A D.C. Cop Recalls First Murder Case
He remembers the case, and its aftermath, well. A hungry cop, former Metropolitan Police Department Detective Jim Trainum nevertheless kept his distance from murders. The 37-year-old had a thing for burglaries. He liked the way burglars—like serial killers, he says—keep to a specific method. Their individual strategies meant the investigations that came after amounted to a chess game. Trainum reveled in winning it. The other thing he liked about working break-ins? "The best thing about a burglary is the bosses don't give a shit," says Trainum. "Nobody's breathing down your back. So you can do good police work."
When he walked into the Fifth District police station one morning in 1992, there it was in his mailbox: a new assignment. "The guys who should have had it—they didn't want it," says Trainum.
The case concerned a particularly deranged burglar. "An old woman was sitting in her rowhouse," Trainum recalls, "when a man walks in and beats her." The suspect was unlikely to get away. Surprised by the woman's son, he fled without his duffel bag. In the duffel was a halfway house I.D. belonging to a 26-year-old man.
According to Trainum, the man, later located at his halfway house, was put on lock-down there. He was allowed to make phone calls, though, and the halfway house staff overheard the short, powerfully built suspect making an important one: He asked a friend to go to his grandmother's house to retrieve a bag. Trainum decided to get there first. Arriving, he talked the man's foster mother into turning it over.
She dropped the bag in his lap. Inside, Trainum found a BB gun. Not that big of a deal, but something suddenly occurred to the detective. The house he was in was just a stone's throw from the site where a 22-year-old woman had been dragged into an alley while walking home to her Capitol Hill apartment. Raped and beaten, the murder victim never regained consciousness and died of her injuries days after the incident.
Talking to the mother further, Trainum got some insight about her foster son." He had "a problem with women," particularly fair-skinned ones like the murder victim. Trainum had a strong enough hunch that he typed up a report detailing his suspicions. He sent it to homicide along with a mugshot of the suspect.
Homicide matched the man's prints to prints found at the scene of the murder, and the man was arrested for the killing. Trainum, who remembers that the guy was a former boxer, was there when he was convicted in 1993. "He was one of the only people I've ever stood in a room with and was actually afraid of," says Trainum. "He was a very angry man."
Because of his success, Trainum lost out. He'd no longer get to chase burglars. Instead, he was sent "kicking and screaming" to homicide, he says, where he would work murder cases for the rest of his career. But homicide got more than it bargained for: A stickler for good investigating (particularly after obtaining a false confession, once) Trainum made noise whenever he saw his colleagues slacking. They weren't exactly enthusiastic about the feedback. "They called me Benedict Trainum," he says. That's not a problem anymore. A grizzled Trainum, now retired, has found that some people appreciate his feedback: He lectures police training courses on proper investigation techniques.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery