For more than two decades, Joseph Stotlemyer was a well-respected Pittsburgh homicide detective and sought-after polygraph examiner.
One day, when the squad got a man — the only suspect in an unsolved homicide from the North Side — to agree to a polygraph, they were eager to see how he did.
But when Detective Stotlemyer hooked their man up to the machine that measures, among other things, heart rate, he immediately noticed something was wrong.
“ ‘I hooked him up, but I’m not going to run him,’ ” the detective told his colleagues. “ ‘He has a heart condition.’ ”
The rest of the guys in the homicide unit all agreed Detective Stotlemyer should run the test.
He refused, and instead took their suspect to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was admitted and diagnosed with a serious heart condition.
“He probably saved the guy’s life,” said Ron Freeman, Detective Stotlemyer’s longtime partner. “He put that person’s well-being above the wishes of the squad and the investigation.
“That says a lot about him.”
Mr. Stotlemyer, 75, of the Oakwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, died on Tuesday after complications from surgery.
He joined the Pittsburgh police department in 1965 after spending two years in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. Mr. Stotlemyer spent 22 years with the city police, with about 20 in the homicide unit, where he developed a reputation as being able to get just about any suspect to talk.
“Before you knew it, he got you talking, and you were giving up secrets,” said Charles Moffatt, who long worked with Mr. Freeman and Mr. Stotlemyer
“He genuinely liked people, and you were drawn to him for that reason,” Mr. Freeman said.
Mr. Stotlemyer was empathetic — not just to the families of the victims whose cases they worked, but also to the suspects they questioned, Mr. Freeman said.
During the investigation into the “Kill for Thrill” murders in 1980, Mr. Stotlemyer questioned John Lesko, and Mr. Freeman had Mike Travaglia.
“Joe got his guy to confess, and I got mine to confess,” Mr. Freeman said. “It was a team effort.”
Mr. Moffatt, the former Allegheny County police superintendent, said they all still had dinner together a couple of times each year. He described Mr. Stotlemyer as analytical, quiet and easy to get along with.
During their time together, the homicide unit had a solve rate of higher than 90 percent, and was featured in a national policing magazine for its success, Mr. Freeman said.
Mr. Stotlemyer was sent to other jurisdictions in Pennsylvania and down the East Coast to assist in investigations and spent weeks in Erie, Pa., helping to investigate the death of a police officer there, Mr. Freeman said. In addition to serving as a polygraph examiner, Mr. Stotlemyer was also a certified forensic hypnotist, helping witnesses recover repressed memories.
James Wymard, a well-known criminal defense attorney in Pittsburgh, was friends with Mr. Stotlemyer for more than 40 years.
“People trusted him. You were very much at ease when you talked to Joe,” Mr. Wymard said. “He was never aggressive.”
He remembered facing off against Mr. Stotlemyer in court cases and described his friend as understanding, accommodating and intelligent. Mr. Wymard never heard him swear — not even in years of family vacations together.
Mr. Stotlemyer also had a pilot’s license and enjoyed flying and spending time with his grandchildren. He and Mr. Wymard golfed together every Sunday for 47 years. Mr. Stotlemyer also had many Amish friends in Dayton, Pa., and would regularly bring home cantaloupes and dozens of eggs that he would pass out to neighbors and friends.
“It used to drive my mother nuts,” said his daughter, Adrianne Hipkiss of Robinson.
After leaving the Pittsburgh police department, Mr. Stotlemyer joined Chambers Development Co., where he served as the vice president in charge of corporate security.
Most recently, he was the president of the Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.
“He lived a life of service to his country, city, community and family,” Mr. Wymard said.
“He truly gave the full measure of a life well-lived.”
Mr. Stotlemyer was married to his wife, Anita, for 52 years.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Stotlemyer is survived by a son, Joseph Stotlemyer of Hopewell; sisters Erma Cubbage of Imperial and Roberta Calio of West Mifflin; brother Fred Stotlemyer of Florida, and five grandchildren.
Mr. Stotlemyer will be buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org.