Christmastime 1972 was one for the ages. I was a 24-year-old undercover cop assigned to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department Metropolitan Narcotics Squad. It was December, and I was also serving with Company F, 425th Infantry (Ranger), in the Michigan National Guard.

Narcotics cop Bob Ankony, Detroit 1972

The week before Christmas, I reported to Selfridge Air National Guard Base for a jump. The jump was canceled due to weather, so I returned to my department and worked surveillance on a drug case in western Wayne County. It was a cold, foggy night as I sat in an unmarked car, keeping watch on a farmhouse with Lorenzo Hart, a stocky ex-Marine boxer who had served at Guantánamo.

Meanwhile, in the dark sky approaching Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, a father and son were piloting a small twin-engine aircraft back from Florida with bushels of oranges. They were struggling to see in the dense fog when their aircraft plunged into woods a few miles from us. A radio call went out, and Lorenzo and I responded, as did Patrolman Bill Chapaton, a former Mr. Michigan bodybuilder. We found the aircraft lodged high in a tree, its cockpit smashed directly into the trunk. Bill climbed the tree and found both men dead. Standing beneath the blood-spattered wreckage to wait for Fire Rescue, we smelled fuel and citrus juice leaking onto the pristine snow. Somewhere, a family had no idea their loved ones were dead and their world was about to collapse.

Michael Geldmacher and me horsing around in our Narcotics Bureau with winter uniform gear we were just issued in spite of our undercover assignment

That Christmas, I got engaged for the second time. Her name was Sheila and, like me, she was of Arabic descent. I felt great. On Wednesday, December 27, not much was happening at work when I noticed a dusty black leather briefcase on the floor between my desk and Officer Michael Geldmacher’s.

Our janitors seldom moved anything, so I asked, “Mike, is that your case?”

“No, I thought it was yours,” Mike replied.

“Not mine. Let’s see what’s inside.”

I opened it to find a live stick of dynamite, leaking nitroglycerine.

“Shit!” Mike hollered. “That’s Chuck Art’s dynamite!”

Detroit Free Press, Sunday, March 12, 1972

Chuck Art trained dogs in western Wayne County. He had a well-established relationship with our bureau, using drug-sniffing dogs at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Chuck had recently come into our bureau with a bunch of pizzas and soft drinks to show his appreciation for all the work we brought him. He was expanding into explosives at the time, and he had also brought along one of his new bomb-sniffing dogs. The timing was perfect. We were hungry, and as Chuck discretely placed the leather case between our two desks for the demonstration, everyone started chowing down on the food he had brought. We were all laughing and joking, and after a while, everyone just forgot about the demonstration, and Chuck left with his dog. (Hey, mistakes happen, even with unstable dynamite.)

Chuck returned for his briefcase, and I drove the fifteen miles home to Detroit in my county Mustang, an undercover car equipped with a police radio and siren.

With a light snow falling, I had reached the Detroit city limits on Michigan Avenue when the most terrifying words a cop can hear came over my radio: “Officers down! Officers down! Schaefer Road and Ellis! Ninety-two-hundred block, North of Joy Road!”

I was three miles south, so I spun my car around and headed north. I had a selective-fire .30-caliber M2 carbine and a 12-gauge High Standard riot shotgun in my trunk. Two weeks before, in that same neighborhood, the feds and members of our bureau had raided a house and arrested a former Wisconsin cop for possessing 360 pounds of marijuana. After we rammed through the door, the big ex-cop charged at me. When he didn’t stop, I had only a second to decide whether to shoot him or hit him with my shotgun. I chose the latter and swung a horizontal butt stroke into his right eye, breaking the stock and dropping him cold.

I arrived in the residential area five minutes later and grabbed my High Standard shotgun—with its newly replaced buttstock—from the trunk. The sun had already set, and the fresh dusting of snow on the bare trees reminded me of last week’s scene of the crashed airplane. On the sidewalk in front of one house were several large pools of blood, one of them with clumps of flesh and brain.

In the surrounding snow, I saw the last footprints of Officer Robert Bradford, 25, and those of his killers.

Officer Robert Bradford

Bradford and his critically wounded partner, Robert Dooley, 28, had already been removed by fellow officers. Both officers were assigned to STRESS (Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), a Detroit Police plainclothes unit that posed as vulnerable targets—even as women—to arrest muggers. STRESS was extraordinarily successful, but since most of its officers were white and most of the people arrested were black, it was also highly controversial in the black community.

Bradford and Dooley, both white, had just received information that three black militants, Mark Bethune, 21, John Percy Boyd, 23, and Hayward Brown, 18, were in the Schaefer area. Bethune, Boyd, and Brown were no ordinary criminals. They were fearless thugs responsible for a number of armed robberies—and for shooting four Detroit cops assigned to STRESS just three weeks before.

The entire police community was on the lookout for the threesome, dubbed “the mad-dog killers” by Detroit Police Commissioner John Nichols after the attack on Officers Bradford and Dooley. As the two officers lay critically wounded on the sidewalk, one of the killers had walked up to Officer Bradford, a married father of three, and finished him off with multiple shots from a sawed-off .30-caliber M1 carbine to the head.

I could see exactly where the killers had fled through the snow, and I thought of calling for Chuck Art’s tracking dogs. But time was critical and more and more officers were piling in from every direction: Detroit freeway officers, marked precinct patrol cars, narcotics officers, and Detroit Police Tactical Mobile Units. One of my neighborhood friends, Officer Larry Carter, responded in a TMU cruiser. But what had been a clear crime scene only moments ago was now a hodgepodge of footprints. Officers were running in every direction, shining flashlights in every alley. The killers were cruel, but they weren’t dumb—they got away easily.

The officers, seeing fresh footprints leading to homes, started kicking in doors. There were no visible command officers, and what was probably a solvable crime quickly turned into a frantic, unfocused search. I joined them, too, when they kicked in a door just up the street on Westfield. It wasn’t the first time an innocent family’s door got kicked in—mistakes happen, especially when emotions are running high.

After an hour of finding no real suspects, everything quieted down, so I drove home and went to my neighborhood bar, K-Andy, to share a holiday drink with my fiancée, Sheila, and my older brother, Richard, a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

The “mad-dog killers” fled Michigan, but two of them, Mark Bethune and John Percy Boyd, were killed within months, in two separate shootouts, by Atlanta, Georgia, police officers. The other killer, Hayward Brown, was apprehended, extradited to Michigan, and tried in Detroit. He was found not guilty because “he fired in self defense,” ostensibly because he thought the two plainclothes officers were muggers. Brown enjoyed local notoriety till 1984, when fellow thugs shot and killed him on the streets of Detroit.

Hayward Brown’s murder was Detroit’s 640th in 1984.