The call went out in the dead of night.
A person rummaging through a large trash bin behind townhomes in Anaheim found a body in a large luggage container.
At around 2:15 a.m., Anaheim PD homicide detectives were summoned and rolled to the scene as a team.
That’s the way the unit works.
All eight detectives and their boss, Sgt. Jeff Mundy, respond to calls of a suspected homicide before one detective takes over as case agent and assigns others to perform such tasks as working the crime scene, writing search warrants, and interviewing witnesses.
Last year, this tenacious team approach resulted in notable achievement for the APD’s Homicide Detail.
Of the seven homicides the unit investigated in 2018, all were cleared by arrests by the end of the year (technically, one wasn’t solved until early this year). APD detectives last year also solved two additional homicides from previous years, giving the team a clearance rate of more than 100 percent.
The national average for annual homicide clearance rates for police agencies is around 60 percent both nationwide and in California, said Sgt. Jeff Mundy, who runs the Homicide/Major Assaults Detail in the APD’s Investigations Division.
“It’s the quality of our detectives,” Mundy said of the 100-percent clearance rate.
And it wasn’t the first time the team hit a home run.
In 2017, the homicide detail notched a 110 percent clearance rate. Other years when the team met or exceeded the 100-percent mark were 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
A large whiteboard in Mundy’s office at APD headquarters on Harbor Boulevard lists all the homicides in Anaheim from 2010 to the present, as well as in-custody deaths and officer-involved shootings (OIS).
Cleared cases are written in a black marker. Red cases are still open. Green refers to OIS and custodial deaths, and blue cases are those that got cleared in a year different from when the incident occurred.
With 18 homicides and four OIS, 2015 was the busiest year for the APD homicide unit since the 1990s.
There are no red cases for 2018 – the only year on the whiteboard without that color.
“When I look at my role here,” said Mundy, “the most important thing that I can do is pick good detectives and pick people that are going to be good with people, people that are organized, people that work well as a team.”
A NICE MIX
Mundy’s team has a mix of longtime veterans and relative newcomers.
John “JD” Duran has been working Anaheim homicides since 1998, and is the detail’s walking encyclopedia (and purveyor of the coffee bar).
Julissa Trapp has been on the unit for nine years. Both Duran and Trapp primarily focus on cold case homicides (the APD has about 200 of them), and Trapp also trains all newcomers to the unit.
Because of the demands of the job, the average tenure for an APD homicide detective is less than two years, Mundy said.
He’s somewhat of an anomaly, too. Mundy is closing in on five years as head of the detail, which in addition to eight detectives includes longtime Senior Office Specialist Cynthia Espinoza, as well as Cadet Austin Brown.
To put Mundy’s relatively lengthy tenure in perspective, he is Duran’s ninth sergeant. And when Mundy was a detective on the unit for six years, he worked under three different sergeants.
“The amount of work and time and energy that goes into this assignment (is challenging),” Mundy said. “You have to be passionate about it. If you aren’t, you’re not going to last.”
The thing that keeps homicide detectives going, Mundy said, is their passion, the team environment, and the camaraderie.
“And I think that camaraderie is built through those long hours,” said Mundy, who is personally working a couple of cold cases, which is unusual for a sergeant. “The team is good because they’re cohesive, and they’re cohesive because of the long hours.”
In addition to its bread and butter of investigating homicides, officer-involved shootings, and in-custody deaths, the APD homicide unit also handles cases involving assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threats, kidnapping, any incident involving an officer victim (resisting arrest, battery on an officer, etc.) and anything else the chief’s office decides to assign to the team.
Homicide detectives work regular hours (roughly 8 a.m. to 5p.m) but can be called out any time.
If a homicide happens around 9 p.m., Mundy said, detectives typically will be pulling an all-nighter and working throughout the next day and early evening – chasing leads during the critical window of the “first 48 hours” to find a suspect.
Sometimes they can be working a case for a week or more and only passing their spouses and kids in the night (and day) to sneak in a few hours of sleep.
Such a demanding job requires critical support at home.
SUPPORT AT HOME
Katrina Mundy knows this world intimately. She was an officer at the LAPD for six years before she switched to teaching. She’s been a high school teacher for 14 years.
She and Jeff, who have been married for 17 years, have a 14-year-old son.
“Jeff is not one to stay away from the action,” Katrina Mundy said. “He leads as part of the team. In that sense, he’s as active (as his detectives), if not more.
“A month can go by without a callout. Then a callout comes, and we barely see each other for several days.
“I don’t always like it,” Katrina Mundy said, “but I understand it.”
The couple made a pact to always make sure one of them was home when their son went to sleep. And they cherish time together as a family, enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking and bike riding, as well as traveling.
“He loves his job so much and is passionate about it,” Katrina said. “I admire him so much and the work his team does. How can I not be understanding (of his demanding and unpredictable schedule)?”
Jason Smith is one of the newer detectives on the homicide detail, coming up on a year of service. A police officer for nearly 11 years, Smith came to Mundy’s team from the APD’s Gang Unit, as did Jon McClintock, who arrived on the team around the same time.
“My wife knows the job can be very demanding at times,” said Smith, the father of three daughters, ages 7, 6, and 5.
“She’s awesome,” he added. “When we have a callout, she’ll get up in the middle of the night with me and she’ll iron my clothes and make a cup of coffee for me. She helps me get ready for work. And she knows she probably won’t see me for a couple of days. The kids are kind of conditioned to it, too.”
Smith said, however, that Mundy makes sure members of his team make time for their families.
“We’re able to find that good balance,” said Smith, an APD officer for nearly 11 years.
Vianey Smith said her husband’s unpredictable schedule at times makes things challenging at home, but he does his best to help shuttle and attend his daughters’ dance, theater, and softball lessons.
“For us adults, we understand (a hectic work schedule),” Vianey Smith said. “But for the little ones, it’s ‘Why isn’t daddy here?’”
Like the Mundys, the Smiths make up for missed birthdays or events by making the most of their time together.
“The crew he works with is amazing,” Vianey Smith said. “They are great about emphasizing the importance of family first whenever possible.”
Mundy initially worked as a journalist in San Diego County before he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement after covering crime.
“I liked interacting with cops, and thought that career sounded better,” Mundy said.
Mundy, 43, became a police officer at age 23. He said his goal all along was to become a homicide detective.
“You have to be able to break out of those traditional police tactics that you learn in the academy, such as maintaining a command presence,” he said. “Those things don’t translate well when you’re dealing with people who have been involved in a homicide. Those people need someone that they feel comfortable talking to.
“You have to be a human first, and I think that becomes more crucial in homicide than in any other aspect of policing.”
Det. Gus Maya, who has been on the APD homicide unit for four years, was the lead detective on the case of the body found in the large luggage container in the 2100 block of Balboa Plaza.
“He’s one of the first guys that I picked for this unit,” Mundy said. “He’s been on the unit a little over four years. He’s a guy that can talk to anyone. He has really good people skills. He just has that kind of personality where people want to help him. Everybody loves Gus.”
The Balboa Plaza homicide highlighted the tenacious teamwork of the homicide unit, Mundy said. Maya and his team doggedly chased leads into who killed the woman whose body was found early Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.
One day later, the woman’s boyfriend was arrested for the crime as he allegedly was trying to flee the country.
In another successful homicide case from 2018, Det. Mark Gell, a 2 1/2-year veteran of the homicide unit, lead an investigation into the shooting death of a man at a nitrous oxide party organized on social media.
Such parties are common in industrial areas and when something bad happens, the cases are notoriously difficult to crack since most attendees are strangers and people scatter, Gell said.
Gell was named APD’s detective of the year following the arrest of a suspect in the killing. Key to the arrest was surveillance video.
“The victim happened to die in front of building with cameras,” said Gell, who wrote more than 20 search warrants for the case.
“This was a fun case to crack,” added Gell, who has been at the APD for almost four years after spending 12 years at the Long Beach PD. “There was a lot of teamwork involved.”
The other two detectives on the APD homicide detail are James Monsoor (3 ½ years) and Eric Michaelsen (also 3 ½ years).
Whether the victim is a gangster or an innocent child, the APD homicide team approaches each case the same way, Mundy said.
“Our mission is to get facts and to find out the truth,” he said. “We’re not necessarily here to put people in prison. We’re here to find the truth.”
Added Mundy: “One of the things that I’m always preaching is to not play favorites. We investigate each case the same way, because when you deviate from how you normally do things, that’s when things get messed up.
“This job isn’t driven by emotion. That’s when you start making mistakes.”