The search for the killers of Baltimore millionaire J. Schuyler "Sky" Alland was at a standstill in the summer of 1992. Whoever executed the businessman for his $80,000 black BMW apparently had gotten away with murder -- not to mention the car.
U.S. Park Police Detective Timothy M. Squires was handling the first murder of his career, but he made a bold promise.
"He promised that he would find these guys," said Dorothy Alland Leighton, Mr. Alland's mother. "He said, 'Even when I retire, I'll continue to work on this case with no pay until I find who killed your son.' "
His promise was fulfilled Wednesday when federal prosecutors wrapped up an intricate nationwide investigation into the February 1992 murder with the conviction of the killer, John Graham Bridges, 30, of Norfolk, Va. A co-defendant, Robert Patrick Gray, 25, of Cockeysville pleaded guilty Nov. 5.
"For a long time, we had no leads. All we had was a wealthy businessman shot to death by the side of the road," said Detective Squires, 40. "We checked everything from secret societies at his old fraternity to rival business owners in Chicago. We were determined not to give up."
Detective Squires' partner, Sgt. Peter W. Markland, 39, also was working his first murder.
"We worked all day until we were too tired to work. Then we'd go home and go to sleep, and get up and go back to work. It was either solve the case or die trying," he said.
On the face of it, the case seemed simple enough: Locate the BMW, and the killers couldn't be far behind. But it proved to be far from easy.
Finding out who took the car meant spending months following the computer information highway of telephone and credit card records.
U.S. Park Police, who spend their days patrolling federal parks and highways, rarely investigate murders. But Mr. Alland, 34, was slain at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, a federal property in Prince George's County. That made it a Park Police case.
Mr. Alland's body was found face up by the side of Powder Mill Road, about three miles from his highly successful business, Sky Alland Research Inc. in Laurel. He was still wearing the Brooks Brothers suit he had worn to an executive meeting earlier that night. The killer had shot him once in the back of the neck with a .357-caliber handgun.
Mr. Alland had been abducted from the parking lot as he left work. The only clue came from a 12-year-old girl who lived in the area, who said that on several days before the murder, two men sat in a car watching the victim's BMW 750iL.
For eight months, Detectives Squires and Markland, both veterans of more than 15 years with the Park Police, delved deep into Mr. Alland's background.
A self-made millionaire who lived in North Baltimore's Homeland section, Mr. Alland was an all-American success story. He graduated with honors from the University of Virginia and started a research business that conducted customer-satisfaction surveys for car dealers.
The company, which Mr. Alland started in his living room, quickly grew to 140 employees. It attracted business from nearly every major car company, including Chrysler, BMW, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Audi and Cadillac. At the time of his death, Mr. Alland was insured by his company for $4 million.
The detectives looked into the insurance angle. They visited the college fraternity he had belonged to more than a dozen years before. They checked the background of a man he once testified against in court. They checked the alibis of rival business owners. They looked for records of BMWs shipped overseas. Because Mr. Alland was a bachelor, they checked the background of every woman he'd ever dated, as well as their boyfriends, current and past.
They spent countless hours sifting through telephone records, trying to learn who had called the Citibank office in Sioux Falls, S.D., a few days after the murder in a clumsy attempt to get a cash advance on Mr. Alland's stolen MasterCard.
A break in the case
Then, on Oct. 10, nearly eight months after the murder, the detectives got their break. An anonymous caller telephoned police and said Mr. Alland's BMW was in a parking lot in Englewood, N.J., just outside New York City.
Police found the car, but it had been wiped clean and provided no clues.
Acting on a hunch that an unwitting buyer had ditched the car after discovering that it was "hot," the detectives ordered a special search of the National Crime Information Computer system.
The system, available only to authorities, provides data on stolen cars that can be obtained by checking a vehicle's identification number. The detectives ran a search to learn if anyone had queried the identification number of Mr. Alland's BMW recently.
Someone had -- Charles Brown, a New York City police officer who worked at the department's impound lot in Flushing, N.Y.
Detectives Squires and Markland talked to Officer Brown and learned that he had checked the car's identification number for a high school friend. The friend, Dwayne McCaskey, said he had bought the car for $10,000 a few days earlier.
McCaskey panicked when the officer told him the car was being sought in a federal homicide investigation, the detectives said. He asked an auto body shop owner in Englewood, who had been working on the BMW, to get rid of it the car for him. It was The auto body shop owner made the anonymous call to police.
McCaskey, who was not involved in Mr. Alland's abduction, later pleaded guilty in Bergen County, N.J., to a charge of possessing stolen property. McCaskey told police he had bought the car from a Norfolk, Va., dealership.
The investigation shifted to Norfolk, and the detectives tracked the owner of the dealership that had sold the car to McCaskey. The dealer told detectives he had gotten the car from a man named Richard Garries.
Mr. Garries, found in Norfolk, told detectives he had gotten the car from a "con man" in California who stole a truckload of T-shirts from his business. Mr. Garries said the man gave him the BMW as compensation for the shirts.
That story was vouched for by an employee of Mr. Garries, John Graham Bridges, a well-spoken man who told friends he was an aspiring businessman and a Cornell University graduate.
Detectives Squires and Markland thought the "con man" might be a suspect. But when they found him in Riverside, Calif., he had a good alibi. He was in the San Bernardino jail the day of Sky Alland's murder.
The detectives realized they had been sent on a goose chase and decided to do some thorough checking on Bridges and Mr. Garries.
In a second interview, Mr. Garries admitted that Bridges had asked him to lie about how he had acquired the BMW. He said Bridges recently had brought the car to Norfolk from St. Petersburg, Fla., and was very interested in finding a buyer.
The detectives began to focus their investigation on the slick-talking Bridges, who was living in a Norfolk condominium.
Detectives Squires and Markland learned that Bridges had not graduated from Cornell, as he had claimed. A former high school sports hero in New York City, Bridges attended Cornell for a year and a half on a football scholarship but dropped out.
Bridges fancied himself as an entrepreneur and boasted to friends that he would someday become a self-made millionaire through his dream business, "J. B.'s World," Sergeant Markland said.
Although Bridges hoped J. B.'s World would someday be a host of small businesses flourishing under one roof, its operations at the time were limited to selling scrap metal from a yard in Norfolk, Sergeant Markland said.
"The way I saw him, he was someone who always dreamed of becoming somebody bigger. He could tell the big lie that most people would believe. He wanted to be a millionaire and drive a fancy car," Sergeant Markland said.
The detectives ran a computer check on Bridges and learned that he once lived in Laurel. When they checked his rental application, they learned he had worked briefly in 1989 for Sky Alland's company as a part-time telemarketer.
Company officials verified that Bridges had worked at Sky Alland Research for three months but was fired for not reporting to work.
Detectives Squires and Markland realized they were closing in on the killer.
Checks of Bridges' telephone records from his Laurel apartment showed 96 calls to a St. Petersburg, Fla., number belonging to his stepbrother Albert Moore. The detectives also located Bridges' girlfriend Teresa Beasley through the phone records and interviewed her.
"She told us that he had a penchant for BMWs. He would see them on the street and say, 'Boy, wouldn't you just love to have a car like that,' " Detective Squires said.
The detectives went to St. Petersburg to interview Mr. Moore, who told them Bridges had driven all night to St. Petersburg with a black BMW 750iL on Feb. 19 -- the day after the murder. Mr. Moore said Bridges asked him to sell the car at an auction for $70,000. But that wasn't possible because Bridges didn't have the vehicle's title.
Bridges initially told Mr. Moore he was selling the BMW for a friend. Later, Bridges admitted to his stepbrother that he and a friend had killed a businessman for the car. He said they had planned the robbery for weeks.
A suspect arrested
When Bridges went to St. Petersburg, he took a briefcase he had stolen from Mr. Alland that contained the victim's credit cards. When Bridges left the apartment one day, Mr. Moore's girlfriend took one of the cards and used it to try to get a cash advance. That was the call detectives had tried to pin down early in the investigation.
Frustrated with trying to unload the car, Bridges eventually passed it to Mr. Garries, who he owed money to for helping him get a mortgage loan for a Norfolk house.
Bridges also had an apartment in Norfolk, and on April 15 -- 14 months after the Alland murder -- police arrested him there.
Further review of phone records showed Bridges had made several calls to a Cockeysville apartment. A man living there, Robert Patrick Gray, had driven the BMW in the slaying.
Gray, a former employee at a Towson health store, later admitted his role in the killing. Testifying in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Gray said he drove the BMW to the agricultural research center while Bridges held Mr. Alland at gunpoint in the back seat.
The men stopped along a wooded stretch of the road and Bridges told the executive, "We're going to let you out right here," Gray testified.
"A few seconds after that I heard what I thought was a gunshot," Gray told jurors, saying he was surprised because the men had (( only planned to take Mr. Alland's car. "Then Mr. Bridges got in the back seat and said, 'Let's go.' "
Investigators said they believe Gray's claim that he did not know Bridges was going to commit murder.
"When we finally found [Gray], he seemed relieved to finally get it all off his chest," Detective Squires said. "He said, 'I did the crime, I got to do the time.' When we took his mug shot, he was smiling."
Bridges will be sentenced automatically to life in prison without parole for his convictions on charges of premeditated murder, kidnapping, robbery and interstate transportation of a motor vehicle.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend that Gray serve 19 to 25 years without possibility of parole in return for his testimony against Bridges.
The car Mr. Alland was killed for remains in Park Police custody. It will be turned over to an insurance company and sold.
"I'll never forget this case. That poor guy got killed over a hunk of metal. All because John Bridges wanted to be a millionaire, even if it was just for a day," Sergeant Markland said. "I think he wanted to be Sky Alland. He saw himself that way, but he could never make it happen. Even at his pretrial hearing, he was still saying he graduated from Cornell."
Mr. Alland's mother, who now lives in Indialantic Beach, Fla., agreed.
"I wanted to go up to John Bridges in court and tell him he killed not only my son, but a part of me," Mrs. Leighton said. "He wanted everything Sky had. His car, his job, his life. But he didn't understand that Sky had worked hard all his life to get what he had."