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Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets  
Author David Simon
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Crime
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date June 1991
Pages 599
ISBN ISBN 0-395-48829-X

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a 1991 book written by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon describing a year spent with detectives from the Baltimore Police Department homicide squad. The book received the 1992 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.[1]

The book was subsequently fictionalized as the television drama Homicide: Life on the Street, on which Simon served as a writer and producer. Many of the key detectives and incidents portrayed in the book were reworked into the first and second seasons of the show. It would also provide inspiration for the HBO television series, The Wire.



David Simon, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, spent four years on the police beat before taking a leave of absence to write this book. He had persuaded the Baltimore police department to allow him unlimited access to the city's homicide unit for a full year, and throughout that year he shadowed one shift of detectives as they traveled from interrogations to autopsies, from crime scenes to hospital emergency rooms. Baltimore recorded 234 murders during the year Simon spent with the homicide unit. During the two years he spent writing Homicide, an additional 567 murders occurred. Simon said he was particularly interested in the demythification of the American detective. Although detectives are typically portrayed as noble characters who care deeply about their victims, Simon believed real detectives regarded violence as a normal aspect of their jobs.[2]

The book

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets provides a sympathetic but unromantic portrait of crime fighting in a major American city at the height of the late 1980s crime epidemic. The book is notable for the detailed look it gives into the professional lives of police detectives and the mix of quirky, absurd, and sometimes tragic cases they investigated.


Notable cases

  • The Angel of Reservoir Hill – The case of Latonya Kim Wallace, a young girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered, is perhaps the most notable case in the book. The primary detective on the case, which remains unsolved, was Tom Pellegrini. The Adena Watson case in Homicide: Life on the Street was based on this case, and new Detective Tim Bayliss' travails on it were based on Pellegrini's experiences. Simon described it as "the spine of the book".
  • The Black Widow - The case of Geraldine Parrish, a woman who took out insurance policies on her five husbands (two of whom she kept in the same house) and relatives, and then arranged for them to be murdered. One would-be victim was her three-year-old niece. The Black Widow was convicted of three murders and received concurrent life sentences. The primary detective on the case was Donald Waltemeyer, and his experiences would involve a memorable exhumation scene, with two attempts resulting in the wrong man being dug up. Another memorable event would be during her interrogation, when Landsman performed a ghost imitation outside the door – "Muuurder... muuuuder..." "Aw, christ, Jay, now you f***in' did it." was Eddie Brown's response. The character of Calpurnia Church in Homicide: Life on the Street was based on Geraldine Parrish.
  • The Shooting of Gene Cassidy – Cassidy, a patrolman in the Baltimore PD and close friend of detective sergeant Terry McLarney, was shot in the head at point blank range with a .22 handgun. Although initially expected to die of his injuries, Cassidy was able to make a partial recovery, but was left blind and without his sense of smell or taste. A drug dealer named Butchie Frazier was eventually convicted of attempted murder in the first degree, while the jury's actions became the basis for a Season 4 storyline where Bruce Campbell played a cop whose father, a retired officer, was strangled to death by a suspect who was acquitted by a jury that didn't care at all about the case. The Cassidy story was worked into the first season of Homicide: Life on the Street and was the largest storyline for the Det. Steve Crosetti character. Cassidy, in McLarney's opinion, was wronged by the department, leading to a certain amount of disillusionment.
  • The Slaying of John Randolph Scott – A young car thief fleeing Baltimore PD officers was shot in the back, fatally. Of the officers in pursuit, only one had fired a round from his weapon – and this accidental shot was found embedded in the asphalt. With no clear murder weapon and facing silence from the uniforms on the scene, detective Donald Worden was not able to put this killing in the black, making it the only police-related shooting with that designation in the BPD's history; the book notes several officers, including a primary suspect, were reassigned to other positions in the department. Minor friction results between Worden and his sergeant on this case – "if you were going after officers in the Western, you were going without McLarney". A civilian suspect was a possibility, but the exposition of this development by a reporter shuts down that investigative alley and infuriates Worden and Rick James, his partner, as they know the information could only have come from a police officer. This story was worked into a Homicide: Life on the Street story where Det. Frank Pembleton investigated a police-involved shooting; unlike the real case, the fictional story ended with a police officer being arrested and charged with the shooting.


  • David Simon (1991). Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Houghton Mifflin.  ISBN 0-395-48829-X (Hardcover)
  • David Simon (1992). Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Ballantine Books.  ISBN 0-449-90808-9 (Paperback)
  • David Simon (1993). Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Ballantine Books.  ISBN 0-8041-0999-0 (Hardcover)
  • David Simon (2006). Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Henry Holt and Company (Owl Books).  ISBN 0-8050-8075-9 (Paperback)

The detectives

David Simon joined the Baltimore Police Department as a "police intern" in January 1988 and spent 12 months following the homicide detectives of Lieutenant Gary D'Addario's shift. This is a list of the detectives on D'Addario's squad:

  • Lieutenant Gary D'Addario - Shift Commander
    • Detective Sergeant Terrence McLarney - Shift Supervisor
      • Detective Donald Worden- "The Big Man"
      • Detective Rick James
      • Detective Edward Brown
      • Detective Donald Waltmeyer
      • Detective David John Brown
    • Detective Sergeant Roger Nolan - Shift Supervisor
      • Detective Harry Edgerton
      • Detective Richard Garvey
      • Detective Robert Bowman
      • Detective Donald Kincaid
      • Detective Robert McAllister
    • Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman - Shift Supervisor
      • Detective Tom Pellegrini
      • Detective Oscar "Rick" Requer "The Bunk"
      • Detective Gary Dunnigan
      • Detective Richard Fahlteich
      • Detective Fred Ceruti

The Wire

Several of the detectives described in the book served as the basis for characters on the Baltimore-based HBO drama The Wire. Jay Landsman spawned a character of the same name in addition to portraying a character named Dennis Mello. Rick "The Bunk" Requer was the basis for Detective Bunk Moreland in the series and in episode four of season five Roscoe Orman plays a veteran named Oscar "Rick" Requer . Gary D'Addario appears as a Prosecuting Attorney Gary DiPasquale on the show who assists Detective Moreland with various grand jury summonses. Roger Nolan and Donald Worden are briefly mentioned as officers in the department on various episodes and Worden makes a cameo appearance as himself in the fifth season. A 1970s contract killer named Dennis Wise is also briefly mentioned and Dennis "Cutty" Wise is a major character in the series. Another name that was used for a character was Roger Twigg, a police reporter who, in the book, is characterized as a major pain in the backside of law enforcement- when the Monroe Street investigation yielded a potential civilian lead, Twigg published an article calling the civilian a witness, closing down that avenue because it caused the man to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify. Additionally, several traits of various officers can be viewed amongst the characters on the show. A lot of similar slang is also used on the show such as the words "Dunker", "Redball", and "Stone Whodunit" to describe the various cases. The police department as shown on the show also has the same red/black case clearance and marking criteria. Finally, a number of small anecdotes that were used in Homicide: Life on the Street worked their way into The Wire, most notably the tale of "Snot Boogie", a small-time thief who was shot down after a craps game, which was used in the pre-credits sequence of the series' first episode, providing the "This America, man" quote. When listing the detectives who he sees himself and the rest of the VCU as being on a par with, McNulty mentions Worden, Ed Burns (who was a homicide detective but was detailed with the FBI for the year) and Gary Childs, a detective on the other shift in the book.

Where are they now?

  • Gary D'Addario

Lieutenant Gary D'Addario rose to the rank of Major commanding the Northeastern District of the Baltimore Police Department. The 37-year veteran of the department was forced to retire by new Commissioner Kevin Clark in 2004 as part of Clark's unpopular turnover of veteran command staff.[3] Dee had guest appearances as QRT Lieutenant Jasper in Homicide: Life on the Street, as a Desk Sergeant in HBO mini-series The Corner, and as a Grand Jury States Attorney on the HBO drama The Wire.[4]

  • Jay Landsman

Sergeant Jay Landsman retired from the Baltimore Police Department and joined the Baltimore County Police Department. Jay worked as an actor playing Lieutenant Dennis Mello in HBO's The Wire.[5] The actor Delaney Williams plays a character called Sergeant Jay Landsman in the same show.[6] Landsman's son Jay Jr. also works as a county homicide detective working out of precinct 4 in Pikesville, Maryland.

  • Donald Waltmeyer

Detective Donald Waltmeyer retired from the Baltimore Police Department and joined Aberdeen Police Department. Don died of cancer in 2005. He was posthomously promoted to Detective Sergeant by the Aberdeen PD.

  • Tom Pellegrini

Detective Tom Pellegrini joined the UNMIK police in Kosovo in 2000.[7] Tom is currently a private investigator with Sherwood Investigators based in Severn, Maryland.

  • Terry McLarney

Sergeant Terry McLarney is still in the Baltimore Police Department currently ranked as a Lieutenant in the Homicide Unit, having spent years of exile in the Western "where he was banished after his shift commander (not D'Addario, who he considered a friend) politely declined an invitation to fisticuffs". In July 2008, McLarney was named the official commander of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide Unit, a position he had been the acting commander of since May 2008. [8]

The slang

The book details a number of slang terms used by homicide detectives.

  • Billytown - area of South Baltimore inhabited by "Billies" (Hill Billies), South Baltimore's "white-trash redneck" population.
  • Billygoat- derogatory term for whites, specifically those with roots in Appalachia, and their descendants. As with blacks, "billies" do not include those with decent jobs, such as Donald Worden or Kincaid and Simon suggests that the two discriminations are more class-based. One typical description is that "Billies do not reside in Baltimore, they live in Bawlmore".
  • Board, The - A dry erase board kept in the squad room. Every squad sergeant's name is listed in columns on the top. Below their names are the names of the cases which their detectives are investigating, and a letter indicating which detective is the "primary" on the case. Open cases are listed in red. Closed cases are listed in black. This allowed supervisors to get a quick assessment of how productive each detective/squad was and acted as motivation for detectives. Use of "The Board" was discontinued in 1998 due to public relations and morale concerns, but was restored in 2000 at the request of the detectives. Although it's not mentioned in the book, the show had cases solved from previous years listed in blue ink. This is mentioned in passing in the afterword, when it transpires that Worden now works cold cases, "putting blue names on the Board".
  • Bunk/Bunky- A term of affection typically applying to a detective. McLarney regards McAllister as "my bunky", while Requer is known as "the Bunk". Also used sarcastically towards suspects.
  • Citizen or Taxpayer - A 'real' murder victim, as opposed to a drug dealer or gang member murdered in the course of criminal activity.
  • Dunker - An easily cleared case (from the basketball term slam dunk). An example from the book: a husband who is arrested while standing over his wife's dead body, covered in her blood, telling cops he killed her and would do so again if he got the chance.
  • Dying declaration - A dying person is able to speak and identify their attacker and definitely knows they are dying. However, useful declarations are rare and instead they tend to become the stuff of Homicide legend. For example, one man, dying from a gunshot, "assured detectives that he would take care of the matter himself". Garvey solves a case using a dying declaration during the book.
  • Eyefuck - To look at someone disrespectfully or in anger. A ceremonial eyefuck takes place in the book when an unrepentant criminal is convicted. Garvey is disappointed when one criminal, convicted for two brutal murders, does not follow this tradition, describing him as "no fun at all".
  • Jake - A semi-derogatory term for a Jamaican-American
  • Number One Male - Police Radio Description for an African American (Number One) Male Suspect. Number Two is for a White suspect, Number Three is for a suspect of another race. Numerical Order is most likely based on either Baltimore's African American majority or African Americans being the most common criminal suspects in Baltimore in the eyes of the BPD.
  • Polygraph-by-Copier - A folk tale in police circles in which detectives use a photocopier as a faux-polygraph machine on a particularly dumb suspect; pages are loaded into the machine with "TRUE" or "LIE" on them and questions are asked to match them ("What is your name?" TRUE "What is your age?" TRUE "Did you kill Tater, shooting him down like a dog?" LIE, well well well, you lying mother****er). This was used in one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, and also a Season 5 episode of The Wire. A story from the book notes that several cops in Detroit were punished for using this technique during interrogations.
  • Red Ball - A high profile case that draws media and political attention; Red Ball cases are investigated by all detectives on a shift and take precedence over existing active cases. They can and often do make or break a detective's career. They are also known as "shitstorms" and "clusterfucks". Examples during the book include the Latonya Wallace case and the Scott police-involved shooting. Red balls also include major cases that usually fall outside Homicide's jurisdiction, such as non-fatal police shootings.
  • Secretary with a gun - Derogatory term typically used by less reconstructed veterans for incompetent female detectives. There are some exceptions to this rule, Jenny Wehr and Bertina "Bert" Silver.
  • Squirrel - A criminal, a suspect, a rodent. Typically too cooperative during interrogations.
  • Stone Whodunit - A difficult case.
  • Toad - A derogatory term for blacks, specifically those who have or had a criminal history. Not usually applied to black policemen such as Sgt. Nolan or Detectives Brown, Edgerton, or Requer or Blacks in other legitimate jobs- if you earn a legal wage and do not have a BOI photograph in the system the book explains, "then you are a black man".
  • Ten Seven - police radio code for "out of service", may be applied to a homicide victim.
  • Ten Seventy-Eight - police radio code invented by McAllister to refer to "your basic blowjob-in-progress interrupted by police gunfire." This occurs twice in the course of the year, though only one is described in detail.
  • Yo - An insulting term for a black youth; often used as shorthand for black criminals along with "toad".
  • Yo-ette - A young black female. Unlike "yo", the term doesn't refer to the individuals as criminals.

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