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Veteran Tacoma detective retires after 38 years

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on March 31, 2008 at 5:30 pm with No Comments »
March 31, 2008 5:30 pm

The Tacoma Police Department said goodbye today to one of its longest-serving detectives.

Wulf Werner retired after 38 years of service – spending all but six of those years as a homicide detective.

He is a well respected investigator and has earned several commendations over the years.

The News Tribune has profiled Wulf a couple of times over the years. Here are those stories.


By Doreen Marchionni/the News Tribune

Wednesday,January 11, 1995

Night’s fallen. Two hours have passed since the shooting, and police still can’t find the spent bullet.

Tacoma police detective Wulf Hans Otto “W.H.O.” Werner Sr. rolls up to the homicide. His eyes lock on a chip in a wooden post on the porch, where the victim died. He spots another chip in a brick building next door where the bullet passed and steps into the grassy yard.

“He turns around, walks up in the middle (of the yard) in the dark, picks up the round and says: ‘Here it is,'” recalled police Sgt. Mark Mann in mock German accent. “I couldn’t believe it. He comes up with things.”

This is vintage “Vulf,” a native of Germany who somehow retained his accent though he’s lived in this country since 1951. He’s fast. Focused. Eerily perceptive.

Tuesday, the community honored the barrel-chested sleuth with one of its most treasured nods: Officer of the Year.

Dark-haired with a salt-and-pepper mustache, the 53-year-old Werner exudes a cool, businesslike air on the job that belies his sympathy for crime victims and profound spirituality, his colleagues say. He has the peering brown eyes of a malamute – but the tenacity of a bulldog.

In his neat office cubicle hangs a placard that reads: “Remember. We work for God.”

“There’s just nobody better than him. It’s partly a tenacity,” said police Sgt. Mike Miller, who supervised Werner the past several years on various homicide and assault cases. “He’s pretty much full speed ahead.”

The Tacoma chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars named Werner Officer of the Year on the recommendation of the police department’s command staff. Earlier in the year, Werner received the department’s Distinguished Service Award.

With 25 years on the force – all but four as a detective – he’s had his share of kudos. Employee of the month. Award for Valor. Life-saving award. He’s been featured in a true-crime magazine for his investigation into the killing of an elderly Tacoma woman in the mid-1980s.

For the most part, Werner welcomes the recent praise and attention with about as much enthusiasm as a guy awaiting an appendectomy.

“This has been overwhelming for him,” said his wife of 28 years, Olivia Werner. “This is very awkward for him. He’s not out there for the glory.”

He’s out for justice and swift punishment – and his supervisors know it.

Miller pointed to a triple homicide last spring in which authorities found two bodies on the Gig Harbor Peninsula and one on the Hilltop. Police had a hunch the cases were linked. But they couldn’t find evidence of a shell casing and bullet that would link all three killings.

In daylight the next day, Werner returned to one of the crime scenes and crawled around the ground until he found the missing evidence in the soil. It led to a successful prosecution, his supervisors said.

“I’ve known him to go back two to three times to a crime scene,” Miller said. “As gruff as he seems to people, he has a deep and legitimate concern for the victims of these crimes.”

And he fights for prosecution of his cases, a trait Miller said he’d like to see in more detectives. Werner is somewhat legendary in his battles with prosecutors to get cases to trial. And he doesn’t shy from telling them he thinks they’re lazy or wimpy, Miller said.

Of Werner, Pierce County chief criminal prosecutor Gerry Horne had nothing but praise.

“His heart is obviously in the job. He pushes real hard on things which help us do our jobs better,” he said. “He charges hard – but he’s not the only one who does that.”

Werner realizes he has a reputation for being a tad intense at the cop shop. But he leaves the job stress behind when he returns home to Spanaway, where he raised his two sons. That’s been his key to career longevity, he said.

“I have a happy home life,” he said. “Having a happy marriage. That’s what keeps me focused at work.”



Three strikes you’re out: ‘Excellent.’

Death penalty: ‘It’s good.’

Pierce County prosecutors: ‘We have good ones, and some are burnt out.’

Hillary Clinton: ‘I’ve no use for her.’

The press: ‘It’s liberal. I think it can manipulate a lot of people.’

Newt Gingrich: ‘Some promise there. Good ideas. He’s conservative: That’s what I like.’

The Courts: ‘I thought there would be more justice in the courts. I thought the scales of justice are blind, and they’re not.’

‘Dedicated and caring’ officers? Look no farther than Wulf Werner

By Kathleen Merryman

Wednesday,November 19, 2003

State Attorney General Christine Gregoire had not yet slammed Tacoma Police Department’s leadership as corrupt when detective Wulf Werner’s doctor told him he needed open heart surgery – immediately.

Disgraced former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard had not yet snagged her tax-free $65,540-a-year disability pension when Werner went to work on the two days before his surgery.

Gregoire’s criticisms and Woodard’s bonanza nailed the headlines once again in the disheartening backwash from Police Chief David Brame’s killing of his wife, then himself.

But Werner’s behavior underlined one of Gregoire’s less sensational comments on the Washington State Patrol’s investigation into the scandal: Tacoma’s rank-and-file police officers are “dedicated and caring professionals.”

Still, that wasn’t the point detective Bob Yerbury wanted to make Monday afternoon when he called to tell me what his friend of 33 years had done. He simply wanted readers to know how dedicated Werner is to the people of Tacoma.

Werner was born in Germany and moved to Pierce County with his mother, brother and new stepfather after World War II. He graduated from Bethel High School in 1960, then joined the Navy.

“When I came out of the military, ‘Adam 12′ was a very popular show,” Werner said at his home Tuesday. “I said, ‘That is a good line of work.'”

In 1970, he and Yerbury graduated from the police academy and joined the Tacoma force as patrol officers.

By 1975, Werner was a homicide detective.

“He shows up 15 minutes before his starting time, and he never leaves early,” said Yerbury, also a homicide detective. “He is thorough, constantly reviewing cases, looking for that missed detail. He doesn’t like to give up. He doesn’t like to quit.”

He’s solved random killings where there were no witnesses and just a few gun casings to serve as evidence.

He has been unable to catch killers who opened fire on their victims in front of hundreds of people.

“The job has changed,” he said. “You get very little cooperation from the public. Very few people are willing to take the responsibility of coming forward. Now people just don’t want to get involved and say, ‘I saw this.'”

Ask him about the cases he’s solved, and he comes up dry. Ask about the ones he still hopes to solve, and he can give you every name.

“The unsolveds stick with you,” he said. “The solved go to trial, and you don’t have to deal with them again.”

The mothers still call him. He still checks every possibility. When he gets back to work, he intends to call Gary Ridgway’s lawyers with the name of a prostitute found floating in the Sound. It’s a long shot, but it’s a shot.

He could have retired by now, by virtue of his tenure. After a man he was chasing turned on him, grabbed his gun and held it to his head, he could have pleaded stress and spent the past 18 years relaxing with his wife, Olivia, on tax-free disability.

“Bob and I pride ourselves on not doing that,” he said. “We have seen too many phony retirements. It just sticks in our craw.”

This detective, who until two weeks ago worked out five days a week and climbed the 11 flights of stairs to his office, couldn’t see any reason to stay home after the Friday his doctor found blocked arteries and scheduled surgery for the next Wednesday. He reported to work on Monday. He did the same Tuesday and left only when his colleagues shoved him homeward.

Now, at 62, he has every right to claim disability or retirement.

He won’t. He’ll take off the eight weeks his doctor has ordered. He and Olivia will go on the vacation for which they already have their tickets.

But he’ll be back, serving us, Feb. 2.

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