Ken Lang is a seasoned detective and true crime author. His book Walking Among the Dead is available in paperback and on Kindle. Here is the second part of the interview with Ken Lang.
How did you become a homicide detective?
Actually, upon joining the police department, my aspiration was to become a homicide detective. After cutting my teeth in patrol, I applied to become a precinct level detective, investigating crimes that did not fall under a specialized unit. With my sights set on working murders, I knew I would need to work at headquarters in order to gain the exposure and experience to even be considered for such a unit. Having completed two years of detective work at the precinct level, I applied to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and was selected to work Sex Crimes. I worked in that unit for 3 years before moving over to the Robbery Unit that is responsible for investigating commercial robberies. Commercial robberies often have a tendency to turn violent (i.e. victim is stabbed or shot), so I was selected to attend the Francis Lee Glessner School at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner; a required training school for homicide detectives in our agency. Just a few years after completing this school, several positions became available in the Homicide Unit. I applied and was selected.
How many years have you been doing this?
I’ve been in law enforcement for 22 years now; investigating rapes, robberies, and murders for the last 15 years. I recently transferred to the burglary unit where the pace is a little less demanding. This has allowed me the ability to focus more on my writing.
In that time, how many cases have you worked?
Our unit would handle 35 – 40 homicides a year. However, we were also responsible for investigating suspicious deaths, juvenile deaths (where a child’s death is not connected to a medical illness), and all police shootings. In total, including homicides, our unit would conduct around 100 investigations per year.
Do you have cases that, while remaining unsolved, gnaw at you or haunt you?
I only have two cases that remained unsolved from my time in the Homicide Unit, and both do gnaw on me at times – especially since I was able to figure out who the murderer was but wasn’t able to establish enough evidence to meet the ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ requirement.
The first case was of a guy shot in front of his apartment building. He came home from a night out with his friends when he was gunned down in the parking lot. It took a great deal of time before we finally collected some ‘anonymous’ information from the street as to who the killer was and why the victim was shot. But because solid evidence never manifested, we were unable to corroborate if his death had anything to do with him approaching a girl at the club he was at that evening. This case is featured in my book, Walking Among the Dead, as the Brown case.
The second, much like the first, involved a young man gunned down in his neighborhood. However, given his background, a recent stint in jail, and the hierarchy of the drug organization in the neighborhood, we quickly knew who ordered the killing and why, but without evidence, couldn’t prove it. After about 18 months of work on this case we developed information about the actual shooter, but not enough to stand the rigors of a lengthy court trial.
Have barriers in the legal system prevented cases from being solved? Is that a common reality?
From my experience, the most common barrier we seem to come up against are those produced by inflated egos. We had one commander who some detectives would go ‘toe to toe’ with in order to get a needed action approved (i.e. setting up a wire on a case where you’ve exhausted everything else, had a possible suspect, and just needed to make a different approach in the investigation.).
Also, you’ll get your occasional quirky judge who flares up when you’re presenting them with an application for a search and seizure warrant. These types of judges, whose backgrounds often come from working as a defense attorney, scrutinize your statement of probable cause far beyond the legal requirements, making the job a little more difficult. I’ve found that if you thoroughly investigate the case and are able to articulate the facts in your probable cause, these types of judges are compelled to authorize the search warrant.
These are just two examples of ‘barriers’ that I’ve experienced in the criminal justice system, however, such ‘barriers’ are rare.
Has your Christian faith presented obstacles during your career?
Actually, I found my faith to be an asset – especially when working with the families of a homicide victim. Most of our homicide victims were people involved in some form of criminal activity. But, when you met with the family to give them the death notification or an update on the investigation, I nearly always found members of the family who shared my faith.
This underlying connection proved to be beneficial in getting more intimate details about the victim from families who, historically, may not have been trusting of the police. I had several families who felt it was ‘us versus them’ when dealing with the police. But when they realized we shared the same faith they opened up and became extremely trusting. This cooperation led to solving those murders.
How do you keep from letting grief get the best of you? How do you remain motivated with every new day to get back out there and do the job?
Remaining motivated is rather easy – especially considering that murder is the ultimate crime committed against another human being. What motivates me is the crime and hunting down the killer. It’s a battle of the wits, seeing who can outsmart who. Often, at the conclusion of the investigation, it comes out that the killer went to some lengths to cover their trail. For the detective, outwitting their opponent is all the motivation they need.
As for grief, with the exception of the children cases, there’s no connection to the victim, so grief for me was non-existent. Most cases you felt compassion for the family and the circumstances they faced.
Cases involving children were different. Most of the children’s cases were ‘shaken baby’ deaths. Seeing dead children seems surreal. It hits home, making you want to hug your kids a little tighter.
Here is the second part of the interview with Ken Lang.