Catching a Killer

After the first year of doing Show Your Soft Side’s social media, I learned to turn off notifications. If not, life would just be one long series of dings.  Fortunately, I had forgotten to do that for Twitter so, on March 30, 2018 while lying on a beach in the Turks & Caicos, the dreaded ding immediately caught my attention.  The message that popped up on my phone said, “I want to put up a reward for the guy you just tweeted about.” 

There was no need for me to go back and check my posts.  I knew exactly who this person (to respect his privacy, we’re calling him Mr. Anonymous) was talking about.  The evening before, I had shared a post from the Baltimore County Police.  They were looking for a man named Jerome Luedtke who had been charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty after beating a small dog to death with a bottle. 

Anyone in animal rescue will tell you, these types of horrific stories are ones you see regularly.  But what you rarely see is a perpetrator actually being identified and charged so that made it all the more urgent to find this guy and put him behind bars.

The poster had already been circulating for a few days, but so far, there had been no sightings.  Would a reward help?  I believed it would, but the question was, how do you go about it?

I quickly sent a text to April Doherty, lead investigator for the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Animal Abuse Unit

One of our Twitter followers wants to put up a reward for Jerome Luedtke.  Who should he send the money to?”

 If only it was that easy.

She soon schooled me on the fact that the money had to go to Metro Crime Stoppers so I sent our Mr. Anonymous the website info and waited for a response.  It didn’t take long.

“Hi Sande.  I just went through the Metro Crime Stoppers website and there is only a “donate” area.  Then, they decide where the money goes.  There is no area to specify a specific crime/criminal.  That’s really a shame.  If you think of another way, please feel free to call me directly.”

Considering Baltimore’s escalating murder rate, I doubted Metro Crime Stoppers was going to voluntarily allocate reward money “for a dog.”  But I also knew that the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office took animal abuse very seriously and had a highly regarded prosecutor in the form of Adam Lippe heading up their Animal Abuse Unit. So once again, I texted April and this time asked – can you find me someone at Metro Crime Stoppers to speak to?

She did me one better.  On a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, she tracked someone down and got them to agree to set up a fund specifically for this case.

 It took a few days, but on April 4, 2018 papers went to our Mr. Anonymous and after filling them out, he overnighted the contract and the check.

Then we waited. 

By now, Mr. Anonymous and I were corresponding regularly. 

Have you heard anything?

 No, have you? 

Not only were we on first name basis, but he also knew who my contact was at the State’s Attorney’s Office so he and April were corresponding, as well.  In the interim, Mr. Anonymous had taken it upon himself to get flyers made and distributed them to businesses around East Baltimore where Luedtke was known to frequent.

Ultimately, it took 13 long days, but on April 17,2018 Metro Crime Stoppers posted that there was a $1000 reward offered for information on the whereabouts of Jerome Luedtke.  We shared and asked people to do the same.

We didn’t have to wait long. 

The very next morning, I awoke to a private message on Soft Side’s Facebook page. 

So how anonymous is your organization?

Not quite sure I understand your question.

If like you know where someone is but scared to tell anyone.

YES, totally anonymous.  My direct email is XXXX and my cell is XXXX

Can his lawyer file any paperwork to see who reported him or where the reward was issued?

NO, it all goes through Metro Crime Stoppers.

It was 7:30 AM, but I couldn’t wait.  I tracked April down to tell her that we might be getting a tip on Luedtke’s whereabouts.  After reading me the riot act for providing my own email and cell number, she agreed to reach out to Metro Crime Stoppers to see if they’d heard anything yet.

A week later, I got one of the best dings ever.

 “He’s in custody.” 

Even better, I learned that since Luedtke had been on probation when the attack occurred, he wouldn’t be going anywhere, anytime soon.

I immediately reached out to Mr. Anonymous and we agreed to keep each other apprised of upcoming court dates.

It’s been a year and a half from start to finish so, at this point, I’ve lost track of how many court dates were scheduled only to be continued. In the early days, either Mr. Anonymous or myself, or both would show up to, hopefully, watch the trial. 

Each continuation made it more difficult to attend and how ironic that this time, it was Mr. Anonymous who was out of the country when the final verdict came in.

It came in the form of an email just this past Friday from Adam Lippe, prosecutor extraordinaire and Chief of the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Animal Abuse Unit.

I have very good news to report.  In the above case, the Defendant Luedtke has plead guilty to aggravated animal cruelty and received today the maximum sentence of 3 years.  In addition, Luedtke was on probation and received 8 years (some concurrent) to the 3-year sentence, which means an additional 5 years.  The purpose of the case was to hold Luedtke responsible for cruelly beating Ginger, a young Chihuahua that did not deserve the lack of respect he showed.

Thank you so much for making this happen and making sense of this terrible wrong.

I never knew the pup’s name until Adam’s email arrived.  In some ways, it makes closing this chapter even harder.  Ginger will never know how many people came together to get justice in her name.  I am eternally grateful to all of them – both to those who make it their life’s work like Adam Lippe and April Doherty, and to those Good Sam’s like Mr. Anonymous who believe that we all have a part to play.

Adam Lippe did send me a second message late Friday.

Please thank the gentleman who provided the reward.

Thank you Mr. Anonymous from the bottom of our Big Softie hearts.