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Late on the night of May 11, Daniel Burton returned from work to his Waynesville home and found a scene that horrified him: dead bodies covered in blood.
When he called 911 at 10:39 p.m., it set off a sequence of events that led to the activation of the Bartholomew County Death Investigation Team, a multiagency collaboration used in cases when deaths are suspicious and could be homicides.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived 12 minutes later. Four people were found shot to death, and one of those victims also had been stabbed. A call went out to activate the team, which includes the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, Columbus Police Department, Indiana State Police, Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bartholomew County coroner.
Their immediate mission was to collect evidence, follow leads, conduct interviews and identify suspects.
Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett said the team’s effort and the support and resources provided by the other agencies played an instrumental role in identifying Samuel E. Sallee of Columbus as the prime and only suspect and the eventual Dec. 13 charging of Sallee with four counts of murder for the deaths of:
Katheryn M. Burton, 53, 2634 E. Main Cross St.
Shawn L. Burton, 40, 2634 E. Main Cross St.
Aaron T. Cross, 41,
Thomas W. Smith, 39, Columbus
“It speaks volumes about the people involved,” Gorbett said.
When a case like the Waynesville slayings occurs, everybody immediately
pitches in, Gorbett said.
The additional manpower provides valuable help.
“I have limited resources as sheriff with 40 police but 70,000-plus people in the county,” Gorbett said.
The Death Investigation Team’s roots actually are tied to Waynesville. In September 1998, four bodies, including those of three children, were discovered in shallow graves a half-mile northeast of the small town.
Robert Bassett Jr. of Rosstown was convicted of the murders in July 2001, but the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the ruling. He was tried again and convicted in 2006, and his conviction was upheld on appeal in 2008.
Coroner Larry Fisher and Gorbett said it was this case that led to the formation of the Bartholomew County Death Investigation Team in the 1990s.
Sheriff David Mann, Prosecutor Joe Koenig, Trooper Steve Holland — now the head of the Indiana State Police Laboratory — and others brainstormed what to do.
“People got their heads together and thought it would be a good idea,” Fisher said.
The local team was modeled after what some counties already had in place, although death investigation teams were not as common in the state then as they are now, Fisher said.
Smaller communities typically have some type of collaborative agreement among agencies because individually they do not have the resources that departments have in large metro areas, such as Indianapolis or Evansville. Departments there have dozens of crime scene technicians and their own laboratories to conducts ballistics and other tests, Fisher said.
The extra manpower is helpful in smaller communities in a variety of ways, said Fisher, whose job on the team is to determine the cause and manner of death. While a half-dozen or more people are conducting interviews, he can notify multiple family members of deaths. Also, multiple suspects can be interviewed at the same time, Fisher said.
The coroner called the Death Investigation Team a good tool for police in Bartholomew County.
“It gives us extra hands to do the legwork that normally takes two to three days,” Fisher said.
Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said the team is valuable because big cases, such as a homicide, are taxing on a department’s resources. And in the first 48 to 72 hours, investigators are working nonstop tracking down leads, he said.
The ability to have extra help from other local agencies, or even from the Department of Natural Resources or federal agencies, is important, Maddix said.
“At some point in the first 48 to 72 hours, our detectives have to sleep. We can work officers 12 to 16 hours and then bring in another shift to investigate so we can keep the work going 24/7 and run down leads and eliminate suspects,” Maddix said.
Columbus Police Department activated the Death Investigation Team in the
Nov. 17 slaying of 26-year-old Adaobi Michaella Obih in her westside apartment. Roommate Ryan A. Klug quickly was identified as the suspect and charged with the murder. Nationwide resources aided in his arrest in Galveston, Texas.
With the Waynesville quadruple homicide, Gorbett said the help of John O’Boyle, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was instrumental in the collection of evidence to build a case and charge Sallee.
O’Boyle helped locate Sallee at a residence on Parkway Drive in Columbus. That location was where personal possessions of the victims were discovered, Gorbett said, along with a .22-caliber rifle, according to a federal document.
“Since the ’98 quadruple homicide, everyone has pitched in,” Gorbett said.
How it works
Here is how the activation of the Bartholomew County Death Investigation Team works:
The lead investigating agency determines if a death is suspicious, possibly a homicide.
If so, the county’s 911 dispatch pages all the members of the investigation team that it has been activated.
Team members will meet at a command post established near the crime scene.
The lead agency (Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department in the case of the May 11 Waynesville shootings) will take charge of assignments.
Sources: Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher
Death Investigation Team members
Members of the Bartholomew County Death Investigation Team are:
Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department
Columbus Police Department
Indiana State Police
Bartholomew County Prosecutor’s Office (current prosecutor is Bill Nash)
Bartholomew County coroner (currently Larry Fisher)
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