Chief Brewster tracking four mysterious deaths in Genesee County
As Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster and his investigation team in the Genesee County Sheriff's Office get seemingly closer to making an arrest in 2005 shooting death of Bill Fickel, that headline-grabbing, unsolved murder isn't the only mysterious death that keeps the 35-year veteran awake at night.
The other names that haunt his memory include Annie Lee, Eddie Freson and Kisha Sullivan.
“I live with every single one," Brewster said during an interview in his office last week. "My personality type is that I need to know. Good, bad or indifferent, I need to figure it out. So, when I have cases like these that you can’t figure out, they bother me."
Brewster said he constantly turns over in his head whether the right questions were asked, who said what, what the available evidence means. Is there anything that's been missed? But mostly, he wonders if he and his staff are looking at the case from the right perspective.
"A lot of times what I question is, are we looking at this thing the right way?" Brewster said.
A murder investigation begins as soon as a death is called in -- it doesn't matter if it's an apparent suicide, a drug overdose, a drowning, a hunting accident or granny finally expired in her bed. Every reported death begins with the question, "was it murder?"
Often, it's quickly obvious that there was no crime committed. But it's important that in the initial moments when law enforcement is on scene, that nothing be overlooked.
"That’s a pretty good way to operate because then hopefully you don’t miss anything," Brewster said.
Sometimes, it's obvious that there's been a homicide. The death of 66-year-old Joseph Benaquist might be a case in point.
Besides the fact that Scott F. Doll (who was convicted of the murder in May) was found with blood on his clothes wandering on a road near the victim's house, when Benaquist's body was found, it was pretty obvious the retired corrections officer had been beaten to death only hours earlier.
There was ample physical evidence at the scene (though Doll's defense attorney continues to insist, ample evidence of reasonable doubt, as well) and a suspect already in custody.
When Brewster has physical evidence, a body found at the scene of the crime and a suspect, he says making an arrest is just a matter of "getting our ducks in a row."
Even on such "smoking gun" cases, Brewster wants to make sure the charges stick.
With eight investigators at his disposal (all of whom have other duties), as well as the cooperation of the State Police and other agencies, Brewster supervises the investigation and makes sure all of the proper procedures are covered.
"Just because a guy says he killed his wife doesn’t mean you will get a conviction if you don’t do your job," Brewster said.
But what happens when the body isn't found at the scene, or there's no DNA evidence, or the body isn't found until weeks after the crime?
That's when the job gets tough.
"If you’re going to solve (the case) quickly, you usually have enough at the scene," Brewster said. "If you’re not going to solve it (at the scene), then you’re in for a long haul, a long haul. The worst calls you want to get are ‘I just found a dead body along the road.'"
In the cases of Lee, Freson, Sullivan and Fickel, Brewster has been in it for the long haul. He continues to work the cases, though not all of them every day, and continues to search for answers, and in two of the cases he may be getting close to finding the right answers.
Starting tomorrow, we'll look at each of these cases individually and tell you the latest information Chief Brewster has to share.
(Note: WBTA is running a parallel series this week based on our interview with Chief Brewster. It will air Tuesday and Wednesday.)