After more than 610 months and 45 weeks, the investigation into the killing of Montgomery County Department of Police Special Deputy Sheriff Captain James Tappen Hall has produced an arrest. Better still, detectives have even procured a confession.
On the evening of October 23, 1971, Carolyn Hall Philo remembers her father agreeing to cover a shift for a co-worker at his side gig as a security guard for the Manor Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, she told The Washington Post last month. When MCDP officers rolled out to the business on a call that night, they discovered Hall shot in the back of the head, but alive. Tragically, he succumbed to his injuries in the hospital three days later.
At the time, investigators believed Hall had disrupted a residential burglary and been shot by the thief. They interviewed witnesses and collected evidence, but the case stalled. A year went by with no progress. Then another year and another and another quietly passed. By October 2021, Hall’s shooting was the coldest cold case in the county. But Detective Katie Leggett and Corporal Lisa Killen of the MCDP’s Major Crimes Division Cold Case Unit wouldn’t let the officer’s death go unsolved and officially reopened the 50-year-old homicide.
“They had put together a timeline on the wall, dug through every inch of every case file. They did interviews, they went over old interviews,” retired Captain Reuben Rosario told WTOP News.
Turns out those original reel-to-reel audio tapes revealed critical clues. One person in particular caught their attention. On tape, Leggett and Killen heard Larry David Becker, 19 years old in 1971, discuss details of the shooting that the original investigators withheld from public reports. For example, The Washington Post cited court records stating Becker knew how many times Hall was fired at that night.
Leggett and Killen concluded Becker was at least a person of interest and deserved closer attention. They set out to locate him, hoping he was still alive. The task proved challenging, but they eventually discovered that Becker had changed his name to Larry David Smith.
“Investigators believe that this was done purposefully to avoid any further investigation into his involvement in this offense,” the newspaper wrote, citing court documents.
Finally, the partners located Smith in Little Falls, New York, where he has lived for 45 years. On September 1, they arrived at his home to question him. Instead of conducting an interview, the detectives ended up taking a confession. Smith also waived extradition and agreed to return to Maryland.
“To obtain a confession for someone who committed a crime 51 years ago is a tremendous, tremendous accomplishment,” said Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones at a press conference announcing Smith’s arrest last month.
“I think by the time our main suspect was spoken to, the timeline, the details were pretty much laid out and I believe that excellent work contributed to a confession,” added Rosario, according to WTOP.
At the press conference, MCDP officials walked reporters through the case based on Smith’s confession. Allegedly, he burgled a nearby house; then, en route to his vehicle, which was parked at the country club, he encountered the security guard. Smith said he shot Hall accidentally; however, he has been charged with premediated first-degree murder.
“Jim was ambushed,” Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin declared.
Although detectives continue to gather information for the case against Smith, the agency has now declared its oldest cold case, and the last unsolved one involving the death of a law enforcement professional, closed.
“I just knew somebody was out there,” Philo said, per WTOP. “I don’t want anybody to forget if you are missing a loved one … please don’t give up; please keep after the police department, they’re here to help you. They really do — we found that out.”
As seen in the October 2022 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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