by Pete Mazzaccaro
Mt. Airy resident and historian Hal Gullan has covered a lot of ground in the last 15 years since his first book. He’s written about the fathers of U.S. Presidents. He’s written books about Penn’s basketball program, St. Joseph’s celebrated basketball coach Phil Martelli and, recently, the ultimately successful senatorial campaign of Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey.
His latest, “Tough Cop: Mike Chitwood vs. the ‘Scumbags,’” moves decidedly away from politics and college basketball to tell the story of one of the most famous policemen in Philadelphia history.
Gullan said he met Chitwood by chance. His daughter-in-law Dr. Becky Gullan is a professor of psychology at Gwynedd Mercy University where Chitwood had scheduled a talk. She mentioned the talk to Gullan, who didn’t go expecting much but was convinced during Chitwood’s talk that he’d make a great book subject.
“And it turns out, so did he.” Gullan said.
Gullan, 82,a former ad executive who decided to get his doctorate in history at the age of 68, said he found common ground instantly with Chitwood and said, in a recent interview about the book that the story of Chitwood, aside from the fact that Chitwood is about as big a celebrity as a policeman could be, is also the story of what-might-have-been.
“We’re similar,” Gullan said, noting that they have pursued careers well past the age of retirement. “He’s 69 and he’s never going to stop. The tragedy is that he never become the police commissioner of Philadelphia. But it’s our tragedy, really. He would have been great. Everyone would know who he was, and they’d know what the police are doing.”
Chitwood made a name for himself as a charismatic, outspoken figure in Philadelphia law enforcement. He was a decorated homicide detective, an expert narcotics investigator and, later, a celebrated hostage negotiator.
“If you were to talk about the most famous Philadelphia police figures in the last 50 years in Philadelphia, you’d have Frank Rizzo, Clarence Ferguson [a special investigator who died in 1971 at the age of 75] and Mike Chitwood,” Gullan said.
As he became well known, becoming a national media figure, some detractors accused him of being a publicity hound and he earned the nickname Media Mike.
Chitwood was the lead in so many high profile cases. His biggest moment may be the fact that he is the man who on March 28, 1979, found the body of Holly Maddux in Ira Einhorn’s closet.
Despite the criticism, he has been immensely popular in every city where he’s worked. He left Philadelphia in 1985 to become the chief of police in Middletown Township, Bucks County, and left there in 1988 to become the chief in Portland Maine. In 2005 he returned to the Delaware Valley to become the superintendent of police for Upper Darby, the populous borough just over Philadelphia’s western border.
“When he walks into the Llanerch Diner, people will stand and applaud,” Gullan said.
The diner is where Gullan would meet with Chitwood to discuss research for the book. Chitwood, Gullan said, made it easy.
“He has nearly 40 books containing virtually every article that’s ever been written about him over the last 40 years,” he said. “He even kept the negative stories. We’d meet every week or so and he’d bring two or three of these books. I could do research without going anywhere. If I had any questions, I’d give him a call. I had everything I needed. I tried to focus the first half on action and the second on him as police commissioner.”
Gullan said his book focused on the entirety of Chitwood’s career. From his first days as a young Philadelphia Police officer to his current role as top cop in Upper Darby.
“He never wanted to do anything but be a policeman,” Gullan said.
“Tough Cop: Mike Chitwood vs the ‘Scumbags’” is published by Camino Books and will be available for sale at all the usual outlets – from Barnes and Noble to Amazon.com and beyond – on Oct. 15.