Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

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Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
AuthorDavid Simon
CountryUnited States
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Publication date
June 1991
363.2/59523/097526 20
LC ClassHV8148.B22 S54 1991

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a 1991 book written by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon describing a year spent with detectives from the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit. The book received the 1992 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.[1]

The book was subsequently fictionalized as the NBC television drama Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99), on which Simon served as a writer and producer. Many of the key detectives and incidents portrayed in the book provided inspiration for the first two seasons of the show, with other elements surfacing in later seasons as well. It later also provided inspiration for the HBO television series The Wire (2002–08).


David Simon, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, spent four years on the police beat before taking a leave of absence to write this book. He had persuaded the Baltimore Police Department to allow him access to the city's Homicide Unit for calendar year 1988, and throughout that year he shadowed one shift of detectives as they investigated cases, conducted interrogations, executed search and arrest warrants, and testified at trials. Baltimore recorded 234 murders during the year Simon spent with the Homicide Unit.[2]

A total of 567 murders occurred in the city for the years 1989 and 1990 combined, the period during which Simon wrote Homicide. The book was published in 1991, during which Baltimore saw a record 353 murders. Simon said he was particularly interested in the demythification of the American detective. Although detectives are typically portrayed as noble characters who care deeply about their victims, Simon believed real detectives regarded violence as a normal aspect of their jobs.[2]


Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets provides a sympathetic but unromantic portrait of crime fighting in a major American city at the height of the late 1980s crime epidemic. The book is notable for the detailed look it gives into the professional lives of police detectives and the mix of quirky, absurd, and sometimes tragic cases they investigated.[citation needed]

Notable cases[edit]

The Angel of Reservoir Hill[edit]

The case of Latonya Kim Wallace, a young girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered, is perhaps the most notable case in the book. Tom Pellegrini was the primary detective on the case, which remains unsolved. The Adena Watson case in Homicide: Life on the Street was based on this case, and the travails on it of new Detective Tim Bayliss were based on Pellegrini's experiences. Simon described it as "the spine of the book".[citation needed]

The Black Widow[edit]

The case of Geraldine Parrish, a woman who took out insurance policies on her five husbands (two of whose bodies she kept in the same house) and relatives, and then arranged for them to be murdered. One would-be victim was her three-year-old niece. The Black Widow was convicted of three murders and received concurrent life sentences.

The primary detective on the case was Donald Waltemeyer, and his experiences would involve a memorable exhumation scene, with two attempts resulting in the wrong man being dug up. The case of character of Calpurnia Church, in the original and third episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, was based on Geraldine Parrish.[3][4]

The Shooting of Gene Cassidy[edit]

Cassidy, a patrolman and close friend of detective sergeant Terry McLarney, was shot in the head at point blank range with a .357 Magnum handgun. Although initially expected to die or be left completely disabled by his injuries, Cassidy made a full mental recovery but was left blind and without his sense of smell or taste. A drug dealer named Butchie Frazier was eventually convicted of attempted murder in the first degree. The case inspired the character of Blind Butchie on The Wire, a blind Baltimore drug dealer who was soft-spoken and not vicious (a complete contrast to the real-life Butchie Frazier).

The Cassidy story was worked into the first season of Homicide: Life on the Street and was the largest storyline for the Det. Steve Crosetti character, where a cop played by Lee Tergesen was left blinded by a shooting in the line of duty and Crosetti moved mountains to put the assailant in prison. McLarney felt a great deal of disillusionment by the way that the BPD seemed unable to understand or fully help Cassidy in the aftermath of the shooting. The jury's actions became the basis for a Season 4 storyline where Bruce Campbell played a cop whose father, a retired officer, was strangled to death by a suspect who was acquitted by a disinterested jury; a passage in Simon's book revealed that the guilty verdict against Frazier came about because two jurors who were fully convinced Frazier was guilty instead of two who insisted he was innocent and had been framed by the police were able to convince 8 jurors who flat-out didn't care either way.

The Slaying of John Randolph Scott[edit]

A young car thief fleeing officers was fatally shot in the back. Of the officers in pursuit, only one had fired a round from his weapon, and this accidental shot was found embedded in the asphalt. With no clear murder weapon and facing silence from the uniforms on the scene, detective Donald Worden was unable to close the case, making it the only unsolved police-related shooting in the Department's history. The book notes several officers, including a primary suspect, were reassigned to administrative positions.

Minor friction results between Worden and his sergeant on this case. A civilian suspect was a possibility, but the exposure of this development by a reporter shut down that investigative alley, and infuriated Worden and Rick James, his partner, as they knew that information could only have come from a police officer.

This story was worked into a Homicide: Life on the Street story where Det. Frank Pembleton investigated a police-involved shooting. Unlike the real case, the fictional story ended with a police officer being arrested and charged with the shooting.[5]

Gary Tuggle, an officer seconded to the homicide unit to help with the investigation, went on to serve in the Drug Enforcement Administration. He returned to Baltimore in March 2018 to take the post of Deputy Police Commissioner, then was appointed Interim Commissioner two months later and served until March 2019.

The "Homicide Lexicon" and its rules[edit]

Throughout the book, Simon frequently refers to a set of 10 informal rules that apply in the majority of homicide cases, as detectives soon learn. They are as follows:

  1. Everyone lies. Murderers lie because they have to; witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to; everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate information to a cop.
  2. The victim is killed once, but a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times.
  3. The initial 10 or 12 hours after a murder are the most critical to the success of an investigation.
  4. An innocent man left alone in an interrogation room will remain fully awake, rubbing his eyes, staring at the cubicle walls, and scratching himself in dark, forbidden places. A guilty man left alone in an interrogation room goes to sleep.
  5. It's good to be good; it's better to be lucky.
  6. When a suspect is immediately identified in an assault case, the victim is sure to live. When no suspect has been identified, the victim will surely die.
  7. First, they're red. Then, they're green. Then, they're black. (Referring to the color of an open case on the board, the money that must be spent to investigate the case, and the color of the solved murder as it is listed on the board)
  8. In any case where there is no apparent suspect, the crime lab will produce no valuable evidence. In those cases where a suspect has already confessed and been identified by at least two eyewitnesses, the lab will give you print hits, fiber evidence, blood typings, and a ballistic match.
  9. To a jury, any doubt is reasonable; the better the case, the worse the jury; a good man is hard to find, but 12 of them, gathered together in one place, is a miracle.
  10. There is too such a thing as a perfect murder. Always has been, and anyone who tries to prove otherwise merely proves himself naive and romantic, a fool who is ignorant of Rules 1 through 9.


David Simon joined the Baltimore Police Department as a "police intern" in January 1988 and spent 12 months following the homicide detectives of Lieutenant Gary D'Addario's shift. At the beginning of the year, the shift consisted of the following personnel:

  • Lieutenant Gary D'Addario – Shift Commander
    • Detective Sergeant Terrence McLarney – Squad Supervisor
      • Detective Donald Worden ("The Big Man")
      • Detective Rick James
      • Detective Edward Brown
      • Detective Donald Waltemeyer
      • Detective David John Brown
    • Detective Sergeant Roger Nolan – Squad Supervisor
      • Detective Harry Edgerton
      • Detective Richard Garvey
      • Detective Robert Bowman
      • Detective Donald Kincaid
      • Detective Robert McAllister
    • Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman – Squad Supervisor
      • Detective Tom Pellegrini
      • Detective Oscar "Rick" Requer ("The Bunk")
      • Detective Gary Dunnigan
      • Detective Richard Fahlteich
      • Detective Fred Ceruti

Fahlteich and Ceruti both transferred out of the unit during the year; they were replaced by Detectives Vernon Holley and Chris Graul.

The Wire[edit]

Several of the detectives described in the book served as the basis for characters on the Baltimore-based HBO drama The Wire:

  • Jay Landsman spawned a character of the same name, and the real-life Landsman portrayed a character named Dennis Mello.
  • Rick "The Bunk" Requer was the basis for Detective Bunk Moreland in the series, and in episode four of season five Roscoe Orman played a veteran named Oscar "Rick" Requer.
  • Gary D'Addario appears as a Prosecuting Attorney Gary DiPasquale on the show, who assists Detective Moreland with various grand jury summonses.
  • Roger Nolan, Terry McLarney and Donald Worden are briefly mentioned as officers in the department on various episodes, and Worden makes a cameo appearance as himself in the fifth season.
  • A 1970s contract killer named Dennis Wise is also briefly mentioned, and Dennis "Cutty" Wise is a major character in the series.
  • Another name that was used for a character was Roger Twigg, a police reporter who, in the book, is characterized as an annoyance to law enforcement. When the Monroe Street investigation yielded a potential civilian lead, Twigg published an article calling the civilian a potential suspect; although the description was technically true, police believed that the man had only witnessed the crime. He subsequently invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify, blocking that avenue of the investigation.

Additionally, several traits of various officers can be viewed amongst the characters on the show, and a lot of similar slang is used on the show such as the words "Dunker", "Redball", and "Stone Whodunit" to describe the various cases. Moreover, the police department as shown on the show has the same red/black case clearance and marking criteria.

Finally, a number of small anecdotes that were used in Homicide: Life on the Street worked their way into The Wire:

  • Most notably, the tale of "Snot Boogie", a small-time thief who was shot down after a craps game, was used in the cold open of the series' first episode, providing the "This America, man" quote.
  • When listing the detectives whom he sees himself and the rest of the VCU as being on a par with, McNulty mentions Worden, Ed Burns (who was a homicide detective but was detailed with the FBI for the year), and Gary Childs, a detective on the other shift in the book.

Where are they now?[edit]

Gary D'Addario

Lieutenant Gary D'Addario rose to the rank of Major commanding the Northeastern District of the Baltimore Police Department. The 37-year veteran of the department was forced to retire by new Commissioner Kevin Clark in 2004, as part of Clark's unpopular turnover of veteran command staff.[6] D'Addario had guest appearances as QRT Lieutenant Jasper in Homicide: Life on the Street, as a Desk Sergeant in HBO mini-series The Corner, and as a Grand Jury States Attorney on the HBO drama The Wire.[7]

Jay Landsman

Sergeant Jay Landsman retired from the Baltimore Police Department and joined the Baltimore County Police Department. Landsman worked as an actor playing Lieutenant Dennis Mello in HBO's The Wire.[8] The actor Delaney Williams plays a character called Sergeant Jay Landsman in the same show.[9] Landsman's son Jay Jr. also works as a county homicide detective working out of Precinct 4 in Pikesville, Maryland.

Donald Waltemeyer

Detective Donald Waltemeyer retired from the Baltimore Police Department and joined the Aberdeen Police Department. He died of cancer in 2005, aged 58, and was posthumously promoted to Detective Sergeant.[10]

Roger Nolan

Detective Sergeant Roger Nolan became the founder and longtime supervisor of the department's Cold Case Squad and retired a day before his 70th birthday in 2009.[11]

Donald Worden

Detective Donald Worden retired from police work in 1995 but was subsequently re-hired as a civilian contractor to work with the squad.[12][citation needed]

Tom Pellegrini

Detective Tom Pellegrini, then 49, retired from the Baltimore Police Department in 1999 after 20 years of service, only to join the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police force in Kosovo, in October 1999.[13] Pellegrini later worked as a private investigator with Sherwood Investigators based in Severn, Maryland.[citation needed]

Richard Fahlteich

Detective Richard Fahlteich rose to the rank of Major. He retired in 2004, but answered the Police Commissioner's request to return to duty that year as commander of the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit. He retired in 2006, after 32 years with the Department.[14]

Terry McLarney

Detective Sergeant Terry McLarney is still in the Baltimore Police Department, now holding the rank of Major in the Homicide Section. He spent years of exile in the Western, "where he was banished after his shift commander [not D'Addario, whom he considered a friend] politely declined an invitation to fisticuffs". McLarney began to serve as acting commander of the Homicide Section in May 2008 and was officially named to the post that July.[15] In June 2011, McLarney was replaced as commander.[16]

The slang[edit]

The book details a number of slang terms used by the city's homicide detectives.

  • Billygoat – derogatory term for whites, specifically those with roots in Appalachia, and their descendants. As with blacks, "billies" do not include those with decent jobs, such as Worden or Kincaid, and Simon suggests that the two discriminations are more class-based. One typical description is that "Billies do not reside in Baltimore, they live in Bawlmer."
  • Billyland – area of South Baltimore inhabited by "billies" (hillbillies), the city's "white trash redneck" population.
  • Board, The – A dry erase board kept in the squad room. Every squad sergeant's name is at the top of a separate column, followed by a list of the cases their detectives are investigating; each entry consists of a number, the victim's name, and a letter indicating which detective is the "primary" on the case. Open and closed cases are listed in red and black, respectively. This allowed supervisors to quickly assess how productive each detective/squad was and acted as motivation for detectives. Use of "The Board" was discontinued in 1998 due to public relations and morale concerns, but was restored in 2000 at the detectives' request. Closed cases from previous years are written in blue ink, as noted briefly in the afterword regarding Worden's current work on cold cases, "putting blue names on the Board".[citation needed] The show followed this convention as well, though the layout of "the Board" was different: each shift used one full side, with a separate column for every detective on the shift in alphabetical order and an extra column to list suspects for whom arrest warrants had been issued.
  • Bunk/Bunky – A term of affection (short for "bunk mate") typically applied to friends and co-workers. McLarney regards McAllister as "my bunky", while Requer is known as "the Bunk". The veteran cops in the Southern District think of Waltemeyer in this way and readily help him find a car used by a murder suspect. The term is also used sarcastically towards suspects.
  • Citizen/Taxpayer – A "real" murder victim, as opposed to a drug dealer or gang member murdered in the course of criminal activity.
  • Dunker – An easily cleared case (from the basketball term slam dunk). An example from the book: a husband who is arrested while standing over his wife's dead body, covered in her blood, telling cops he killed her and would do so again if he got the chance.
  • Dying declaration – A statement made by a dying person who is able to speak and identify their attacker, and definitely knows they are dying. However, useful declarations are rare; instead, they tend to become the stuff of homicide legend. For example, one man, dying from a gunshot, "assured detectives that he would take care of the matter himself". Garvey solves a case using a dying declaration during the book.
  • Eyefuck – To look at someone disrespectfully or in anger. A ceremonial eyefuck takes place in the book when an unrepentant criminal is convicted. Garvey is disappointed when one criminal, convicted for two brutal murders, does not follow this tradition, describing him as "no fun at all".
  • Jake – A semi-derogatory term for a Jamaican-American.
  • Number One Male – Police radio description for an African American male suspect. Number Two is for a White suspect, Number Three is for a suspect of another race. Numerical order is most likely based on either Baltimore's African American majority or on African Americans' being the most commonly targeted criminal suspects in Baltimore, in the eyes of the BPD.[citation needed]
  • Polygraph-by-Copier – A folk tale in police circles in which detectives use a photocopier as a faux-polygraph machine on a particularly dumb suspect; pages are loaded into the machine with "TRUE" or "LIE" on them, and questions are asked to match them ("What is your name? Truth. And where do you live? Truth again. And did you or did you not kill Tater, shooting him down like a dog in the 1200 block of North Durham Street? Lie. Well, well: You lying motherfucker."). This was used in one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, and in a Season 5 episode of The Wire. A story from the book notes that several cops in Detroit were punished for using this technique during interrogations.
  • Put down/Clear – To close a case, either by arresting a suspect or by establishing that the perpetrator is dead.
  • Red ball – A high-profile case that draws media and political attention. Red ball cases are investigated by all detectives on a shift and take precedence over existing active cases. They can and often do make or break a detective's career. They are also known as "shitstorms" and "clusterfucks". Examples during the book include the Latonya Wallace case (Pellegrini's first assignment as primary detective) and the Scott police-involved shooting. Red balls also include major cases that usually fall outside Homicide's jurisdiction, such as nonfatal police shootings.
  • Secretaries with guns – Derogatory term typically used for incompetent female detectives. There are some exceptions to this rule, e.g., Jenny Wehr and Bertina "Bert" Silver.
  • Smokehound - Derogatory term for a drunk.
  • Squirrel – A criminal, a suspect, a rodent. Typically too cooperative during interrogations.
  • Stone Whodunit – A difficult case.
  • Ten-Seven – police radio code for "out of service"; may be applied to a homicide victim.
  • Ten-Seventy-Eight – police radio code invented by McAllister to refer to "your basic blowjob-in-progress interrupted by police gunfire". This occurs twice in the course of the year, though only one is described in detail.
  • Toad – A derogatory term for Blacks, specifically those who have or had a criminal history. Not usually applied to Black policemen such as Sgt. Nolan or Detectives Brown, Edgerton, or Requer, or Blacks in other legitimate jobs. If you earn a legal wage and do not have a BOI photograph in the system, the book explains, "then you are a black man".
  • Yo – A term for a black youth; used in the place of a name. Example: "Hey, Yo let's roll out " often used as shorthand for inner city residents.
  • Yoette – A young black female. Unlike "yo", the term doesn't refer to the individuals as criminals.


Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets won the 1992 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime book.[1] The Associated Press called it "a true-crime classic".[17] The Library Journal also highly recommended it, and Newsday described it as "one of the most engrossing police procedural mystery books ever written".[17]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b "Edgar Award Archives". Mystery Writers of America. Archived from the original on 2006-09-15. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
  2. ^ a b Simon, David (1998-11-04). Anatomy of "Homicide: Life on the Street" (Documentary). Baltimore, Maryland: Public Broadcasting Service.
  3. ^ Fontana, Tom (2003). "Gone for Goode" - Homicide Life on the Street - The Seasons 1 & 2 (Audio commentary DVD). A&E Home Video.
  4. ^ Kalat, David P. (1998). Homicide: Life on the Street: The Unofficial Companion. Los Angeles, California: Renaissance Books. p. 111. ISBN 1-58063-021-9.
  5. ^ Kalat, p. 135
  6. ^ Source: Baltimore Sun, July 16, 2003.
  7. ^ "Gary D'Addario". IMDb.
  8. ^ "Character profile – Lieutenant Dennis Mello". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-22.
  9. ^ "Character profile – Sergeant Jay Landsman". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-22.
  10. ^ Kelly, Jacques (2005-07-16). "Donald F. Waltemeyer, 58, homicide detective". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  11. ^ Hermann, Peter (2009-07-25). "Old-school Officer Leaving Quietly". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  12. ^ Simon, David (1995-09-09). "Homicide unit's best bid police life farewell after years behind badge". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  13. ^ Glauber, Bill (2000-03-12). "Former Baltimore officer battles homicide in Kosovo". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  14. ^ Sentementes, Gus G. (2006-04-25). "Northern police commander shifted as crime rises". The Baltimore Sun. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
  15. ^ "McLarney to head homicide unit". The Baltimore Sun. July 15, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Baltimore Homicide Icon, Terrence McLarney Replaced as Head of Murder Police". 2011-06-17., baltimoreboy.wordpress.com (June 17, 2011)
  17. ^ a b Kalat, p. 101

External links[edit]