Corps in World War II.
While in the Air Force, I took advantage of educational opportunities at
the air base where I was stationed and I was able to get 60 credit hours of
college. I was working toward a degree
in accounting because everyone said I could make a good living as a CPA. Business and accounting became my college
course of study.
After four years in the USAF I was honorably discharged
and I moved to Houston to continue working on my accounting degree. After several classes in business and finance
I realized that I was just not cut out to be an accountant. I found myself with over two years of college
in a field that I hated. My grades were
above average but my heart was not into sitting in an office all day working
numbers or working in a corporate environment.
My life changed dramatically when a uniformed Houston Police
sergeant walked into the Gibson’s camera store where I was working part
time. He had a roll of film to be
developed. I asked him about becoming a Houston police detective and he kind of
chuckled told me that the City of Houston was looking for fine young men just
like me. He gave me the address and
phone number of the recruiting desk at the HPD Police Academy. I decided to look into this opportunity and I
made arrangements to go in person the next day.
At police headquarters, I met an officer in recruiting
and I told him that I was there to apply for detective. He smiled and laughed a little bit. He then
told me that I had to start as a police officer and after a few years I could
take the promotion exam for detective. I
said ok, when can I start. I was going
to do something that I had only dreamed of doing as a boy.
I was able to get my paper work in, and pass my polygraph
test, and I had my physical exam done in a week. I was accepted into class 52 beginning
November 15th, 1971. We started with 70
cadets. The HPD Police Academy was sixteen weeks of academic and physical
training. We lost a few cadets in training and Class 52 graduated 52
Probationary Police Officers. I finished
second in my class and graduated in early March of 1972. I was assigned to the Accident Division,
evening shift, 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
It was a great beginning but I had my heart on making
Detective. To be eligible to take the detective exam in 1972 you had to have at
least two years as a Police Officer.
That meant it would be two and a half years of waiting to take the
promotion test. In those two to three
years, I decided to get my B.S. degree from Sam Houston State. I changed my major to Criminal Justice and
graduated in 1974. That was one goal
achieved and it made the next one even more desirable. I was ready for the challenge to become a
Houston Police Detective. But first, I
would get a taste of what it was like as an accident investigator.
While working the evening shift Accident Division, I got
called to a one car fatal accident in the East End. The accident turned out to
be a robbery-murder after finding a bullet hole in the driver’s head. The deceased driver was known to cash checks
for laborers in the neighborhood and his wallet was missing. I called Homicide and I talked to a Detective
Joe Reed. He told me that all the
Detectives were tied up on shootings and I would have to make the scene
myself. I swallowed real hard and said
ok. I took my own photos, interviewed
the witnesses and drew a diagram of the scene and handled the disposition of
the body. Detective Reed instructed me come up to the 3rd floor, Homicide
Division. and he helped me write the report from the official HPD Homicide
outline. It was my first homicide scene and I was not even a Detective yet but
it made me even more motivated to get promoted.
(L-R) Former Chief Carroll Lynn, Wendel, Chief "Pappy" Bond, Former Chief Harry Caldwell
The City of Houston Civil Service finally announced the
Detective exam for the summer of 1976.
Along with the announcement of the date of the test, the source material
that the questions would be taken from were listed. The four books were; The Penal Code and Code
of Criminal Procedure of the State of Texas, The Houston Police Rules Manual,
Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation by O’Hara and Community Policing,
sarcastically called the “green bible”.
I already had two of these books, Rules Manual and Penal Code, from the
police academy and I got the other two the next day. Looking at the four books and all that material
was intimidating. Some doubt began to
“throw rocks” at my dream of making detective.
I asked my supervisors in the Accident Division, Sgt. E. J. Smith and
Sgt. Emil Sliva how they studied for the Sergeant exam. They both told me the same thing read the
books, then read them again and then read them again. I took their advice. My confidence returned and I was
determined to be ready for that Detective exam.
I read each book at least three or four times. I could almost tell you what was on any given
page of each book without looking at it.
Then it hit me! The Civil Service
person who would make up the one hundred questions from these four books was
not any smarter than me. He had to open
these books and select facts and topics for questions as any average person
would do. I began going through each book and wring down questions on index
cards with the answer on the back. By
the time I had gone through the four books, I had over a thousand questions
with the answer on the backside. I was
going to be prepared for the test.
Word spread in the Accident Division that I was studying
for the Detective exam and George Buehler, a Police Officer and Class 52
classmate asked if we could study together. It would be the beginning of a long
friendship that would last for years. George and I would get together on our
days off and we would study together asking each other questions from the index
cards. The time finally arrive for the detective test. I was confident I had done everything
possible to get ready for it.
The Detective exam was given in the Albert Thomas
Convention Center. There were over two hundred officers who took the test. The
test was 100 questions from the four books. I went quickly through the
questions and I had no problem with the test.
I think I was one of the first ones to finish and then I had to
wait. The Civil Service test monitors
graded the test immediately. I missed 10
questions that I should not have missed.
I knew the correct answer and I just misread the question. I was really mad at myself for missing so
Promotion in the Houston Police Department in the 70’s
was from a list of eligible candidates.
Your ranking on the promotion list was based on three criteria; your
test score, efficiency score and your seniority in grade. My test score was 90. Efficiency scores were
given by each officer’s supervisor and it was generally a score of your job
performance. However, it had more to do
with your seniority and little to do with your effectiveness as a police
officer. My efficiency score was 26 out of a maximum of 28. Your seniority
score was based on the years in grade at your present rank. My seniority was the minimum, 2, with the
maximum being 10. I had a total score of 118 and by the end of the day after
all the scores had been tabulated, I finished in the top twenty on the
Detective list. At that point I didn’t
know if I would make Detective or not.
There was no assurance that I would make detective from
this list. It would depend on the number
of retirements by detectives in the HPD and promotions of detectives to
lieutenant. The list would expire in one
year. The one thing I didn’t think would
happen, and it did, was the creation of many more detective positions by the
I had my heart set on becoming a homicide detective and I
decided to do some politicking when it looked like I would be promoted. I made
an appointment to see the Homicide Division commander, Captain L. D.
Morrison. I remember walking into his
office and seeing his desk stacked with so many cases I literally could not see
the top of the desk. I told him of my
desire to work in the Homicide Division and to my surprise he said, “Well, let
me talk to some people,”. I never heard
any more from him and I was afraid I had blown it trying to circumvent police
policy. I later learned that he had called my immediate supervisors for their
opinion of me as a police officer.
As the year 1976 progressed, a number of police officers
were promoted to detective and by March 1st I found myself at the top of the
list. I was finally notified that I
would be promoted to Detective on March 31st, 1977. Sgt. Sliva told me that I would be going to
the Homicide Division. I was so relieved
and proud at that moment I let out a big, “All Right!”
On March 31st, 1977, I found myself in the Chief’s office
along with new detectives, Wayne Jones and Hipolito Galano. Chief Pappy Bond gave each of us our new
badges. I was handed my Detective badge,
D688. I recall a sense of pride and relief at that moment. I had actually made it. I was told to report to the Homicide Division
at 11:00 pm that Friday night.
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but George
Buehler, did pass the test and he got promoted to Detective a few months after
I made it.
He was also assigned to the
Not to my surprise, I
had written down every question that was on the test on those 1000 index
After our lateral promotion to
Sergeant, George went on to transfer to the Solo Motorcycle Division and
retired from there.
I didn’t wait until Friday night to go to the Homicide
Division on the 3rd floor of 61 Reisner St. I was ready to start working. I immediately walked down to the third floor
and met Lt. Breckenridge Porter, Day Shift Lieutenant. He welcomed me to the Homicide Division and
then told me to go home. He didn’t have
anything for me to do at that moment. Lt
Porter said that I would be working the night shift, 11:00pm to 7:00am and my
partner would be Detective David Collier.
I went home and got ready for my first night in the HPD Homicide
The Homicide Division was the only Criminal Investigation
Division that detectives rotated shifts on a monthly basis; days to evenings
then to nights and back to days and so on. In addition, days off were also
rotated monthly along with shifts. It was a crazy place to work. My first month I worked nights with Tuesday
and Wednesday off. But it really didn’t
matter at that point. I loved the job and never regretted going to work. I was
finally a big city homicide detective.
My first night on the job was unforgettable. Friday night finally arrived and I got to
work a little early and met some of the detectives on the night shift and
Lieutenant H. W. Kersten, night shift supervisor. I learned that Detective Collier was in
Austin attending the Texas legislative session.
Collier was a HPOA director and he was lobbying for the Houston Police
Officers Association. Lt. Kersten assigned me to ride with Detectives Doug
Bostock and Danny Spurlock for the night.
I was supposed to ride along and observe.
Lt. Kersten handed me three murder reports, cleared
cases. He told me to read each one. I was to learn how to write murder reports by
reading cleared cases. The Homicide
Division had a 5X7 card with an outline how to write a homicide case. I began reading a recently cleared case that
was over an inch thick by Detectives Jim Tucker and David Massey. These guys could write. Everything was described in intricate detail.
It was like seeing a photograph with words.
It began with Introduction; where they were when they were assigned the
case, from whom they were assigned and time of the call, etc. The offense report covered every facet of the
case from lighting to weather to witnesses to suspect interrogation. About 11:15pm I was halfway through the case
when Bostock said, “Put that up we have a scene, a shooting DOA on Wirt
Rd.” It was time to go to work. I rode in the back of their 1972 Dodge Cornet
to the scene in northwest Houston.
As we arrived at the scene, Bostock asked me to do the
diagram and he and Spurlock would handle everything else. I got to work. I had a rough diagram drawn and I was
finishing taking measurements when Bostock said let’s go. To my amazement they had their entire scene
notes on the back of a 3x5 index card! I thought to myself, these guys have a
really good memory.
I thought we were headed to 61 Riesner St, but we
continued on to the east end and pulled into the D & D Ice House on
McKinney and Milby. Not wanting to be an
odd ball I went in with them. I was surprised to find most of the night shift
Homicide inside having a cold refreshment, playing pool or cards. I got a coke and tried to look
invisible. In the words of Sgt. Shultz
on Stalag 13, “I know nothing, I saw nothing, I heard nothing.” We returned to
the 3rd floor of 61 Riesner and I finished my diagram on a supplement report.
In my early days in HPD Homicide we had no computers.
Reports were typed on manual Remington typewriters. There was one IBM electric typewriter, but
someone was always using it when I was ready to do my report. It was at that
point that I was so grateful to have taken typing in high school. It was the
one high school class that actually applied to my job. I learned to bang out offense reports with
the best of them.
Dave Collier would eventually return to work from his HPOA
duties and I rode with him until September of 1977. The day shift primarily conducted follow-up
investigation requests outlined on an inner office memo called a “yellow
sheet.” I would later get paired with
Detective Johnny Bonds whose partner, Eli Uresti, went to the newly formed
Internal Affairs Division. Johnny and I would ride together for over a
year. We often traded our months of
night shift or day shift with officers who like nights. Bonds and I liked working evenings because of
traffic. Rotating shifts and rotating
days off ended when Captain Bobby Adams took over the Homicide Division. Everyone was glad that was over. I would eventually work the day shift, 7:00
am to 3:00 pm in Murder Squad 11 for the remainder of my police career.
A Houston Homicide detective in the 1970’s was a jack of
all trades and master of none. We had no
crime scene units (CSU) to photograph, diagram or collect evidence. In addition, the scene detectives had to
write a description of the scene from his or her notes and take measurements of
everything. We could call for an officer
on a Print Unit to lift latent prints.
If the case was a real “who dunnit” we could ask the Lieutenant to request
the HPD Crime Lab to make the scene. I
began to carry my own camera, tape measure and paper and plastic bags for
evidence collection. In the early 80’s
Detective Bruce Frank was instrumental in the creation of the Homicide
Division, Crime Scene Unit. The CSU
Police Officers were highly trained in crime scene investigation and made the
life of being a homicide detective much easier.
The CSU took all photographs, measurements, collected evidence, drew a
scene diagram and submitted evidence to the appropriate lab. Scene detectives could concentrate on
handling witnesses and/or the suspect if he was still at the scene.
My time in the HPD Homicide Division would span 28 years.
During my career, I had the privilege to work with some really great detectives
as partners; Johnny Bonds, Jim Hall, John Kitto, Waymon Allen, Mike Peters,
Fred Hale, and Mario Rodriguez. In addition, Day Shift, Squad 11, was filled
with top notch investigators which are too many to name.
In 1984 the City of Houston eliminated the rank of
Detective. We all became Sergeants. There would be no more Detective exam. Everyone got a Sergeant’s badge. We were also issued uniforms, a duty holster,
handcuff case and belt with keepers. We
would still work plain clothes; however, we were told to keep our uniforms
handy in case the City needed more uniformed officers. Likewise, we were now eligible work extra
jobs in uniform. Police Officers began
transferring to the Homicide Division and they were paired with Sergeants to
I retired from the Houston Police Department in 2005
after 33 years of service. I told my
wife I’d retire when it wasn’t fun anymore.
I had finally decided to leave the job I truly loved doing. I’ve been
asked more than once why didn’t I try to make Lieutenant. The simple fact is I loved being a Homicide
Detective. There is nothing like hearing
your handcuffs click on a murder’s wrists or walking him down to the jail
intake and hear that big metal door clang closed and you know your suspect will
never see the light of day again.
Supervisors didn’t do that.
I feel blessed to have worked in an occupation that is
not like anything else. It is complex,
challenging, frustrating at times, but so rewarding when you clear a case. I always looked forward to going to work and
face another challenging case. One of my
partners once told me, “Someone has to represent the dead and God chose
us.” I thank God for calling me to such
a career and the inspiration to achieve the rank of Detective. As we used to say in Squad 11, “In God we
trust, all others are suspects.”
Promotions within the Houston Police Department have
really changed since the 1970’s. Police
Officers can apply to work Homicide and they just transfer to the Division and
learn to work murder cases. Promotion
from Police Officer is to Sergeant only.
There is no Detective rank.
I don’t know if officers have to study as hard for
Sergeant as I did for Detective. I
assume that it is. I’ve been told the
promotion criteria has changed to allow more candidates to get promoted. I hope it is as rewarding to work there as it
was for me. Rest assured there are
plenty of Police Officers and Sergeants in the present-day Homicide Division
who are working cases and after the bad guys just like my old retired friends. My only advise to them is to make us proud,
be persistent and clear that case.
PS: Any success I had at a Houston Police Homicide Detective/Sergeant
I owe to the men and women I worked with through the years. That includes my
partners and other officers in Squad 11. I also worked for for some great
leaders; Greg Neely my Lieutenant for many years, Richard Holland, my
Lieutenant and then Captain of the Homicide Division.
As homicide investigators we see the worst in humanity
and often wonder how someone could do that to another human being. Through the
twenty-eight years of dealing with the violence, I never lost faith that God
would right things and that He would see me through it.