Leon N. Tomlin, a retired city police commander who successfully fought 1970s drug traffickers and later led security for Pope John Paul II's Oct. 8, 1995 visit, died Wednesday of a heart attack at Garrett County Memorial Hospital in Oakland. The Deep Creek Lake resident, who lived for many years in Northeast Baltimore's Hamilton, was 63.
Among the highlights of his 38 years in the city Police Department -- he rose through the ranks to be a deputy commissioner, the department's second-in-command -- was his role in the 1992 capture of killer Dontay Carter, whose car and hostage Mr. Tomlin spotted.
Born in Baltimore and raised on North Port Street in East Baltimore, Commissioner Tomlin was a 1957 graduate of Polytechnic Institute. He earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore.
He joined the Police Department in April 1960 as a Northern District beat patrolman. In 1971, after becoming a sergeant three years earlier, he was named the head of the narcotics squad in the criminal investigation division. There, he helped send some of that era's most-publicized heroin dealers -- Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams, John E. "Liddie" Jones, and James Westley "Big Head Brother" Carter -- to prison.
"He was a prince, a genius in his way, cool and collected," said Donald K. Matthews, a retired police officer and friend who lives in Northwest Baltimore. "He could look over a situation and assess it with the insights of a thinking person. He was an excellent judge of character. And there was never a better man. He was affable and funny."
He became a major in 1981 and a colonel five years later. He was deputy commissioner in the mid-1990s before his retirement in 1998. After his narcotics assignment, he headed the neighborhood patrol bureau, the property and special operations division.
In January 1992, while driving to a medical appointment in an unmarked black Buick, then-Colonel Tomlin saw a man jump from the trunk of a car at Madison and Ensor streets. He stopped his vehicle and went to the aid of Douglas Legenhausen, a jeweler who had been taken hostage by fleeing killer Dontay Carter, one of the most pursued criminals in the city's history. Within minutes, after a police chase, Carter was under arrest.
"Whether it was Dontay Carter or anyone else, my father had a keen eye and a strong sense of duty," said his son, Nicholas J. Tomlin of Bridgeport, Ohio. "He was a police officer first and a colonel second."
As his department's deputy commissioner, he headed the security arrangements for Pope John Paul II's visit to Baltimore.
Commissioner Tomlin enjoyed freshwater fishing and was a member of the Maryland Fly Anglers.
He was also a member of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Oakland, where he belonged to the Knights of Columbus. He was a board member of the Oakland Country Club. He was a founder of the Eastside Athletic Club.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at noon tomorrow at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5300 N. Charles St., after an honor guard ceremony at 10:45 a.m. at the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.
He is also survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Constance Jean Lucas; another son, Mark L. Tomlin, Port Deposit's police chief; a brother, Robert L. Tomlin of St. Louis; a sister, M. Elizabeth Rea of Littleton, Colo.; and five grandchildren.