His unorthodox approach has earned him national commendations and internal affairs inquiries. Now Charlotte homicide cop Garry McFadden is going to be the star of his own reality TV show.
Debuting at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the cable channel Investigation Discovery, “I Am Homicide” will focus on some of McFadden’s biggest and most troubling cases.
He’s had plenty. In his 34 years with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, McFadden has investigated more than 800 homicides, 90 percent of which have been solved.
Big, brash and impeccably attired, McFadden, 56, is officially retired but was hired back part-time by the department.
One secret to his success, he says, is that he treats everyone with respect, particularly the bad guys.
“You have to be honest with them,” he says. “It’s all about respect.”
Respect cuts both ways. Of the hundreds of thank-you notes he’s gotten over the years, only one is framed and on the wall of his home.
It’s from the leaders of the Outlaws motorcycle gang whose reign of violence rumbled through Charlotte in the 1970s and ’80s. “Thank you for your dedication,” it says.
McFadden has always been a bit of an oddball in his career.
He goes by the office but likes to do his work in diners. Things happen in the community, he says, not in office buildings.
He joined the police department at 21 after graduating from Johnson C. Smith University as a physical education major.
His first demerits came for sharing doughnuts with kids at bus stops in bad neighborhoods. It didn’t necessarily stop him – he’s now moved up to distributing Butterball turkeys and coats in the winter, and he mentors young men in jail.
“That’s one way to build relationships,” McFadden says. “It’s not your job to give out coats, but now when you go into the neighborhood, people trust you.”
Getting to know the community’s youngsters and his years of involvement has paid off.
“I’ve known some of those kids from giving out doughnuts to getting in gangs.”
Bit of a rebel
As a young cop in the late ’80s, McFadden cut a flamboyant path.
He lived in a Fourth Ward condo near all the Hornets players and drove a candy-apple red Corvette. He was a flashy dresser and the closest thing to a “Miami Vice” cop that Charlotte had ever seen.
He had been on the force about six years when he got his name in the Observer for a wild fracas in June 1988.
He was going to an off-duty security job at the Kroger Sav-On at Albemarle Road when some people with guns ran out with a cartload of groceries.
He approached their big Buick Electra with his pistol drawn and ordered them out. But the woman in the front seat grabbed his arm and the driver roared off.
“I’m on the side of the car flapping like a chicken,” McFadden recalls. “I thought, this is the part in the movies where you start shooting.”
And he did, and the woman let go. Then he reloaded and fired at the retreating car. It was full of bullet holes when it was found two days later.
District Attorney Peter Gilchrist later ruled there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in McFadden’s fusillade, but the department wasn’t pleased with his tactics.
Deputy Chief Larry Snider became McFadden’s nemesis. He once wrote him up for being two minutes late for work.
Finally, one day, Snider called him in. He asked if McFadden knew why he was so hard on him. McFadden was surprised by the reason.
“He said I was a leader, that other people watched me, and I needed to start acting like one,” McFadden recalls. “He tore me down and made me the person I could be.”
When a rare opportunity came open on the homicide squad, the rehabilitated McFadden was chosen over 125 other applicants.
His style caught network’s eye
Investigation Discovery is a crime network with a popular show similar to McFadden’s called “Homicide Hunter,” featuring Lt. Joe Kenda, a retired homicide detective from Colorado Springs, Colo.
Kenda’s caustic narration of his old cases in a dry, droll, just-the-facts-ma’am style has made him a star of the network.
McFadden, cocky and bombastic, can be considered the anti-Kenda.
“Detectives come in all shapes and sizes,” says Jane Latman, senior vice president of development for Investigation Discovery. “They complement each other on our air.”
Latman says the network spotted McFadden on a YouTube video in which he talked about his career. He looked interesting and highly telegenic.
He obviously was – six other networks had approached him over the years about doing a show, and he’d always deferred. But Blackfin TV, the production company, talked him into doing an audition.
“McFadden’s about relationships,” Latman says. “He’s has relationships with the bad guys and the good guys. He pretty much develops a relationship with everyone he meets.”
Re-enactments of the crimes were filmed in Charlotte, though the police cruisers were rented for theatrical supply, so they appear to be from some other department than Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
Blackfin has produced six episodes of “I Am Homicide.” If they do well in the ratings, the network will likely order more.
In each episode, members of the victims’ families talk about the crime, which often proves cathartic for them, Latman says. If family members aren’t interested in participating, producers move on to another case.
McFadden grew up in Elliott, S.C., a small town about 60 miles east of Columbia. Everybody knew everyone, and every woman in town was authorized to give you a whupping if you had it coming.
You didn’t get away with anything in Elliott, and you didn’t even try, says McFadden.
His father was in the Air Force and built every house that the family ever lived in. McFadden got handy in construction techniques by helping him.
His high school principal, I.C. Joe – he just turned 101 – dressed immaculately. He wore a suit every day and taught McFadden to project a professional image.
“When I show up at a murder,” McFadden says, “I want to look like everybody’s minister.”
He was wearing blue eel-skin shoes the day he met the first female Alcohol Law Enforcement agent to be sent to Charlotte. “Who is this peacock?” she asked.
Cathy and Garry McFadden have been married for 27 years now and have three grown children.
McFadden says he was able to compartmentalize his work life from his personal time. He never brought his cases home with him nor discussed them with his children.
Especially not his worst case ever, that of Ellijah Burger in November 2008.
Ellijah was 23 months old when he was beaten to death by his father, Andre Hampton, because he wouldn’t eat his soup. Dr. Thomas Owens, the medical examiner, said in court he’d conducted about 200 autopsies on children in his career.
“If I added up all the injuries on the other children,” he testified, “I wouldn’t have as many as were on Ellijah.”
McFadden remembers going to the hospital after Ellijah had been brought in. He’d never seen anything like it.
“You get there and the medics are crying and the nurses are crying and the doctor is hysterical.”
Hampton is serving life. McFadden still hates talking about the case.
Occasionally, McFadden has had to tackle cases long unsolved: cold cases. He starts by reviewing all the files to see what investigators had failed to do in the initial stages.
He maintains a small arsenal of weapons in his attic to help him – extinct technology.
He’s got gizmos that can still play old Dictaphone belts, floppy discs, cassette tapes and other ancient word-processing gear. While the original investigators may be long gone, he can still read their original notes.
McFadden hands his cellphone number out all the time. When he tells crime victims that he will always be there for them, he means it.
On July 30, 2011, McFadden was supposed to be in Washington, D.C., to receive a commendation from the FBI. But he had other plans.
Angela Ray was 7 when her father was killed in a holdup at a Charlotte Hardee’s, where he was working to pay his son’s college tuition.
McFadden kept up with Angela through the years. They became close. She called McFadden whenever she needed a dad. That July day she needed one.
When the preacher asked, “Who gives this woman away?” a big, brash, immaculately attired homicide cop raised his hand.
The McFadden file
In two decades investigating deaths, Garry McFadden was assigned some of the city’s most shocking killings.
▪ Derrick Lamont Gregory was sentenced to life in prison for killing two of his former bosses at Moe’s Southwest Grill in 2007. McFadden had eaten lunch at the Dilworth neighborhood restaurant just hours before the murders. Later, at police headquarters, McFadden spent three hours interrogating Gregory.
“Most killers tell about the last three days,” McFadden said. “He told me about his whole life – the good, the bad. He took me to that murder.”
▪ Charlotte businessman John Hayes was sentenced to life in prison for beating his wife to death with a baseball bat at their Carmel Road home in 1994. When McFadden arrived at the murder scene, Hayes was with a lawyer. McFadden recognized the case would be delicate.
“You got a lawyer standing there in a thousand-dollar suit. You've got a million-dollar home. And you got a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes Benz in the garage. Then you've got me – a kid – in charge of the case. … I had to make sure we were doing the right things. We didn’t want to screw it up.”
▪ Patricia Horace, a former waitress at Charlotte Country Club, was found dead in March 1996 under a pile of tires at United Pallet Co. in north Charlotte.
No one was ever convicted and the case still haunts McFadden. “I think about it every time I drive down Statesville Avenue.”
▪ Henry Louis Wallace, a former fast-food restaurant manager, was charged with the murders of nine young black women between May 1992 and his arrest in March 1994. He was sentenced to death in 1997.
There were questions, with racial overtones, about why it took police so long to catch the killer. McFadden says the department put him in charge of the case to deflect racism allegations. He, though, felt like a scapegoat. He said the department lacked the resources to investigate because of the soaring increase in homicides.
GARY WRIGHT AND CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR.
‘I Am Homicide’
Investigation Discovery channel will air ‘I Am Homicide’ at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. It can be found on Time Warner Cable at channel 138; AT&T Uverse at channel 1260 and Mi-Connection at channel 79.