Originally Posted Online: Sept. 03, 2011, 8:00 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 04, 2011, 9:35 am

CSI: 3,600 crime scenes behind him, Merchie retires

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

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Crime scene investigator Tom Merchie retired Wednesday, Aug. 31, from the Illinois State Police after more than 24 years with the agency. Mr. Merchie kept detailed logs of the criminal investigations he worked on over the years.
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Hundreds of log entries chronicle the criminal investigations that Tom Merchie took part in while working for the Illinois State Police for 24 years.
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Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator, Thomas Merchie, checks over the front door entrance to the duplex at 320 16th Ave., Moline, as Police Sgt. Greg Crouch talks on a cell phone. Moline Police and Fire Departments responded to a house fire around 8:40 a.m. Sunday after receiving a 911 call from one of the tenants. Moline Fire located two fires in the basement of the 4-unit apartment building. Both fires were extinguished, containing most of the damage to the basement. The fires appear intentionally set. Police personnel also discovered the body of an adult female in a first floor apartment. The cause of death is suspicious.
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Illinois State Police crime scene investigator Tom Merchie looks for finger prints on a broken window at the Trinity Lutheran Church at 1330 13th St., Moline, Tuesday morning. The church was broken into sometime overnight. Moline police were investigating the buglary.

He knew that when a murder, assault, theft or robbery took place, his work -- searching for clues -- would begin.

It could be an early morning spent bending over a blood-stained stairwell on a college campus or a winter night trudging through the woods in mud, snow and ice searching for human remains.

All told, Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator Tom Merchie arrived at more than 300 death scenes and 3,600 crime scenes during a 25-year career that ended when he retired Wednesday.

"Whether it's investigating a burglary or a murder, you're never doing anything where something happened was good," Mr. Merchie said. "You're always involved with bad things."

"You know, I've been told by certain people that I'm cold in some aspects," he said recently. "Other people say, 'absolutely not.'"

He has asked himself the same question many times.

"I think, you just get numb to it," he said. "A numbness is self-protection, I'm sure.

"I did a baby death, oh, probably a couple of years ago. The mother, I think, breast fed the baby, and instead of putting her in the crib, sat next to her and probably ended up rolling on her.

"The baby died from positional asphyxia. And, I felt sorry for the mother and the father. Here's a several-month-old baby, and most people would be devastated."

"And, I wasn't (devastated)," he admits. "At the time, I thought, 'Is there something wrong with me where I don't care?' I don't know. I know if I took home every case, I'd be in a rubber room stacking BBs. It would drive you nuts."

Starting in Rock Island

Mr. Merchie was hired by the Rock Island Police Department in 1977 as a community service officer.

He took his first fingerprint class in 1982. He began assisting on cases and had a working relationship with now retired ISP CSI Mike Ogryzek, who told him of a job opening with theISP in 1987.

He has been assigned to CSI offices in Joliet (1987 to 1989), Rockford (1989-1993), Galesburg (1993-1998) and East Moline (1998 - present).

"Anytime you get someone who has amassed all those years of experience, you're going to miss that," said Henry County State's Attorney Terry Patton. "Fingerprints, blood spatter, blood stains, DNA evidence -- when you can recover it, it really helps your case."

Knox County Sheriff David Clague,formerly a detective with the Galesburg police, worked on numerous cases with Mr. Merchie, including the death in March 1998 of Knox College student Andrea Racibozynski by fellow student Clyde Best.

It was a brutal crime. Mr. Merchie gathered evidence at the scene, from blood on the door, on the oak railing, and studied the stairway where the body had been just minutes before.

"It's amazing the intelligence he was able to gather," Sheriff Clague said."It resulted in numerous arrests.

"It's a difficult job. He did it without ever complaining."

Moline Police detective Scott Williams agreed.

"Merchie is one of those officers who will go the extra mile to get the job done and done right," Detective Williams said.

Dealing with the horrific

Mr. Merchie said a CSI's work can be, "the most horrible job in the world. It's because of the hours, the stench and the filth."

Sometimes, bodies aren't discovered for days. Other times, the crime itself can simply be horrific.

On the night of Jan. 25, 2005, he walked through Black Hawk State Historic Site on a mud-filled trail spotted with snow and ice. At the bottom of a manhole, detectives found some of the remains of 16-year-old Adrianne Reynolds.

He tells fellow officers, the young ones somewhat hesitant at autopsies, that it's okay to have a case of the nerves.

"They can't hurt you," Mr. Merchie has reassured at least one rookie cop. "It's the live ones you have to worry about."

He said there has to be a genuine desire, a curiosity to performing a CSI's work.

As he recalls some of the thousands of cases he has covered, onevictim unexpectedly pops up in his memory.

Three-year-old Breanna Moes was stabbed to death in September 1999 after the killer, Eugene Smith, picked her up from a Bettendorf day care center and drove her to Moline. At the time of the girl's death, Mr. Merchie's own daughter was the same age as the victim.

Mr. Merchie arrived at the crime scene and saw the little girl slumped over in a car.

He still remembers.

"Here's a beautiful girl and to get her out off the floor board of the driver's seat, and she's got a knife sticking in her throat," he said.

He still feels the pain.

"She's just a beautiful little girl, and the coroner, Sharon Anderson, turned around and said, "'Are you all right, Tom?'"

"Without evening knowing it, I think I said, 'Oh my, God!' She was so innocent."

Memories that won't go away

Some memories just won't go away. He has no answer why some cases hurt him so, while others seem to have no real effect on him.

Mr. Merchie shakes his head. The old CSI said he has few regrets about the job, but hopes his worked helped someone, somewhere through the years.

"I had to find satisfaction in the effort I gave," he said."I wish every case I ever worked was solved."

Mr. Merchie may yet solve more cases. He also is a licensed private detective, and plans on working with his brother Bob in the future. They own Merchie and Associates, Inc., licensed in Illinois and Iowa.

High profile cases

Through 24 1/2 years with the Illinois State Police, Mr. Merchie, a CSI, has worked more than 3,600 cases, including more than 325 death investigations.

-- Adrianne Reynolds, January 2005: Only 16 years old at the time of her death, Ms. Reynolds was strangled in a car outside a Moline Taco Bell, her body dismembered, some parts left at Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island and some burned at a rural Mercer County farm. Her  o Black Hawk Outreach Center classmates Sarah Kolb and Cory Gregory were convicted of killing her..

 "This was my partner, John Hatfield's case. I worked hand-in-hand with him. You do a lot of evidence collection. I was out in the park and the farm. I took many of the pictures. The temperature got up to 51 degrees. On the trail going down the hill at Black Hawk State Historic Site, there was snow and ice, sincethere was a melt that day, along with mud and tree roots that everyone was tripping over on the way down."

-- Jone Knapton:  Authorities believe Mrs. Knapton was killed July 4, 2003. Parts of her body were found in the Green River north of Geneseo on July 10, 2003. No one was ever arrested in the case. Larry Knapton, her husband, was named as a primary suspect in the investigation by Mrs. Knapton's daughter, Nicole, in a 2003 order for protection against her father.

"To me, that's solved. It's just not resolved. We've got physical evidence. There's no doubt in my mind who did it. It's just having the right piece of evidence there. There's just lots and lots of circumstantial evidence."

-- Harold Collins:  Jim Richardson  was convicted of murdering Mr, Collins, of Orion,, his brother-in-law, in August 2002. Pieces of the victim's clothing was found welded inside metal tubes at the Deere Harvester Works plant in East Moline, where Mr. Richardson and the victim worked. 

Mr. Richardson told investigators of a bloody 2-by-4 used in the beating being at Ben Butterworth Park.

"One of the workers at John Deere saw him (Mr. Richardson) welding pieces of metal over skid legs. It's a trailer where they put parts. The worker watching him do this became suspicious.  He waited for Richardson to leave, grabbed the skid legs, and brought them to the John Deere security office.

"We had to prove it was Harold Collins' blood to issue an arrest warrant."

The murder weapon and jeans had the victim's blood on them.

-- Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Stanley Talbot:  Master Sgt. Talbot was working at a police checkpoint at the base of the Centennial Bridge in Rock Island on June 23, 2001, when he was dragged for several blocks by a car he tried to stop. Jonathan C. Posey was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the death of Master Sgt. Talbot.

He said it was a vey tough case. "I not only liked him, but admired him for his sense of humor and work ethic. I got called in for that, and I debated because of the emotional ties.

"Then, I thought, 'who better to work the case?' I know the effort I would give. I wanted to do it. It was a successful case investigation wise. It didn't turn out perfect jury wise. But, you just can't count on juries. 

"You do the best you can. What happens after that, it's out of my hands."