The call arrived at the switchboard and was transferred twice before Detective Sean Mukaddam, a violent crime investigator in Decatur, Ala. Who specializes in cold cases, finally picked up the phone.
The man on the other end of the line had a tip, so to speak.
“’I want to confess to a murder that I committed years ago,’ ‘Detective Mukaddam said.
That man was Johnny Dwight Whited, according to police, who said they confessed to police on Wednesday that he fired a single shot that killed a man 25 years earlier in a wooded area of Decatur. But the breakthrough in a cold case that had baffled investigators for a quarter of a century was not as straightforward as it seemed.
“He didn’t know the date or the year,” Detective Mukaddam said. “We were trying to understand what he was talking about.”
Using a chart of every homicide in Decatur dating back to the 1980s and a description of the location given to them by Mr. Whited, investigators said they were able to link Mr. Whited to the murder of Christopher Alvin Dailey on the April 26, 1995..
Mr Whited, 53, traveled with detectives on Wednesday to the location where Mr Dailey’s body was found and reconstructed the murder, authorities said.
He was charged with murder and being held on $ 15,000 bail at Morgan County Jail in Decatur, about 25 miles southwest of Huntsville, Alabama, in the upstate.
“I’ve never had a situation where I just pick up the phone and get a call like this,” Detective Mukaddam said. “Nothing where the suspect calls me out of the blue and wants to confess.”
Griff Belser, an attorney for Mr. Whited, who lives in Trinity, Alabama, said Thursday night he wanted to meet with his client before discussing the case.
Mr. Dailey was 26 when he was killed. His 1983 Toyota Tercel was found submerged in the Tennessee River, officials said, who said Mr. Whited and Mr. Dailey did not know each other. They declined to comment further on the motive.
Detective Mukaddam said Mr. Whited was “terminally ill”.
“He was remorseful,” Detective Mukaddam said. “He was embarrassed about some things. He wanted to get it off his chest.
Despite what police described as a full investigation, investigators said they never identified any potential suspects in the case. Over the past quarter of a century, investigators said, the case had been re-examined several times, but it did not reveal any leads.
Mr Whited’s arrest was in stark contrast to the dozens of cold cases that recently made headlines, those that were resolved through scientific advancements in DNA analysis and genetic genealogy – the use of records of ancestry – to catch a killer.
Cases like that of Joseph James DeAngelo, the so-called Golden State Killer, who was sentenced in August to multiple life sentences without parole for 13 murders and 13 kidnappings during the 1970s and 1980s in California.
“We asked specific questions to see if he was telling the truth or if he was someone trying to get some notoriety,” he said.
Inspector Mukaddam said he informed relatives of Mr Dailey that there had been an arrest in the case.
“I was able to give them closure after 25 years,” he said.
But the detective downplayed his role in the case, saying his predecessors had worked many hours on it.
“I turned the last page and closed the book on the book they had written,” he says.