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Retired Baltimore homicide detective writes about life on street

Law EnforcementHomicideHighway and Road TransportationBaltimore Police DepartmentNew Year's Day

On a hot humid night in June of 1966, Baltimore City rookie cop Dick Ellwood arrested Mickey Mantle.

It was one of those incidents that didn't make the news during Ellwood's 25 years with the Baltimore Police Department before he retired as a sergeant in 1990.

But the self-published book he wrote in 2010 is crammed with them. The 237-page collection is called "Cop Stories: The Few, the Proud, the Ugly."

"Every cop has stories," he said. They tell them in the locker room, the parking lot, in courthouse hallways, at retirement parties, at funerals and bars — "especially in bars, where cops go to let off steam."

Ellwood, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years before he joined the force when he was 21, wanted to put his own stories in print before he was "too damn old to remember them," he said.

Now, he is on a roll. Last December, he Ellwood self-published his first novel, "Charm City's Blue Justice." The book jacket describes a tale of murder, deception and rape as an action-packed suspenseful thriller. Ellwood's books are available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Greetings and Readings, and Ukazoo, and on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m., he will be at the Baltimore Book Festival where he will be one of three panelists who will be discussing crime.

Mantle was "the greatest baseball player of our times," according to the near apoplectic lieutenant who had a fit over Ellwood's public intoxication collar and had the American League All Star star taken back to his hotel.

Ellwood, now 69 and living in a well manicured section of Timonium,  recalls he was torn.

The Yankee baseball player was his childhood hero, he said. He could have locked him up or "just asked for his autograph and chalk it up as one of the greatest moments of my life."

Life was different back when Ellwood was sworn in on New Year's Eve in 1964.

As a rookie, Ellwood walked a beat in the predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood around Greenmount Avenue and Preston Street in which he grew up. "It was a place you would love to raise your family," he writes.

"We did not have any police radios or communication with other cops, other than the call box and the call light," he wrote. "The call light was just a pole with a yellow light on it that blinked when the police dispatcher wanted you to handle something on your post or another police officer wanted to get in touch with you.

"If you arrested somebody you had to walk him to the nearest call box and call for a paddy wagon."

If that wasn't possible, he'd hail a taxi and ask the driver to radio his dispatcher to contact the police dispatcher and pass on the request for help, he said.

The highlight of his career was the 10 years he spent in the Homicide Unit after honing his investigative skills for 11 years in patrol, vice and robbery.

"Everyone in the Homicide Unit was looked up to as the cream of the crop," he said."You not only had to be good, you literally had to know somebody to get into Homicide."

He did. His grandfather on his mother's side was a Baltimore City police officer. So were his father, Richard Ellwood Sr., and brother, John Ellwood.

(The fourth generation, his son, David, was a Baltimore City police officer for six years, before he decamped for warmer weather in Florida. Now he's a Broward County officer. In fact, he is a sergeant in Homicide just like his father and his father's brother used to be.)

In Baltimore, it was the ability and tenacity of the Homicide detectives to get the job done that mattered back then.

But "looking good helped," Ellwood wrote. Homicide was "like a detective fashion show each day.

"We had the extreme dressers who wore Joseph Bank or Eddie Jacob suits. Then we had guys like me that wore Macy's or Hecht Co. suits and … a small element of guys that didn't give a damn what they wore and we called them 'the polyester princes …' "

Reading Ellwood's book reminded former colleagues of those less than halcyon days.

"When Homicide detectives arrived at the scene of a crime," said Sparks resident Nick Giangrasso, 70, "you'd hear 'Here come the stars!'

"You carried yourself a little differently, not cocky, but sure of what you were doing."

"They pretty much worked around the clock," said Jay Landsman, 62, who is now a Baltimore County police sergeant in Precinct 4, in Pikesville.

Homicide detectives could leave for work Monday and not come home until Friday; they received no overtime pay; they were haunted by cases they couldn't solve; they saw too much that they couldn't bring home with them; they drank with each other too much because of it and they'd tell each other stories.

"Nobody else would believe them," Landsman said.

There were 24 Homicide detectives then, said Ellwood and he counted 23 divorces, including his own.

Landsman thinks he's one of the lucky ones. He's been married 43 years and his wife lets him tell her the stories. "All she hears is 'blah, blah, blah,'" he said, "but it makes me feel better.

"It might help that four of her five kids are cops."

Ellwood said there could have been a hundred stories in the book, but there are 38.

Among them is a story of the meeting that was held in 1978 after the police commissioner believed "Small Weapons Assault Team" or "SWAT was too offensive a name for the department's tactical unit and ordered it changed.

"Fast Assault Response Team" was a candidate, Ellwood wrote, but it lost out — for obvious reasons. It lost out to "Quick Response Team" or "QRT," an acronym that is unpronounceable but still used today.

Then there's the chronicle of the brawl in a bar over the arrest of a prostitute that ended up with him dragging her outside by the leg and ending up with just her leg.

There's the tale of the search for the very polite man who always ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer before he held up a bar.

And then there is the man with the knife in his chest lying dead under the Christmas tree while people were sitting around drinking beer as if nothing had happened.

"You couldn't make this stuff up," said Ellwood's friend, Timonium resident Don Kent, 72, a former lieutenant who spent 20 years in city patrol.

But Ellwood has.

Last December, Ellwood self published his first novel, "Charm City's Blue Justice."

The book jacket describes a tale of murder, deception and rape as an action-packed suspenseful thriller.

The story revolves around two Baltimore police officers and how their different definitions of justice threaten to destroy their close friendship.

In the forward, Ellwood thanked Sharon, the retired school teacher who has been his wife for 20 years for editing the book "and for being my wife."

It was the success of his first book that led him to try fiction, Ellwood said. He had made the rounds, hawking the book and reading from it at libraries, senior centers, book festivals and TV stations.

"When people bought the book and said they liked it, and when some guy sent me a copy of the book and asked me to autograph it, it got me hooked," he said. He picked up a lot through reading authors like James Patterson and John Grisham.

"Most everybody who read the book enjoyed it," said Kent. "It's very good, a real page-turner."

Meanwhile, Ellwood, now 69, with his eight grandchildren in mind, is working on a children's book. There are no murders in it.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Law EnforcementHomicideHighway and Road TransportationBaltimore Police DepartmentNew Year's Day
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