To this investigator, detail is key Thoroughness, determination mark 15-year career

The four-story tree fort David Cordle built when he was growing up in Crofton offers clues about the man he would become and the dogged approach he would take in his job as a criminal investigator.

He paid attention to details. The location, a tree that commanded an expansive view of the terrain below, was carefully chosen.


"He's always been very thorough, and he isn't one to leave a job half-finished," said Russell Black, an Annapolis stockbroker and lifelong friend who helped build the fort. "He never does anything halfway."

Mr. Cordle's reputation for determination, thoroughness and doggedness has marked his 15-year career with the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office. In the past year, he has handled some of the county's most highly publicized cases.


When questions arose over whether newborns were intentionally poisoned at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Mr. Cordle, 38, was involved in finding the answer.

He caught the thief who stole Medals of Honor, Navy Crosses and other medals from war heroes. And, he was instrumental in solving a 27-year-old murder of a St. John's College student.

"He's very, very detail-oriented and that pays off, and I'm very proud of him," said retired Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., who is Mr. Cordle's second cousin. Judge Duckett, the county's former state's attorney, hired Mr. Cordle as an investigator in 1980.

Mr. Cordle was born in Annapolis, and his family moved to Crofton when he was 12. He grew up playing touch football on suburban streets, building tree forts, camping out and playing "army."

He graduated from Arundel High School in Odenton, then went to the University of Delaware. There he participated in ROTC and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 1979. The military experience and membership in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity helped mold him, he said.

"I think a lot of my attributes today can be traced to my training back then, the military [ROTC] and the fraternity," he said.

He toyed with the idea of becoming an Army paratrooper or following his grandfather, Merrill S. Holmes, a 1931 Naval Academy graduate, into the Navy. Eight weeks of officer training with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., convinced him he was not cut out for a military career.

"I guess being 19 years old and seeing the restrictions placed on you, and the commitment involved, it just didn't appeal to me," he said.


Instead, he joined the Army Reserve. He commands the 199th Transportation Detachment, based at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. The unit returned recently from three weeks in Germany, providing support for combat troops going to Bosnia.

Married and a father of four, Mr. Cordle is active in his children's Cub Scout pack and has done volunteer work for his neighborhood group, the Hunt Meadow Community Association.

He keeps a "State's Attorney" badge attached to his belt and has pinup pictures on the walls of his modest, windowless office, which is crammed with case files.

The job provides a luxury many police detectives dream of having.

"Sometimes, between cases, I have more time than some of these guys with the city or the county, who have to go out on new cases every day," he said.

Payoffs are readily apparent:


* Mr. Cordle began investigating the theft of military medals from Medal of Honor recipients in June when retired Adm. Maurice H. Rindskopf of Severna Park called the state's attorney. Someone had borrowed the admiral's Navy Cross and given him a replica in its place.

On Dec. 11, Stephen Van Rensselaer Pyne, a Carroll County budget analyst, pleaded guilty in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to stealing medals from three veterans. He is to be sentenced Feb. 2. An investigation turned up hundreds of stolen medals, certificates and citations.

Pyne also was convicted of stealing medals in Carroll County, where he could be sentenced Jan. 22 to six years in prison.

* On Aug. 15, Susan E. Kron, 46, received probation before judgment and was ordered to serve 30 days of unsupervised probation in connection with problems experienced by infants at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Ms. Kron accidentally filled syringes with morphine instead of heparin, a solution used to flush intravenous tubes.

Three newborns had breathing problems and were placed on ventilators after being injected.

* In 1993, county prosecutors and Annapolis police formed a "cold case" squad to look into unsolved homicides, including the Nov. 10, 1968, slaying of Ann LeSourd Bradley, a St. John's College student slain on the State House grounds.


Mr. Cordle found a witness who identified the killer, but the witness was too unreliable. Mr. Cordle needed to find a second witness, one who reportedly had supplied the gun. In June, he met with Annapolis police Lt. Stan Malm, who had just received a letter from Ms. Bradley's sister inquiring about the case.

As it turned out, the second witness was nearby, in the county jail on an unrelated charge. His account gave Mr. Cordle and police corroboration they needed to name Alonzo Johnson, a former Annapolis drug addict as the killer. Mr. Johnson fled to New York City after the killing and died of a drug overdose.

Mr. Cordle said solving a case such as the Bradley murder gives him a sense of satisfaction "in being able to say you know what happened, being able to tell the family or the victims that we know who committed the crime."

Not every case is so satisfying.

The slaying of Elizabeth Greenberg, 34, a cook for the merchant marine, remains an obsession. She was found half-naked in Back Creek near Annapolis in July 1988. An autopsy found she died by drowning and blows to the head.

Mr. Cordle keeps a notebook on the case on the night stand next to his bed. He often visits the jetty where the body washed up. Until recently, a photograph of the victim was above his desk. "I pretty much lived this case," he said.


He isn't sure why the case haunts him. Perhaps it is the crime's brutality, or that its solution has eluded him. Several times he thought he was close.

BTC "I guess I've just come to identify with her in some way," he said. "I just really feel sorry for her."