Retiring Chattanooga policeman recalls hunting criminals and chilling murder confessions

Retiring Chattanooga policeman recalls hunting criminals and chilling murder confessions

April 10th, 2012 by Beth Burger in News

Tim Carroll, Chattanooga assistant police chief, checks email recently before retiring on his 30-year anniversary with the police department.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A maroon Dodge Magnum with a temporary tag pulls into Sheriff H.Q. Evatt's driveway in Sale Creek in the middle of the night.

A 21-year-old fresh-faced deputy, just out of the academy and working the midnight shift, sees the car and gets suspicious.

"It's two o'clock in the morning. The sheriff's in bed at 9 o'clock," the deputy now remembers. "I put on the takedown lights. [The driver] gets off in the grass. The door opens up and I see a pistol."

The deputy goes for his 12-gauge shotgun, yelling, "Police! Don't move!"

"Who is it?" asks Sheriff Evatt from the driver's seat.

"It's Tim Carroll, sir," the deputy replies.

"What are you doing?" Evatt asks.

"Probably looking for a job," the deputy answers.

Thirty-three years later, Tim Carroll, now 54, recalls pulling a shotgun on the late sheriff with an air of humor. Considered by his peers as one of the most talented homicide detectives who have ever worked at Chattanooga Police Department, he recently retired from the department at the rank of assistant chief.

And he easily recalls the enthusiasm -- and naivete -- of his early years in law enforcement.

"I remember when I first got out of the academy, 'I'll put everyone in jail who breaks the law,'" he said. "That was the philosophy I had when I first started. Then I figured out you'll beat your head against the wall trying to do that."

Police Chief Bobby Dodd said Carroll "will be sorely missed by the entire department, especially me."

"Tim is well respected in the law enforcement community, not only as a cop's cop but as a wealth of knowledge and experience in criminal investigations field," Dodd said.

Throughout Carroll's career, homicide investigations changed drastically. He began at a time when maybe one or two detectives worked a homicide case. Crime scene technicians let detectives draw their own diagrams; techs took pictures, dusted for fingerprints and looked for fibers. That was about it. There was no DNA used to catch people at the time. Cellphone data didn't exist in the same way.

"Now we use 3D scanners for scenes," Carroll said.

Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox said Carroll wlll be missed.

"He just has an abundance of experience," Cox said.

Former Chattanooga Police Assistant Chief Tim Carroll recently retired from working at the department where he worked approximately 450 homicides. Carroll began his career in law enforcement working as a deputy at Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in 1979. He's pictured with his first patrol car, a 1974 Ford Custom 500 which has a 1975 front end.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

CAREER

The son of a local defense attorney, James Carroll, he never thought about becoming an officer. He wanted to be a veterinarian. But after a few ride-alongs with Richard Thurman, who worked at Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and retired as a deputy chief, Carroll didn't want to do anything else.

"It's a fascinating job. It's fun. Police are curious people. My whole goal was to work homicides," Carroll said.

Homicides draw the public's eye more than any other crime police investigate. It's the most personal crime. Victims are left without a voice, and it's up to detectives to learn what killed them and who's responsible.

During his tenure, Carroll worked on as many as 450 homicide cases where he saw stiffened, decomposing bodies and had to find their family members to break the news. He still hears from some of those families.

And he still thinks of his first case on July 24, 1989, which remains unsolved. Fingerprints from the scene are still run through a database occasionally in hopes of finding a match.

Mena Richie, 65, was beaten to death inside her home. A widow who retired from Town & Country restaurant, which used to be on the North Shore, she had fixed up her house at 305 Hillsview Drive after her husband's death. She also bought herself a Cadillac.

"She had no enemies we could ever find. Everyone liked Mena Richie," Carroll recalled. "She was one of the most friendly people around."

Suspicion is that someone noticed that she appeared to have "come into some money," he said, and she was probably killed during a botched burglary.

Tim Carroll, CPD Assistant Police Chief, checks to make sure he packed all of his belongings before retiring Monday on his 30-year anniversary with the police department.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

BEING METICULOUS

Carroll has a reputation for overdocumenting things, but he blames that on veteran investigator Steve Angel, who took Carroll under his wing when he became a detective and showed him the ropes. At crime scenes, Angel would document details such as the channel the television was left on. That attention to detail stuck with Carroll.

"You never know what you might need," he explained. "I probably overdocument things. I don't know if you can do that."

Cox has prosecuted cases with Carroll for decades now and uses words such as "dedicated," "very knowledgeable," "great judgment" and "good instincts" to describe him.

"Everything you want in a criminal investigator. He was the best," Cox said.

Each case that Carroll worked featured a different cast of characters; each was unique.

There was Mary Freeman, who confessed to killing her husband and called Carroll "honey" as she came clean. Her husband was hanging a picture of The Last Supper when she blew his brains out from behind. She then threw the gun into the woods and went to work. She told Carroll she didn't want to get fired. She is expected to get out of prison in 2018.

There was Steve Szabo, who killed a woman with whom he was having an affair inside a room at the Courtyard Marriott near Hamilton Place. Jacqueline Lindsey's blood soaked the carpet in the room when she was beaten to death, but management didn't realize it was blood. They continued to let patrons stay in the room. Her body was dumped at Lake Resort Drive by the marina; it was wrapped in hotel sheets and a comforter.

Szabo was found guilty after hotel records showed him entering the room multiple times and leaving for 50 minutes to dispose of the body. He was a convicted felon out of Florida, where he robbed a bank, and was on parole for that crime when he killed Lindsey. His sentence ends in 2026.

"He shouldn't have been out to kill people. He had the most extensive criminal history we had run," Carroll said.

SERIAL KILLER

One of the biggest confessions Carroll obtained came from Joseph Paul Franklin, who shot William Bryant Tatum, a black UTC student as he was leaving a Pizza Hut with his white girlfriend. It was 1978 and Franklin called to confess -- 20 years later.

Franklin killed Tatum during a cross-country shooting spree in which he killed some people and wounded others based on his racist views.

"He probably killed 26 people," Carroll said.

Franklin felt disgusted after Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt ran a photo spread of a black man and white woman having sex. He shot Flynt, wounding him.

He also was sentenced to 15 to 21 years for the 1977 bombing of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Chattanooga.

But it was his confession to Carroll that led a judge to sentence him to life in 1998 for Tatum's death.

Carroll remembered receiving a phone call from a social worker at the St. Louis County Jail in Missouri. The worker told him there was a man who wanted to confess to a slaying outside a fast-food restaurant in the late 1970s.

"Tell him it's a Pizza Hut," Franklin said in the background of the phone call. "That's why I shot him because I'm dead against race mixing."

When Carroll spoke to Franklin on the phone, he asked, "So if I come talk to you, are you going to confess?"

"Yeah," Franklin said.

"Why?" Carroll asked.

"Because I want to have the most death penalty cases pending against one person."

"How many people have you killed?" Carroll asked.

"A bunch," Franklin said.

When Carroll got to St. Louis, Franklin described how he watched Tatum and his girlfriend leave a movie theater and drive to the Pizza Hut. He waited for them to leave, propping up the hood of his car as cover. When they left the restaurant, he opened fire.

"I knew I killed him. I was staring straight at him. She started screaming, I shot. I thought I got her. I hit her and she got up and made it back in," Franklin told Carroll.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at 423-757-6406 or bburger@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.