Days after U.S. Marine Cpl. William Kyle Ferrell was killed in a hit-and-run last month, private donors and a nonprofit raised up to $3,000 in reward money for tips in the case.
Public outrage over Ferrell’s death prompted a private donor to offer a $1,000 reward for information that would identify and help catch the driver.
Another $2,000 in reward money came from the nonprofit Metro Crime Stoppers of Maryland, said Lt. Wayne Wachsmuth, commander of Maryland State Police’s Frederick barracks.
Neighboring police departments, including those in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have long worked with nonprofit groups like Crime Stoppers to help solve cases, but the concept is fairly new in Frederick.
“They’ve been in existence for a while, but I can’t recall the Frederick barracks ever having used them before,” Wachsmuth said of the partnership with Metro Crime Stoppers. “To be candid with you, I contacted our captain and he had mentioned the Crime Stoppers group, so we kind of connected the dots, looked into their program a little bit and, from there, reached out to them to see if they could help.”
Established in 1981 to generate crime tips in Baltimore, Metro Crime Stoppers expanded into Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Queen Anne’s and Howard counties, said the nonprofit group’s chairman, Earl Winterling.
Jurisdictions in less populated suburban and rural areas have trouble maintaining reliable funds and interest in their own Crime Stoppers groups, Winterling said.
“A lot of police organizations that try to start their own Crime Stoppers programs — a lot of times, those organizations aren’t successful. ... So we expanded our program,” Winterling said.
Crime Stoppers began in New Mexico in 1975 and has spread across the country, according to the Crime Stoppers USA website. Local groups are run by a board usually composed of business owners and residents who are independent of police, but work closely with them.
Tipsters who call a Crime Stoppers group are guaranteed anonymity. They get a number to identify them and the information they provide, which is forwarded to the police, Winterling said.
Most organizations offer a base reward — up to $2,000 for Metro Crime Stoppers — to which private donors can add by contacting Crime Stoppers and providing money upfront for the nonprofit’s escrow account, Winterling said.
“The thing that’s really unique and great about it is they’re independent of the department in terms of funds. They can handle funds and things like that that we don’t have the resources to do,” Wachsmuth said of how Metro Crimes Stoppers is set up. “I think we definitely would use them again.”
Despite the fact that Ferrell’s killer hadn’t been found after more than two weeks, Wachsmuth was pleased with the number of tips the department has received.
Not every agency in Frederick County is set up to take advantage of the Crime Stoppers model. Metro Crimes Stoppers of Maryland generally operates through local state police barracks, adding a layer of separation from smaller agencies.
Still, smaller municipal departments are aware of the benefits of a Crime Stoppers group, said acting Capt. Clark Pennington, a Frederick police spokesman.
“Is it something that we’d love to see up here? Absolutely,” Pennington said. “It’s also something we’ve looked into in the past. We had an intern researching it for us ... and we actually have a retired captain who is in the process of trying to set this up for us. He’s contacted us and wants to begin working soon.”
The county used to have its own Crime Stoppers group that was incorporated in 1981, but supporters lost interest over the years and the group fell into decline, former Deputy Chief Kevin Grubb said.
Pennington — who most recently commanded the department’s Criminal Investigation Division — mentioned the ongoing Lamont Ellis death investigation as a perfect example of how a group like Crime Stoppers could help both police and a grieving family. Ellis was shot and killed after a night out with friends in September 2012.
When no one provided information to help police solve the 36-year-old’s death, members of Ellis’ family raised reward money on their own, Pennington said.
After a year without an arrest, the family worked with the Victims’ Rights Foundation of Montgomery County, a nonprofit that kicked in $4,000 in reward money. By then, the family had raised $6,000 on its own, said Gregory Whims, the nonprofit’s president.
“There wasn’t anyone else that helped us. It was the family and us. And that’s what we’ve found in areas where you don’t have a Crime [Stoppers]. That’s what you have to do,” Whims said. “A lot of these families aren’t wealthy families. They’re hard-working, middle-class families, so it’s difficult for them to raise that kind of money.”
Things could change in Frederick, however. Grubb said he was in the process of reviving a Crime Stoppers group for local police now that he’s retired and seen three of his four children off to college.
“When I retired in 2013, I vowed that I would get this going again, because if a few dollars can encourage somebody to come forward and allow us to get an arrest and a conviction, it’s worth every penny,” Grubb said. “We’ve got what we need now. We’ve just got to get moving forward with it, because if it can work in other communities, it can work here.”