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Media darling detective locked down on wrong theory and never budged

Post on : 25 Mar, 2014 | Comments (0)
Michale Callahan, left, and Herb Whitlock shake hands after Whitlock was released from prison.
Michale Callahan, left, and Herb Whitlock shake hands after Whitlock was released from prison.

The news media likes to use people to push the narratives it favors. In the Paris murders, former Illinois State Police detective Michale (correct spelling) Callahan got frequent favorable media coverage not because of the rigor of his investigatory skills or logic, but because of the side he took.

I wrote about Callahan here eight years ago. He becomes a celebrated media figure in the case because he said Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock were innocent, that cops and prosecutors acted improperly and that political pressure all the way up to the Illinois governor’s office kept the truth from being told.

However, when you analyze Callahan’s actions in the case, it is readily apparent that he locked into a theory on the case within 30 days and ignored contrary evidence. We will show later how Callahan missed the most significant clue in the case, apparently because it blew apart his own locked-down theory.

It is further apparent that much of what Callahan characterizes as corruption within the Illinois State Police was simply a disagreement within the department about how to proceed. Officers who agreed with Callahan and those who didn’t staked out positions early on and did not budge. The media took Callahan’s side and stayed on his side even though he had little concrete evidence or compelling logic to buttress his stance.

After Callahan and others looked at the Paris case, a new ISP investigation ensued and a man Callahan respected, lead investigator Sergeant Rodney Miller, told me he strongly suspected Steidl and Whitlock were involved in the crime and Morgan was not. Miller told me this several days before he tragically died in an automobile accident May 12, 2006.

Callahan became involved in the case in April 2000 when the ISP became concerned that media and defense attorney pressure might unravel the convictions of Steidl and Whitlock. Callahan’s superiors instructed him to do a rapid analysis of the case and report back within a month. They told him because of time constraints he could talk extensively with defense advocates and he did. Mainly, he talked to investigator Bill Clutter, who was working for the defense team. Clutter is the guy we chronicled earlier who is asking the state to grant clemency to Steidl on the basis of one of the most bizarre conspiracies this side of the JFK assassination. In other words, Clutter has quite an active imagination.

Based almost entirely on speculative rumor, innuendo and unproven facts collected by Clutter, Callahan wrote a memo to his bosses in early May 2000 saying that Bob Morgan ought to be the focus of a new investigation into the murders. That happened to be the exact theory defense advocates were pushing. So, within a month after his hurried review, Callahan essentially bought Clutter’s rumors and innuendos hook, line and sinker.

Several years later, after a civil lawsuit against the department, Callahan retired from the ISP and wrote a book about the case that is as muddled as his memos and half-baked theories were. His opinion of the case appears to be exactly the same as it was several weeks after he began looking at it. Here is a passage from his website:

Unfortunately I never got the chance to try and prove beyond a reasonable doubt who committed the murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads. Or why they were murdered. Like many, I have my suspects and my theories as to who and why. There are several viable suspects, and there are many different theories behind why they were murdered that hot July night. I am convinced though, it was not over any “drug deal gone bad” between Dyke Rhoads and Steidl or Whitlock. I lean towards more of a conspiracy theory and the reasons for their murders had more to do with Karen and what she knew or saw.

Well, one thing Callahan never fully explains is why he dismisses the “drug deal gone bad” theory. It is imminently more logical than the elaborate conspiracy theory he ended up supporting. There is plenty of evidence that says Whitlock was selling drugs to Dyke Rhoads and his friends. And, in that May 2000 memo on the case, Callahan admits as much:

Whitlock remains a viable suspect. H. Whitlock is a documented drug dealer and several witnesses tied him to dealing drugs to Dyke Rhoads. Several witnesses state H. Whitlock displayed suspicious actions after the murders (sic) was very nervous and very emotional regarding the Rhoads’ murders….An interview of (name withheld by me) by investigators indicates H. Whitlock tell her Karen made a gurgling sound when she died.

After this first memo, Callahan wrote subsequent memos where he drops all mention of Whitlock as a suspect. (And, as pointed out elsewhere on this site, Whitlock denies all involvement in the crimes). However, in just a few short months, Callahan would run across a possible witness who implicates Whitlock directly in the murders and the media darling detective ignored the information.

Callahan, in his book and public statements stops short of directly saying he thinks Morgan was involved in the crime. However, the book and his statements imply this strongly. He also hedges by saying he was never allowed to fully investigate his theories. Yet the ISP has investigated and reinvestigated Morgan, who has taken and passed two polygraphs, including one conducted by the ISP, and answered questions for hours voluntarily without a lawyer present. Many of the hare-brained Clutter/Callahan theories and rumors were asked and answered by Morgan. When I talked to lead investigator Miller a few days before he died, he told me Morgan had passed his polygraph test and he said “unless he’s the world’s greatest liar I don’t believe he’s involved” in the crimes.

In other words, many of Callahan’s theories were tested and found lacking in validity.

NEXT: Why and when did Callahan ignore evidence linking Whitlock to the murders?

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