Homicide cop's persistence pays off; Suspect named 8 years after boys were slain, San Diego, Calif.


By Joe Hughes
The San Diego Union-Tribune
March 23, 2001

(San Diego, CA) -- Whenever San Diego homicide Sgt. Bill Holmes looked in his wallet, he saw Jonathan Sellers and Charlie Keever.He'd been looking for the person who molested and strangled the boys since their bodies were found near the Otay River on March 29, 1993.

"I carried their pictures in my wallet every day," Holmes said.

The pictures -- including one with the desperate plea of "Help me, help me" scribbled on the back by the mother of one of the victims -- were in Holmes' billfold when police announced Wednesday that they had solved the crime, described as one of the most brutal in city history.

Scott Thomas Erskine, 38, a convicted sex offender serving a 70-year sentence at Wasco state prison, is the killer, police said. He was identified when DNA evidence from the crime scene was matched with a growing database of DNA samples taken from state prison inmates.

Holmes finally had his man. And his dedication to the case elicited praise from San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano and District Attorney Paul Pfingst, putting the unassuming, soft-spoken Holmes in the spotlight.

Co-workers say Holmes deserves the attention.

On the police force for 26 years, the 48-year-old detective has built a reputation as a mild-mannered, compassionate investigator who often becomes close to victims' relatives.

"Bill has a tenacity and love for the job, and a special respectfulness for crime victims," said Capt. Greg Clark. "Bill kept in almost daily contact over the years with relatives of the boys."

On one anniversary of the killings, Holmes had an impromptu lunch with Maria Keever and Milena Sellers, the boys' mothers. They dined at a Carrows restaurant in a Palm City neighborhood -- a half-mile from where the bodies where found.

During the lunch, Sellers said she felt Holmes was family. When police announced Wednesday they had solved the case, she said: "Thank God for Sgt. Holmes. He kept me from going insane. I somehow knew he would find the killer of my boy, and he never let me down.

"Somehow I knew Sgt. Holmes would find who killed our babies."

Holmes has been with the homicide bureau for a decade, an unusually long stint in such a demanding job.

Why so long?

"It allows me to put people in jail for a long time," he said. "There is great satisfaction in locking up career criminals."

An avid fisherman who has a 32-foot boat, Holmes has had his share of heartache. His first wife died of cancer in 1998. The loss so devastated him that he buried his sorrow in his work and took little time off.

His dedication to his work never wavered.

Holmes said he always felt police would find the boys' killer. At the crime scene, his team of detectives meticulously gathered key evidence, including DNA, even though the technology to use it had not been developed.

Still, frustrations were many.

Police thought they might be led to the killer by poring over lists of registered sex offenders, parolees and probationers. Those efforts led nowhere.

Over the years, whenever time allowed, Holmes and his team would delve back into the unsolved killings. "Every minute we were not on a new case, we were on this one," he said.

There was always plenty to do.

Detectives conducted more than 1,000 interviews and considered more than 400 people as potential suspects. Most were eliminated because they had solid alibis.

Holmes said the case hit close to home.

"All of us have children; this was more than just a case to us," he said. "If not for a quirk of luck, it could have been any of our kids."

As for the pictures in his wallet? He plans to put the photos of Jonathan and Charlie in his desk drawer.

Case closed.

Copyright 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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