For decades, retired Toledo Police Detective Frank Stiles carried a misfired bullet on his keychain, a memento of his close brush with death.
One day nearly 50 years ago, Stiles had a handgun rammed up against his stomach by a thief named Willie Kirk, who’d just stolen six pairs of slacks from the former downtown Lion store.
The detective still remembers the look in Kirk’s eyes, bloodshot and murderous.
“He kept shaking it,” Stiles, who caught up to Kirk outside the store, said of the gun. “He wanted to shoot me.”
Why didn’t he?
It turns out Kirk tried. The bullet was marked by the firing pin, but didn’t fire.
The detective’s eyes were bright and his face was fierce as he recalled the incident that’s still vivid in his mind.
Kirk, he said, was destined to kill.
Years later, Kirk and a prostitute, Ella Mullins, savagely beat an elderly man. dumped him in bed, and set it on fire.
Stiles recounts in his latest book, A Collection of True Crime StoriesCity Soldiers: (Outskirts Press, Inc., 196 pages, paperback, $16), how police work can flash from mundane to deadly in an instant.
The book is about Toledo’s hero cops, those who have been wounded or killed in the line of duty.
Like his previous novels, Evil Brothers and Blind Trust, City Soldiers is based on real crimes.
It offers vignettes about a number of cases, their investigations, and how the crimes in each impacted families and their victims.
“I wanted to give a slice of all those cases,” he said.
Stiles is a storyteller, and his telling is in the details. As in his novels, he puts the reader at the scene of the crime. Sometimes the use of police jargon threatens the dramatic flow, but it adds authenticity to the narrative.
After 50 years of writing reports, Stiles said that visualizing action comes naturally to him by reviewing a case.
“I am putting myself right there,” he said. “I know how it feels.”
The book is a testament to the dangers of police work and the long-range effects that crime has on both victims and criminals. Stiles not only delivers exciting tales, but he also provides insight to the officers’ thoughts as they faced danger and tracked down criminals.
Most of the stories come from the years Stiles worked felony cases. He served 23 of his 25 years on the force as an investigator in the Detective Bureau. From there, he worked as loss prevention director for Lion stores, and now is the chief investigator for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s office.
He has boxes of case files handy in a storage room near his home office.
Stiles spent 18 months writing City Soldiers in his spare time, relying on those files, Blade newspaper articles, public records, personal interviews, and other sources. “I researched everything I could get my hands on,” he said.
Prominent in his book is a case he didn’t investigate, the 2007 shooting of detective Keith Dressel by a teenage suspected drug dealer.
The police force drew together in a massive effort, solving the case in 16 hours with the arrest of 15-year-old Robert Jobe.
“I was very impressed with how the Dressel case was investigated,” he said. “It is an example of what police can do when working together.”
The Dressel case brought back memories of the execution-style slaying of Officer William Miscannon on Sept. 18, 1970.
Set against the backdrop of civil rights tensions, Miscannon was shot in the head while sitting in his police wagon. John McClellan, who was associated with the Black Panthers, was arrested and charged with murder. Two trials resulted in hung juries, and the charge against McClellan was dismissed.
Most officers, Stiles, says, can go through their careers without shooting their weapons.
Others, such as Sgt. Keith Miller, engaged in gunfire three times and was critically wounded once.
Even routine traffic stops can turn deadly.
Officers Robert Maxwell and Bradley Weis were wounded by a barrage of shotgun blasts into their car. Photos of the car display a hailstorm of bullet dents: If the shooter, Toney Jackson, had been a little closer, the officers would have been killed, Stiles said.
Other times, officers had to charge into danger, as when Joseph Chappell led police on a bloody rampage through West Toledo, or when Richard Dale Carr II shot his neighbors, leading to a standoff with police and the heroic rescue of visiting grandchildren still in the house.
Stiles ends the book with a listing of the 30 officers who have died in the line of duty since 1880.
He said his motivation for writing is to help record local history. City Soldiers is available for sale at Barnes & Noble book stores, the Toledo Police Museum, or via links on the detective’s website, www.frankstiles.com.