Respected former Arlington homicide detective dies

Posted Thursday, Aug. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Detective Jim Ford investigated some of city’s highest profile homicide cases, including the abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman in 1996, during his 34-year career with the Arlington Police Department.

Mr. Ford, who served as a criminal investigator for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office after his 2010 retirement from the police department, died Wednesday. He was 58.

The cause of death was not immediately available.

Those who have worked with Mr. Ford over the years described him as a compassionate investigator who poured all of his attention and energy into each narcotics, sexual assault, robbery or homicide case he worked.

“He is pretty well recognized by his peers as one of the best homicide investigators in the state,” said Mike Adair, chief investigator with the district attorney’s office and Arlington Police Department veteran. “When prosecutors got a hold of a Jim Ford case, they knew there weren’t any loose ends to be tied up and that it was ready to go. He was very methodical.”

Cold Case Unit

Mr. Ford joined the Arlington police force in 1976 and worked in patrol and narcotics before becoming a detective in the Crimes Against Persons Unit, his peers said.

One of his many successful investigations included the arrest and conviction of Ronald Steven Trimboli in the triple slaying of sisters Renee and Danielle Lemieux and their family’s teen-age house guest, John Bradley. The three were found gagged, bound and stabbed inside an Arlington duplex in June 1985.

In 2004, Mr. Ford was tapped to help launch the Cold Case Unit, to reinvestigate dozens of unsolved slayings dating back to 1968. In 2005, Mr. Ford and his partner, Detective John Bell, were named Officers of the Year for their work in the Cold Case Unit.

“Jim Ford was the epitome of what you would want as an investigator working on your case. He was going to give it everything he had,” said Mike Simonds, chief deputy at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office, who worked with Mr. Ford in the Arlington Crimes Against Persons Unit for years. “I truly believed he saw it as his calling. He just embraced that day in and day out. He loved his job.”

On Sunday, Mr. Ford will be featured in an “On the Case with Paula Zahn” episode about the unsolved slaying of Linda Sue Donahew on the Investigation Discovery channel. Mr. Ford helped investigate what happened to Donahew, 41, who was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted inside her Arlington home on June 1, 1987.

A great mentor

Arlington Detective Ben Lopez worked with Mr. Ford on the Amber Hagerman Task Force for eight months in 1996 and then for another five years as a fellow homicide detective.

“Oftentimes, people who are good at what they do have an ego that goes with it. Jim didn’t. He was humble, didn’t like any attention on himself,” Lopez said. “He was excellent at the job and, more than that, he was a really good person.”

Even after Mr. Ford retired, Arlington Detective Byron Stewart said he would frequently get phone calls from his longtime colleague offering advice on cases.

“He was a great mentor,” said Stewart, who worked with him for 14 years. “We’ve learned so much from him. He will be sorely missed.”

Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said Mr. Ford reminded him of Peter Falk’s highly-skilled, laid-back character, Lt. Columbo.

“His bright smile and helpful spirit made him a joy to be around. As a detective and investigator, his congenial manner made both witnesses and suspects willing to talk to this mild-mannered man,” Shannon said.

Mr. Ford was born in South Texas to Juanita and Glen Ford. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and police science from the University of Texas at Arlington.

He is survived by his wife, Lisa Ford; daughter, Jessica Vaden and her husband Paul; and grandchildren, Jett and Ezra Vaden.

A viewing is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. Friday at Arlington Funeral Home, 1221 E. Division St.

The funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Pleasantview Baptist Church, 4400 Pleasantview Drive in Arlington, followed by interment at 4 p.m. at the Murray Cemetery in Carbon, Texas.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Arlington Police Association Benevolent Fund or the Pleasantview Baptist Church debt retirement fund.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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