Archive for Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bonner detective didn’t give up

Murder victim, family inspired perseverance

October 3, 2007

Perhaps no one was more glad to have three people charged for the November 2005 murder of Robin Bell than Bonner Springs Police Detective Vickie Fogarty.

Three people were arrested last week in the death of Bell, who lived in Tonganoxie. John Backus, 20, Robert Haberlein, 19, and Amber Russell, 17, who were each charged with first-degree murder, as well as aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. All are now in jail or juvenile detention in Wyandotte County.

After nearly two years, three out-of-state trips and countless hours investigating, Fogarty's surprise break on the case came during an interview concerning a completely different incident, with a suspect she couldn't identify. But the date of the interview -- Sept. 21 -- coincides with the date of the arrest of one of the suspects, Robert Haberlein.

Because the case hasn't yet gone to trial, Fogarty couldn't give any specifics of the Sept. 21 interview, but she said she knew she had a break in the case when the person she was interviewing mentioned a detail in the Bell murder that couldn't have been known except to investigators or by someone with firsthand knowledge.

"It was completely out of the blue," Fogarty said. "I was doing an interview on an unrelated case," concerning a runaway, "that evolved into some other crimes. I got the information I needed and it was a really long process after that. Once we got what we needed, the whole invest unit took over. It was a whole-group effort."

Fogarty said she didn't sleep much that weekend.

"It was a really lengthy interview," Fogarty said. "We worked around the clock -- we all just came together and got what we needed."

Fogarty credits detectives Ron Crouss and Pat Budy with helping her solve the case.

"The other detectives, there's no egos back here," Fogarty said. "We all help each other. We're all friends. If it weren't for that, it wouldn't have gone as smoothly as it did."

Fogarty, who has been a detective with the department for about 10 years, said the interview in question was just that -- not an interrogation, as seen in police movies and television shows, with the bright light in the suspect's face and the "good-cop/bad-cop" roles played by two officers.

"I do a lot of interviews," Fogarty said. "I tend to do child abuse and sex abuse (investigations). I've solved a lot through interviews."

This was Fogarty's second murder investigation.

"When I initially started interviewing that Friday, I had no idea it would end up like this," Fogarty said. "The first thing I did (after getting the information that led to the arrests of the three suspects) I took a break called Lt. (Rick) Schubert and said I think we might have something. Let me get right back in there -- I'll call you right back."

Fogarty credits Schubert with trusting her instinct and not "micromanaging" the investigation.

"He just let me do my job, just like Chief (John) Haley."

Even when they weren't directly involved in the case, it was a team effort, Fogarty said.

"I spent probably at least 50 percent of my time on this case," Fogarty said. "That's what's awesome -- the chief, lieutenant, co-workers -- if they knew I was on this, they'd pick up my other cases."

Dogged pursuit

Although she said she had begun to doubt whether the case was in fact solvable, Fogarty said she and her colleagues never gave up.

"I just kept reviewing the case," Fogarty said. "I knew that if it broke, it would be a small detail -- it wouldn't be anything that would jump out at us."

"I kept telling (Bell's daughter) Mellisa (Mathia) that if someone is going to mess up, it's going to be something they don't think is important," Fogarty said. She turned out to be right.

"I know that frustrated the family," Fogarty said.

The idea was that if a suspect or other interviewee happened to mention a detail from the crime that was not released to the media, Fogarty said, it could be more easily verified as an actual lead or discredited.

Also, Fogarty said, "It takes as much work to disprove something as it does to prove it," she said.

The three youths arrested had never previously been considered suspects, Fogarty said.

"They were nowhere on the radar," Fogarty said.

All about Robin

Fogarty said she was able to keep at the case despite the lack of useful clues and the growing length of time since the crime for the sake of Bell, who was a Tonganoxie resident and manager at the north Bonner Springs Dollar General, where she was found dead Nov. 12, 2005.

"This is really all about Robin," Fogarty said. "We had her picture here. I felt like I knew her. I had to do it for her and her kids and her husband."

Although leads didn't always pan out, "We always had leads coming in," Fogarty said. "I knew case inside out; I was always reviewing to see if there was something missing.

"I never really got discouraged," Fogarty said. "I just kept reviewing."

Fogarty wasn't the only one at the department happy to have made headway on the case.

"The next day, after I got the break, everybody was so happy," Fogarty said, "because we didn't think this would be solvable -- because what happened to Robin shouldn't happen to anyone. We never referred to it as the 'Bell homicide' -- we always referred to it as 'Robin.'"

As for the tips she received on the case, Fogarty said "most of them" were well-intentioned, such as "hey, look at this person," or "I heard this person talking about a robbery."

"People were concerned because it was a well-publicized case," Fogarty said.

"We'd get leads -- I'd work on them or officers would work on them, and none of them worked out."

That included one "vague" tip that Fogarty said led her to travel to Arkansas three times.

Fogarty said she was "still following up more leads" on the case," and "putting everything together, tying up all loose ends."

Still as much praise as Fogarty may get from District Attorney Jerome Gorman or Bell's family for her detective work on the Robin Bell case, Fogarty has yet to impress her 6-year-old granddaughter. When a television news station recently aired a report about the homicide being solved, Fogarty's husband pointed to the screen and said "your Nana solved that case."

"Uh uh," the child said, because the crime was committed nearly two years ago.

After being assured that it was in fact the same case, the girl asked, "What took so long?"

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