Detectives say finding suspects quick is key

By Joe Gorman


Ron Rodway and John Perdue remember the bad old days.

The longest tenured detectives in the city police department, they remember the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, when there was at least one shooting a day.

They sometimes responded to two homicide calls a night.

Now, the pair say the decrease in crime, shootings and killings makes it easier to focus on solving homicides.

“When you have less and less homicides, it’s easier to devote time to them,” Perdue said.

In the 1990s, the city had 492 homicides, averaging 49.2 a year, in large part due to the influx of crack cocaine and local gangs that sought to control both the drug trade and their own turf.

Things have slowed down, however, since then. From 2001-2017 the city has had 451 homicides, an average of 26 per year. Overall during that time, 262 of those cases have been solved, but since 2011, when 162 homicides were recorded, 107 have been solved.

Both detectives said people often think that all they do is investigate homicides. But they have full case loads and investigate crimes ranging from assault to burglary to robbery.

A homicide case often takes priority over everything, and the detectives responsible work that case alone until there are no more leads to develop.

“You have to work all your levels,” Rodway said. “You have to do everything until there’s no more left to do.”

That does not mean a case is forgotten, however.

Both men said that with advances in technology and DNA science available today, they can return to a case that once grew cold when that evidence comes back.

That’s why it is key to develop a suspect right away: If a case grows cold while evidence is sent away to be tested, detectives have a starting point in their investigation when it comes back.

Perdue and Rodway both said they watch the popular cable television show “First 48,” where camera crews follow teams of homicide detectives in different cities through investigations. The main theme of the show is that a case often goes cold and is in danger of being unsolved if investigators do not get solid leads within the first 48 hours of the investigation.

“That 48 hours – that’s a true axiom,” Perdue said.

Both differed on what is more important in a case: an eyewitness or physical evidence.

“Nothing beats an eyewitness,” Rodway said.

Perdue, however, said evidence doesn’t lie and doesn’t change its story.

He talked of a robbery case he had at a bakery where a person placed a hand on the counter, vaulted over it, pistol whipped an employee and stole the cash register. Police later arrested him and found the cash register, which had his fingerprints. At the crime scene, they had his palm print.

At trial the employee did not identify the suspect as the person who robbed her. But with the palm print and fingerprints, the man was convicted. Perdue said witnesses are important, but he feels more comfortable with physical evidence to back them up.

With a wave of city detective retirements recently, a number of other officers have begun investigating homicides. One of them, Detective Sgt. Anthony Vitullo, has been a detective since 2016 and so far has been the lead detective on two homicides.

Vitullo has been on the department for 21 years and was a patrol supervisor before he became a detective. The responsibilities between the two jobs could not be more different because as a detective at a homicide, “You’re responsible for everything that occurs in an investigation,” he said.

He is grateful that he has a lot of experience to draw on from his coworkers.

In his first case as a lead detective, he was paired with veteran Detective Sgt. Rick Spotleson on the investigation into the death of Marion Bugdal.

Bugdal was found shot to death July 6, 2017, inside his East Side home, which had caught fire a few days before he was killed.

Vitullo was able to close the case the same day he was called out, and he said Spotleson’s experience was a big factor.

“The nice thing is they’re all willing to help,” Vitullo said. “They give you little tips and tricks to look for, certain things you have to get.”