A Salt Lake police officer and two associates believe a string of homicides has not been adequately investigated and are seeking a federal court order that would force several law enforcement agencies to explain why they haven't acted on information the three men have given them.
Patrolman Frank Hatton-Ward, and former Police Department crime analysts Greg Chase and Jon Ilk say they have leads that could help solve at least five cases of women who were slain in 1985 and 1986, according to their attorney, Fred Wasilewski.Nearly three years ago, the police department organized the Salt Lake Homicide Task Force to investigate those homicides and about a dozen other unsolved killings and disappearances of young women in Utah.
The task force has been dissolved and the killings remain unsolved, though task force detective Jim Bell strongly suspects Paul Ezra Rhoades - a convicted Idaho serial killer - is responsible for many of them.
Hatton-Ward and Chase, however, say they have been able to develop theories that several young women were killed by members or associates of a local gang. But the task force refused to take the leads seriously, said Ilk.
So, the three men took their information to the Salt Lake County sheriff's office in December and to the Salt Lake County attorney's office in February.
Neither of those agencies, however, was willing to tackle the cases, Ilk said. The county attorney's office response was that investigating the cases would be "a hot potato . . . given the political climate," according to a federal court petition Wasilewski has drafted.
Two weeks ago, Hatton-Ward, Chase and Ilk went to the Utah attorney general's office but have not received a positive response.
"Somebody's got to speak on behalf of the victims of these homicides. And nobody seems to want to but us," said Ilk, who headed the Crime Analysis Unit, of which Chase was a member until the unit was disbanded last July. Ilk, who has left the department for health reasons, has been encouraging Hatton-Ward and Chase to pursue information they have obtained regarding the slayings.
The three men, in consultation with Wasilewski, then decided to petition the federal court for a "writ of mandamus," which Wasilewski planned to file Monday in U.S. District Court.
The petition asks the court to order the police department, the sheriff's office and the county attorney's office to appear in court to explain why they "refuse or neglect to interview all material witnesses and investigate said homicides."
Filing the writ is the last resort for Hatton-Ward, Chase and Ilk, who believe that petty jealousies among some of the police department's homicide detectives have blinded the task force.
"(The task force detectives) have totally ignored information that we have given them," said Ilk. No one has ever bothered to sit down and discuss information, developed primarily by Hatton-Ward, said Ilk.
According to Ilk, Hatton-Ward became interested in the slayings shortly after James Sherard killed a woman during a burglary in January 1987. Sherard, 20, a former member of a gang, is serving a life sentence for capital murder. An informant told Hatton-Ward that the knife Sherard used in that homicide was the same weapon used in the killing of a teenage girl.
After hearing that, the task force asked Chase to put together a link chart on Sherard's gang affiliation. Chase worked with Hatton-Ward in analyzing intelligence.
During the latter part of 1987, Ilk said, Chase, Hatton-Ward and Ilk were, for some unknown reason, cut off from any further involvement in the investigations.
Police Maj. Ed Johnson said Monday, however, that he never ordered anyone not to investigate the cases. "They said I told them to stay out of it? That's very interesting. I'd like to know about that."
In April 1988, Hatton-Ward and Chase, without the knowledge of the homicide task force but with the permission of their superiors, interviewed Sherard at the prison. Sherard said he knew who killed one of the women and described how it happened, Ilk said.
Sherard also hinted that he knew about three other killings.
When Hatton-Ward took a tape of the interview to his captain, O.J. Peck, who is now a major, Peck said it was "big and important" and called the detective captain.
Last July, the Crime Analysis Unit was disbanded by Johnson, who was acting chief in the absence of Bud Willoughby, who had retired for health reasons. Ilk believes the unit was disbanded because of shortsightedness and jealousy.
After being reassigned to the rec-ords office, Chase was ordered by Johnson to have nothing more to do with the homicides, Ilk said. But he and Hatton-Ward continued to look into their theories anyway.
An informant told Hatton-Ward about two homicides that Sherard and his gang might have knowledge about.
On Oct. 3, Hatton-Ward and fellow officer Randy Mark went to the prison to reinterview Sherard, who talked more about four Utah homicides and one Littleton, Colo., case.
Two days later, Hatton-Ward's superior, Capt. Aaron Kennard, apparently under the orders of Johnson, told Hatton-Ward to stay out of the investigations.
"I realize you have great concerns for the information you have developed and . . . that you feel enough is not being done on these investigations. However . . . you are no longer to be involved in the investigative process." The letter orders Hatton-Ward to turn over any information he receives to the detective division.
Kennard's letter, however, stands in contrast to one he sent to Johnson on Aug. 23. In that letter, Kennard wrote:
"If personalities can be removed from the process, I would suggest that either a homicide detective or county attorney investigator pick officer Frank Hatton-Ward's mind and review everything he has (in) reference to these homicides and the . . . gang."
Said Chase, "All we wanted is for someone to look at what we have. We admit that we don't have hard evidence to convict anybody. And we're not saying that Rhoades maybe didn't kill some women in Utah.
"But there are leads that need to be followed up. And no one around (the police department) wants to do it."
Johnson said Hatton-Ward's information has been inconclusive. "There's nothing there for a complaint. Everything he has brought to us has been investigated."