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Cloyd Steiger retired from the Seattle Police Department in 2016, after 36 years on the force and 22 on the department's homicide squad. His book, Homicide: A View From Inside The Yellow Tape, retells many of the highlights of his career as a police officer. (Photo: Courtesy of Cloyd Steiger)

The serial killer was cooperative. While in prison on a robbery charge, he had even put himself on the cops’ radar, by saying he had seen the woman die, and offering specific details of the crime scene. At first he claimed the killer was some other person named “Mike Smith”—a name so general as to be meaningless to the veteran investigators.

After some intelligent interviewing, it became clear that the supposed witness himself was really the killer. The confessions included a gradual unraveling of the brutal slayings he had committed. The killer’s demeanor when he described his crimes would change, his eyes flaring and his voice going guttural. At one point, well into the investigation, the detective asked whether the killer had a specific plan in midst of his encounter with his second victim.

“Murder, man!” the killer hollered, jubilant. “Murder, murder, murder, murder!”

It was perhaps the most chilling moment of a career investigating some of the most depraved crimes imaginable for Cloyd Steiger, the Seattle Police Department detective in that room.

The DeWayne Lee Harris arrest is one of the most infamous cases in Steiger’s new memoir, Homicide: A View From Inside the Yellow Tape. But the memoir includes an unflinching look at highlights of 22 years on Seattle’s homicide squad (and 36 total years with the Seattle PD).

The cover of Homicide: The View From Inside The Yellow Tape, a memoir by Cloyd Steiger. (Image: Courtesy of Cloyd Steiger)

The book includes middle-of-the-night calls to scenes of horror, and also the breakneck pace of hunting down the most dangerous people in society before they can strike again.

“Anybody that does this work can identify with this,” said Steiger, in an interview recently with Forensic Magazine.

Steiger, retired from the Seattle PD in 2016, is now the Chief Criminal Investigator of the Washington State Attorney General’s Homicide Investigation Tracking System (HITS).

The memoir is as much a reckoning with the depravity of some parts of society as it is recounting the toughest and most high-profile cases of a veteran detective in one of America’s major cities. 

Written in quick-hit chapters, with short paragraphs and lots of dialogue, the narrative quickly takes the reader along some of the thrill of the chase, and the satisfaction of discovery.

Steiger describes himself as a “seat of the pants” kind of detective. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a scientific process: going through a list of the crime scene duties, and the known associates of the victim, or other must-have details. In his story, Steiger describes developing the experience to avoid pitfalls and time wasters, when justice is on the line, he said. 

Cloyd Steiger (front row, center) at his graduation from the police academy. (Photo: Courtesy of Cloyd Steiger)

“You have to be thorough and methodical—but I’m not boxing myself in to a certain order or routine,” said Steiger. “Some guys go through: next thing on the list, check it off, move onto the next thing, check it off … The problem with that is, you can’t adapt as information comes in. You don’t have to go down rabbit holes on stuff that’s completely unnecessary on the case, as opposed to following where the lead takes you.”

The ability to adapt and “think outside of the box” is something that cracked cases along the way—from the “grounders” (the easy ones where the killer is caught by patrol officers), to true “whodunits.” Steiger culled from hundreds of pages of reports, and hours upon hours of his actual interviews of murderers and witnesses over 22 years. Some of the highlights:

  • Harris, the aforementioned serial killer, was apprehended for slaying three women with “street lifestyles” in the forested area of east Seattle known as “The Jungle.” Steiger and the other detectives quickly noted that the three victims all had shoelaces prominent within the scene: untied on their feet in two of the cases, and used as binding in the third. (They eventually found a fourth, a teen prostitute who was tied up but not killed.) Steiger recounts the leads they tracked down in 1998 that went nowhere—until Harris put himself on the radar. Steiger recounts having to juggle the personal and the professional during the case’s development, leaving his son’s wrestling tournament and leaving a doctor’s appointment during crucial breaks in the investigation. With the interrogation, it was a matter of just allowing Harris to build himself up into recounting the crimes with the same twisted anger he had at the moment of committing them, according to the account.
  • The murder of Francis “Patrick” Fleming in his apartment in December 2011 was a true “whodunit.” Steiger and the other investigators tracked down the people who knew the elderly veteran—but they initially had no suspects or motives. But eventually it was through tracking a fraudster who had victimized Fleming’s friend that led to a related fraud and theft ring in a Seattle suburb. It also led right to Fleming’s missing coin collection—and the three people who together robbed Fleming and stabbed him to death. It culminated with DNA evidence, and an insistent interview of the follower in the plot. Three received prison sentences. “Murder investigations are a process of exclusion,” Steiger writes. “You have a virtual pot of everything that ‘could have’ happened. They can’t all be true, so the early part of a case like this is throwing out all the things that didn’t happen, or the people who didn’t do it. Hopefully, in the end, you’ll be left with the actual solution.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Cloyd Steiger)
  • The executions of three men without criminal histories on the streets of Seattle in 2014 eventually led to the suspect—all the way across the country, in New Jersey. Ali Muhammad Brown had allegedly gunned down Leroy Henderson, Ahmed Said and Dwone Anderson-Young on the West Coast before heading east to New Jersey. Within weeks, he had committed an attempted carjacking in the Shore town of Point Pleasant, and then randomly murdered 19-year-old Brendan Tevlin in West Orange, outside Newark. Steiger and his New Jersey counterparts first made the link to Brown in Seattle using a bloody palmprint identified in AFIS, then through firearms evidence which connected the crimes. Steiger was part of the interviews in which he and the other detectives brought out a confession of Brown, based on his jihadist motives for the killings. The Seattle detective and others played to Brown’s faith, in an attempt to understand the killer’s mind—while also having him establish his own guilt. Brown was convicted last month of the Tevlin murder—and is expected to be transported back to Seattle to face the other three murder counts. 
  • The New Year’s Eve 2007 stabbing murder of Shannon Harps on the street outside her home also catalogues the systemic difficulties facing the investigator. At first, Steiger and other police interviewed a transient near the scene who was flipping beer bottle caps. They got a voluntary cheek swab of DNA from the man. While the lab processed it and other forensic evidence, the detectives spent days tracking down other leads—particularly a witness-generated sketch that led to another man eventually eliminated through DNA. It was only then that the original transient’s DNA was matched to the murder weapon. James Williams was an ex-con whose genetic profile had somehow never been uploaded into CODIS, leading to a few extra dead-ends for Steiger and his partner along the way.
  • One recurring character is a jailhouse informant Steiger only refers to as “Paul.” The in-again, out-again cooperative prisoner is one who helped put together a handful of breakthroughs documented in the book.
  • Another high-profile case that Steiger documents was of a homicide detective who stood accused of stealing, then returning, thousands in cash from a crime scene. Steiger, who reported the theft, found himself in a tough professional spot early in his stint on the homicide squad—but weathered the storm.
  • Funny anecdotes and dialogue pepper the narrative. One time Steiger improvised an oath sworn on a witness’s Catholic rosary (he’s Protestant). Another time he administered a “lie detector” test to another witness—using a metal detector that had been lying just outside the interrogation room. The “polygraph” led to a confession.

Overall, the ups-and-downs of the murder-solving business show that while the Emerald City may not have the numbers that other major metropolitan areas do, it has a variety unmatched by some other high-crime communities.

“In Seattle, we don’t necessarily have that quantity, but we have ‘quality,’” said Steiger. “Interesting, different cases, serial murders—things like that.”

Death infuses the book, even the deaths of his father and siblings during the course of his career. There are also the parental worries for two of his sons who joined the Seattle PD, just before some on-duty officers were murdered in recent years.

Also included are the day-to-day pressures of the job: fitting the hours required to catch the bad guys into his ongoing family and personal life, and missing holidays and family events due to the rigor of years on the job.

In his role with the state, Steiger is still catching criminals using his decades of expertise. But now his lifestyle is a little bit different, working for the Washington State Attorney General, he said.

“I know what time I’m going home everyday,” said Steiger. “I never get called in the middle of the night, I never work weekends, I never work 30 hours straight. It’s hugely different.”

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