Two words are scrawled across the top of a whiteboard hanging in the Tulsa Police Department’s homicide detective division: “Murder Board.”
The board serves as an old-school clearinghouse for homicide detectives to piece together the basics of an investigation where they can list the victim, possible suspects and vehicle descriptions, and make changes as new information comes in.
For the past seven years, outgoing lead homicide detective Dave Walker has used the board more than 450 times to solve some of Tulsa’s most gruesome crimes. On Thursday, hours after the city’s 32nd homicide of the year, the board was wiped clean for a new investigation.
It was Brandon Watkins’ turn to pick up a marker.
Watkins, who has served as the department’s lead robbery sergeant since Walker left that job in 2011, officially takes over the homicide division Saturday. Walker’s final day was Friday. The two men spoke to the Tulsa World as they wrapped up the transition period in what will soon be Watkins’ office.
Walker, 59, praised Watkins’ role leading the robbery division, the sergeant of which has historically transitioned into homicide. He said Watkins was a solid leader who improved how the unit dispersed information.
“He comes in and makes what we have here better,” Walker said. “He’ll put his spin on (the homicide unit) and it’ll be better than when I left.”
In turn, Watkins, 48, said he has admired the way Walker approached his job.
“I always liked the way Dave worked things because he was super aggressive going out after bad guys and that’s the philosophy you have to have,” Watkins said.
Walker has developed a national reputation as the cowboy hat-wearing tough guy who almost always gets his man, thanks to the popular “First 48” documentary series. Under his supervision, the homicide unit has maintained a clearance rate of about 98 percent.
The first homicide Watkins worked since being named Walker’s replacement occurred Wednesday morning. He was woken at 3:30 a.m. about a man who was found with a gunshot wound to the head at an east Tulsa QuikTrip.
After working the case for nearly 14 hours, Watkins got home about 5 p.m. and fell asleep on his couch while petting Heidi, his family’s Small Münsterländer hunting dog. He woke up an hour later to his phone ringing: Someone else had been shot near a north Tulsa elementary school and was not expected to live.
He returned home from that case, his first without Walker present, about 1 a.m.
“Apparently the frequency at which I have to come in at three o’clock in the morning is going to change dramatically,” Watkins said. “So far it’s been a pretty wild ride.”
“Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys,” Walker responded. “You’re coming in on a peak, that’s for damn sure. Two (homicides) in one day is … .” He trailed off.
Walker’s first day on the job in 2011 was perhaps more chaotic than Watkins’. After allegedly taking about 100 guns from a home in Prue, two men took someone hostage and drove to Tulsa to steal more guns from the hostage’s home.
Officers had been tipped off about the men, one of whom allegedly fired upon police when they were spotted. The man, Billy Joe Hamons, then allegedly fled to a Walmart near 21st Street and Yale Avenue, fired shots in the store to cause panic, and eventually killed a 24-year-old University of Tulsa student in the parking lot.
Hamons then allegedly stole a truck and drove down Yale Avenue until he was eventually killed by police.
“So we had two (deaths), an officer-involved shooting and about 800 witnesses to corral,” Walker said.
By comparison, Walker’s final homicide was relatively calm. After working the QuikTrip investigation with Watkins, Walker wrapped up work in the office and went home. He said he even got a solid night of sleep.
Walker said he had no grand advice for Watkins about the emotional aspect of working homicides. It’s heavy work. Families grieve for their loved ones no matter the circumstances of their death. Coping with it all comes down to experience and a level head.
“You carry someone’s grief with you until you can solve the crime, and then you gotta move on,” Walker said.
After Watkins’ whirlwind day of working two homicides, he walked in the door to a question from his wife. “Is it going to be like this all the time?”
“I know the feeling,” Walker said to Watkins. “You get home and you’re just wore out and it just hits. Your wife will have to talk to my wife about that.”
Watkins was born in San Diego and grew up in the Tulsa area. He graduated with a journalism degree from Northeastern State University and worked for the Sapulpa Daily Herald and the Tulsa World in the mid-’90s before deciding he wasn’t passionate about the work. He quit on a Friday and joined the police academy the next Monday.
He joined the Tulsa Police Department in 1997 as a patrol officer, worked briefly in the Child Crisis Unit and later became a burglary investigator. He’s been a sergeant for about 15 years.
Watkins, a Boston Red Sox fan, enjoys watching his high school-age daughter play competitive softball across the country. He began learning the bagpipes from someone in the department about a year and half ago.
A retirement party for Walker was planned for 11 a.m. Friday. Then, he planned to turn in his keys, badge and other issued equipment before heading home. He said he has no concerns about the future of the homicide division.
“It’s in good hands,” Walker said.
Oklahoma State’s J.D. King leaves behind Missouri’s Matt McClellan on Thursday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
There was beer, a new video board and a big victory in Oklahoma State’s season opener Thursday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Booker T. Washington grad Justice Hill rushed for 122 yards, while new quarterback Taylor Cornelius threw for five touchdowns in an easy win over Missouri State.
More in Sports, B1
President Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed Republican Oklahoma gubernatorial nominee Kevin Stitt.
“Kevin Stitt ran a great winning campaign against a very tough opponent in Oklahoma,” Trump tweeted at 1:30 p.m.
“Kevin is a very successful businessman who will be a fantastic Governor,” Trump wrote. “He is strong on Crime & Borders, the 2nd Amendment, & loves our Military & Vets. He has my complete and total Endorsement!”
Stitt on Tuesday defeated former Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett for the Republican nomination. He will face former attorney general and Democrat Drew Edmondson, and Libertarian Chris Powell in the Nov. 6 general election.
“I am honored to receive the endorsement of President Trump,” Stitt said in a statement Thursday.
“I am ready to work with him to support our veterans, advance our military bases here in Oklahoma, and make much-needed investments in our state’s roads and bridges.”
Trump’s tweet was very similar to his tweeted endorsement of Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Mike Braun earlier Thursday and other candidates.
Asked if he wanted to comment about Trump’s endorsement, Edmondson said in a statement, “I’m focused on what’s happening in Oklahoma — not in Washington. Oklahomans of all political parties are looking for common-sense solutions from our next governor. That’s what I’ll bring to the office.”
“We’re obviously very pro-Trump,” Stitt told the Tulsa World on Wednesday. “Oklahomans are very patriotic. They’re constitutionalists. But running state government is different than running the federal government.”
In public appearances during the primary and runoff campaigns, Stitt did not talk that much about Trump, except to assure his Republican audiences he supports the president and especially likes Trump’s tax cuts.
Stitt’s advertising, though, relentlessly attacked Cornett as a “never-Trump” Republican who opposed the administration’s immigration policies.
Edmondson knows he’ll take some hits over Trump, but said governors have to work with presidents, regardless of party.
“Whether a Democrat or Republican president, I will support the president when what he is proposing is in the best interest of the state of Oklahoma,” Edmondson said. “And I will oppose the president when what he is proposing is not in the best interest of the people of the state of Oklahoma.
“Everyone knows he was not my choice for president. I am a Democrat and I supported the nominee of my party. That does not mean I can’t work with him. Governors have worked with presidents they didn’t vote for since statehood.”
Oklahoma’s top two Catholic leaders have joined their voices with other American bishops calling for an independent investigation into allegations that some Vatican authorities — including the pope — knew about a U.S. cardinal’s sexual exploits for years.
In an 11-page document released Sunday as a letter, a retired Holy See diplomat accused Pope Francis and other members of the Church’s hierarchy of covering up for ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick despite knowing that he regularly slept with seminarians.
In the document, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a retired Vatican ambassador to the U.S., said Francis should resign for his complicity in the McCarrick scandal, which has implicated two decades’ worth of U.S. and Vatican church leaders.
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Most Rev. David Konderla, bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa, both said further inquiries should be made regarding Vigano’s allegations.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.