The search for the killers of Baltimore millionaire J. Schuyler "Sky" Alland was at a standstill in the summer of 1992. Whoever executed the businessman for his $80,000 black BMW apparently had gotten away with murder -- not to mention the car.
U.S. Park Police Detective Timothy M. Squires was handling the first murder of his career, but he made a bold promise.
"He promised that he would find these guys," said Dorothy Alland Leighton, Mr. Alland's mother. "He said, 'Even when I retire, I'll continue to work on this case with no pay until I find who killed your son.' "
His promise was fulfilled Wednesday when federal prosecutors wrapped up an intricate nationwide investigation into the February 1992 murder with the conviction of the killer, John Graham Bridges, 30, of Norfolk, Va. A co-defendant, Robert Patrick Gray, 25, of Cockeysville pleaded guilty Nov. 5.
"For a long time, we had no leads. All we had was a wealthy businessman shot to death by the side of the road," said Detective Squires, 40. "We checked everything from secret societies at his old fraternity to rival business owners in Chicago. We were determined not to give up."
Detective Squires' partner, Sgt. Peter W. Markland, 39, also was working his first murder.
"We worked all day until we were too tired to work. Then we'd go home and go to sleep, and get up and go back to work. It was either solve the case or die trying," he said.
On the face of it, the case seemed simple enough: Locate the BMW, and the killers couldn't be far behind. But it proved to be far from easy.
Finding out who took the car meant spending months following the computer information highway of telephone and credit card records.
U.S. Park Police, who spend their days patrolling federal parks and highways, rarely investigate murders. But Mr. Alland, 34, was slain at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, a federal property in Prince George's County. That made it a Park Police case.
Mr. Alland's body was found face up by the side of Powder Mill Road, about three miles from his highly successful business, Sky Alland Research Inc. in Laurel. He was still wearing the Brooks Brothers suit he had worn to an executive meeting earlier that night. The killer had shot him once in the back of the neck with a .357-caliber handgun.
Mr. Alland had been abducted from the parking lot as he left work. The only clue came from a 12-year-old girl who lived in the area, who said that on several days before the murder, two men sat in a car watching the victim's BMW 750iL.
For eight months, Detectives Squires and Markland, both veterans of more than 15 years with the Park Police, delved deep into Mr. Alland's background.
A self-made millionaire who lived in North Baltimore's Homeland section, Mr. Alland was an all-American success story. He graduated with honors from the University of Virginia and started a research business that conducted customer-satisfaction surveys for car dealers.
The company, which Mr. Alland started in his living room, quickly grew to 140 employees. It attracted business from nearly every major car company, including Chrysler, BMW, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Audi and Cadillac. At the time of his death, Mr. Alland was insured by his company for $4 million.
The detectives looked into the insurance angle. They visited the college fraternity he had belonged to more than a dozen years before. They checked the background of a man he once testified against in court. They checked the alibis of rival business owners. They looked for records of BMWs shipped overseas. Because Mr. Alland was a bachelor, they checked the background of every woman he'd ever dated, as well as their boyfriends, current and past.
They spent countless hours sifting through telephone records, trying to learn who had called the Citibank office in Sioux Falls, S.D., a few days after the murder in a clumsy attempt to get a cash advance on Mr. Alland's stolen MasterCard.
A break in the case
Then, on Oct. 10, nearly eight months after the murder, the detectives got their break. An anonymous caller telephoned police and said Mr. Alland's BMW was in a parking lot in Englewood, N.J., just outside New York City.
Police found the car, but it had been wiped clean and provided no clues.
Acting on a hunch that an unwitting buyer had ditched the car after discovering that it was "hot," the detectives ordered a special search of the National Crime Information Computer system.
The system, available only to authorities, provides data on stolen cars that can be obtained by checking a vehicle's identification number. The detectives ran a search to learn if anyone had queried the identification number of Mr. Alland's BMW recently.
Someone had -- Charles Brown, a New York City police officer who worked at the department's impound lot in Flushing, N.Y.