The great privilege of my life was serving as a police officer in the small community of Holly Hill, located in East Central Florida on the banks of the Halifax River.
Several months before I retired as Chief of Police on March 28, 2014 – exactly 31-years to the day from when I was hired – the Holly Hill Police Department was undergoing a periodic house-cleaning of archived public records – a purge of stale reports and forms that had exceeded their required retention period and were being removed from storage and destroyed.
With retirement approaching, it was an emotional time for me. I was watching what amounted to my life’s work being fed into the maw of an industrial shredder, never to be seen again. A written narrative of a period of municipal history – and one man’s career – lost forever.
Not that anyone would care about the reconstruction of a fender-bender or the resolution of some long-forgotten tit-for-tat neighborhood dispute.
But, as those yellowed pages were ground into confetti, it raised my wistful sense of nostalgia.
So, I asked the clerk overseeing the cleanout if she would kindly save anything bearing my name and she thoughtfully obliged – later handing me a bankers box marked, “The Barker Files.”
I have always wanted to try my hand at writing a detective novel, a police procedural in the genre of Joseph Wambaugh or Charles Willeford – unfortunately, while the experiences and memories remain vivid in my mind’s eye, I lack the authorial talent to get it on paper. . .
Then it hit me. These great stories have already been written!
While rummaging through a musty corner of my garage, I came upon the Barker Files – waiting patiently for the stories to be told.
I thought some readers of this blog might be interested in reading a few of the more interesting cases I was associated with during my long career in a small Central Florida community.
So, here goes.
As we pass the 25th anniversary of the brutal murder of Mark Clyde Scribner – a vicious homicide whose random nature galvanized the Halifax area for four days in October 1995 – I wanted to memorialize Mr. Scribner’s death with an insider’s view of the investigative efforts leading to the shocking conclusion in a series of installments from, The Barker Files. . .
The victim, Mark Scribner, was the only son of Johanna Scribner of East Taunton, Massachusetts, a U.S. Army veteran, and a music graduate of Purdue University who enjoyed composing songs and playing drums, keyboard, and guitar.
According to family members, Mark enjoyed playing chess and never failed to volunteer with the Salvation Army at Christmastime.
For some, this may stir bad memories of an indiscriminate tragedy.
That is not my intent.
I hope this story proves that, after a quarter century, the victims of violent crime remain forever in the minds and hearts of the men and women who worked so diligently to bring those responsible to justice.
The series you are about to read is true.
It chronicles, to the best of my recollection, an actual homicide investigation that I supervised from crime scene to courtroom – and represents exhaustive 20-hour days, the persistence of dedicated investigators, support personnel and the outstanding prosecutors who took the case to trial.
Any errors, then or now, are my own.
It is not a “feel-good” story with a contrived happy ending – and if you are easily disturbed by the graphic reality of violent crime, I suggest you stop reading now.
Some names have been changed or omitted.
REPORT OF INVESTIGATION
Homicide – 95-10-4247
Detective Sergeant Mark D. Barker
“On October 10, 1995, at approximately 03:18hrs, while on patrol near the south terminus of the Halifax Shopping Center, 231 Riverside Drive, Corporal Richard Klein located the body of a subject, later positively identified as Mark Clyde Scribner, lying in a driving lane at the rear of the complex.
Corporal Klein stopped his patrol vehicle approximately 25-feet south of Scribner’s location and illuminated the area with the vehicle’s headlights. After making a radio transmission to Holly Hill Communications, Klein exited the vehicle and approached the body on foot. . .”
As a police detective, whenever the phone rings after midnight it typically means you are going to work, just like the old homicide investigator’s joke says:
“Our day begins when yours ends.”
During the early morning hours of October 10, 1995, my wife Patti picked up the bedside telephone and sleepily placed it on my chest.
On the other end, a stoic telecommunicator advised that the on-duty supervisor had located a body behind the former Halifax Shopping Center, which was located on the grounds of what is now a luxury apartment complex in Holly Hill, Florida – a community of 12,000 people which borders the Daytona Beach Resort Area.
Corporal Richard Klein came to Florida from New Jersey late in life, leaving a successful business to move south and pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a cop.
I have liked Richard from the first day I met him.
His mannerisms always reminded me of the great Jack Lemmon – and he possessed those natural people skills and a deep empathy that served him well in the police service. To his credit, Richard is both incredibly smart and gifted with a unique sense of humor that never failed to break the tension – he could both give, and take, a joke with equal enthusiasm – and I rarely saw him without a smile.
Like many of the officers and investigators in this story, Richard has long since retired, and is now living comfortably in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
At his retirement party, Richard said to me in his own inimitable way, “I’m proud of myself. When I started this job I didn’t smoke, drink or cuss – after all these years – I still don’t smoke. . .”
On that awful night in October 1995, Richard Klein was the on-duty uniformed patrol shift supervisor.
“As Corporal Klein approached, he observed what appeared to be a large area of blood pooling around the victim’s body. Upon closer examination, Klein observed what appeared to be several cuts or tears in the victim’s dark t-shirt having the appearance of stab/puncture wounds, with some blood visible on the exposed skin beneath.
Several feet east of the body, Corporal Klein observed what appeared to be blood pooled on the asphalt drive near an area of standing water, along with a pair of eyeglasses located immediately next to another area of what appeared to be blood several yards northeast of the body.
After failing to detect any signs of life, Corporal Klein requested emergency medical assistance and directed that the on-call detective respond to the scene.
The victim was pronounced dead by EVAC paramedics at 03:30hrs.
At approximately 03:40hrs, this investigator arrived on-scene and began a preliminary investigation.
My initial observation of the crime scene found a 1985 Dodge Diplomat, marked as Checker Cab #63, parked at an angle in the driving lane approximately 242’ north of where the victim’s body was located.
In an effort to preserve physical evidence and protect the integrity of the scene, I ordered Corporal Klein to establish perimeter security, including an entry/exit log, with whatever assistance he deemed necessary, and directed paramedics from the Holly Hill Fire Department and EVAC Ambulance to leave the crime scene and recorded their exit on the crime scene log.
Additional assistance was requested from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Crime Scene Unit in Orlando, and Volusia County Medical Examiner, Dr. Ronald Reeves, was notified.
After ensuring the integrity of the crime scene, I began an initial assessment.
Due to the hour, the immediate surroundings were illuminated by security lighting alone.
The pavement upon which the body was resting was wet due to intermittent rain earlier in the evening. The ambient temperature was approximately 75-degrees and the sky mostly cloudy with high relative humidity.
This Investigator did not observe any foot/tire tracks in the immediate area, other than those identified from Corporal Klein’s patrol vehicle, the Holly Hill Fire Department apparatus, and the responding ambulance.
The victim’s body was that of a white male, approximately 40 years of age, clad in a dark, short sleeved shirt with dark pants and white athletic shoes.
The victim appeared to have a full head of thick dark hair, with a full dark beard covering the face.
Around the waist was what appeared to be a nylon zippered pouch. A close visual examination found the pouch’s compartment to be open.
The body was positioned facedown, with the feet oriented in a northerly direction and the head oriented to the south, with the arms and hands held close under the torso.
A large concentration of blood was noted on the victim’s body, pooling under the upper body and head, with two areas of what appeared to be vomitus observed – one under the victim’s face – the other on the pavement behind the victim’s head, indicative of the victim having laid on his back before rolling to the right.
The vomitus was white in color and contained an unidentified semi-digested substance.
Approximately 23’ northwest of the victim’s body was a pair of tinted prescription eyeglasses positioned immediately next to a small pool of what appears to be blood, with numerous drops of blood forming an irregular pattern leading from the eyeglasses to the victim’s point of rest.
A close examination of the victim’s posterior torso found multiple cuts in the victim’s shirt, each consistent with stab/puncture wounds. Through these openings in the shirt, this Investigator observed several puncture-type wounds and blood visible on the exposed skin.
Additionally, a large laceration was observed on the victim’s scalp at the rear of the head.
After visually examining the body, this Investigator proceeded to the nearby taxicab, which was parked at an unusual angle behind the shopping center, approximately 242’ north of the victim’s body.
The vehicle was a 1985 Dodge four-door sedan, yellow in color, with distinctive markings denoting a Checker Cab (Unit #63). All four doors were closed.
Through the windows, I observed what appeared to be blood spatter and casting on and around the interior of the driver’s door, to include the window and front bench seat.
Several pieces of paper could be seen scattered about the front seat, including what appeared to be the driver’s log sheet. The items were laying on top of the visible blood droplets on the seat, indicative of having been placed there after the initial event.
The door to the glove compartment was hanging downward in the open position.
On the floor, directly in front of the driver’s seat, was a plastic bag containing unknown items and a plastic milk container.
In a foam rubber scabbard affixed to the driver’s door was a large, heavy-bladed knife.
On the exterior of the vehicle, this Investigator observed what appeared to be blood draining downward from the bottom of the door jam. The vehicle’s headlight switch was in the fully extended “On” position, the gear shift lever was in the “Drive” position, and the ignition switch turned to the “Off” position.
At approximately 05:20hrs, FDLE Crime Scene Technician Al Horne arrived on-scene.
Upon completion of Horne’s forensic processing and photographs, Volusia County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald Reeves – with the assistance of Inv. M. S. – conducted a cursory physical examination of the victim’s body.
Upon turning the body over, the victim was found to be clutching a small crystal amulet in the left hand which hung from the neck by a black cord.
Between the victim’s legs was a small piece of paper that appeared to be a gasoline receipt, which had presumably fallen or been removed from the open nylon waist pouch.
The victim’s shoes, waist pouch and the nearby eyeglasses were collected and taken into evidence by Horne.
Upon completion of the crime scene processing and physical examination of the body, Holly Hill Police Chief J. P. Finn escorted R. C., the owner/operator of Checker Cab Co. into the scene to positively identify the victim.
Mr. C. immediately recognized the body as his driver, Mark Clyde Scribner. . .”
Chief J. P. “Pat” Finn had a great influence in my life.
In 1982, the City of Port Orange Police Department sponsored me to Basic Law Enforcement Recruit Training at Daytona Beach Community College – also known as “Rookie School.”
There were no job openings available in Port Orange when I graduated, so, in March 1983, after a battery of civil service tests, background investigations and interviews, Chief Finn hired me as a Holly Hill police officer.
I was 22 years old. . .
Through the years, I learned a lot from Chief Finn – an old school cop, with a rough exterior, but a true heart of gold – he guided the early part of my career, helping me navigate the humps and bumps all young officers experience, always pushing me toward positions of increasing responsibility.
He taught the importance of character, honor, and perseverance to success in the police service – how to survive a small town physically and politically, and he allowed me to learn from my many personal and professional mistakes – which showed that it’s okay to take chances and consider alternative strategies, safe in the knowledge honest errors are not always fatal.
In October 1995, Pat Finn placed a great deal of trust in me to lead the Scribner homicide investigation – knowing full well that, as Chief of Police, the ultimate responsibility for my success or failure rested solely with him.
After all these years, Chief Finn and I remain in touch – often reminiscing on days gone by and ruminating on current events – and, yes, I still respectfully refer to him as “Chief.”
As you will see, this case stunned many in the Halifax area in the fall of ’95 – and changed the lives and perspective of those who worked it.
While it was not a particularly difficult crime to solve – for reasons that will become apparent – it took an emotional toll on everyone involved.
In fact, the terrible details of this case remain bright and intense in my memory 25-years on, and whenever I see one of those quartz amulets, I immediately return to that damp and bloody crime scene in my mind. . .
Please join me next week for Part II – The Investigation Begins