"The Long Track
Tracking a suspect who had dug a grave in his home's crawl-space was for his wife. We caught him by tracking all through town before he could put it into use.
The Long Track
Getting called out in the middle of the night when I had my police service dog (PSD) Marco was something that didn’t bother me at the time. In fact, I would usually get a little angry if I ever found out that Jerry; my counterpart K-9 handler, got called out and he had made an arrest on a drug bust or an apprehension or successful ‘bad guy’ track with his K-9 partner. Jerry didn’t get called out too often late at night because of me being assigned to the night shift but on my days off this could happen.
Well this particular evening it was only about 8 PM on my day off and Jerry was not available when my Captain called me at home and said that the Aurora police department had a guy they thought was holed up under a
house and that agency was requesting the SWAT team. The Captain didn’t think that it fit the criteria for the SWAT team callout so he wanted me to go over to Aurora and evaluate if the Team would later be needed but mainly to see if my police dog Marco and I could assist. Drug Interdiction
This was something that would frequently occur with me having the position as the Team Leader for one of the six Troop Area SWAT teams. He was right about the request not meeting the strict criteria needed to get the SWAT team to deploy. I learned that a guy named Troy Nells had severely beaten up his wife at their residence, then had dug a hole about two feet deep into the basement earth by first busting the thin concrete floor and then digging up the earth. He had then placed a tall file cabinet up right in this hole and had told his wife this was going to be her coffin. She luckily escaped the three bedroom home in the south east part of town and promptly made it to the hospital and they called the police department. When the police arrived to arrest Nells he fled down into the basement and then crawled into a crawl space. This basement was not for the entire home so the crawl space afforded him an opportunity to get away in this narrow confined space. All of this information is what the Captain had explained to me by phone and when I arrived I asked one of the police officers there, Mike Hawthorn where this guy was as I entered the basement walking past the makeshift grave and coffin. Mike pointed into the crawl space about two and a half feet tall but was probably twenty by twenty in space.
By the time I had arrived, the police had a couple lamps with their shades pulled off down in the area lighting up the dirty space. There were the typical obstacles like some air ducts as well as some insulation strips lying down in the area and when I asked Mike where this guy supposedly was, he pointed in to the far end and said “That’s him there.” As he said this, all I could see in this area was several pieces of insulation in a bundle so I assumed this guy was trying to naturally hide. I mean hell; he’s got those bright lights pointing at him so he just as well hide. Not to mention the police were kind of an obstacle to this guy too.
I asked Mike, “Have you been here the entire time this guy fled under there?” “Yeah…pretty much.” he responded. “So you have left though” I said. I wanted to confirm that this guy had to be in this area unless he knew how to tunnel to China. But when Mike explained he had left once or twice when they were getting the lights set up but knew that the stairway was the only way Nells could get out of the basement area and he was positive that Nells had not came upstairs through the kitchen he assumed he had to still be there. After watching the insulation for several minutes and never seeing it move, I was kind of worried this guy was not there. But I was there with a police tool and we were gonna let that police tool do his work.
Of course the tool I’m talking about is Marco so I went and got him. But not before calling my Captain, explaining the situation to him, confirming with him that it did indeed NOT fit the criteria for a SWAT callout and that I was going to yell my commands to the suspect (Nells) and if he didn’t give up then I was going to deploy Marco. He agreed, we talked and he hung up the phone.
I got Marco from the patrol unit and walked him to the rear entry to the house. When I came into the home, Marco was naturally riled up because he knew there was action just ‘around the corner’. We walked down the concrete and stone steps with Marco pulling hard on his leash and making
his “you’re choking me to death” sound. This sound frequented Marco’s arrival quite often as he pulled so hard against the leash attached to his metal link collar. When we got downstairs, I knew I was going to have to lift Marco about four feet to the crawl space and then I would make my commands.
Naturally Marco didn’t like it much when he was lifted completely off the ground. But he allowed it; He would allow it by generally looking back and me and snarl as I would hold onto his neck and collar with my left hand and
with my right hand and mainly arm lift up his rear up into the desired place. The desired place was this brightly lit space. As Marco was now lying on the dirt ground but actually right at my chest level because I had not yet crawled up into the space yet. I calmed Marco by stroking his back with my right hand as my left held onto his collar. We had no idea if this lunatic was armed so it was not long after I calmed Marco that I drew my .45 caliber Model 21 Glock sidearm and yelled my commands. “…Sound off…or I’ll send my police dog!” I yelled two times.
These commands always fired Marco up but he didn’t break his obedience of staying in a down prone position. Meaning that he didn’t run off until he was given the command. It did help that I was still holding onto his collar with my left hand I’ll admit. When I did command Marco to make his entry, to seek, to find, to hunt, to apprehend, he ran off with incredible speed and agility. But not in the desired direction. Instead of heading for the pile of insulation, he turned right, in the direction around a corner of the basement crawl space structure. I quickly called Marco back which he did and I proned him out in his original spot. I pointed with my left hand over his head toward the insulation heap and simultaneously gave him the command again to enter.
Again Marco ran to the right quickly out of my sight. I called him back and I begrudgingly entered the crawl space on my hands and knees but for all intense purposes I was pretty much sliding on my stomach. As both Marco and I kind of ‘low-crawled’ closer to this insulation, I felt apprehension as this was quite a vulnerable spot for me, but also felt as if this Nells guy was not in this location anyway. As both Marco and I got there, I moved away the insulation with Marco ready to pounce and I located it. Yes, I had located exactly what I thought was there. Nothing. Nells was not there.
I yelled this out to Hawthorn and Marco and I moved in the direction Marco had originally went. I soon learned there was a large hole in the foundation wall in this hidden area that led directly to the outside yard.
It was tracking time. I didn’t even want to attempt to surrey through this hole especially with my gun belt and all the equipment on this belt, so I leashed up Marco, we crawled out onto the basement floor, and ran upstairs. By this time other officers were there and we found the hole on the outside of the house. I saw footprints in the partially snow covered ground and knew we were gonna have to get started. Who knows how long this Nells guy has been gone I thought. I knew it was impractical for me to try and track this guy or anyone with only the short four foot leash I had, so Marco and I jogged back to my squad and got Marco’s thirty foot tracking line. We jogged quickly back to the “hole wall” and I met up with officer Tony Cordova and told him to back me up on the track. I gave the quick rules and we were off. Marco was pulling so hard on this long leash that once and a while I would slip on the icy snowy ground. We tracked through yards, over sidewalks, down driveways and eventually made it to 13th street. As we walked down this street sometimes on the sidewalk and other times directly on the cobblestone street.
Marco would once and a while lose the track. Many times he would re-find it and we would be off. Once and a while if he ‘lost’ the track and couldn’t get back on it, I would command him lie down and I would look around. Once I got lucky and saw a foot print and Marco was off again. The ground was not completely covered with snow which would make it easy for anyone to track a guy, let alone a police dog. The snow was very light and had started to fall from the sky covering anything that had been made by Nells or anyone else for that matter.
We made it block after block heading north until we were within blocks of a local business known at the time as Aurora Plumbing. This would be a
location that ironically years later I would be in twice again; once for a search warrant and the second for a methamphetamine lab warrant. But on this night, I had no idea about the owner of the business but while on the track and seeing the direction we were heading, the Chief said he thought we would probably end up at Aurora plumbing. And sure enough minutes later we did. I asked the Chief why he suspected Nells would end up here and he said that Nells hung around the owner Wade Rowsch and that Nells helped Rowsch in the past at Aurora Plumbing. So I advised everyone that since the track ended at the garage door which was connected to the building on the alley side, we would call the owner and get the keys.
The dispatch made a call to Rowsch at home and he soon arrived. We were all in the front of the building and I asked Rowsch if there should be anyone inside the building and he said “Definitely not.” So I asked for the key and told the officers the game plan.
After they understood the plan I had Marco lay down near the doorway and I had several officers behind me to make entry if needed. I slowly unlocked the door pushed the door open. Marco’s ears perked up and his breathing was hard as I held him back from making an early entry. I held him by his collar and loudly yelled my commands. “…sound off or I’ll send in the dog!” Marco immediately got really fired up now. He knew the game. I yell, he goes in and if the bad guy resists or runs, he catches bad guy. I yelled it again. No answer. One more time I yelled it and after no response I sent Marco in.
Marco ran inside and within seconds I heard the all too obvious of a ‘bad guy in distress’ signal. As I heard someone screaming and the dog also making noise we made entry with guns out. Right inside the first room with our flashlights illuminating the suspect we saw Marco had the man. The guy was Nells dressed in coveralls and standing upright with Marco attached to his left arm. We tactically got into positions of cover and I yelled the next commands; ”Stand still…hands up…Plotz!” Marco kept on fighting. Again I yelled this command. And again Marco kept fighting and biting this guy. Marco was standing up on his rear legs wrapping his front legs around the suspect all the time having his mouth latched onto Nells’ arm.
At first, I was a little worried now with Marco not obeying the commands and then I saw the reason why. Nells was trying to pry Marco’s bottom jaw off his arm fighting and resisting the K-9. Nells was obviously hyped up on methamphetamine or something else so I compromised and now yelled at Nells directly. “Let go of the dog’s jaw or he’s gonna keep biting you!” Immediately Nells let go of Marco’s jaw and I yelled the “Stands still” command and Marco let go of his arm immediately went to the floor, layed down and repeatedly barked at Nells. I yelled at Nells to step slowly from the counter away from the dog and walked him near an officer.
It was Tony Cordova the same guy who had been with me during the entire track out in the cold dark night. Tony cuffed up Nells and I hooked up the leash to Marco and we exited the building but only first searching the rest of the building for anyone else illegally inside. No one was found inside and we all visited outside the building.
Nells was taken to the hospital and sutchered up on his arm and his hand from the two seperate bites. The police department was sure proud and in awe of how Marco did his job. Little did they know that I was in awe of how he did his job too.