On a cold day in December 1995, Detective Cpl. Charles E. Jacobs encountered the charred remains of a body burned beyond recognition inside a smoldering barn in western Howard County. A tooth and a small section of an internal organ were all police investigators could find that was not burned to cinders.
But just a month later, Jacobs made his identification -- a suicidal former drug addict who had set himself and the barn on fire that wintry day.
It was such tenacity that prompted the Howard County Police Department and the county's Chamber of Commerce to name the 31-year-old detective their Police Officer of the Year.
The award will be presented at the Seventh Annual Community Awards scheduled for Thursday at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City. In addition to Jacobs, other law enforcement officers, firefighters and educators will be honored.
Jacobs, a 10-year veteran of the Police Department who is single and lives in Eldersburg in Carroll County, has made a name for himself as a hard-nosed detective who solved 84 percent of his investigations last year, ranking first among the county's Violent Crimes detectives.
Jacobs says being a good detective is part luck and common sense. The key is to never give up.
"It's about being in the right place at the right time," he says. "There is a certain level of skill, especially having good interviewing techniques, and finding the right people."
The burned barn near Cooksville provided Jacobs with one of his most intriguing challenges. No one knew how the dead man came to be in the barn or why it had burned to the ground.
When a medical examiner's report revealed trace levels of methadone and anti-depressant drugs in the internal organ that survived the fire, Jacobs canvassed drug treatment clinics in the area, looking for one where someone had failed to show up for a scheduled dose of methadone.
Jacobs found such a place in Montgomery County. From there, he was able to track down the former roommate of a Gaithersburg man who had been released from a psychiatric hospital the same day as the barn fire.
It turned out that the man, who had a history of suicide attempts, set the Cooksville barn ablaze before hanging himself.
Maj. Wayne Livesay says Jacobs' strengths as a curious-problem solver have made him terrific police officer.
"Chuck's behavior is always consistently professional," Livesay says. "He's willing to learn something from every case he investigates, and he is relentless about solving cases."
Jacobs has also garnered a reputation as the person state and federal police departments contact in Howard County for information about robberies.
Many of the robbery cases Jacobs closed last year led to other arrests and convictions.
In January 1996, employees of the Wendy's in Ellicott City on U.S. 40 were robbed by an armed man in the restaurant's parking lot as they left the building.
Jacobs, suspecting an "inside job," interrogated one Wendy's employee. Jacobs not only got a confession to the robbery, but the suspect told him about a murder, leading homicide detectives to a shallow grave in Baltimore County where a young woman had been buried.
Another man was arrested and charged with the murder. He received a life sentence for the crime.
Also in January, Jacobs interviewed a prisoner who had been brought to Howard from Charles County on robbery charges. During the course of the interview, Jacobs learned that the man had committed another robbery in Laurel.
Through an interrogation and subsequent investigation, Jacobs eventually learned that the man had committed 21 armed robberies in Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Charles counties.
"Being in Violent Crimes is very challenging," Jacobs says. "It's more about trying to piece a puzzle together. And it's great when you call the victims and tell them that the thieves or rapists have been arrested.
"It wasn't my goal to win Police Officer of the Year. I just like what I do."
Other Chamber of Commerce award winners this year are:
Volunteer Firefighter of the Year -- Tim Long.
Career Firefighter of the Year -- Battalion Chief Michael Dorsey.
Police Silver Medal -- Detective Michael Oles and Detective Michael Ensko.
Police Bronze Medal -- Pfc. Kelly Smith.
Police Bronze Medal -- Detective 1st Class Luther M. Johnson III and Deputy U.S. Marshal Rick Henry.
Police Bronze Medal -- Sgt. Frederick McHargue and Officer Matthew Kail.
Deputy Sheriff of the Year -- Deputy David Heck.
State Trooper of the Year -- Trooper Clifford T. Hughes Jr.
Meritorious Service in Telecommunications -- Dispatcher II Sherry L. Gholson.
Distinguished Telecommunicator of the Year -- Dispatcher II Kathryn D. Smith.
State's Attorney Distinguished Service Award -- Eileen McInerney.
In the awards ceremony, the county's Educator of the Year also will be announced. The list of nominees for that award are:
Deborah Drown, Running Brook Elementary School.
Kathleen Glascock, Clarksville Elementary School.
Jeanette Johnson, Gateway School.
M. H. Lankin, Centennial High School.
Helen Mercer, Manor Woods/Pointers Run Elementary Schools.
Gisele Morin-Connolly, Cedar Lane School.
Sam Nissen, Wilde Lake High School.
Diana Stover, Glenelg High School.
At the ceremony, three county educators will receive merit awards. They are:
Nancy Begeny, Northfield Elementary School.
Ann Delacy, Owen Brown Middle School.
Cheri Milrad, Clarksville Elementary School.
Pub Date: 4/22/97