Legendary Indianapolis homicide detective recalls unsolved cases as he prepares to call it quits

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- When Roy West came home to Indianapolis after serving a tour in Vietnam and began casting around for a job, he looked no further than the home in which he grew up.

“Both my mother and father were police officers for the Indianapolis Police Department and I just followed their career path,” he said.

Roy West reported for work on April 17, 1972.

June 1, 2019, will be Detective West’s last day on the job.

“The town’s really changed,” he said. “The violence has increased. Naturally I mean we had some wild times back in the 80s, in the 90s, but it just seems to be going down the wrong path. You find now that the people you were looking at for crimes back in that period of time, their children are now out committing that those same crimes. It's just a circle and you don’t know how to break it.”

West spent 47 years doing his best to break that circle, 33 of them investigating homicides.

Over his career West estimates he’s solved probably  more than 150 murders, assisted in investigating hundreds more, and yet still leaves about two dozen cases on the table unsolved that he still thinks about every day as his career is winding down.

“Dealing with families is the hardest issue because you know that there are cases that might not come to resolution and you’re sitting there across from the family hoping you can solve it for their sake, knowing how difficult a case it is that it may never be solved.”

Altie Sweatt is one of those cases. She was a retired beautician who lived by herself in the 2200 block of Ralston Avenue and was discovered beaten and stabbed to death on April 10, 1995.

“Whoever committed this crime knew that she lived alone, knew that nobody would be coming around to check on her and they took advantage of that.”

From the start, West said he has always looked hard at the residents of Sweatt’s rental properties on the block who were addicted to drugs.

“It appears whoever killed Altie Sweatt had spent a significant amount of time in the home going through whatever they were looking for, obviously looking for money, I believe,” said West, “but the thought of an 83-year-old woman laying in her bed asleep when she’s brutally murdered and the thought of the person spending a significant amount of time going through that home looking for what they were trying to find, that bothers me.”

West is bothered, too, by the murder of 11-year-old Lashonna Bates in 1994.

“There was an arrest made in the case,” recalled the veteran detective. “You have two primary suspects; one could be just as guilty as the other. One was the person who found the body, Charles Daugherty.”

He was Lashonna’s babysitter and several years later confessed to the killing, though a judge found Daugherty mentally incompetent to assist in his own defense and the charges were dropped.

“It's frustrating in that sense knowing that you’re at the door but you can’t get in,” said West, reflecting back on a case he thought was solved, “and obviously you have one that admitted to the killing but there’s issues with his mental health and the other is highly suspected of being involved because of the activities that were going on inside the home.”

West said there was a lot going on inside the home of Katie Clay, a 4-year-old girl who disappeared one summer night in 1993.

“Her mother had been in and out of the house all evening long with different people dancing at bars and drinking and different things,” said West.

Just a few days later, Katie’s body was found burned to death in a dumpster on North Graceland Avenue after witnesses said they heard a child screaming. Her name is one of those Sgt. West keeps written on a small yellow note taped to his desk in the Marion County Prosecutors Office.

“That stays close to all our hearts,” he said. “Anyone who was involved with that case, we think about that all the time.”

West was an active homicide detective until Dec. 31, 2007, when he retired from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) and became an investigator assisting homicide prosecutors.

During those decades of attending autopsies and funerals, tracking cell phone leads and informant’s tips, asking questions of relatives and enemies of the deceased, West investigated the murders of dozens of people caught up in life on the street hustling and dealing, but it’s the killings of victims simply trying to get by and make a living that still gnaw at him.

Charles Nixon was one such man.

Nixon was behind the wheel of Yellow Cab #245 in the summer of ’93 when he got a call to pick up a fare named “John” in the 3700 block of North Bancroft Street.

Minutes later Nixon staggered into IFD Firehouse #10 at 3809 East 38th Street mortally wounded.

“Prints are recovered from that cab that were identified as having been made by a Searon McFarland a 17-year-old male at that time,” said West. “I interviewed him on July 20, 1993. He denied being involved, denied being in the cab.”

West said eleven days later, McFarland was shot in the leg at 1226 North Illinois Street and lived.

On Aug. 12, West remembered McFarland’s girlfriend admitted she lied about giving him an alibi for the night Nixon was killed.

Then McFarland’s summer was about to get worse.

“August 23, 1993, I got a call at home advising that Searon McFarland was under arrest for the shooting of Officer King Fisher,” said West, checking the notes in his file, “and that he shot him with a 44 caliber revolver during a traffic stop at 38th and Meridian.”

For evidentiary reasons, the murder charge against McFarland was later dropped, though he was convicted of shooting the police officer.

West said that sentence was set to conclude this past February.

“So hopefully there is somebody out there that knows about what he did and would come forward,” he said.

During his last two weeks on the job, Roy West will take one last look at his files and make sure everything is in order for the cold case detective who may someday inherit the boxes of photographs and notebooks and documents that make up more than three decades of murder investigations.

“It's sad to me that these cases behind me are sitting unsolved. I think about them every day, but the worst part behind it is knowing that time is your enemy because the longer those cases sit unsolved, the harder it is to try to find an answer because people pass on from this earth and may take the answers with them.

“I wish I could bring a resolution to all the families but it just didn’t happen.”

Throughout the summer Indy Unsolved will profile Roy West’s open cases in the continual search for answers and justice.

Though retired, West said he’ll be just a phone call away from a detective working a fresh tip on an old case.

If you have information about any of Sgt. West’s unsolved murders, call Crime Stoppers at (317) 262-TIPS (8477).

Your information could be worth a $1,000 reward.

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