Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Bridgeport’s top detective retires after 32 years
BRIDGEPORT — But for the high price of photographic film Bridgeport’s top detective might have taken a different career path.
This week Lt. Christopher LaMaine, 53, is retiring after 32 years with the Police Department, the last 14 as supervisor of the Detective Bureau.
In the last 10 years he has supervised 170 homicide investigations, with a 70 percent solve rate, one of the highest solve rates in the country, according to FBI statistics.
But in 1991 LaMaine was at a crossroads.
A young patrol officer, he got talking to Phil Noel, a photographer for the then-Bridgeport Post at parades and other events about their mutual love of photography and Noel convinced LaMaine to apply for a photographer job at the newspaper.
LaMaine got the job, but after a few months realized it wasn’t as glamorous as he hoped it would be and he had to buy his own film.
“It was costing me a lot of money,” he said. So, he ended up going back to his day job with the police department.
LaMaine said in the early 1990s being a police officer in Bridgeport was a busy occupation.
“On one shift we had seven unrelated shootings in five hours. The volume of crime was tremendous,” he said. “There were car chases and foot chases. It didn’t stop.”
He said he later worked undercover in the narcotics unit.
“I loved doing drug surveillance because there were no shortage of drug dealers in the 1990s,” he said. “The great thing about working narcotics is that it’s rarely a life-and-death situation. If you don’t catch the drug dealer today, you’ll get a chance to arrest him tomorrow.”
He said while he was with the unit, they made 9,600 arrests.
State’s Attorney Joseph Corradino started as a state prosecutor in Bridgeport about the same time LaMaine joined the police department.
“I have always been amazed by him,” said Corradino. “He’s always been proactive. When he was a young patrolman, he would organize other officers on adjacent posts to take down drug dealers, while he climbed onto porch roofs of abandoned houses and observed the transactions only feet away from the unsuspecting criminals, then radioing to the other officers to make the arrest.”
While LaMaine can now name just about every street in the Park City, he knew nothing about Bridgeport before he joined the police department and even got lost his first time in the city.
LaMaine grew up in Cheshire and attended Cheshire High School. After high school he went into the Marines.
“I was in the Marines with this guy who grew up in Bridgeport and kept talking about wanting to be a Bridgeport police officer,” he said. “He grew up in the inner city of Bridgeport and had all these great stories that were just so foreign to me because I grew up in the suburbs. The more he kept talking about it the more I became convinced that I wanted to become a cop in Bridgeport because it sounded so cool.”
When he got out of the Marines LaMaine started cold calling the department hoping to get an application to become a police officer.
“Finally, they told me to come down and pick up an application. But when I got here, I was lost. I had to ask directions to City Hall. I had no idea where I was,” he said.
While talking, the sound of men yelling in unison out on the street interrupted LaMaine. It was the newest police recruiting class jogging down Fairfield Avenue. Some of the recruits were carrying heavy weights as they ran.
“Wow that’s great,” LaMaine said, watching the procession. “They do things so much better now than when I started. We didn’t do any of that and believe me we had a lot of guys who were out of shape. But they do things much better now, smarter. They recruit better. They train better and they get some very good officers.”
After eight years in the narcotics unit LaMaine said he was ready for a change and in 2009 transferred to the Detective Bureau.
At that time James Viadero, a long-time mentor to LaMaine, had been appointed bureau captain.
Viadero had previously restarted the department’s scuba team and LaMaine, who had been a serious diver since he was 17, served on the team under Viadero.
“Jimmy had been a good mentor to be as I came up the ranks and when I found out that he was the new head of the Detective Bureau I wanted the assignment,” he said.
Viadero appointed LaMaine to head the new homicide squad.
“The DB was more cerebral than narcotics work. There was less action, but there was also a lot more pressure, especially in homicide cases,” he said. “You don’t want to mess up a homicide case because you are at the end of the line. If you don’t solve it no one will. If the case goes unsolved the victims’ family has no other recourse.”
He said that’s something he now stresses to young detectives.
“Look, I don’t care if people yell at us in the street, the pressure of the job is trying to deliver on every case and feeling like crap when you don’t,” he said. “Unless you solve 100 percent of them, and you never do, you are going to feel bad.”
Corradino said LaMaine, as leader of the homicide squad, remained a hands-on supervisor succeeding in solving the most serious cases.
“He has always been an engaging personality, a wiry burst of energy with the face of someone’s kid brother,” the top prosecutor said. “Whether it’s the middle of the day in my office or 3 a.m. at the scene of a homicide, Chris is always on. I don’t think he gets tired and may actually be energized by the challenge of solving crimes. He’s an amazing interrogator, using native charm and quick intellect to trip up suspects who try to pull the wool over his eyes.”
Part of what made LaMaine a good investigator is that he has a wide range of knowledge in multiple areas.
“He’s one of the few people I know who can move effortlessly from discussing evidence to art history to geopolitics and back to the present investigation,” Corradino said. “I am certainly going to miss working with him.”
Criminal defense lawyer Frank Riccio II got to know LaMaine through many of his cases.
“In my nearly 25 years as a criminal defense attorney, I have interacted with Chris LaMaine countless times. He was a nononsense police officer while at the same time being courteous, polite and respectful,” Riccio said.
Looking back at some of his cases, LaMaine said he noticed a pattern. His most memorable cases all involved female victims, elderly victims and vulnerable victims.
There was the tragic Dec. 2018 murder of Bethel woman Emily Todd by a man she had met on an on-line dating app.
“It was good that we could get some justice for her family,” he said.
Solving the 27-year-old murder of 77-year-old Theodore
“Teddy” Edwards in the Boston Avenue Duchess restaurant.
“Teddy was just a guy working for a living cleaning up in the Duchess, when he was killed for no reason,” he said.
In 2013, 24-year-old Aryndel Castro disappeared from his city home.
Eight years later LaMaine was on his hands and knees digging in a dirt crawl space under a Noble Avenue house when he uncovered Castro’s remains. Two men are now awaiting trial for Castro’s murder.
“It was both a good and bad feeling,” he said. “His (Castro’s) family had prayed all these years that he was still alive and I had to give them the bad news. But at the same time it was closure after all these years.”
Then there are the cases that LaMaine admits he sometimes shakes his head about.
The “brain eater” case as LaMaine refers to it. Everyone else knows it as the Bridgeport cannibal case.
In December 2011, Florida author Tyree Lincoln Smith hacked a homeless man to death in a vacant house here and then ate the man’s brain and eyeballs in Lakeview Cemetery, washing the parts down with sake.
“Yeah, that was a strange one,” LaMaine said.
In May 2018, a Bridgeport man was kidnapped. In a frantic phone call, he told his aunt the kidnappers were going to have an alligator eat him unless she paid a ransom.
LaMaine managed to track the kidnappers to a hotel in Shelton. The kidnappers arrested, LaMaine found the victim lying in a bathtub guarded by a 4-foot alligator. He grabbed the gator by the tail.
“The thing snapped at me, it was a decent size,” he said. He dispelled the rumor that he now has a pair of alligator boots.
“It’s probably swimming around with a lot of other alligators at a zoo,” he said.
Being a detective, LaMaine said, is like having a backstage pass to life.
“It’s been great adventure,” he said.