In my book, Homicide: The View from Inside the Yellow Tape, I spoke of an informant I used many times. I called him Paul in the book (not his real name). He’s still alive. I’ll still call him Paul in the interest of not altering that fact.
I first had contact with Paul when he called the homicide office. He was an inmate in the downtown jail and had information about a murder. I went to the jail to get him and bring him back to my office.
Paul was a white guy with slicked-back hair. He looked like a mafioso type. He told me details about a murder case that I knew to be true.
When an inmate calls from the jail telling you about a crime, you can’t assume they’re not lying to you. Is there some way they could have gotten the information? Were they cellmates with your suspect and read court documents? One has to be diligent.
One of the ways I check the veracity of someone giving me information is to ask probing questions. If the person has an answer to everything, they are suspect.
Paul didn’t do that. I asked him about several things he just said, “I don’t know.” That gives him credibility to me. He isn’t making things up so I’ll believe him.
Paul had an extensive criminal history. Nothing particularly violent. Next, I had to ask myself what he wanted in exchange for the information. I asked him.
“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t like murderers. My girlfriend was raped and murdered a few years ago.” He told me about the case. I remembered the murder. He wasn’t making that up.
I followed up on what he told me. He was telling the truth. We made an arrest.
“I’ve spoken to other detectives,” he told me. “They just blew me off. You’re the only one who listened.”
Paul was a problem child in the jail. He got into fights when he was in custody most of the time. For that reason, he was placed in Administrative Segregation. In a cell on the 11th floor of the downtown jail by himself. Twenty-three hours in his cell and one hour out every day. The Ultra-Security prisoners were also housed on that floor: People facing severe consequences such as the death penalty or life without parole.
Though he wasn’t in direct contact with other inmates, they would communicate through gaps in the cells or when one was out and stood at another inmate’s door. Little did the other inmates know when they talked about murder, Paul took copious notes on his yellow legal pad during the conversation.
Paul and I established a relationship. He called me directly from then on, letting me know when he had information on a murder.
He always told me he would call me when he was out of custody. He never did. He was a severe alcoholic and drank himself into oblivion when he was out. He also didn’t contact his probation officer, which was required, so there were always probation violation warrants for his arrest.
Every month or so he would be arrested. About a week after he was booked, he called me.
I looked at his booking photos for a couple of years. It reminded me of the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Each image looked worse than the one before.
Finally, after giving me information on another murder, he asked for something.
“Would you call my mom and tell her I’m doing something good?” he asked.
He explained that he had always been a disappointment to his mother.
“Sure,” I said, and I did, speaking with his somewhat skeptical mother, who finally thanked me for telling her.
During our relationship, he gave me actionable information for about ten murders and two solicitation for murder cases, where someone tried to hire him as a hitman.
One morning after Paul had testified in a high-profile case I was working, I was getting readly for work in the morning. I sipped coffee while the morning news was on. Suddenly Paul appeared on the news leaving the courtroom after testifying. The caption on the screen said, [Paul’s real name], Police Informant. I almost spit my coffee across the room. Thankfully, most murders don’t watch the morning news.
Paul explained to me once, “I tell you this stuff because you treat me with respect. Not like I’m a criminal,” though he was.
After I retired, my old partner Jason Kasner called me.
“Paul called looking for you today,” Jason said. “I told him you retired. There was a pause and then he said, ‘That guy is like a brother to me.’”