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LJWorld.com weblogs Dispatches from the Academy

Day four: robbery, homicide and crimes against children

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Journal-World reporters Shaun Hittle and Ian Cummings are attending the Lawrence Police Department's 2013 Citizens' Academy twice per week for the next month. On Wednesdays and Fridays, they'll highlight a few things they learned from the night before.

We ate meat lasagna while examining a photo of the exit wound a shotgun blast left in a Lawrence man’s face.

Even those with the strongest intestinal fortitude had second thoughts about going back to the buffet for a second helping. But it was really good lasagna, so we put the gore out of our minds and forged ahead. Lesson number one on day four of Citizens’ Academy: mentally separating blood from tomato sauce is a key skill for robbery/homicide detectives in the Lawrence Police Department’s investigation division.

But some things, we learned, are worse than murder.

Crimes against children

A detective told us to take a notepad and write down our most recent sexual experience. He wanted us to detail everything: date, time, where it was, who we were with and exactly what we did. As a class, we hesitated to pick up our pens and pencils. Imagine writing all of that down. Now, imagine reciting those details in an open courtroom for a judge, several attorneys and whoever else might be there. Imagine you are 5 years old, and you’ve been abused by a trusted relative.

Lance Flachsbarth, a detective who spent time in juvenile investigations, explained some of the techniques he’s used to interview children in this difficult situation. He talked about breaking the ice, giving a young child time to think and avoiding leading questions. He broke down for us the psychology of different types of child molesters and pedophiles. Pedophiles, we learned, are people who are attracted to children, and child molesters are people who commit sexual assaults against children. Sometimes those are the same, but not always.

The most dangerous kinds of offenders, Flachsbarth said, are criminals who are willing to assault anyone who is available to them, including children, the elderly and people who are disabled. These are the ones most likely to kill their victims to avoid detection.

Now, imagine eating another helping of lasagna after hearing that.

Robbery/Homicide

In the robbery/homicide portion of our class, detectives Jack Cross and M.T. Brown challenged us to solve two well-known Lawrence crimes.

Lawrence Police Detectives Jack Cross, left, and M.T. Brown detail how they got Damien Lewis to confess to the 2002 murders of Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee. Lawrence Journal-World file photo.

Lawrence Police Detectives Jack Cross, left, and M.T. Brown detail how they got Damien Lewis to confess to the 2002 murders of Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee. Lawrence Journal-World file photo. by Ian Cummings

One was a 1996 robbery of a Sonic restaurant and the other was the 2002 double murder of George “Pete” Wallace and Wyona Chandlee. Of course, the cases had already been solved, and our task was merely to guess the right answers based on evidence police found at the crime scenes.

In the Sonic robbery, police arrived at the restaurant chain’s 3201 W. Sixth location on Aug. 12, 1996, to find that two men with handguns had locked several employees in a walk-in cooler and escaped with thousands of dollars in cash. One of the robbers, according to witnesses, had answered the store’s phone in just the same way an employee would.

In the 2002 murder case, police found Wallace and Chandlee, both 71, of Lawrence, on July 11 in their house at 1530 Learnard Ave., lying next to each other on the carpet in the living room. Both had been shot twice in the head and the house had been ransacked. A bag of groceries remained unpacked nearby, with the receipt dated the day before.

In 2002, Lawrence Police Academy Director Trent McKinley, left, and police recruit Mark Unruh check for evidence along Learnard Avenue in the slayings of Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee. Investigators continued pursuing leads of nearby burglaries that might be related to the slayings. Lawrence Journal-World file photo.

In 2002, Lawrence Police Academy Director Trent McKinley, left, and police recruit Mark Unruh check for evidence along Learnard Avenue in the slayings of Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee. Investigators continued pursuing leads of nearby burglaries that might be related to the slayings. Lawrence Journal-World file photo. by Ian Cummings

The detectives led us beyond the crime scene tape and through the basic steps of an investigation. There are a lot of them, but here are some of the main points:

  • Secure the crime scene. Preserve and photograph footprints, blood or other evidence.
  • Interview witnesses. In a homicide, relatives and friends of victims are often the most valuable informants.
  • Get information out. If you have a description of a suspect, circulate it among other officers immediately.
  • Establish a timeline. Where have the victims been over the past few days?
  • Look for security cameras in the area that might have captured images of the suspects.
  • Research similar crimes in the area, in case there is a pattern.

We started shouting out theories and the detectives awarded us a “Super Sleuth” certificate for each right answer. After some hours, we solved the crimes all over again. Two Kansas University students, short on money for bills, were convicted of the Sonic robbery. One was a former employee of another Sonic restaurant.

Damien C. Lewis, a recent parolee from a Kansas prison, was convicted of the double murder. Police said Wallace and Chandlee surprised Lewis while he was burglarizing their home, and he killed them to avoid being identified.

We shuffled out, mentally numb and emotionally scarred. If much of our education was lighthearted and fun up to this point, our rookie class had now graduated to the darker territories of law enforcement.

Next week, we enter a course on major investigations.

To see Shaun Hittle’s post Day Three: Gangs, guns and peyote, click here.

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