Deputy Robert Ankony

On Monday, February 10, 1975, my partner, Ken Crowley, and I were assigned to a sixteen-square-mile area in the City of Romulus, a large suburb ten miles southwest of Detroit. Romulus’s most noteworthy attribute, other than hotels and crime, is that it surrounds Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Every shift, four sheriff’s cars patrolled the city, and Ken and I were working the eleven p.m.‑seven a.m. shift.

Ken was a former captain in the US Army Twelfth Special Forces Group, and I was a former Army Ranger. Both of us had combat experience in Vietnam. We often worked together. We both worked nights and attended college in the mornings, and since we also had to be in court every morning after we made an arrest and anytime someone contested a ticket, we were always low on sleep.

It was a bitter ten-degree evening, but the roads were clear and dry. Driving to our assigned area, we heard other cars on the radio, making traffic stops or being dispatched in the districts and county parks. It was quiet in our area, and the hours ticked by as we drove along farm roads, though subdivisions, and around strip centers. We were talking about the sergeant exam we had just taken, and problems we were experiencing with our wives, who worked days.

Driving in circles was getting tiresome, so I decided to play a joke on our dispatchers. The county morgue used the same frequency as our patrol cars, and when nothing was happening I would occasionally radio dispatch, pretending we were one of the Detroit wagons en route to pick up bodies. In ten years, homicides had shot up fivefold, and the Motor City had earned a new moniker: “Murder City,” the most dangerous place to live in America.[1]

If the morgue responded to Detroit or Highland Park, another very high-crime city in the center of the county, it was a common thing to hear them radio that they were picking up two, three, or even four bodies. For these cities outside our patrol area, the dispatchers only logged the morgue runs but had absolutely no follow-up or other interaction—as sheriff’s dispatchers, they already had more than enough on their plate. Thus, there was no way for them to get the scoop on what happened.

Our dispatchers knew I lived in Detroit and, moreover, had worked narcotics there, which meant I had surely seen some crazy stuff in the trenches. Thus, after hearing one of these calls, the dispatchers, eager for an inside scoop, would often take me aside back at the station to get my take on what happened. The joke was to use a convincing foreign accent so they wouldn’t recognize my voice, and ratchet up the body count for the benefit of our dispatchers and any other of our cars that were listening. Since the morgue used the same frequency as the sheriff’s dispatch, there was no way of knowing who was actually making the call.

The trick was to give a high enough body count to amaze the dispatchers, but not so high that they would suspect a prank. Then, sure enough, when we got back to the station, the dispatchers would be all over me with questions about the latest shootout. “Christ, Ankony,” they’d say, “it’s the freakin’ OK Corral in your town! What the hell is going on over there?” Of course, the real challenge in all this was to keep a straight face back at the station when offering my expert opinion on what went down in Murder City that night.

It was harmless, and it was a dead night anyway, so I grabbed the mike from the dash and said with a gravelly Eastern European accent, “Er-uh, One Fifty-One ta radio.”

“Go ahead, One Five One.”

“We’re en route to Euclid and Linwood ta pick up nine.”

“We have Euclid and Linwood, One Five One––for nine. Your time is zero two thirty-seven hours.”

“One Fifty-One, okay,” I said, placing the mike back on the hook and then laughing. Euclid and Linwood, in west-central Detroit, was a war zone, especially at bar-closing time.

“Hey, Ken,” I said, still giggling, “can you imagine what everybody’s thinking right now? I mean, all the guys gotta be saying, ‘What a shootout! There’s gotta be blood and bodies everywhere!’”

Ken laughed and said, “A typical night in Detroit.”

We drove around more, and Ken said, “Circuit court sucked it out of me . . . I can’t stay awake.”

“I hear ya.”

“Can you drive while I nod off?”

“For sure, but better yet, I’ll find a place to hide and we’ll both nod off.”


Dead end road

A few minutes later, I pulled into the end of a narrow dirt road and parked with our engine on and doors locked. “This oughta do,” I said.

It was winter, so I made sure our exhaust was downwind and free of any obstacles. I had once found a couple dead in their car. They were having sex in the backseat and died of carbon monoxide poisoning because the vehicle’s exhaust was backed into a snowbank.

“We’re okay?” Ken asked.

“For sure. When I’m asleep, I can focus my brain to hear nothing but our car number.”

“No foolin’!”

“Yeah, I was an RTO [radiotelephone operator] in Nam and could home in on ‘Slashing Talon Five-Nine even with minimum volume.

“That was your team?”

“Yeah. So rack out. I already plugged ‘Thirty-seven’ into my brain.”

We closed our eyes as the radio periodically called one car, then another.

Suddenly, a spotlight blasted in Ken’s and my eyes. It was another car, manned by Officers Gesch and McKinnon. We had worked with them before. They pulled alongside, and I rolled my window down.

“We’ve been looking all over for you guys!” Gesch said.

“Really?” I moaned, still coming around.

“Yeah, radio’s been calling you for two hours.”

“Two hours—wow!”

“All our cars, plus the state police, were looking for you.”

“Ah, shit!” I said, as Ken looked at me and said quietly, “I was relying on you, Bob.”

“I know. Just give me a minute to think.”

“Maybe say our radio broke,” Ken said.

“But it isn’t broke. And if it was, they’d want to know how I drove two hours without hearing traffic.”

Gesch laughed and said, “Then think of something.”

“I just did: I’ll loosen the antenna jack and say the radio was working intermittently––you know, we heard traffic but just didn’t hear our calls.”

“That should do it,” McKinnon said.

“You think it’ll work?” Ken asked.

“We don’t have a choice,” I said, popping our trunk.

I stepped out and loosened the antenna jack to the large steel-cased receiver just enough so it would still work, and shut the trunk. Stepping back in, I grabbed the mike and said, “Uh, radio, this is Car Thirty-Seven. Were you trying to reach us?”

“Car Thirty-Seven?”

“Yes, this is Thirty-Seven.”

“Thirty-Seven! Two-o-two-two!” (A 2022 meant return to the station immediately.)

Ten minutes later, we pulled in the back of the station. I was the senior officer, and one of our dispatchers, Charlie Howell, met me as I stepped inside. Charlie was a great officer and the top pistol shooter in our department. More importantly, he knew the importance of answering radio calls promptly. “What the fuck happened!” he barked.

“Our antenna was loose, and I had to tighten the damn thing.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“Hey, you know how shitty the roads are. Chuckhole musta’ shaken it loose.”

“Try explaining that to the lieutenant.”

Ken and I walked to the front desk. Lieutenant Hamilton, six-two and 240 pounds of solid muscle, was standing behind the desk, looking down at us. “So you had radio problems all that time, Ankony?”

“Yeah. Antenna jack was loose, but I fixed it.”

“So that’s never gonna happen again, right?”

“No way, Lieutenant. I’m gonna check the antenna every time I take a car.”

He nodded with a slight smile and said, “Good idea.”

As we turned to leave, Hamilton pulled me aside.

“Ankony, what the hell do you think happened there? Nine bodies—holy shit!”

“Hey, Lieutenant,” I said, “that’s pretty standard shit since Coleman Young became mayor.”[2]

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “Okay, get back out there, guys, and stop some crime.”

Ken and I hightailed it out of the station. Back in the cruiser, after we had put a couple of blocks behind us and it was safe to laugh, Ken said, “Jeez, Ankony, just think what you could accomplish if you put that devious mind to work for the forces of good!”[3]


[1] Detroit periodically led the nation as the most dangerous big city in both murder and violent crime rates, and it “won” again in 2013. Christine MacDonald, “Detroit Led U.S. in Murder, Crime Rates, FBI Says,” Detroit News, Nov. 11, 2014,

[2] Coleman Young, who led the city from 1974‑94, is generally acknowledged one of the worst mayors Detroit ever had.

[3] Three weeks later, Ken and I would be in the fight of our lives: