Monday, September 26, 2022 Sep 26, 2022
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Murder, Inc.

Inside the sometimes-mundane workday of the Dallas PD’s homicide squad.
By Dick J. Reavis |

As one of the Dallas Police Department’s three homicide squad supervisors, Sgt. Joe Garza oversees 18 male and two female employees. They work in cubicles adorned in the usual ways, with family photos and Cowboys paraphernalia, in a long room on the fifth floor of an office building. During a normal day, Garza’s employees come and go, but mostly what they do is interview people, make telephone calls, and compile reports. The 55-year-old is notorious for red-marking the reports they turn in to him. A paper sign hangs on his office door, pinned there by a colleague. “Comma Czar,” it says.

“The biggest problem with their writing is run-on sentences,” he says.

Just outside Garza’s office is what’s called “The Death Room,” where some 1,300 vinyl-covered loose-leaf notebooks are shelved, at least one of them for every Dallas murder over the past decade. The notebooks—the work product of Garza’s offices—are stuffed with notes and recordings; fingerprint, DNA, and autopsy reports; photos of victims and suspects; and the reports whose grammatical flaws Garza corrects.

Inside his small office hang two whiteboards on which each murder is assigned a number scrawled beneath the month in which it occurred—blue numbers for pending cases, red for those that have been solved. Just to the right side of Garza’s door is a metal bulletin board about a foot wide and 18 inches tall. It’s like a shift schedule. The names of detectives, written on magnetic plastic strips, cling to this board. Detectives call it the “batter up” list, because the officer whose name is at the top will be assigned to the next murder case that comes into the office, whereupon it is moved to the bottom of the list. When detectives are not frantically working on a fresh case, they turn back to grisly riddles that stumped them or their peers. It’s not easy work, the cold case business—witnesses and evidence disappear with time.

“They all say, ‘We’re not going to snitch,’” Duggan says. “But when the evidence is overwhelming, they’ll do what they can to help themselves.”

Among Garza’s detectives is Richard Duggan, 50, a tall, thin, and balding Oregon native who, since becoming a Dallas patrolman in 1989, has picked up an East Texas accent. He’s married and the father of two sons, one of college age, the other a high school senior. Duggan joined the homicide squad in 2004; by his estimate, he has solved about 60 murder cases.  

He is best known for work on a 2008 shooting in which Phillip Washington, 50, was shot dead by three masked men at a night deposit window. His assailants made off with $108,000 in cash and then vanished, one of them in the victim’s pickup. Two years after the killing, a relative of one of the killers denounced two of the men in an interview with Duggan. DNA from the victim’s pickup was matched to one of them, who, under interrogation, named a confederate and produced a nickname for the third. 

Duggan wasn’t surprised by the confession. “They all say, ‘We’re not going to snitch,’ ” he says. “But when the evidence is overwhelming, they’ll do what they can to help themselves.” In December 2011, Duggan saw all three off to prison. Two of them had been there before.

But the business of crime solving is not always so blessed, partly because of ironies unique to police work. For example, in March 2013, a ring of home invaders killed a notorious drug dealer, Donovan Reid, 49. Among the rumored raiders had been a small-time hoodlum, short and beefy Deon Bell, 31. Duggan was eyeing him as a suspect in the Reid killing when Bell was shot dead while sitting in his car, nine months after the Reid killing. Both Reid’s and Bell’s murders remain unsolved. 

Sometimes a murder investigation can become not just cold, but frozen.  

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