MIAMI (AP) — For four decades, police detective Mike Gonzalez was Miami’s undisputed master of solving murders.
Long before DNA tests and video surveillance, Gonzalez cracked cases the old-school way, chasing down leads, working witnesses and cajoling suspects into confessions. He tracked down a man who refused to pay a 10-cent toll, then shot and killed a Florida Highway Patrol trooper. He uncovered a vast cocaine network during another homicide probe. And more than a decade after a woman’s body was found naked and strangled in her bed, the murderer not only confessed to Gonzalez but admitted to another murder two years earlier.
Famed Miami Herald crime reporter and novelist Edna Buchanan considered him the best of the best, once declaring, “he has solved more murders than anyone else in the world other than Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter.”
Last week, more than three decades after he retired as the dean of Miami’s homicide bureau, Gonzalez died quietly among family members, including his wife Gloria, at his home in South Miami-Dade after a short illness. He was 95.
“Mike never solved a case using today’s DNA successes. But he personally solved more murder cases using his verbal skills than dozens of DNA Investigators have done today,” said retired Miami Police Department Lt. Jerry Green. “Mike lived a very long and important life for the MPD and Miami community. RIP Mike.”
Gonzalez was born on Dec. 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. He served in the Merchant Marines during World War II, then moved to Miami in 1946 and within five years joined the Miami Police Department. By 1956, he’d been drafted from the streets to homicide. There, as Miami changed from a sleepy town to one of the drug-smuggling capitals of the world, his legend and case count quickly grew.
In 1980, Gonzalez uncovered a vast cocaine network while working a case that involved the “execution-style” deaths of Aurea Poggio, Miami’s director of cultural affairs, and three others.
He also quickly solved a 1984 case in which someone smashed George Napoles’ skull with a baseball bat on the Rickenbacker Causeway and kidnapped and raped the woman he was with. Clues were hard to come by. Gonzalez went public, releasing information that the killer’s car was missing a rear window. A day later, Ricky Roberts was charged with the crime. His jury recommended death.
Gonzalez became a local law enforcement legend by displaying a keen eye for detail and patience. He built relationships with fellow investigators, medical examiners, the media and even the suspects he pursued. Above all, his former colleagues recalled, Gonzalez sought to win over killers with kindness. He kept a small placard framed on his office wall as a reminder. It read: “Be nice.”
Former Miami homicide detective Confesor Gonzalez called him the “mentor of mentors.”
“He was nice. But he was not soft. He was a strong man, with a strong character, and you respected him,” Gonzalez said. The two were not related, though Confesor would refer to Mike affectionately as ‘uncle.’ “He earned that loyalty and that respect.”
Retired Miami detective Nelson Andreu, who helped investigate killers associated with the notorious Cocaine Cowboys, called him “one of my best mentors” and the “dean of Miami homicide.”
“Dealing with interrogations, he would always say, ‘When you think you’re about to give up because you’re not getting anything, give it five or 10 minutes,’ ” Andreu said. “That extra time — and not giving up — helped in getting so many confessions.”
As the mentor, Gonzalez encouraged sharp street officers to apply to homicide, helping forge a stable of investigators who themselves became renowned for catching killers. One of those is Delrish Moss, who spent decades in Miami Police in a career that saw him go from homicide to department spokesman before taking the police chief job in troubled Ferguson, Missouri. He credits Gonzalez for his career path.
“Mike took a keen interest in me and my development, and made sure I went to a lot of schools,” he said.
Moss, a Black officer, recalled a time when Gonzalez asked him compassionately about a picture of civil rights icon Malcolm X that he kept on his desk, even as some fellow cops muttered about it under their breath.
“He came over and wanted to know more. And then he started reading books about Malcolm X,” Moss said.
Eventually, Gonzalez worked his way through the ranks. By 1988, he was the unit’s lieutenant when a young detective Eunice Cooper joined the unit.
“When I got to homicide, Mike was a legend. It was an honor to be around him,” said Cooper, who is now an investigator with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
Gonzalez was always calm and collected, she recalled, but could be stern.
On her second day in homicide, there had been a transfer paperwork mixup. Gonzalez overheard Cooper on the phone talking to a patrol supervisor who was ordering her to roll call. Gonzalez ripped the phone from her hand and chewed out the patrol supervisor. She was now homicide, he said. Hands off.
“He was fiercely protective of his people,” Cooper said.
Gonzalez, as he was retiring in 1991, told the Herald he’d worked more than 1,000 homicide cases. It kept him fit. Once, in 1981, a bleeding suspect involved in a shooting, crashed into a South Miami home after a chase. Then he got out of the car and ran off. Gonzalez, who was 54 at the time, caught him. When the man saw Gonzalez, he gave up. The detective had arrested the man years before.
“I never shot anybody. I’ve never been shot. And I’ve arrested more dangerous guys than anyone,” Gonzalez said.
Despite his successes, it was the cases he couldn’t solve that stuck with him the most. The most famous of those is probably the case of Amy Billig, a 17-year-old who disappeared in Coconut Grove without a trace back in 1973. Almost a half-century later, the case remains unsolved.
“I can’t help but think about the ones I didn’t solve,” he told the Miami Herald. “The families of the victims, the circumstances in which it happened, how close we came and never quite made it.”
But Robert Gonzalez said his brother was proud of his “long, fulfilling career.”
“I don’t think he missed (police work). He wasn’t one of those to dwell on past cases. He was very modest,” Robert Gonzalez said.
It was actually a promotion, and a switch to a daytime shift, that would lead to the end of his storied career. He finally found a case he could not solve: How to avoid rush-hour traffic. Tired of commutes that often exceeded an hour from his South-Dade home to the Miami Police Department, he hung up his badge two years later, in 1991.
For the next three decades, his family said he developed his artistic side, working on stained glass and metal sculpting.
Gonzalez is survived by his wife Gloria, his brother Bob Gonzalez, his daughters Joan McMath and Teresa Wright, son Charles Gonzalez and many grandchildren. His family said Gonzalez did not want a funeral service.
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