If only solving murders was as easy as they make it look on television.
The Beaumont and Port Arthur Police Departments are currently working two murder investigations that have detectives beating the streets and looking for leads wherever they can find them.
Both cases are very similar in that the crime scene offered little to no evidence and no witnesses – at least which have come forward. In Port Arthur, detectives are working the murder of Robert Prevost, a 44-year-old Port Arthur man who was found dead in a vacant home in the 1000 block of Dunbar. Prevost had been shot multiple times, including multiple gun shots in the back of the head. There was no murder weapon recovered and when the body was discovered by the victim’s brother on April 14, it had been there for approximately a day, according to Port Arthur Police Sgt. Scott Gaspard, who oversees the homicide detectives. It was the third homicide of the year in Port Arthur.
In Beaumont, Fedro Gatlin, a 40-year-old Beaumont man, was found April 30 in the 1300 block of Virginia around 8 p.m. when EMS was responding to what it thought was a traffic accident. Instead they found Gatlin, who had been knocked off his bicycle thanks to a single gunshot wound to the head. He was taken to Christus-St. Elizabeth where he was pronounced dead.
Sgt. Pat Barton, who oversees the crimes against persons unit for the Beaumont Police Department, said he has three detectives, “good people, the right people” working the city’s latest homicide, the fourth of the year, and as of Wednesday evening, they had no persons of interest identified as possible suspects. Port Arthur is in the same boat.
When detectives find themselves working a homicide case with next to nothing to go off of, that’s when the real detective work starts.
“The first thing I do is start working on victimology, working backwards,” said veteran Beaumont Police Homicide Detective Jesus Tamayo, who’s been working homicides for the department for the last nine years. “I look at who the victim is associated with, persons he’s hung out with and go from there.”
Gaspard, a 22-year veteran of the PAPD, said one of the first things they do is “make sure the crime scene is properly preserved and secure any trace evidence we can get.” After that, much like Tamayo and others, the detectives hit the streets, talking to friends, family and anyone else that might know the victim.
The public is also a major resource when investigating a real life “whodunit” and Tamayo said it’s a crucial element to what he does when investigating any murder case, but especially one with no visible leads. “I use the public to help solve the crime and reach out to the media, because without the public it’s difficult,” he said.
Major Jim Singletary with the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office said it can be very frustrating investigating a murder without evidence and witnesses, especially when the detective is working every tip he or she gets and is still coming up empty. What makes it more aggravating is trying to keep the families of the victims calm and assuring them you’re doing everything you can to bring their loved one’s murderer to justice.
“Once you burn up your leads, then you’re back to square one,” said Singletary, who has worked at least 60 murder cases in his 40 years in local law enforcement.
Port Arthur’s detectives aren’t to that point and neither are the Beaumont detectives, as both continue to collect leads, while Beaumont made the Gatlin murder the Crime Stoppers Crime of the Week, and Barton said some additional leads have been called in since the airing Tuesday night, yet none have materialized.
All the veteran lawmen agree that breaks in cases can come from suspects in unrelated crimes speaking up or confessing to know information related to a murder based on information they’ve heard on the streets.
“That’s the world I lived in for 20 plus years when I was a dope cop,” said Barton, “everybody had some kind of motivation for giving up information on somebody else, and that could certainly be a possibility here.”
And in any line of work, including solving a murder case, a little luck doesn’t hurt.
“Sometimes you just have to get lucky,” Singletary said.
Tamayo knows luck can’t hurt either. He’s worked some 40 murder cases, and solved 38 of them. During a double-homicide investigation with no witnesses and little evidence, Tamayo noticed blood on a person of interest’s sock while arresting him on an unrelated charge. That person ultimately identified the suspects responsible. “I don’t think he even realized he had blood on his sock,” Tamayo said.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to getting out on the street.
“I believe every case is solvable,” Tamayo said, “but you can’t sit in your office and expect to solve the case. You have to be out talking to people, they’re not coming to you. Nobody’s out there raising their hand up saying “I did it.”