For nearly three decades, Danny J. Agan enforced the law in Atlanta, Ga., including conducting homicide investigations in a city at one time considered the murder capital of the nation.
Of all the cases Agan worked, it was the investigation of a serial rapist that became one of the most memorable and haunting of his career. It involved a perpetrator who manipulated victims and, in one instance, seemed to taunt the police face-to-face.
Agan, a Texarkana native who lived here the first dozen years of his life, rose through the ranks to retire in 2003 as the Atlanta Police Department homicide commander.
In his long and storied career, he was a high profile, fedora-wearing presence, often appearing on TV to give press briefings, and on some level he dealt with 800 murders, whether directly or through his detectives. His job included some early investigative work on cases that involved Wayne Williams, a convicted killer suspected to have been responsible for the Atlanta Child Murders in the late '70s and early '80s.
But this case of a serial rapist, who was ultimately convicted in 2014 on the strength of DNA evidence years after Agan retired, underscored the persistence and seriousness necessary to do the job right.
And it shows how the search to capture a criminal may, for a long time, be full of frustration even when on the correct path.
"We did what we could do. We never could bring it to resolution. The opportunity presents itself years later and it worked out," Agan reflected this past week in anticipation of this story being told to a nationwide audience.
The account of this serial rapist's crimes and ultimate conviction for the mid-1980s rape of five victims will be told on the Oxygen Channel TV series "The Price of Duty," as it also tells the tale of Agan's pursuit of the rapist with his fellow Atlanta Police Department investigators. Titled "Pinching Nerves," the episode airs Monday at 8 p.m.
The series premise is to explore the investigators and police officers involved in cases that affected them over the course of a career. They focus on the officers but through the lens of the crime investigated.
"I was a policeman in Atlanta for 29 years," Agan said. Ultimately, he was in charge of the homicide squad, dubbed the "Hat Squad" because, taking a fashion cue from Agan, they sported hats. Agan and his squad were a dapper presence on the scene.
This rape case, though, was truly frightening. The rapist posed as a maintenance man and entered women's residences using a supposed water leak or power outage as the fictional premise.
"It involved a predatory rapist who would use any means possible to get into a woman's apartment in the middle of the night and rape her," Agan recalled.
Victims were at home minding their own business. Some instances involved outright break-ins, remembered Agan. They were particularly brutal crimes with the rapist humiliating his victims, he said. They never caught him back then. The case went cold.
Fast forward many years later and Agan talked with a colleague in the Fulton County District Attorney's office, and he said he suggested then that this was a case where the criminal still needed to be caught. And with the tool of DNA evidence now possible, it could be done, so the case was reopened and a match was found
Ultimately, the investigation resulted in the conviction of Daniel Wade, already in federal prison for other crimes, to six life sentences and 140 years.
But it took a lot of work, a lot of time, to get there. And some of that work was done by Agan's own son, Danny Agan Jr, an Atlanta police detective who helped close the case his father started on so many years ago. "What he was doing was contacting the victims who could be contacted," the older Agan said.
"Once he was convicted of these rapes, he was going to be in prison for the rest of his life," Agan said about Wade, adding, "It took years before he was finally brought to justice." He said Wade later died in prison.
Some of the details of the cases were startling, including the repeat rape of at least two victims. "That was unheard of," Agan said.
One time, an officer was at an apartment complex to answer a call at one apartment while Wade was raping a woman in another apartment. The rapist poked his head out of the doorway and said to the officer, "Oh, it's you," Agan explained. Then he went back inside to commit the crime.
Officers staked out one victim's apartment for days and days, rotating in shifts, because they thought he'd return in this case. But the rapist never showed up.
"Either we guessed wrong or maybe he knew we were there," Agan said.
The rapist remained elusive and the case forever stuck in his mind, even after retirement. It was a compelling story. In a long career, much of what's investigated can run together after a while, he admits, but with some cases they're unforgettable, whether it's because of the absurdity or the violence or some other reason.
"The fact that all of these victims were women minding their own business, trying to go through life doing what they were supposed to do," Agan said about what made the case so haunting to him personally.
Dealing with so many homicides and, in this case, brutal rapes could be daunting for anyone, so what helped Agan successfully endure what he saw all those years?
"Probably a variety of things," Agan said. "One was working with good people." He made a few friends, the likes of which would look out for him and have his back. His old partner Charles Horton, with whom he started out on foot patrol, is among them. With Horton black and Agan white, Agan refers to them as being a "salt and pepper team" on that beat. "He was a hat guy for sure," he recalled, adding, "I couldn't have been with a better partner."
A good wife, Kathy, as well—"she was an emergency room nurse." They shared some of the same connections, given the work each of them did.
"Having a good disposition and a sense of humor about things in a job like this is really important," Agan said. Don't be wound too tight; that won't work. Keep an open mind. Take a break when needed. These are practices that helped him survive it all. Also, he had to manage the politics of the police department. It can eat you up, he cautions.
"There's a lot of people gunning for you. I'm not talking about criminals," he said.
His Texarkana connection persists. He was born here in 1953 at Texarkana Hospital, he said. Sadly, his father died in a car accident when he was just 9 years old. He lived on Jefferson Avenue. "Jefferson was a dirt road back then," Agan said. He felt like he was out in the country.
His mother remarried, and that brought them east. He's been in Atlanta since 1973. His mother eventually moved back, as did his brother, and they both remained here until they died. He still has aunts, a half-brother and nieces and nephews here in Texarkana.
He's still a proud Razorback fan, quick to discuss their notable wins and losses.
"I'm always proud to be from Texarkana," Agan said.
(On the Net: www.oxygen.com/the-price-of-duty.)