#babysister | #nanny | Officer’s wife searches for answers 10 years after his death


NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Victor Decker walked down Oceana Boulevard on a rainy night in 2010 — a young, well-liked Norfolk police officer who’d earned headlines the year before for singlehandedly stopping two robbers who’d just killed their victim.

Minutes later he’d be dead himself. He was found facedown near his pickup in Virginia Beach, lying just inside the gate of a city-run borrow pit, murdered at age 25, a single, close-range shot to his head.

A decade later, Decker’s death on Oct. 26, 2010, remains the only still-unsolved killing of a cop in Hampton Roads.

It’s possibly the biggest whodunit on our books since someone gunned down Norfolk’s former mayor in 1972.

The mysterious murder of a police officer stunned the community. The story consumed the news. Multitudes packed his mega-church funeral. Officers across the state covered their badges with black bands.

It took police nearly two years to make arrests — two young Black men from Norfolk — and the charges fell apart before trial. Defense attorneys say they never saw any evidence that the two men even knew each other. Prosecutors have insisted, though, that Decker’s killers wound up behind bars anyway, even if it was for other crimes.

But many remain haunted by it all, convinced the real murderer is still out there.

Decker’s death was chronicled in a 2017 Virginian-Pilot series and an award-winning podcast called The Shot that delved into dark corners.

Whispers stirred in the aftermath but led nowhere. There’s mostly been silence since.

Dawn Decker, his widow, still calls Beach police regularly to ask for updates. There haven’t been any, but she aims to ensure the file isn’t covered with dust.

She’s also been asking for the return of Decker’s impounded pickup and other items swept from their home as potential evidence.

This summer, police finally offered to release a pistol that had been hers. But they made an error, accidentally giving her a .38 revolver they’d seized from Kareem Hassan Turner, one of the men who’d been charged.

It wasn’t the suspected murder weapon — that gun has never been found, at least to public knowledge. And police did apologize to Dawn for the mix-up.


But she can’t understand how they made such an error, letting the wrong gun leave their property and evidence facility.

“I was shocked,” Dawn said. “I mean people make mistakes and stuff but that’s a pretty large mistake.”

Ten years after her husband’s death, she’s moved on with her life, still grappling with ghosts and half-healed wounds.

There is no closure. No answers for their daughter Charlotte, who was 8 months old when her father was killed. No line-of-duty benefits — the payout families receive when an officer’s death can be linked to the job. And no way to confront the man she married about a secret exposed during the investigation: Decker was running around on her. Unfaithful.

As much as that stings, it doesn’t change her bottom line. She wants justice. For Charlotte’s dad. For the funny, blond-haired boy she met all those years ago at Independence Middle School. For all they promised and did for each other, no matter how imperfect.

And for the simple fact that no one should get away with murder.

Crimes go unsolved all the time. That’s rare when the victim is a police officer.

Someone has rebuilt Decker’s roadside memorial — a 6-foot blue cross. It’s just outside the borrow pit, across from a side entrance to the naval air station. The paint looks fresh. A “thin blue line” flag billows, whipped by the whoosh of traffic on Oceana Boulevard.

Dawn said the memorial was destroyed a few years ago, its cross yanked up and thrown into nearby bushes. She doesn’t know who vandalized it or who replaced it.

She moved to the outskirts of Richmond two and half years ago, a fresh start for her growing family — a new husband, two stepdaughters and a new baby sister for Charlotte.

But soon, she hopes to move back to Hampton Roads, where she returns regularly to see family, friends or take part in events like the recent COPS Walk, raising money for the survivors of fallen police.

She stops by the roadside memorial every time she’s in town.

Once, her face was especially familiar in these parts — a grieving widow on TV or in the papers, begging anyone with information to come forward.

She and Decker married in their early 20s. By then, he’d joined NPD. Assigned to a bike patrol in the downtown corridor, he worked nights, a uniform in the middle of the bustling after-hours scene. Capable and even-tempered, he forged a good reputation with his colleagues as well as the club crowd.

He became an official hero after a 2009 shootout. Two 19-year-olds out on bond had robbed and killed a man as he sat in a car on Bank Street. Decker pedaled toward the sound of gunfire, exchanged shots with one of the robbers, eventually killing him and cuffing the other. NPD named Decker Officer of the Year. The governor gave him a medal. He was applauded at civic dinners. A celebrity.

On the night he died, Dawn and Charlotte were in Georgia visiting her grandparents. Decker met up with some friends at Atlantis Gentlemen’s Club on Oceana Boulevard. It’s unclear if he’d ever been there before. Atlantis was having a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness and the place was packed. Dancers were working a pole in pink thong bikinis.

Looking for a place to park, Decker wound up about 100 yards down the road near the gate to the borrow pit. He left a 9mm handgun in his pickup. Police rarely go anywhere unarmed but no weapons were allowed in the club. He drank and socialized. At closing time, around 2 a.m., he made the walk back to his truck alone in the rain.

His body was discovered around 7 a.m. the next morning. There were no signs of a struggle. The gun had been jammed to his forehead. The bullet’s trajectory was downward — like someone had put Decker on his knees, execution style.

His wallet was gone, along with the gun he’d left in his truck. His cellphone and wedding ring weren’t taken. Beneath his T-shirt, Beach police found his silver NPD badge, hanging from a lanyard around his neck.

With little-to-no forensics and no eyewitnesses, VBPD beat the bushes, interviewing hundreds of people. They pored over video from a security camera at the jet base. But the video was grainy and dark, offering little more than shadows and flashes of light.

In the end, police relied on a string of jailhouse snitches to bring charges against Turner and Raymond Lewis Perry, young men from tough neighborhoods in Norfolk.

Perry had an extensive criminal record. Turner had mostly low-level offenses. Police figured they’d killed Decker in a random robbery.

But the cases crumbled before trial when the No. 1 inmate informant was caught on tape bragging about how he was lying to get his own sentence reduced.

Perry remained in prison, where he was already serving a long sentence for another crime. Turner was released but his freedom was short-lived. Four months later, he was part of a trio who tried to rob a man then shot him as he ran.

Prosecutors have pointed to Turner’s conviction for that crime as a sign — confirmation that even though they hadn’t been able to nail him for Decker’s death, he and Perry had done the deed.

But others think Turner fell victim to the notoriety that was thrust upon him by the Decker case. He became the killer he was already assumed to be.

Questions abound from defense attorneys and crime experts who were featured in The Shot series. Decker’s murder didn’t have the hallmarks of a random robbery — it was up-close and seemed personal. Professional even. And no real evidence ever materialized tying Turner or Perry to the crime or Decker, much less each other. Both had steadily denied involvement. Perry even passed a polygraph administered by a legendary former-FBI examiner.

Perry’s attorney, Jennifer Stanton, who is now the capital defender for the South Region of Virginia, is among those who believe police and prosecutors got it all wrong.

“Nothing has changed my mind,” she said.

She sees the recent gun mix-up with Dawn as “completely indicative of how bad the whole investigation was.”

Police confirmed in an interview last week that they’d attempted to return a “personal item — a firearm” to Dawn, but they won’t verify that it turned out to be Turner’s, even though paperwork inside the package she received noted that the .38 was confiscated from him.

Deputy Police Chief Pat Gallagher explained the mistake as “a misunderstanding over the item in question.” He repeatedly accepted “full responsibility,” saying he’s the one who made the call to release it.

“We wanted to provide Dawn with some closure,” he said. “It was not learned until after the fact that this was the wrong item.”

An officer was promptly dispatched to Dawn’s home to recover it. The error could create a future chain-of-custody problem for prosecutors if the .38 is ever used as evidence in any court case. Dawn would have to testify as to how she wound up with it in her possession for a time.

“It’s not the way we would have preferred for it to happen,” Gallagher said, “but it happened.”

Gallagher won’t say if detectives still believe Turner and Perry are guilty of Decker’s murder. But without a trial to conclude the case, it remains officially open.

It’s been shifted, however, to the cold case unit, staffed by a handful of full- and part-time investigators and analysts.

Tony Suchy, one of the investigators, said the unit has 99 cold cases in its files: 63 homicides and 36 missing persons — stretching from 1970 to 2014.

Cases are pulled with an eye toward “solvability,” he said. The unit scours autopsies, crime scene photos and looks for opportunities to apply new technology to old evidence.

Such advances led to last year’s arrest of an 80-year-old man in New York for the 1973 double-homicide of two women vacationing at the Oceanfront — proof that it’s “never too late” to crack a case, Suchy said.

Witness are often re-interviewed. Time may fade details but it can also make a person more willing to talk. Maybe they’ve had a falling out with someone who was involved or they were afraid back then but aren’t now.

“You might be much more forthcoming,” Suchy said.

Gallagher said the Decker case is “off the shelf” and being reviewed — welcome news to Dawn.

“I’ve been asking for someone new to take a look at this for years,” she said. “I’ve probably got more questions now than I’ve ever had.”

Gallagher understands it’s frustrating for survivors to get so little information from police. Family members become angry and upset, arguing that they “have a right to know,” he said. “And I empathize with that statement whole-heartedly. I have a wife and two children. I would want to know.”

But tight lips are crucial, he said. If too much gets out, it can “poison” the information that comes back in, ruining the chance for a successful prosecution.

If the murder weapon or the gun stolen from Decker’s truck that night is ever found, it could point the way to a major break. Gallagher won’t say if either has surfaced or there are any new leads. As always, tipsters are asked to call the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

Decker’s case isn’t getting special treatment, he said, but it does hit home even more than most. Yes, he was off-duty that night and out partying, but he was a decorated, fellow officer from a sister city and “there’s no denying that,” Gallagher said.

Dawn’s limbo continues — wondering if it was indeed random, or an act of rage or jealousy, or a calculated hit. Maybe it was revenge for something he did as a cop? Or maybe his killer was another cop? Did he see something out by the borrow pit that got him killed?

She’s been “grasping at straws” for too long, said Kevin Zingraff, Dawn’s new husband.

“Good, bad, or indifferent,” he said, she needs a resolution.

“This is a constant struggle every day of the year, but most especially during the month of October,” he said.

“She has been more than patient.”


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