- By Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Historian, Greater Cincinnati Police Museum
Clarence William Caesar was born November 12, 1932 in Covington, Kentucky to Clarence Harry Emil and Esther Josephine (Hon) Caesar. He attended Withrow High School and graduated in 1951.
Four months after high school, on October 30, 1951, during the Korean War, Clarence joined the United States Coast Guard. He graduated from boot camp at Alameda, California and then went across the country to serve at Buffalo, New York for four months. He then attended Engineman School at Groton, Connecticut and served at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on destroyer escort duty out of New Beford, Massachusetts. Engineman 3rd Class Caesar was honorably discharged October 29, 1954 and remained in the Coast Guard Reserves.
Two days later, he began work at The Dyment Company making dyes. Before mid-1955, less than satisfied with that occupation, he took a half-day off to interview for another. That job was filled, but on the way home he saw a Cincinnati Police Division advertisement for “fifty good men” and he drove to City Hall to apply. The rest is law enforcement legend.
On July 3, 1955, Clarence joined the Cincinnati Police Division in the 32nd Recruit Class. About this time, a contemporary comedian, Sid Caesar, was growing in fame, and Clarence was nicknamed “Cid Caesar.” He and 24 other Recruits graduated on October 1, 1955 and were promoted to Patrolman. Patrolman Caesar was issued Badge 777 and assigned to District 1 (1024 York Street). On January 7, 1957, he was rotated to District 2 (314 Broadway).
SPECIALIST (Formerly “DETECTIVE”)
During the early 1960s, Police Chief Stanley R. Schrotel, in order to provide more versatility to the rank, eliminated the rank of Detective and created a new rank of Police Specialist. Whereas Detectives worked only in Crime Bureau and on criminal cases, Specialists could work in any specialized assignment, in uniform or out.
On May 15, 1966, as a result of the first promotional exam given for the new rank, Cid was promoted to Police Specialist and issued Badge PS-77. He was assigned to plainclothes investigations in District 2. His better cases involved surveillance and arrests of pick-pocket thieves.
After working predominantly in the West End for 12 years, Specialist Caesar transferred to the Identification Section on September 10, 1967 and began his reputation as a topnotch forensic expert.
On March 21, 1971, he transferred to the Robbery Squad.
On December 29, 1971, Special Caesar was elected Chaplain of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. He was re-elected in 1973. After having responded to the scene of Patrolman David Cole’s murder as a forensics expert, on July 20, 1974 he also conducted FOP services at his funeral as the Chaplain.
Having already earned a distinct reputation, he was one of two law enforcement officers, on September 14, 1975, loaned to Dr. Frank Cleveland, Hamilton County Coroner, to set up a new Hamilton County Forensics Laboratory. On February 9, 1976, he was the focus of a Cincinnati Enquirer article about the lab. The assessor, a Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Delaware and past president of the National Association of Medical Examiners called it a model lab and one of the best he had ever seen.
On August 13, 1976 Detective Caesar completed a three-week Administrative Advanced Latent Fingerprint training at the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy.
In 1977, Cincinnati City Councilman Tom Luken, obviously misunderstanding the City’s motto, “Juncta Juvant” – those joined together support each other – proposed to pull Specialists Caesar and Ralph “Buck” Gramke back from the Crime Lab. He got his wish on December 1, 1977, and the officers were returned to Cincinnati’s Criminal Investigation Section. Cid was assigned to the Homicide Squad.
On April 18, 1978, a nine-man task force was established for the purpose of the murders of eight women in the Greater Cincinnati area, and it included Specialist Caesar. The other eight task force members came from the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Indian Hill Police Department, Loveland Police Department, and Butler County Sheriff’s Office. Thanks to efforts by Specialist Caesar, one or two individual cases were solved, and after more than a year of working together, Cid’s interagency reputation had grown considerably, albeit quietly.
In 1980, Specialist Caesar was one of the first two law enforcement officers in the country to pass an international test certifying him as a latent fingerprint examiner.
In August 1980, Marion Boys was raped and murdered in Silverton. Caesar was called in to assist and lifted two prints from the underside of two doorknobs. He associated them with Roy Sebastian. Cid found Sebastian’s palm print on the window at the point of entry and a thumb print on a Sucrets box in the nightstand. Specialist Caesar testified at Roy Sebastian’s trial on April 8, 1981 that he lifted numerous other prints and that he found no prints that he could not identify. Sebastian was convicted.
On March 21, 1981, he responded to a Walgreen’s parking lot at 1535 Linn Street for a homicide. A vehicle was found involved and he was able to find on the inside of a car window two fingerprints of a man who denied being in the car. He testified on May 29, 1981 and the man was convicted.
On October 21, 1981, the Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorialist Bob Brumfield described an armed robbery that resulted in the murder of one of the patrons of the bar being robbed. Cid found one fingerprint on a potato chip bag that the murderer had discarded. In order to compare the print, he needed a suspect. He asked the Regional Crime Information Center (RCIC) to produce for him a list of all the men arrested for Aggravated Robbery in the past five years. There were 1700. He then added the parameters of age, sex, race, weight, and height (all approximations) and narrowed the field down to 500. He checked the Ten Print cards of the 500 (5000 prints) and when he got to Number 251 (2510 prints), he found the man to whom it belonged. Caesar modestly described it as a team effort. In 1980, while assigned to the multijurisdictional task force, he had done a similar search with RCIC and found the suspect. Brumfield ended with an epitaph, “Hail, Caesar.”
On November 5, 1981 Cincinnati Police Chief Myron J. Leistler responded with a letter to the editor thanking Brumfield for his recognition. Then, on November 12, 1981 another letter to the editor, this one from Madeira Lieutenant Randall Mell, further expounded on Caesar’s virtues, especially in the 1980 task force with whom he served. It is rare that a law enforcement officer would be the subject of three positive editorials.
On November 10, 1981, he responded to the murder of Brutus Chenault by his stepson, Will Morrison, and charged the latter with Murder.
On January 14, 1982, the prestigious Hamilton County Police Association recognized him at the Annual Banquet for his dedication and expertise in fingerprint identification in the Greater Cincinnati region.
The next day, on January 15, 1982, Caesar was testifying behind closed doors regarding the finding of a palm print in the kitchen in the case of a rape and murder of Madisonville 19-year-old Rebecca Reed on September 28, 1980. Nothing much was made of it, outside the Homicide Squad where experienced grizzled veteran Detectives were in awe of his accomplishment. That is until an article was written about it a year later.
On November 27, 1983 Paul Furiga caught hold of the story and The Cincinnati Enquirer published his article, “The Persistent Detective.” On September 28, 1980, a man viciously raped and bludgeoned to death 20-year-old Rebecca Lynn Reed in Eastwood Village. The killer was careful to clean up the crime scene and remove all his fingerprints and other evidence. However, he left a palm print among Rebecca’s blood splatters on a wall. Caesar lifted the latent print, but he had no suspect to compare it to. And even if he did, police departments took inked fingerprints for comparison purposes, not palm prints. Additionally, the Division only took inked prints of those arrested for felony, theft offenses, and vice offenses. Detective Caesar asked the Identification Section to start taking palm prints in addition to fingerprints of everyone printed.
Homicide detectives, every six weeks or so, were assigned to work at night for a week, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Unless there was a homicide during these times, it was generally slow for the detectives and time to catch up on their paperwork. Specialist Caesar would walk down to Identification Section, grab all the recent palm prints, and pour through thousands of left-hand palms. On February 26, 1982, his search ended with a palm print matching that of Theodore Sloan, arrested days before in a burglary. Sloan was indicted and convicted in Rebecca’s rape and murder. The humble, persistent detective credited the entire Homicide Squad.
Fellow Homicide and highly respected Detective Jerry Gramke assessed, “That’s got to be the most boring thing in the world. You’re just looking at lines.
On October 1, 1982, Cincinnati Police Homicide Commander Lieutenant Hugh Burger announced the arrest of Jack Spurlock based on a palm print found by Cid at the scene of the murder of John J. McCarthy on Glencoe.
When a New Jersey businessman was found murdered at the Red Roof Inn in Columbia Township, Sheriff Lincoln Stokes called Cincinnati specifically for Cid’s assistance.
Alton Coleman and Debra Denise Brown were multistate serial killers and, before and after the murders they committed in Cincinnati, murders they committed were being investigated by as many as 40 law enforcement agencies. On July 25, 1984 Homicide Sergeant Thomas Oberschmidt and Specialist Caesar traveled to the Chicago FBI office to discuss the prosecution strategy for the two offenders in a Norwood case. There was little doubt that Specialist Caesar was going to be a big part of the testimony. Coleman and Brown were at the time locked in a federal holding facility in Chicago and were wanted on warrants in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The decision was made to try the first case in Hamilton County, based largely on the evidence obtained by Caesar and the Homicide Squad. During Debra Denise Brown’s trial in 1985, Caesar testified that after days of scouring the Norwood home, of the 100 latent prints he lifted in the home, 23 belonged to Coleman or Brown. He lifted prints from a fragment of glass, a table, inside a camper listed for sale, on a serrated knife, coffee cup, on an envelope, and a red bike.
Then, in June, he testified at another trial that Brown’s fingerprint was found on a Michael Jackson button belonging to murdered 15-year-old Tonnie Storey whose decomposing body was found at 2826 May Street. Coleman died in the electric chair and Brown was sentenced to two life sentences.
February 9, 1985 was his last day as a police officer, having retired effective February 10th. On February 11, 1985, though retired and unemployed, he was the main informant in an article by The Cincinnati Post touting the new use for cyanoacrylate, also known as Super Glue. It was found that this common household item had properties in it that caused fingerprints to form a snowy substance on the prints, suitable for photographing. A slightly older technology, using lasers, was also discussed, but Caesar assessed them as being too expensive for the Division.
On February 18, 1985, Specialist Caesar was honored by the Cincinnati Exchange Club as Police Officer of the Year for the Year 1984. As part of his citation, they noted his ability to put himself in place of the perpetrator, find clues, and lift fingerprints from wood, metal, glass, paper, a potato chip bag, and papers from a discarded toilet. When interviewed, he described his fascination with latent fingerprints early in his career: “I liked crime scene investigations. I just thought I’d learn to do that – and do it well. You try to put yourself in the same footsteps as the perpetrator” when looking for clues.
Captain Richard Schmalz once found him lying on the floor at a crime scene. When Schmalz asked him, “what are you doing?!” he replied, “trying to get a different perspective to find more clues.” Once, while at a rape/murder scene, Detective Richard Gross found him backed into a tiny alcove in a corner. Detective Caesar explained that he believed the perpetrator probably hid there, awaiting his prey. And in so doing, in found a candy wrapper with the perpetrator’s fingerprints. Crime solved.
On February 24, 1985, the Police Division rehired Caesar to the new classification of civilian Criminalist, issued him badge number CR001, and directed him to establish a new Criminalistics Unit; not to replace the Coroner’s Crime Laboratory, but to augment it.
Still operational, in July, he testified against Jerome Henderson, whose fingerprint he found in murdered 26-year-old Mary Acoff’s Highland Avenue apartment in March.
In October, he testified against John Stroud, whose fingerprint and palm print he found in the residence of double-homicide victims Gunn and Leonard Maddox at 2085 Clifton Avenue.
Cid still had an open case from January 3, 1978 involving the murder of a 95-year-old Roxie Cass in Laurel Homes. He had spent all day that day searching for a print but found only one. He searched Cincinnati’s fingerprint files to no avail, and then sent it to the FBI. They also produced nothing in the file. In 1986, Cid re-submitted the 8-year-old fingerprint, hoping the culprit had been arrested during the interim. On September 18, 1986, the FBI returned a report that it matched a fingerprint of Charles Brown of Cincinnati. Brown had been arrested in 1985 for receiving a stolen automobile, and that is when his fingerprints went to the FBI. On December 4, 1986 Brown entered a plea to Manslaughter. On December 31, 1986, a second man, a convicted killer, was also indicted for Cass’s murder and later convicted.
In 1986, Criminalist Caesar responded to an armed robbery turned murder at the Dunlap Café. He found part of a potato chip bag with a questionable palm print. But out in the parking lot, he found what appeared to be the portion of the bag that was ripped off to get into the chips inside. This portion had a thumb print, matched up the rest of the bag, resulting in identifying, charging, and convicting the perpetrator.
On March 22, 1987 Cid was promoted to a new classification of Senior Criminalist.
On August 11, 1987, he testified at another trial where he had found the perpetrator’s fingerprints inside the victim’s apartment. On August 7, 1988, George Franklin broke into a home of Procter and Gamble executive Robert Strauss and ended up killing Strauss. On December 1, 1988, Caesar testified at his trial that he had found Franklin’s fingerprints inside Strauss’s home.
On August 26, 1988, he was testifying as to shoe prints of a man who vaulted over a bank counter and killed a teller during a robbery.
In August 1989, Cid joined several others at the Cincinnati Police Museum to form a Board of Directors for a new organization, designated at that meeting as the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society, for the primary purpose of creating a Greater Cincinnati Police Museum containing a memorial of all law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in the eight contiguous counties of Greater Cincinnati over the previous 200+ years. That Museum became a reality in 2006 and has since grown into the largest law enforcement museum, by archive and artifact count, in the United States.
On November 19, 1991, he testified at the trial of a man wanted for the separate murders and rape of Georgeanne Gatto and Sandy Barrett in May and June 1990. By then, the Criminalistics Unit was videotaping crime scenes.
On August 12, 1993, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the innovative technology of Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and of course interviewed Senior Criminalist Caesar. No one knew more than Caesar about the drudgery and time consumption of searching for a single fingerprint among millions. AFIS could do it in minutes. And fingerprints were still the top identifying forensic in his mind. DNA was good, but there was no DNA database like the millions of fingerprints.
On July 16, 1994, The Cincinnati Post spotlighted him again, and again had him recite his best cases for their report.
About 2001, Criminalist Caesar was diagnosed with a melanoma. He continued to work through the disease and chemotherapy treatments.
On August 5, 2004, The Cincinnati Post again covered Caesar, this time for a 50-year anniversary in the Cincinnati Police Department. Specialist Richard W. Gross, himself a distinguished “Detective,” said of him, “Everyone has a Cid story. He’s amazing. I wish we could clone him.” His commander, Captain Vincent L. Demasi told Caesar, “We didn’t tell you about it because we knew you wouldn’t show up.”
By then, Cid had testified in hundreds of cases and as an expert in at least seven states and had put away at least three serial killers.
He still considered fingerprints a greater asset to law enforcement than DNA. When asked of the biggest change in law enforcement and prompted with DNA, he answered, “No. AFIS. … because we have so many already on file.”
Everyone with whom Caesar had ever worked, from Chief Thomas Streicher on down, expressed the same sentiment, “one of the best they had ever seen.”
Near the end of July 2005, the Rotary Club of Greater Cincinnati honored Cid with a career achievement award.
By 2008, he had served his country, city, and county 56¼ years, almost 40½ years of which were as a forensics expert. He had received 70 letters of appreciation and/or commendation: nine from Cincinnati Police Chiefs, three from Hamilton County Judges, two from Hamilton County Prosecutors, and one each from Blue Ash, Silverton, St. Bernard, Springfield Township, and Woodlawn Police Chiefs, City Manager William Donaldson, Hamilton County Coroner Frank Cleveland, United States Congressman Thomas Luken, a Batesville, Indiana City Court Judge, a Salt Lake City Deputy County Attorney for the John Paul Franklin case, a Lake County, Indiana Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, FBI Special Agent David Lichtenfeld, Hamilton County Chief Assistant Prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney for Eastern Kentucky, and Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel.
In 53 years of employment, he had never had an at-fault auto accident. In every annual performance evaluation since 1985, he received a perfect rating.
Police Specialist/Senior Criminalist Caesar had been involved in almost every major criminal investigation in the past 50 years. He escorted the “Cincinnati Strangler,” Posteal Laskey, in 1966, to get his inked fingerprints. He collected the evidence in 1984 that sent Alton Coleman to the electric chair in 2002. He put Debra Denise Brown in prison with a fingerprint on a Michael Jackson button. He assisted Salt Lake City with the conviction of serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.
He had been at the scene of thousands of bodies. He may not have been assigned more homicide cases than the legendary Detective Thomas J. Faragher, but he was involved in more investigations.
Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed February 17, 2008 “Cid Caesar Day.”
His wife and children attended the proclamation ceremony. Cid had been admitted to a hospital on February 3rd, then into hospice care. He died at 7:50 a.m. on February 20, 2008 at the age of 75.
Police Specialist/Senior Criminalist Caesar was survived by his wife of 51 years, Carol Caesar, and sons, Scott Caesar, Mark Caesar, and Jay Caesar. He is buried in Arlington Memorial Gardens in Springfield Township.
In yet another editorial, Peter Bronson, Managing Editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, spoke eloquently of Specialist/Criminalist Caesar entitled “Cid Caesar was his own CSI before CSI was cool – and he was the best.” Bronson described him as an ordinary man who did extraordinary things for his city. Former Fraternal Order of Police President James Frohn said of him, “He’d never say anything bad about anyone, and nobody I know of would say anything bad about him. Captain Andrew Raabe, Criminal Investigation Section Commander, advised, “He was a legend when I started, and I have 30 years in!” The editorial ended with, “Oh hell! He’s the best there is.”
Such was his reputation of interagency, intercounty, interstate cooperation, the Hamilton County Police Association created a third major award given at their annual banquet called the “Clarence “Cid” Caesar Award” for an “investigation demonstrating interagency cooperation.”