Daniel W. Shea, a veteran detective who spent his last eight years solving murders and other crimes for the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit, died Saturday at home after a five-month battle with lung cancer. He was 42.
Well-read, thoughtful and possessed of an exceptionally dry wit, Danny Shea was as unlikely a candidate for a police career as could be found. A careful student of history and literature, he was as comfortable discussing English poets and Irish rebellions as he was talking about bullet calibers and wound tracks.
"With his mind, he could have done anything," said his wife, the former Susan Fournier. "But he got bit by the bug. He loved police work."
A Baltimore native, Detective Shea joined the city Police Department in 1975, transferred to the homicide unit in 1983, and proved himself one of the ablest investigators in the Criminal Investigations Division.
A veteran of hundreds of crime scenes, one of his most notable investigations followed the shooting death of Officer Vincent Adolpho, an Eastern District officer killed during a 1985 car stop. Detective Shea led a probe that resulted in a first-degree murder conviction of the gunman.
A consummate professional, Detective Shea was as frustrated by his unsolved cases as he was proud of the verdict in the Adolpho prosecution. Until almost the very end of his life, he grappled with the mystery of Elaine Miye Otani, a 26-year-old Morgan State student who was killed in her apartment near the campus.
"Every detective has one case that will bother him for the rest of his life," Detective Shea told a reporter three years ago. "That one is mine."
Detective Shea worked the case off-and-on for years, identifying several potential suspects. To the detective's torment, however, the available evidence was never sufficient to bring about an arrest in the July 19, 1984, slaying. Even so, he continued to review the case file.
That detective's ethic remained with him. Only weeks before his death, when the disease began to leave the detective with periods of confusion, Mrs. Shea returned home one day to find her husband cutting pieces of a blanket with a pair of scissors. Detective Shea said he was taking samples for evidence.
rTC "The work was always in his mind," Mrs. Shea said.
Born to a military family, Detective Shea was educated throughout the country, eventually graduating from Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio in 1967. He joined the Navy that same year, serving as a medical corpsman.
While stationed in Annapolis at the U.S. Naval Academy Hospital for four years, where he ran the operating room, he met Ms. Fournier, who was working as a Navy nurse. Upon his discharge in 1972, the couple married and Detective Shea took a position with the San Antonio Police Department.
In August of 1975, Detective Shea joined the Baltimore department and the couple returned to Maryland. He was assigned to the Eastern District as a patrol officer and served in that capacity until he was promoted to the homicide unit downtown.
An avid sailor, Detective Shea for many years owned his own boat and sailed from Fort Howard. He was a member of the Lady Maryland Foundation, which uses boating trips to teach underprivileged children about sailing, the Chesapeake Bay and themselves.
An amateur artist, the detective specialized in detailed drawings of sailing ships. He was well versed in the history and lore of the Irish people and an enthusiast of traditional Irish music.
Detective Shea was a member of St. Joseph's Church in Fullerton.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Mary Shea, and a son, Padraic Shea, both of Perry Hall; his parents, Dr. William H. H. Shea of Bel Air and Bernadette Lavery Shea of Towson; two sisters, Kathleen Shea of Rockville and Sally Fairbanks of Chicago; and several cousins.
Services were held yesterday. The family suggests that any memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society or that mourners remember Daniel Shea by asking a friend to stop smoking.