What Does a Hard-Boiled Detective Do in Retirement?

by | Jun 28, 2024 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

June 21, 2024. When author Roslyn Sulcas posed the question of what a hard-boiled detective does in retirement in the article she wrote for the New York Times, I didn’t have to guess an answer.

I knew from thirteen years of accompanying celebrity homicide detective John “Jigsaw” St. John – LAPD’s Badge Number One – that the standard Hollywood vernacular used to describe a veteran, Columbo-like homicide detective (hard-boiled) didn’t apply to Jigsaw John. 

The furthest he traveled or wanted to travel was to Canada for the filming of a television series segment, Top Cops, about one of the biggest serial murders for which he was the lead detective. I can almost hear his response if I asked if he’d ever consider retiring to a small French village in the South of France like the television super sleuth Sam Spade.

What have you been smoking, Miss Panic? First off, I don’t speak French. I eat French Fries, not French toast, drink VO, not wine, and would rather go fishing than sit in a café.  I’m a football, camping, home remodeling, BBQ on Sunday, and hanging out with my detective buddies kind of guy. My life is now and always has been solving the homicide puzzle in LA.    

Unlike the fictional Sam Spade, who, upon retirement, yearned for “a tranquil life wrestling with his identity, his old life and his new life,” John St. John wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Instead, on the last day of the Bill Bradford trial – a serial murder that began with the discovery of victim Shari Miller on July 4th, 1984, then teenager Tracey Campbell on August 10th as St. John and I sat in the quiet courtroom, I decided to ask him, “What next for you? For us?”     

Looking back, I wasn’t the untested rookie he nicknamed Miss Panic when I met him. I was afraid of everything: a drunk in the street, a dark alley, a dead body, meeting and interviewing a snitch. Every test he threw at me to see if I could handle his tragic, terrifying, deadly world – I’d passed. Along the way, I’d become Jigsaw’s secret weapon in the homicide business for thirteen years – writing, traveling, following the renowned, respected celebrity Badge Number One from one grubby crime scene to another, overcoming my fear of death by watching autopsies and as comfortable bullshitting with detectives about their cases as I was gossiping with my tennis friends after a match. St. John taught me more about how to conduct a successful interview than any of my graduate psychology classes. 

“I’ll tell you what, Jane,” he told me. “You and I are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing: writing the book, working on new cases, and never, ever giving up on getting a publisher for Badge Number One.  

The thought of John St. John retiring from homicide was as foreign an idea to me as the chance that I’d become an opera diva. 

He was seventy-years old with the stamina and tenacity of men half his age. Tom Lange, a fellow homicide detective said, “His tenacity and perseverance was his most impressive quality. He’d sit with a witness or suspect for ten minutes or ten hours. He’d never raise his voice or lose his patience. He wouldn’t leave until he got what he needed.” Retire? Quit? Go fishing? France?

“Hell no,” he told me. “We have work to do, Jane. Sit on my ass in the office? Forget it.”

Little did I know what awaited me. And him.