purpose of a homicide task force is to facilitate
the work of investigators. At best, the task force centralizes
information and provides the clerical and computer Support
officers need. At worst, the task force becomes a venue
for performing personalities, administrators who dictate
of Sam" killer and scofflaw David
Berkowitz claimed six
lives before a parking ticket did him in. In their effort
to document an event history of each murder, New York detectives
scoured the paper trail of evidence surrounding the murder
moments. Their work paid off. A serial
killer task force offers the community the illusion of crack
investigative activity. Its track record in the annals of
criminology is not impressive. Law enforcement turf wars,
internal power struggles, and poor communication come at a
Rolling of Shreveport, Louisiana, was jailed following
an armed robbery in Ocala, Florida. Rolling hinted to
other inmates that he might know something about the
murders of five students in Gainesville, Florida. His
name was already in the voluminous case file, and Florida
investigators traveled west to examine a home-invasion
triple murder in Rolling’s home town.Senior administrators
who assign priority codes to lead sheets walk on the
thinnest of ice.
weeks of terror, the task force there received several
tips about "a Ninja
dressed in black." One call had him riding a bicycle;
another placed him in a tree. These leads, assigned a low
priority, described Danny Rolling. Ted Bundy — law student,
crisis hotline volunteer, and political activist — flew
under the radar until his arrest.An off-duty
police officer in Salt Lake City pulled over Ted Bundy for
erratic driving in a residential area. Bundy’s Volkswagen
contained a ski mask, handcuffs, rope, pantyhose
with holes for eyes and nose, pinch bar, and ice pick.
Credit card records led investigators into Colorado, where
police were investigating the disappearances of several missing
profile ever caught a killer. Personality profiles will
describe likely traits and characteristics, and suggest
anticipated behaviors. Geographical profiles will highlight
probable locations where a killer might be expected to
work or reside. That a profiler’s
predictions prove relatively accurate after the fact may be
a cause for personal celebration, but they contribute little
or nothing to the pursuit and apprehension of the guilty party.
York State Troopers stopped Joel Rifkin for driving his pickup
truck without a rear license plate. The officers discovered
the decomposing corpse of a young woman in the truck’s
bed. Investigators later determined that the deceased was
victim, a 22-year-old Louisiana native.One element
common to these cases, is that the killers’ arrests resulted
from the normal, day-to-day work done by regular shift officers.
investigative work was also routine. The "Ted"
task force had one hundred Teds remaining when Utah authorities
contacted them about Bundy’s arrest. The Gainesville
task force was mired in its belief that Ed Humphrey was the
man they wanted, when Rolling surfaced in Ocala. The Baton
Rouge Multi-Agency Task Force has had a credibility problem
almost from its date of inception. Their May 23 appearance
in Lafayette, Louisiana exacerbated the problem. Anticipation
of a break in the investigation following the release of a
new suspect composite and new case information soured quickly.
The new information was old, and already thoroughly investigated
by area authorities.
Baton Rouge Chief Pat Englade insists the task force
learned of the lead in April, St. Martin Parish officials
say they provided the case material in August 2002. At
that time, the information was assigned low priority.
The St. Martin cases involved a light-skinned black man assaulting
black women, and driving a gold Mitsubishi. The task force
was seeking a white man driving a white pickup truck. Witnesses
near the Sharlo Avenue town house where Murray Pace was stabbed
to death in May 2002 described a light-skinned black man loitering
in the vicinity of the complex on the day before, and the
morning of the murder.
of this person of interest was done until a volunteer
worked with the witnesses nearly a year later and produced
a sketch dismissed by authorities as irrelevant and unreliable.
The similarities in the St. Martin composite and the
Sharlo Avenue sketch are striking. The Sharlo witnesses
have stated their belief that the drawings depict the
On May 26
the task force named a suspect, Derrick Todd Lee, 34,
a black male with a decade-long record of voyeurism,
stalking, sexual battery, and burglary arrests. There
are similarities between photographs of Lee and the composites.
record, and despite his status as a suspect in the disappearance
of Randi Mebruer in 1998, no red flags shot up at task force
41, disappeared in 1992 from her home in the same subdivision
where Mebruer later lived. Warner’s body
was found two weeks later in a ditch. Zachary police suspected
Lee but had no evidence to pursue him. Chief Englade has said
he does not know if the task force received any tips about
was made to the murder of 52-year-old Lillian Robinson in
January 2002. Described as a drug user and prostitute by police,
her body was found near Whiskey Bay, where two of the "official"
victims’ bodies were later found.
a reactive investigative role and waiting for the tips
to roll in effectively signs a death warrant for the
inquiry. Englade contends it was not feasible to contact
the 64 Louisiana jurisdictions asking about similar unsolved
cases. Such data mining is a customary first step in
any serial murder investigation. To rely solely on VICAP,
national database, is a crap shoot. Many jurisdictions
do not file the 17-page questionnaire required for
each case submission.Confining an inquiry to cases
linked by DNA does not, as Englade contends, put
science on your side, but it does shift probability
against a successful resolution to your investigation.
an arrest is finally made in this case, it will
be a result of police work conducted at the street
level, not in the conference room. Derrick
Todd Lee is in custody in Atlanta, he was arrested
on May 27, 2003.