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Thomas M. Muller, innovative director of the Baltimore Police Department Crime Lab, dies

Thomas Muller oversaw the crime lab from 1970 until his retirement in 1996.
Thomas Muller oversaw the crime lab from 1970 until his retirement in 1996.

Thomas M. Muller, former director of the Baltimore Police Department Crime Lab and a saltwater fishing enthusiast, died Feb. 5 from pneumonia at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville. The Severna Park resident was 85.

“Director Muller wanted the best for his lab, and the best for his people. He wanted us to shine,” Karin Lipski, a firearms examiner, said at the time of her retirement in 2018. "And he wasn’t afraid to try new things to solve crimes.”

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Thomas Malcolm Muller, son of Joseph Muller, a Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. grocery store manager, and his wife, Vera McKenzie Muller, a registered nurse, was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida.

He was a graduate of St. Ann’s Catholic School and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Miami. From 1957 to 1958, he served with the Army’s 12th Field Hospital medical laboratory at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and was discharged with the rank of private.

Mr. Muller worked as a crime lab chemist for the Metro-Dade Police Department, which is now the Miami-Dade Police Department, before being named director in 1970 of the Baltimore Police Department’s Crime Laboratory by Commissioner Donald D. Pomerlau.

“His sister told me a story I had not heard before from Dad’s time on the Metro-Dade Police Department," a son, Jeff Muller of Kensington, wrote in an email. “Apparently, there was a young girl murdered and only tire tracks at the crime scene, and an apparent dead end in the case. My aunt says that Dad thought to look under the collar of the girl’s dress and discovered blood there. which led to solving the case.

"I remember him telling me that Pomerlau was unhappy with the backup in the crime lab and how long would it take to get it eliminated,” said Mr. Muller in an interview. “Dad just made up a number and told him ‘six months,’ and he got it done in six months.”

As director, according to a biographical profile, “he transformed Baltimore’s crime lab into a national model, helped form the first national association of crime laboratory directors, and implemented one of the first digital fingerprint recognition systems in the country.”

“He was, for his time, very progressive, and wanted the best technology that was available,” said Sharon Talmadge of Manchester, who began working in the department in 1972 and later became supervisor of the latent fingerprint unit.

It was Mr. Muller’s lab that participated in Drugfire, an electronic database that contained digital images of fired bullets and shell casings.

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“That was a joint test program with the FBI, and Drugfire went all over the world,” Ms. Lipski said. “Drugfire was replaced in 1995 by IBIS, which stands for Integrated Ballistics Identification System, which is now used all over the world.”

He was also progressive with his staff. At the time of his Mr. Muller’s arrival in Baltimore, Commissioner Pomerlau wanted to civilianize the department, replacing sworn officers with civilian employees to enable officers to return to the streets.

“He promoted Sharon Talmadge as the first female supervisor in the crime lab,” said Ms. Lipski, who had started her career in 1988 with the Western District’s mobile crime lab.

“He approved of me getting that job and that was in 1985,” said Ms. Talmadge, who was a forensic scientist at the time she retired in 2017.

Mr. Muller was also known for being hands-on and in touch with the various units that made up the crime lab.

“He’d go to each of the units and make sure he was on top of things, because he wanted to have good conversations with his bosses about the work we were doing," Ms. Talmadge said. “He’d look through microscopes and ask us questions. He was all business in the lab, but when you got to know him, he was friendly.”

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Ms. Lipski said Mr. Muller had “a little bit of a gruff side to him, but I enjoyed him.”

“Some thought he was a little tough, but you need discipline in a lab,” Ms. Talmadge said. “He was not a braggart and if something we were working on became a big story in the newspaper, he’d get angry, and say, ‘That’s what our job is.' ”

She recalled back in the 1980s when the staff would gather in the stairwell for a smoke and a coffee.

“We were able to do that in the building back then, and he’d come and join us. We were like a family,” she said. “He wasn’t the kind of boss who just sat in his office, and he had no problem being with us.

“But he expected the most out of the people he had in the unit,” recalled Ms. Talmadge. “If we did a report and he didn’t like what we had written, he’d red-line it and ask us to do it over again. He was very particular. This wasn’t always a 9-to-5 job, and when we stayed late, we didn’t get paid extra. We did it because he expected us too."

Mr. Muller wasn’t afraid to try something new if an existing policy wasn’t working, Ms. Lipski said.

When the crime lab moved to the new police headquarters building, it was Mr. Muller who handled the blueprints for his relocated lab.

Another achievement of Mr. Muller’s was being a founder of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, which accredited crime labs.

“It made sure the little labs were on their game and up to the standards of what we were already doing in Baltimore,” Ms. Lipski said.

Mr. Muller retired in 1996.

He and his wife, the former Kathleen Antoinette “Toni” Morrell, whom he married in 1965, was a travel agent and co-owner of Severn Travel.

In addition to being a world traveler, Mr. Muller enjoyed playing tennis, golf and racquetball. He had been a Little League coach and patron. He also maintained an interest in history.

“We both liked saltwater fishing, and if I was in his office, the supervisors got nervous and wondered what we were talking about or if something was wrong,” Ms. Lipski said, with a laugh. “I would tell them that it was no big deal and that we were only talking about fishing.”

A memorial visitation will be held at 1 p.m. March 1 at the Barranco Funeral Home, 495 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Muller is survived by another son, Brad Muller of Columbia; a sister, Jeanne Denzer of Clemmons, North Carolina,; and two grandchildren.

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