BCSO loses a legend

Published 7:08 pm Monday, October 1, 2012


The day Lewis Young turned in his badge, he said law enforcement was a younger man’s game. At 63, with a 41-year career behind him, Young retired Friday from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, with much fanfare the previous day: a plaque commemorating his service, a speech by the sheriff, gifts and a lunch spread for the department.
Most would remember Young as the soft-spoken gentleman manning a desk in the front room of the sheriff’s office, often on the phone patiently explaining civil law to debtors and debt collectors alike. Before his role in civil process, he was the agency’s child-support enforcement officer. But according to Sheriff Alan Jordan, behind Young’s sharp blue eyes lay one of the best investigative minds the state has ever seen.
“Even before I started working at the sheriff’s office, I had heard about Lewis Young,” said Jordan. “His skills were recognized across the state. He was in demand. … Everyone in law enforcement respected him. He had a great reputation — still does.”
Young didn’t start his career with the sheriff’s office — he only ended it there after 11 years. For the previous 30, he had made his way up the ranks of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, retiring from the SBI as assistant director and head of all field operations. In those three decades, Young witnessed the massive changes technology brought to the investigative process.
“I started out when they still issued revolvers,” Young said, gesturing to the semiautomatic gun at his hip.
“Nobody knew what DNA was; fingerprints were black ink on cards. I couldn’t spell the word ‘laptop’ because I didn’t know what one was,” he laughed.
But the lack of familiarity with technology didn’t stop Young from embracing the shift from field work to lab work, as scientists in the SBI lab continuously found new ways to process evidence: he said he trusted his people in the lab to get it right.
Getting it right has been the recurring theme in Young’s law-enforcement career: lead investigator on the Von Stein murder case — the 1988 murder of National Spinning executive Leith Von Stein that made national news and spawned two books and two TV movies. Young said it took three years to resolve the case, but the evidence ultimately led to the convictions of James Upchurch III and co-conspirators Gerald Henderson and Chris Pritchard, Von Stein’s stepson.
“I was glad we were able to pull that together and resolve it,” Young said. “That (case) was really hard on both prosecutors and investigators.”
As a byproduct of the case, Young gained national recognition in the 1992 movie “Cruel Doubt,” adapted from the book about the Von Stein murder by Joe McGinnis. Young’s part was played by actor Miguel Ferrer, who currently has the role of NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger on the TV series “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
While his investigative skills made him a shoe-in for high-profile cases, there were the ones that got away, Young said. As a young investigator with the SBI, Young worked the Bradford Bishop case. Bishop was a Yale graduate and U.S. Foreign Service officer who murdered his mother, wife and three young sons at their home in Maryland, drove to Tyrrell County to bury the bodies in a swamp and then disappeared. The case remains open: Bishop was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” this year, and as recently as 2010, authorities believed he was alive and living in Italy.
Young said happy endings rarely occurred in his work with the SBI — it was only through resolution for victims and their families that he found satisfaction: “removing people you knew needed to be removed from the streets. …  That’s probably the most you can give (the victims) back.”
While retirement from the SBI in 2001 brought Young back to Washington on a permanent basis, at the age of 51, Young said he felt like he still had something to give to the law-enforcement community and applied for a job with the sheriff’s office.
“He requested to be out and about in the community,” said Jordan, adding that the 50-something Young didn’t hesitate to get in foot chases with people ducking child support enforcement. “If you owed child support, you wouldn’t want Lewis Young hunting you down.”
What Young got when he hired on with the sheriff’s office was a whole new career in law enforcement, he said, but according to Jordan, what the sheriff’s office received in return was invaluable: a mentor in one of the most respected men in law enforcement.
Young said his days of foot chases are long over. What he plans to do now is get to some things he’s been putting off: cleaning out his garage, perhaps catching up on the British murder-mysteries he loves to read.
He said he’ll miss the work and the people, and he stressed how much he loved working with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, calling it one of the best — if not the best — law-enforcement office in the state. And he should know, he said, because he’s worked with them all. Yet when the compliment was returned by fellow officers, Young’s humbleness kicked in.
“I think they’re exaggerating,” he smiled, and quickly deferred attention to the many great investigators with which he’s worked.
“I just hope I did a good job.”