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Former Buffalo cold case detective now writes murder mysteries

If you searched Buffalo for someone highly qualified to write cold case murder mysteries, you would have a hard time finding an author who fills the bill better than Lissa Marie Redmond.

Redmond is a former member of the Buffalo Police Cold Cases Squad who retired in 2015. Now, instead of investigating cold case murder mysteries, she writes about them.

Her first mystery novel, "Cold Day in Hell," draws on the experiences of her 22 years as a cop – a career largely devoted to hunting down rapists, child molesters and killers.

"The true stories I experienced in police work were much stranger than anything I could come up with," said Redmond, 47, of South Buffalo. "Even though the work could be very stressful, I met the most wonderful and amazing people. They left me with enough stories for 100 books."

Redmond's book centers on a talented but troubled Cold Case detective named Lauren Riley, who battles personal demons while investigating horrific murders. Riley faces some of the biggest challenges of her professional life when she agrees to help a tough, flamboyant defense lawyer, Frank Violanti, who is representing a family friend accused of a vicious crime.

Set in Buffalo and a fictional suburban community, the 386-page novel is full of characters, places and situations roughly based on things Redmond witnessed.

"Every character in the book is a toned-down version of someone I actually met," Redmond said. "The Lauren Riley character is based on a lot of women detectives I knew. Some of them were fantastic detectives dealing with all kinds of personal problems. People ask if Lauren is like me. There are couple of similarities, including the fact that we both have two teenage daughters. But Lauren's a lot different from me. I don’t even think we'd be friends. She'd probably say I was too emotional."

Former Buffalo police detective Lissa Marie Redmond, who now writes crime novels, is photographed in front of Old County Hall in Buffalo, where the climax of her first novel, "A Cold Day in Hell," takes place. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Growing up in Hamburg as Lissa Kogut, Redmond always loved writing and wanted to be an author or journalist. She wrote fantasies and science fiction stories. She planned on a journalism career after graduating from Frontier High School, but became discouraged about the limited job market for news reporters.

She was attending the State University at Buffalo and considering a career as a lawyer when she heard the Buffalo Police Department was accepting applications.

The idea of a police career intrigued Redmond.

"I always loved challenges, and this seemed like a really challenging job," she said."Once they accepted me and I started studying at the Police Academy, I said, 'I can do this. I can actually help people.'"

Joining the city police force in 1993, she was assigned to midnight shift patrol duties on the West Side.

"I saw all kinds of things, and I learned that police aren't just out there to arrest people," she recalled. "I still remember being sent to the home of a 101-year-old woman. It was a hot night, and she just wanted us to open her window and bring her a glass of water. She just needed some help."

She married a fellow cop – Dan Redmond, now a homicide detective – and six years into her career, Redmond applied for a job with the Sex Offenses Squad, and was accepted. She enjoyed the challenge of that work, too, although investigating sexual attacks and child molestations took an emotional toll on her.

In 2006, she was selected to work on cold cases, mostly long-unsolved murders. Then, she was assigned to a task force made up of investigators from the New York State Police, Erie County Sheriff's Office, Buffalo police and Amherst police looking for the Bike Path Killer, a vicious sex attacker who victimized almost 20 women over 25 years.

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Working with DNA evidence and conducting hundreds of interviews, the task force tracked down the killer, Altemio Sanchez, now in state prison. Their work also led to the release of Anthony Capozzi, an innocent man who had spent 22 years in prison for two rapes committed by Sanchez.

The day in 2007 when Capozzi was released from prison was perhaps the greatest moment of her police career, Redmond said.

"His family had invited us to be with them that day, and I'll never forget the look on his mother's face when he was finally out of prison," Redmond said. "The feeling was just indescribable. As a police officer, you cannot fix all the problems of the world, but you can fix some things."

Capozzi gets $4.25 million from state in settlement ; Money will go toward mental health treatment

She said the life of a cold case detective was often frustrating. Some old cases can never be solved, no matter how much work is done. "It was always very painful for me to talk to the mothers or fathers who had lost a son or daughter," she said. "Some of them are mad at the cops, mad at the person who did it, mad at the world … and you can't blame them."

But she remembers another old murder case that she and a former partner, Brian Ross, solved with two questions. "This man came into our office for an interview. We asked him one question, then showed him a picture of a house and asked if he'd ever seen the house. He said, 'I killed him.' He had gotten religion and came into our office ready to admit his crime, ready to go to jail."

Redmond hopes that "Cold Day in Hell," published this month by Midnight Ink, will be the first in a long series of Lauren Riley novels. "I've already written the second one," she said.

Redmond belongs to a female crime writers group called Sisters in Crime, and she enjoys talking about her work. She will talk about her experiences as a murder investigator during a book signing event at 7 p.m. March 8 at the Brighton Place Library, 999 Brighton Road, Town of Tonawanda.

There is one thing about the world of mystery novels that Redmond likes much more than police work.

"I think I write because I get to decide how the story ends," she said. "And even if there’s no happy ending, at least there’s an ending."

In this 2008 file photo, Buffalo Police detectives Lissa Marie Redmond and Charles Aronica track unsolved homicides for the Cold Case Squad. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

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