Share this article

print logo

LAWMAN REFLECTS ON 37-YEAR CAREER; LUDTKA RETIRES FROM FORCE; PROBED NOTABLE HOMICIDES

In 1953, John K. Ludtka faced a promising career with New York Telephone Co., but he joined the Buffalo Police Department instead, took a 25 percent pay cut and stuck with it for 37 years.

What he started at age 24 came to a close Sunday.

Ludtka worked on some of the city's most notorious crimes, including the .22-caliber killings, numerous mob murders and other headline-grabbing mayhem.

For the past 30 years, he was assigned to the Homicide Bureau, where he has investigated more than 100 murders.

Prior to that, he served two years at the Broadway Station and five years in accident investigation.

"In work years, I am the oldest working officer in Police Headquarters," he playfully boasted. "And that includes Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart, who is 10 years older than me."

In joining the department, Ludtka followed the footsteps of his father, John, who retiredfrom the force in 1961 after serving 33 years.

Ludtka recalled fondly that though he admired his father as a police officer, he "admired him more for the excellent baseball player he was."

His father's baseball talent rubbed off on Ludtka, who played three years of minor league baseball after he got out of the Army in 1948.

It was during his two-year stint in the service that Ludtka got his first taste of police work as a military police officer.

But his first murder investigation was in 1958 when he was with the Accident Investigation Unit. He responded to a shooting on Whitney Place in time to see the killer's car speed away.

"It was a mob killing," he said. "They shot a man for being a suspected FBI informant."

That slaying left a lasting impression on Ludtka. Since then, he has probed numerous mob killings.

He said the most violent murder he investigated was the 1978 killings by Gail Trait of her three daughters and son, ages 2 to 8, Ludtka said.

Ludtka said his most disturbing homicide investigation was the case of Richard Y. Long, 18, who was beaten to death by off-duty police officers over a minor traffic incident in 1977.

"There were politicians who hurled allegations that we would try to cover up the investigation because of the officers involved," he said.

"I took a big burn to the insinuations we would not do a fair job," Ludtka said. "I lived that case for a solid year."

Two officers and another man were convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the Long death.

Ludtka said his toughest and most difficult investigation was the .22-caliber killer, Joseph Christopher, who shocked the Buffalo area in 1980 with the shooting of four black men and two stabbings, plus attempts on the lives of others in a period of several weeks.

The killings threw the black community into a state of fear.

"I was the one who got the call from the military police sergeant in Georgia who said they had a serviceman who claimed he killed 17 black persons in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester and New York," he said.

That call was the break in the case.

"There weren't that many killed, but the count of 17 was about right if the number of those wounded by the killer was counted," he said.

In surveying the Police Department that he leaves, Ludtka said there are what he described as unqualified officers because of court rulings mandating hiring people by race rather than test scores.

He also said many officers today lack experience.

"I worked with and learned from an experienced officer," he said. "Today, you have two rookie officers with no experience but their six months training working the streets together."

He also noted a lack of support from the administration and superior officers that has created a "definite gap" between the upper echelon and the street officers.

A native of South Buffalo, where he married and raised a family, he intends to stay there.

"I'm glad I'm done," he said in summing up his retirement plans. "I'm going to enjoy myself."

He will be honored by his fellow officers, family and friends at a retirement party Wednesday at Pilot Field.

There are no comments - be the first to comment