Obituary: Charles J. Lenz / Longtime homicide detective became a legend

May 17, 1920 - Sept. 10, 2013

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With 40 years as a homicide detective for the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County police departments, Charles J. Lenz is a law enforcement legend -- although it's not true, as his younger colleagues used to tease him, that he was called out when Cain slew Abel.

Mr. Lenz would laugh heartily at that joke and other barbs thrown his way by younger detectives because he knew they were a sign of respect and admiration, just as his nickname the "Silver Fox" related not just to his hair color but to his craftiness as an investigator.

It is believed that in the history of law enforcement, Mr. Lenz trailed only his contemporary, the equally legendary Los Angeles Detective John P. "Jigsaw John" St. John, in continuous years of service in the elite speciality of homicide investigation. The late Mr. St. John, who investigated the Black Dahlia case, served 43 years as a homicide detective.

"When I first came on the city police force, he was legend then," said Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt, who eventually worked with Mr. Lenz in the city homicide squad. Of all the homicide detectives he's seen in his long career, Superintendent Moffatt said Mr. Lenz "was one of the best."

Mr. Lenz, 93, a police officer for 46 years whose career was among those recounted by Studs Terkel in his 1995 book "Coming of Age," died Tuesday at his Banksville home.

After serving as a first sergeant in the Army during World War II, Mr. Lenz joined the Pittsburgh police force in 1950 and walked a beat as a uniform officer in the Hill District for six years. His ability to develop informants, particularly key in those pre-CSI days, led to his promotion to homicide detective.

After 24 years in that role, he and four colleagues in the squad left in December 1979 to form the nucleus of the county homicide squad, which was just being formed.

Jack Brennan, who as a lieutenant was the squad commander, said Mr. Lenz was "an excellent homicide investigator with great experience, He was someone I could always count on to do the job correctly."

"We let him spread his experience to younger guys so they would soak up his knowledge and experience," said Mr. Brennan, who retired in 2005. "He was fully capable all the time, both physically and mentally.

"He was one of those guys who would look at a scene and tell you what went on. It's tough to take your mind off the horrors you see as a homicide detective and just analyze things. That's something that comes with experience, and Charlie had that."

One of his daughters, Barbara Henefeld of Moon, said Mr. Lenz would not bring his work home with him, but his children knew when something was amiss.

"The only thing that really affected him were cases that involved children," she recalled. "He would hug us a little tighter, hold us a little longer and we could tell something was bothering him. And, of course, our curfews got a lot stricter."

Mr. Lenz retired in April 1996. The preceding July, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Police Hall of Fame for "exceptional and meritorious performance."

Hal Bolin, his nephew, is carrying on the tradition with city police, joining the force in 1993 and working as a homicide detective for the past 13 years.

"I was always interested in his stories over the years. He was proud that I got into police work and especially the opportunity to work homicide," Detective Bolin said. "We would meet for lunch a lot and I would just listen to his stories.

"He could recall so many cases and so many particular things about cases. He would talk about cases he wished he could have solved. He was in his 90s and talking about cases that happened [so] many years ago, it was amazing."

Will he be challenging his uncle's longevity as a homicide detective?

"I won't even come close. I can't imagine doing 40 years in homicide. I've been in it for 13 and I really don't know how I've done it."

In addition to Ms. Henefeld, he is survived by two other daughters, Donna M. Reiter of Banksville and Deborah A. Kolod of Beechview; three sisters, Regina Bolin of the North Side, Marie Eshenbaugh of Industry and Hilda Mullen of Mount Washington; a brother, Harry, of Tennessee and North Carolina; four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received at Beinhauer, 2630 West Liberty Ave., Beechview, today from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. A burial Mass will be celebrated Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Catherine of Siena Church. Interment will be in Resurrection Cemetery. The family suggests memorial donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, 301 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

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Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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