When a young college student, Michael Carmen, was shot to death during a robbery at an Albuquerque, New Mexico gas station in July 1976, Detective Greg MacAleese had no idea who was responsible for the killing. No witnesses came forward, and it appeared that the senseless and brutal shotgun slaying would remain a mystery.
MacAleese, who had worked for a newspaper before joining the Albuquerque Police Department, knew something innovative would be necessary to encourage the public to get involved and help solve the murder. He conceived the ideas of producing a video reenactment of the homicide and guaranteeing anonymity for anyone who was willing to call him with information. He put up a reward from his own pocket and enlisted help from the local media to publicize the first "Crime of the Week" and the number to call with information.
The need to take such extraordinary steps to solve the killing of Carmen seemed almost surprising. The case was one that should have outraged the community and brought forth many witnesses. Carmen was only two weeks away from getting married and had taken an extra shift at the gas station to give a co-worker the night off. When police responded to an emergency call, they found Carmen gravely wounded. He had been shot in the abdomen at point blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun. The medical staff kept him alive for four hours and during that time he tried to tell detectives who was responsible, but he just didn't have the strength to form the words. But at that time, Albuquerque had one of the highest per capita crime rates in the country and people were afraid to help the police.
MacAleese's plan to identify those responsible for killing Carmen worked. Within a few hours after the video reenactment of the murder was broadcast on television station KOAT, he received a phone call. The video image had triggered the memory of a person who had heard a loud bang in the vicinity of the gas station and then had seen a car driving off. The caller told MacAleese that the vehicle belonged to a resident in a nearby apartment complex. MacAleese and a team of detectives carried out an investigation, arrested two men within 72 hours, and charged them with the murder of Carmen and a string of armed robberies.
MacAleese also received other calls following the broadcast, including one that allowed police to solve the rape of a young woman. Those successes enabled MacAleese to convince the Albuquerque Police Department to allow a group of citizens to establish the first Crime Stoppers program.
For his efforts, Detective MacAleese was named the country's Police Officer of the Year. It's also interesting to note that since adopting the Crime Stoppers program, Albuquerque's crime rate has dropped significantly and it no longer is ranked in the list of 20 U.S. cities with the highest per capita crime rate.
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