Shreveport was plagued with armed robberies. One guy was our major target. He was an angry young man who hated white people as exhibited in his attacks. He was greedy and felt entitled. In his twisted mind, his hurtful actions were justified. He appeared on our departmental radar after his third violent robbery.
We were facing a serial robber who would kill someone if we did not stop him. We pulled officers from patrol division and smaller specialized units who were experienced in stakeout setups and capturing bad guys. We hand picked our team. They wore casual clothing and drove unmarked cars seized by our department during drug arrests. Each team member was proficient with a 12 gauge police shotgun and willing to use it when and if needed.
This may offend a few former detectives, but so be it. I am not known for sugarcoating my opinions or feelings. When I was promoted to investigator, I thought I was joining a team made of the best and brightest S.P.D. had to offer. It did not take long to learn differently. Half of our detective force was made of good ole boys. They were chosen because they were popular, could play softball or golf, or were avid hunters or fishermen. Later females were hired for diversity as we became sensitive to gender and race. We needed politically correct ratios so everyone was happy, regardless of skills and abilities. Our commander appointed another detective and me to head this special investigation and task force. My partner was a good ole boy, young and good looking. He wrote great reports and was liked by most everyone. I never put stock in popularity when it came to being a detective. I would work with an ass if he or she were capable. On the street, he was an average officer, nothing special. He was junior to me by several years. I will not name him in this story or others. I will call him by his nickname awarded to him by his fellow detectives. We named him “Smoke”. Not because he was cool but because he was in the office one minute and disappeared when a detective call came in. He ducked and dodged so many cases. I am amazed he was allowed to stay in our ranks.
Ole Smoke was my equal partner. We jointly shared the responsibilities of directing our stakeout team. He was a quiet guy and spoke with a small, soft voice. If it appears I did not respect him, you understand completely. Smoke and I held our first briefing one evening in our big conference room. We had a giant white board listing features of the suspect’s description and M.O. including the three robberies we felt were his doing. We invited our members to have input in the plan we were formulating. Many had never been allowed to voice their concerns and recommendations on an operation. We insisted, or at least I did. Smoke just wanted to be in charge and boss them around.
I learned years ago if you let someone have the microphone long enough they will reveal their true knowledge or lack there of. Against my instincts, I let Smoke take the lead in this first meeting as he described the vision and plan of action. He revealed his lack of knowledge and basically fell flat on his face. When he stopped bloviating and realized he did not know jack, he turned to me to save him.
I started to let him spin in the wind. However, I did not want to rub it in nor did I want to waste precious time. It would be dark soon and we needed our teams set up across the city. We had 10 officers. I asked them to pick a partner among themselves. Smoke and I would be in separate, single man units. For certain, I did not want to ride with him. Smoke and I had profiled the suspect and did our best to anticipate his next move. He loved to hit old, hole in the wall, greasy spoon cafes and restaurants. His first robbery was the Cotton Bowl on Fairfield near Margaret Place. He liked to hit when the cafe was filled with customers. At first this seemed odd until I realized his motives. He would step inside the front door and fire his Colt 45 cal. automatic pistol into the ceiling. After firing his shot, he screamed for everyone to hold their hands high in the air and remain seated. Next he confronted the person at the cash register usually a white female. Almost every robbery he beat her in the face with his gun. He knocked out teeth and gashed their faces. He took the cash from the drawer and any money bag he spotted beneath the counter. He then pulled a plastic grocery bag from his back pants pocket and went from table to table robbing and beating the customers.
He pulled wedding rings from old women. In some instances the rings had not been off their fingers for many years. If the lady had gained weight and was prevented from removing her rings, he grabbed the ring and pulled the skin off her swollen knuckles. Women cried and he would slap them in the face with his pistol. When he finished, he ran outside and got away. I had a reoccurring dream during the time I worked this case. I was in a cafe having dinner when this ass entered. I had my 15 shot S&W 9 mm automatic under my leg and waited for him to come my way. I wanted to put this punk down once and for all. My dream was not realistic because I was working seven nights a week until we caught or killed him. I enjoyed fantasizing about it just the same.
Ole Smoke and I found a large city map and posted it on the wall in our conference room. I read out the locations of cafes that had been hit and found something Smoke could do. He was great at sticking little red topped stick pins in the map. The map was informative. We learned if you drew a line across the city on Murphy Street west to Jewella, he never hit above the line. With this information, I suspected he lived in Allen Dale, north of Murphy. A street thug like him would never hit a place in his neighborhood or he would be recognized. The suspect also alternated across town. One night he hit The Cotton Bowl, the next robbery several days later would be west or the far east section of town. He would then come back to the Cotton Bowl or other places in that part of town.
I hated we were only given 10 officers to cover 30 small mom and pop cafes for stakeouts. If I had been chief, we would have done things differently. I would pull officers off boat duty on Cross Lake, officers from the Pawn Shop details and the pistol range. I would order every radar officer to work nights until we caught this guy. We would park their marked units at possible targeted cafes to prevent another robbery and force the suspect into our web of stakeout locations. I did not have the power so I did the best I could with what I had.
He hit several restaurants during the time we were organized as a team. It frustrated me greatly when I rolled up on another robbery and saw firemen treating elderly men and women who had been pistol whipped. It was getting under my skin. I was not sleeping well and my Irish temper flared several times on Smoke. He was meek and took the brunt of my frustrations. I have to respect him for tolerating me.
The team worked seven nights a week. We were all getting frustrated. It seemed he had inside information. He knew where we were set up so he went to a place without officers watching. He was thumbing his nose and taunting us.
After a month, we felt the heat come down from the Chief via the commander of our division. Overtime pay was raiding our budget. One night as I prepared to leave the office in route to my own little stakeout, the commander walked in my office. He was not pleased with my performance. Smoke had vanished. I took the criticism. I was informed I would be replaced if I did not catch this bastard. I took the ass chewing and threats and wondered where that f………g Smoke went.
The next night I had a gut feeling as I drove to my office for another shift. Smoke and I shifted our two person teams to new restaurants. I wanted to have a team set up on Herby K’s cafe. Something told me he would hit Herby K’s that night. Our sergeant was in that night’s meeting. He loved Smoke like his own son. I insisted we send a team to Herby K’s. Smoke balked. He also had a gut feeling. He was sure our suspect would hit the Glenwood. With this stalemate, the sergeant cast his vote with his fair-haired boy. Our last team was dispatched to the Glenwood over my objection. I took Herby K’s by myself. I took a position so I could see the entire front of the business. If he entered the business, I had enough time to call it in over the air and wait for him to come running out the front door. Normally the suspect hit a business between 7:00 and 9:00 at night. I sat on the café until 9:30 when he hit a different tiny neighborhood restaurant. When the call came that a suspect hit the tiny hamburger joint next to the P&S Hospital, I cursed and slammed my shifter in gear. I had to respond to the call as an on duty detective.
As I rolled up on the scene and learned the suspect’s description was nothing like our serial robber, I felt sick. Moments later the call I will never forget came over the airwaves. Herby K’s had just been robbed. Fire rescue units were rolling to the call to treat those who had been pistol whipped. I let patrol finish the report at the hamburger joint and returned to Herby K’s. The suspect entered the business and fired a single shot into the ornate, antique tin ceiling. He hit a customer for no reason other than he wanted to hurt someone. I was angry as I interviewed victims and made my report. At the end of our shift, Smoke and I always met back in our offices and talked about the case. When I got to my office, Smoke had disappeared for the night.
The following night I had another visit from the commander. Once again my ass was chewed out and I was told I had one more week to catch the suspect. If I did not, I would be relieved of my duties and assigned to general cases. Guess who was no where to be seen?
The Triple X restaurant was located across from the Louisiana State Fairgrounds. It served some of the best dang food I have ever eaten. We did not have enough officers to cover it every night. He entered, shot into the ceiling of the packed place and commenced robbing the business and customers. The last robbery victim he approached was a grandfather in his late 70’s. He was seated at a table near the front door with his granddaughter, age 6 or 7. The bastard robbed the man and pistol whipped him unmercifully in the face. When I close my eyes, I still see the poor old man and the look of complete horror in the eyes of the little angel. I hated this man and hoped we would take him out soon.
The days clicked by and my stomach stayed in knots. Smoke, on the other hand, was pleased to learn my days were numbered.
Our teams were set up at locations we all agreed were the best possibilities. Nothing happened until 10:00 p.m. Headquarters put out a call of a shooting at a small liquor store on Mansfield Road at the corner of Coronado Drive. The lone clerk was sitting on a stool minutes before closing time. There was a drive through window on the side of the building. He watched an old brown Chevy slowly pull into the parking lot. Instead of parking near the front door, the car pulled to the side directly across from the drive through window almost to the rear of the building. The clerk felt uneasy and kept his eyes on the man as he exited his car and looked around. The driver failed to look in the store to see if he was being watched. That would prove to be his mistake. As the driver walked toward Mansfield Road to enter through the front door, the clerk noticed a large bulge beneath his shirt near his waistband. The clerk followed his instincts, reached beneath the counter and grabbed his double barrel 12 gauge sawed off shot gun. When the man walked through the front door, he was holding a gun in his hand. The clerk raised his and fired both barrels at the same time. The blast blew him through the glass doors. He was dead before he hit the sidewalk. His nick name was “Tootsie”. He lived in the Allen Avenue Projects, one block north of Murphy Street. Case Closed.