Milwaukee captain made familiar search for missing boys

RAQUEL RUTLEDGE, Staff, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Copyright 2006 Journal Sentinel Inc.

Debra Davidoski didn't know it when she kissed her young daughters the night of March 19, left her house and headed to the scene where two Milwaukee boys had disappeared. But within hours, the Milwaukee police captain would be coordinating the biggest investigation the department has seen in at least 25 years, dwarfing the probe into the Jeffrey Dahmer slayings or the search for Alexis Patterson.

Nor did she know it then that the hunt for 12-year-old Quadrevion Henning and his best friend Purvis Virginia Parker, 11, would not only absorb her professionally, it would haunt her personally.

"I had to give her a direct order to go home and rest," said Deputy Chief of Police Brian O'Keefe, head of the department's criminal investigation bureau.

But the 50-year-old Davidoski couldn't rest. She thought of her little brother. She thought of her parents. She ached.

It was the fall of 1970. A Saturday. She was 14, headed to a debate competition with her classmates. Her dad and two brothers went duck hunting near their home in Durand. Her 13-year-old brother got lost.

Day after day, searchers looked but couldn't find him. Rumors filled the small town just east of the Mississippi River: Family was to blame.

"I remember being teased," Davidoski said.

Twenty-seven days later, divers recovered his body in the Mississippi River. He had drowned, an accidental death.

Davidoski had no way to know then that the fate of Purvis and Quadrevion would parallel her brother's. That it would take 27 days for their bodies to surface in a lagoon less than a mile from their home. That rumors would point to their families.

"I went to bed at night and said, 'God, tell me where they are.' I knew what these families were going through."

Davidoski, head of the department's sensitive crimes division, engrossed herself in the search. She seldom slept. Co-workers did her grocery shopping. Her husband, neighbors and other family members took care of her 7- and 9-year-old daughters. Davidoski stopped home only to shower, change clothes and catch a glimpse of her sleeping girls.

She did what she knew the boys' families would want. What she had to do.

Davidoski invited the Henning and Parker families into the command post, where tips were coming in and searchers were being deployed, a move not typical in most missing person cases.

"I wanted them to see what we were doing to search for their children, that we were doing everything possible," she said.

And although the Police Department won't officially review how the investigation was handled until later this month, agencies involved in the search as well as Quadrevion's family said the Milwaukee Police Department did everything right.

"There's nothing they could have done differently whatsoever," said Garry Henning, the guardian and grandfather of Quadrevion. "They did everything by the book and with their heart and with their soul."

Each day, the department's criminal investigation bureau had about 50 detectives working the case, and that didn't include patrol officers. The FBI, the state Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent their top experts to assist. The Milwaukee Fire Department, county sheriff's office, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Reserve and more than a dozen other police departments and agencies helped.

Volunteers - citizen and corporate - offered their time and services.

In all, more than 200 people a day combed the city in search of Quadrevion and Purvis, said Deputy Chief O'Keefe.

"I've never seen anything this massive," said O'Keefe, a 17-year veteran of the criminal investigation bureau. "This was much bigger than the Dahmer investigation, without a doubt. It was not even close.

"We put a lot of resources into finding Alexis Patterson, but this time we had two; we had more to do."

O'Keefe and Davidoski divided investigators into teams. One sorted tips, passing them to other teams, each of which focused on a particular angle of the investigation. In the end, the number of tips would top 1,000.

One team looked at the possibility the boys had been abducted by a sexual predator. They tracked down the more than 100 known sex offenders in the neighborhood. They questioned them, searched their homes, cars and garages. Then they found and interviewed sex offenders from out of the area who came to the city only for counseling. They also investigated every suicide since the boys' disappearance on the theory that someone guilty of hurting the boys might kill himself. They talked to the families of the suicide victims and searched their homes. They searched the Internet for the boys' photos on child pornography sites.

Another team followed leads that the boys' disappearance might be related to prior drug dealings of Purvis Virginia Parker's dad, Purvis Parker. They fielded calls from prisoners who claimed to have knowledge. They talked to drug dealers familiar with Purvis Parker's history and connections. They questioned every known friend, past and present. They leaned heavily on their informants.

Another team considered accident scenarios. They searched every abandoned building, car, garbage can and trash bin. They called the railroad companies and searched hundreds of box cars, those that had traveled through the neighborhood the Sunday of their disappearance and those stored on a site a couple miles from the boys' homes. They looked around the old military silos nearby, and down in the sewers. They searched the parks, ponds and the Milwaukee River, from north of the county line to the North Avenue dam. Four days after the boys vanished, divers looked in the McGovern Park lagoon. The cold, muddy water had trapped the bodies deep beneath the surface, they would later learn.

And yet another team focused its efforts on the Henning family, the last people to see the boys. They interrogated Garry Henning over and over, for nearly 10 hours one day. They seized his SUV and computers from his home. They questioned his wife and other family members again and again.

"Each investigation took on a life of its own," Davidoski said.

Using a computer program called Rapid Start, investigators linked the leads and could try to piece together the big picture.

"Your brain is going 40 mph. What am I missing? Where haven't we gone?" Davidoski said.

The FBI and police departments from out of state sent in planes and helicopters equipped with infrared, heat-seeking devices.

They brought in horses, bloodhounds and cadaver dogs.

They listened to the many psychics who called with visions of the boys.

For the first time, the Milwaukee Police Department utilized a phone messaging system that sent an automated message to every home within a mile of the boys' homes, alerting residents to their disappearance.

They talked face to face with everyone who could talk - including children as young as 4 or 5 - in every house in more than 100 blocks around their homes, knocking on the same doors again and again until they reached everyone.

"You'd get tips that were so hopeful. You'd be so hopeful," Davidoski said. "You'd run with the lead, then it would dead end. The crash was really hard. It was exhausting."

The department has not yet tallied the overtime costs of the search, but O'Keefe guessed it would top $75,000.

Throughout the investigation, Angela Virginia, Purvis' mother, said she knew police were doing everything possible. They updated her every night. She commended their efforts.

Looking back on the boys' deaths now, however, Virginia had one major complaint: Why did they rule out the lagoon when the cold and ice had kept them from doing a thorough search?

"My biggest concern was that they sat out there for so long and they were only 10 minutes from home," she said of the drowned boys. "They (the police) should have never officially ruled it out."

A tip offering hope

The night before Purvis' body surfaced in the lagoon, O'Keefe and Davidoski got a tip from a California school administrator reporting that someone had tried to register two boys with no birth certificates. The boys looked like Quadrevion and Purvis and had similar names, the woman said.

"I said, 'Jump on it,' " O'Keefe said. "It was late at night, but we were not going to wait. We woke everyone up and got them to get into the school" even though it was Good Friday. "We were actually feeling somewhat good about it."

The "we" O'Keefe referred to did not include Davidoski. She wouldn't let herself feel good. When the chief called to say, "Aren't you excited?" Davidoski said, "No." By that point in the investigation, Davidoski had learned she had to stay emotionally strong for the long haul, she said.

"The crash just burns you out," she said. "You have to pick yourself up and move on to the next lead. I couldn't ride that roller coaster anymore."

Investigators were still waiting to hear back from officials in California that Friday night, April 14, when Milwaukee dispatch got the call that a child's body was spotted floating in the lagoon.

Davidoski went straight to the scene. And back 35 years to when her father picked her up early from school one day.

"I said, 'What's up, Dad?' " she recalled. "He said, 'Heaven is up.' And I knew they had found my brother."

Copyright 2006, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.) 


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