Interview with Homicide Detective Sam Harper of Silenced Cry
by Kaycee Conners
August 2007 Virtual Book Tour
For other reader comments, please visit the August 1, 2007 post in http://pubd2b.livejournal.com/
KC: Detective Harper—
SH: My friends call me, Sam.
KC: Sam, thank you for agreeing to let me interview you. I know you’re on a tight schedule. Let’s start with you, shall we? Tell us a little about yourself.
SH: Home is Litchfield, Massachusetts, a small rural community just north of Chandler. I wasn’t real fond of it at the time. Dad was a city detective in Chandler, a thirty minute drive from the house. He knew what life was like in the city and didn’t want any part of it. He wanted a place where my brother Paul and I could grow up without looking over our shoulders and where he could come home and forget about things. When I was a kid, I thought he was being selfish; I know where he’s coming from now. Anyway, that’s where I went to school too. My dad still owns the house I grew up in. I go home every chance I get. Sometimes it’s the only place I can think.
KC: I understand you went to Compton College there in Chandler. Did you go with the intent of becoming a law enforcement officer?
SH: What kid knows what he wants when he’s 17? Guess being a police officer was always in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for it then. The truth of the matter is, I went to college on a music scholarship. My mother taught band and orchestra at the high school for as long as I can remember—been playing the piano since I was five. When I got into Compton, I didn’t have a clue what to do with the rest of my life. I knew it wasn’t going to have anything to do with music though. I entered the police academy a couple of years after graduation, almost ten years to the day.
KC: You say you weren’t ready at 17. What changed?
SH: Society, the justice system, me--everything. I’d hear Dad come home and talk about some of his cases; the tough ones they couldn’t crack. There were more than one night the old man didn’t sleep. I was cocky enough to think I could do better. I found out real fast that nothing good ever comes easy.
KC: You mentioned earlier that you guessed being a police officer was always in the back of your mind. I read in your bio on your site about the death of a young schoolmate. Did that incident really have an impact on your decision to become a detective?
SH: I’ve never been able to get that day out of my mind. Cute little girl. Used to drive past our bus stop every day and wave. One morning, she rode her bike by as usual—never made to school. A few days later, one of the neighbors found her battered body near a creek that ran through his farm. There were no witnesses. No one heard her scream. It was as if she had vanished. Dad was one of the investigating officers. He knew her parents well and the investigation damn near tore him apart.
KC: Was her murderer ever caught?
SH: No. Her case is still open. Twenty years later and I’ve never stopped thinking about her killer.
KC: You’d like to get your hands on her case, wouldn’t you?
SH: You bet. But those old ones are the cases we work on in between the current ones.
KC: Yes, your current cases. So tell me. What’s a day in the life of a detective like?
SH: A good day in Homicide is the day we make an arrest; when all the pieces come together and they point straight to the killer.
KC: But ... what about you?
SH: I’m on call 24/7. Homicide is exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. My day starts at 5:30 in the morning; I’m at police headquarters before seven. I spend the first two hours of my day reviewing case files. I analyze the previous day’s activities and study the witnesses’ statements. Then my partner Dave Mann and I set up the day’s roster. We’re usually out the door by 9:00, but the cases we investigate dictate our schedule.
KC: How so?
SH: We never know what we’ll be up against. We go into homes most people don’t want to drive by in broad daylight. We knock on doors without knowing who’s hiding behind them. It could be a felon pointing a weapon or a weeping child. It’s all about timing. A minute lost pushes the case an inch further into the cold case stack. So we watch the clock. The sooner we can get to the scene of the crime, talk with witnesses, and check for evidence, the better our chances are of solving the case.
KC: And that’s when you catch the killer?
SH: No. All that just to find a potential suspect.
KC: I know you have a partner, Dave Mann. But wouldn’t it be easier to work alone?
SH: We’re a team. Besides Dave, my three most trusted colleagues are medical examiners Jack Fowler and Yolanda Cruz. The other is Carter Graves, head of Forensics; nerdy looking guy, smart as a whip and always right. I’d be nothing without them. When I’m not on the streets, I’m consulting with one of them.
KC: And after hours? What do you do to relax?
SH: Life outside the force doesn’t happen. The only thing waiting for me at home at the end of the day is a tall Scotch and soda and the six o’clock news that lets me rehash my day. I eat frozen dinners—sometimes I’ll watch an old film—a Bogart or Edward G. Eventually I crash on the couch. A few hours later I do it all over again.
KC: You seem to have everything going for you. Are you ever frightened?
SH: Sure. Loss of integrity scares the hell out of me. In myself, my partner, the system. You’re nothing without it.
KC: And anger? What’s the one thing that angers you most?
SH: The immense disregard for life. Indifference -- an apathetical point of view. No law or consequence will stop a person who doesn’t care.
KC: And when it’s over, how hard is it to recover from a crime scene?
SH: It depends. I’m immersed in death, day in and day out. After a while you get used to it. So you tell yourself to be careful, don’t get desensitized. But you can’t help it. You have to look beyond the gore to do the job.
KC: Are some cases harder to work than others?
SH Seeing kids in the morgue is never easy. I’m not talking about the thugs that roam the streets. I’m talking about the innocent. The babies, the grade school kids that are unwanted at birth, get in some low-life’s way, and are tossed out like yesterday’s garbage. The guys on the force, the ones with families think about their kids. I’ve seen some of them cry when they didn’t think anyone was watching.
KC: What about you? What do you think about?
SH: I keep wondering if it’s fair to bring a child into this world, into a society as corrupt as ours.
KC: Have you found an answer?
There’s a pause.
SH: Change has to start somewhere.
KC: Clearly your job has had an impact on you. Can you talk about it?
SH: I’m conscious of time. I’m thirty-two and don’t know if I’ll see thirty-three. That’s what the job does to a guy. I’m trained to defend myself and others. I don’t worry about getting killed, but it is a reality. You never know. So I try to take time for the things that are important to me—my family and friends, because in the end that’s all that matters.
KC: That leads me to my next question. I hope this isn’t too personal, but is there someone special in your life?
SH: Sure. He smiles for the first time. There are a million possibilities. I’ll let you know the minute I meet her. He looks at his watch.
KC: I know ... you’re busy, but one more thing before you go. Can we use your name to get out of a jam?
SH: He smiles again and stares at me for only a moment. Only if it’s legal.