Q&A: Detective Christopher Ross
Meet one of the region’s best homicide detectives for his take on solving real-life murder mysteries.
Savannah, Ga., is a town known for its historic appeal, Victorian houses and a bustling downtown district filled with unique shops and delectable eateries. Despite the southern charm that puts Savannah on a tourist’s radar, there is something else the southern city is known for, especially by locals – its high homicide rate for a city its size. In 2016, there were 50 victims of homicide inside city borders. Dauntless efforts by elected officials and law enforcement are aimed at getting that number down and arresting those responsible. One man charged with putting murderers behind bars is Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s homicide detective Christopher Ross. Dubbed one of the area’s best detectives, we wanted the lowdown on what it takes to earn that title. With nearly 10 years of experience solving murders, he shares what it takes to get the job done and how he handles the horrific scenes he encounters.
Not every police officer ends up being a homicide detective. What drew you to this specialized field? My mother was a victim of domestic violence. I watched a man beat her for years. Once I became a detective, I realized that I could put people away like the man who beat my mom. That became my goal.
You’ve had your hands in plenty of murder cases during your tenure as a homicide detective. Is there one case that you’ll never forget? The most memorable case that affects me is Lauren Smart, the Wilmington Island woman stomped to death by her husband. When I walked into their house and turned the corner where she was, I saw my mother. Her murder happened in front of her two kids; they witnessed their mother die. I put that man away forever.
You obviously see some pretty horrendous things. How do you deal with such gruesome scenes? There are times that you say, “I’m done.” Things do affect you, they affect you emotionally. But I don’t let them get to me. I don’t go home and have nightmares. I sleep good because I put people in jail. You separate yourself from the job and you move on.
Putting people in jail and solving murders takes a certain skill set. What skills must someone have to be one of the best homicide detectives? You have to be a good listener and listen to everything being said. Sometimes listening is seeing. You have to be able to watch the mannerisms of people and you have to be able to read people.
It’s one thing to be smart and read a book, it’s another to be able to read people. When it comes to interviewing suspects how do those skills play into getting someone to talk? An interview with a suspect overwhelms your senses because you’re basing your questions off what they’re doing and saying. You have to figure out ways to get people to communicate that they did do something without them thinking they’re going to be in prison for the rest of their lives. In other words, in the interview, I become your best friend. Your only friend at that moment; the only person that can save you. I can lead you to where I want you to go, I just can’t make you drink. Once I get you there, the question is, will you tell me.
What qualities does an all-star detective need to possess? Honesty, integrity, commitment, courage, hope and passion. If you’re not passionate, you wouldn’t do it. You must also enjoy teamwork. Solving a murder takes a team. When there is a homicide, sometimes you’ll see six detectives on scene at the beginning. Without each other, our job would be harder.
Speaking of passion, you have a passion for cold cases. You were the one who solved the murder of Wesley Franklin, the Isle of Hope firefighter innocently gunned down in a bar in 2012. The reason cold cases are a passion of mine is those victims and families have never been brought that closure. They’ve not heard someone say, “There he or she is and they are guilty.” Families need to know there is an advocate working for the person who is deceased. I told Wesley Franklin’s family that I was his voice. We are the voice of the silent and there is no greater honor.
Even though you’re passionate about cold cases, are there ever times when you’ve hit a roadblock on a case and you want to give up? Most homicide detectives will never give up on their cases, ever. I’ve never given up on one of my cases. I might have to put it aside for five minutes or six months, but I’m coming back and will solve it. Every homicide case can be solved because someone, somewhere, knows something. You just have to find them.