Minutes after multiple gunshots rang out at the Shaker Square Apartments the night of Aug. 19, 2015, the cellphone belonging to Whitehall Sgt. John Grebb rang.

It wasn't the first time in 2015 that Grebb would learn someone had been killed within city limits, and it would not be the last in a year in which Whitehall would record nine homicides.

"You hope it ends -- you can't wait for it to end," Grebb said last week while recalling that year's remarkable string of homicides.

The call Grebb received that night was about a crime more grisly than even he expected: a triple homicide at an apartment at 7701 Olde Bailey Way.

"I've been in a bureau a long time. We have one or two (homicides) a year, sometimes none, but it went from being unusual to almost becoming common (in 2015)," said Grebb, 48, who joined Whitehall police in 1997 and became a detective in 2000.

It would require an investment of almost 18 months, but detectives would unearth enough evidence to achieve a grand jury indictment against a 21-year-old man who was arrested Jan. 19, charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.

The arrest last month of Daveron Cortez Minnis, who lives on Chittenden Avenue in Columbus, meant Whitehall police had made an arrest in eight of the city's nine homicides in 2015.

No arrest was possible in a ninth homicide in which the suspect committed suicide after fatally shooting a woman inside a Saint Rita Lane residence -- only nine days prior to the triple slaying at Shaker Square.

The Whitehall Police Department's six-member detective bureau, including Grebb as its supervisor, also made arrests in the city's two homicides in 2016.

"I've worked with a lot of detective agencies, and after seeing first-hand the work our detectives do, I can tell you something special is going on here," said Police Chief Mike Crispen, who was named chief in September after a 23-year career with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

"I'll come to work early in the morning and see one of the detectives with red eyes from being up all night. They don't stop; they are relentless," Crispen said.

'Thrill of the hunt'

Despite the sometimes-troublesome nature of the work, Grebb and the other detectives said it feels good to achieve closure, both for themselves and the victim's families

"I get calls -- we all do -- on most of our cases from families (of victims) thanking us for our work," said detective John Dickey, 49, who joined Whitehall police full time in 1998 and became a detective in 2014.

Detectives said adrenaline rushes and a drive to bring the guilty to justice also motivate them.

"The thrill of the hunt" is how detective Lee McKittrick, 40, a 15-year police veteran, described it.

McKittrick is the newest member of the bureau, joining the team in late 2015.

Although one detective might lead a homicide case, practically every case bears the fingerprints of all the detectives.

"None of it happens in a vacuum ... all of us work on (almost) every case," said detective Mark Hopper, 48, who joined the bureau in 2013.

Hopper has been a Whitehall police officer since 1993.

Like each of his colleagues, Hopper said the opportunity for a new challenge was a catalyst for becoming a detective.

"There is more depth (than in patrol) ... There is some follow-up (in patrol) but when your shift is over, you get out (of the cruiser) and you are usually finished until the next day," Hopper said.

The desire to participate in investigations that sometimes begin in the patrol bureau, such as burglaries and robberies, motivated detective Scott Miller, 40, who has been a police officer since 2000 and joined the Whitehall bureau in 2013.

"I wanted a different challenge (and) to see the end result (of investigations)," Miller said.

Grebb said being a detective is an "earned position" and requires a perfect blend of work ethic, attention to detail, investigative skill, empathy and other traits.

"It certainly takes an above-average officer," said Grebb, who interviews would-be detectives and makes recommendations to the police chief.

Going deeper

Being a detective requires using people skills at a deeper level, Grebb said.

"Every case has its own set of facts. You don't want to question the victim, but you must sometimes question the facts," Grebb said about working cases in which a victim of a robbery or assault appears to have something to hide.

Knowing about the victim of a homicide, Grebb said, is especially important when a suspect is not immediately known.

"Why were they at this specific place in the middle of the night?" Grebb asked.

Often, the story will change.

"In the first few hours, the story goes that he's a saint ... but the deeper you go, you learn that isn't always the case," Grebb said.

Even how facts are recounted is critical.

 

Detective Lou Spezialetti, 50, joined the department in 1991 and has been a detective since 2007, often handling sexual-abuse cases.

Spezialetti recalled cases in which adult family members denied allegations of sexual abuse made by children.

"But the terms the child will use to describe what happened, they wouldn't know unless they experienced it," said Spezialetti, adding he makes an effort not to let such stories seep too deeply into his mind.

Grebb, too, said the humanity of their job is always at the surface.

"Notifications (of death) are horrible," he said.

"You knock on their door and they are not expecting to see you; they're expecting a loved one to be coming home ... but we have to tell them (someone) has been the victim of a murder.

"It's hurtful when we can't answer every question (about how a victim died) ... but we tell them as much as we can," Grebb said.

Grebb said while each detective works independently, they work equally well together, though getting all of them in one place at the same time can be like "cat-wrangling," Grebb said.

Team members credit crime analyst Kellie McKinley, their "den mom," with keeping the bureau's office orderly and efficient.

"It's an experienced (team of detectives)," Grebb said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo