MORRISTOWN, NJ – Two law enforcement officers who helped solve the 2002 Funcoland video game store murders in Roxbury – along with many other big Morris County cases over the years – were among three veteran county Sheriff’s Office officers who retired this week.
Sheriff’s Office Chief Edward Crooker and Detective Captain Bruce Dunn joined Detective Lieutenant Philip DiGavero in retiring July 31. Crooker and Dunn helped solve the Funcoland homicide which took place in what is now the GameStop store in Roxbury Mall.
At about 11:30 a.m. on Dec 1, 2002, Funcoland video game store managers Erik Rewoldt, 26, and Jeffrey Eresman, 21, were shot to death in the store. Police determined 183 video games valued at $10,033 were missing.
Authorities circulated a flier of a car and of a man caught on surveillance camera walking by Funcoland around the time of the shootings. A task force was formed but the case was going cold until James Gannon, then serving as deputy chief of investigations for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, revisited the matter in late 2003.
New leads were developed, including a follow-up in which a person in Newark said they recognized the person depicted in the flier to be Omar Shaheer Thomas of Irvington.
Thomas knew both men because he delivered ice cream products in the area and would stop in to check out games. He told authorities he considered them friends as they would sometimes give him discounts.
Thomas initially acknowledged masterminding the robbery. He said it was his 14-year-old cousin, Craig Thomas Jr., who shot the clerks while another cousin, Rahman Vaughn, served as a lookout.
Omar Thomas went to trial and a jury determined he killed both men. He was convicted of both murders, armed robbery and other crimes, and is serving a life sentence. Craig Thomas was tried as an adult for his role and got a 10-year sentence.
Other Big Cases
Both Dunn and Crooker also worked on the investigation and successful prosecution of the killer of 10-year-old Walter Contreras Valenzuela in Morristown in May 2001. Crooker matched a garden cultivator found near the child’s body to wounds on his head. Dunn located multiple items of evidence at the crime scene that gave detectives insight into the child’s final moments.
A friend of the Valenzuela family wrote a letter in 2008 that praised Dunn’s involvement in the probe and trial. “I feel his work was phenomenal and done in such a professional manner that his investigation was never questioned,” the friend wrote. “I cannot express in words how important he is to the Valenzuela family and those that love them.”
Dunn also had the idea of lifting fingerprints from a decayed woman found in 2002. It involved soaking the skin in glycerol for 24 hours and placing the skin over a detective’s fingers and rolling for prints. The prints of the woman were on file in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which led to her identification.
“I’m very lucky to have had a good career,” Dunn said.
Crooker’s cases also included the killing of the Rev. Edward Hinds in 2009 in Chatham Borough.
The duo worked numerous bank robberies, fatal crashes and other crimes including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Trio Served 'With Class and Distinction'
They, and the other retiree - Detective Lieutenant Philip DiGavero - joined the Morris County Sheriff’s Office on July 18, 1994 as corrections officers. They worked in the county jail and several years later transferred to the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Law Enforcement.
Crooker spent nearly his entire career, 19 years, in the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit. Dunn worked in the Protective Services Division and for many years in CSI, the unit that is responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence amassed from crimes throughout Morris County’s 39 municipalities.
DiGavero is credited with overseeing the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit at one time, helping to electronically modernize evidence storage, and arranging to have expired medication drop-off boxes at police departments.
“These three Morris County Sheriff’s Office superior officers have served the county and the office with class and distinction by pouring their minds, hearts and souls into investigations and serving the public with integrity,” said Morris County Sheriff James Gannon. “I am proud to know them and to have worked beside them, and I wish them the best in the years ahead.”
The three retirees all worked in the now-demolished jail that was replaced by a new facility that opened in Morris Township in 2000. Crooker recalled how he also worked in the 1990s as a CSI detective in a dilapidated building on Washington Street in Morristown and then in another location before a state-of-the-art crime lab that today is the base of operations for CSI was opened in 2013.
Crooker thanked Sheriff James Gannon for his responsiveness and support of officers and detectives. “The resources he gives us are second to none,” said Crooker.
DiGavero, who also worked in the Sheriff’s Office Warrants Section and Protective Services Division which oversees security at the Morris County courthouse, said he is honored to have worked with many exceptional people.
He said he is proud of helping to organize the storage of evidence from crime scenes, which is managed electronically through a program called BEAST, for Bar-Coded Evidence Analysis Statistical Tracking.
“I’ll miss everybody. It’s been a real honor,” DiGavero said.
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