Corpse's watch leads to arrest
Detroit — The suspension and arrest last month of a Detroit Police homicide sergeant who was caught wearing an unknown corpse's watch set off a chain of events that led to the slain man's identification and a capture of the suspect — the victim's son-in-law.
Detroit police investigators in March found the badly decomposed remains of a body behind an abandoned school on the city's northwest side, Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said.
The man, who had suffered multiple stab wounds, wore an expensive, German-made watch. The case was originally assigned to homicide Sgt. Alex Vinson, who was unable to identify the victim. The homicide was put into the cold case file.
In October, investigators decided to re-open the case, thinking his watch might provide a clue to his identity — but the watch they found in the Homicide Section property room was a cheap model that didn't match the one that had been photographed when the body was first recovered.
Police officials were informed about the discrepancy, and an internal investigation was launched, which led to Vinson, Woody said.
Vinson, who was at a training session in Idaho, was allegedly caught wearing the watch, which FBI agents recovered. Vinson returned to Michigan, where he was suspended and charged with several crimes, including criminal tampering with evidence, a charge which carries more than 10 years in prison, obstruction of justice, and larceny.
Vinson resigned from the police force after he was charged. His preliminary examination is scheduled for Dec. 19.
After The Detroit News last month published a story about the alleged theft, homicide detectives ramped up their efforts to identify the victim, Woody said.
"With all the media attention, the case was assigned to a different detective, who went over all the evidence with a fine-toothed comb," Woody said. "The detective found some things that were missed in (Vinon's) initial investigation, including a phone number that had been called (on the victim's cellphone) to a credit union in Baltimore."
The detective phoned the credit union and asked employees if any accounts had gone inactive.
"The employees started talking and said, 'maybe that has something to do with why the Baltimore police were in here awhile ago,'" Woody said.
The Detroit detective contacted Baltimore police and found out they'd been working on a missing persons case involving 56-year-old Stewart Banks Jr., a clerk in that city's Public Defender's office, who was last seen Feb. 21 leaving home with his son-in-law.
"After we talked to the Baltimore police, we were able to ID both the victim and the suspect," Woody said.
The victim's son-in-law has not yet been charged with Banks' murder because of a series of events, Woody said.
"The son-in-law found out that we'd identified the victim, and he tried to flee the country with a stolen ID, which made it a federal case," Woody said. "He went to Atlanta and tried to fly into Mexico from there, but the feds caught him, and he's now in federal custody."
After his arrest, the 30-year-old suspect claimed he suffered from a mental illness and was taken to Colorado for evaluation, Woody said. He was found to be competent and taken back to Atlanta, where Detroit police detectives plan to interview him, Woody said.
"A motive (for the killing) is to be determined, and the case is still under investigation," Woody said.