Hammond cop who caught serial killer: 'justice is being served'

Andrew Urdiales

Armed with a cup of coffee and a sympathetic ear, a then-rookie Hammond police officer helped catch a serial killer convicted of murdering eight women who dodged the death penalty in Illinois but now may face it in California.

"Justice is being served," said Hammond Police Department Officer Warren Fryer, now a 23-year veteran of the force. "Hopefully, there's an element of closure for the eight families."

Jurors in Orange County, California, recommended the death penalty for Southeast Side native Andrew Urdiales, a 54-year-old former Marine who was was sentenced to death in Illinois but then given life without parole when the state banned the death penalty. 

His eight victims included two Hammond women whose bodies were found on the Chicago side of Wolf Lake near the Hammond border in the 1990s.

"Some were college girls in the wrong place at the wrong time and some were prostitutes," Fryer said. "They were all human beings. They were all human. It's just good he's not out there to wreak havoc and snuff out young lives that were just beginning." 

Fryer was working a downtown beat in Hammond in 1997 at a time when young women turned up murdered by Wolf Lake, and no one had a clue as to who did it. The patrolman established a rapport with the prostitutes who strolled up and down State Line Road on the border of Hammond and Calumet City, even bringing them hot cups of coffee on cold nights.

"One told me about a customer who wanted to do things she thought were on the edge of being dangerous, and that were consistent with the wounds of the young girls found killed or murdered," he said. 

The prostitute outside a hotel on Calumet Avenue told Fryer Urdiales proposed taking her to Wolf Lake and handcuffing and duct-taping her before performing a sex act.

"I told her don't do that," he said. "I asked her who's wanting to do this, and she said that fellow right over there."

A few months earlier, Fryer had arrested Urdiales on an unlawful weapons charge while he was with a prostitute outside "a well-known crack house" after finding a .38 snub nose revolver poking out from under truck seat, which he had no permit for.

Fryer passed information about both run-ins with Urdiales on in a supplemental report to investigators in Chicago, who matched the confiscated handgun with the three murders.

"The patrolman is the eyes and ears of the bureau," Fryer said. "Police detectives get a lot of leads that go nowhere. This happened to be the missing part of the puzzle, a 10-minute conversation with a working girl with a customer who had crazy tastes."

Urdiales was arrested in April 1997, and confessed to five other murders near Camp Pendleton by San Diego, where he had been stationed when he was still in the service. Sentencing will take place on Aug. 31 after the jury's recommendation for the death penalty.

"The Hammond Police Department is proud of Officer Fryer and the Hammond detectives who worked so hard on this case over 20 years ago," Hammond Police Department spokesman Steven Kellogg said. "This violent suspect was responsible for so much destruction of human lives and we are pleased that HPD could be integral in the apprehension and prosecution of Mr. Urdiales."

Fryer always has wondered if Urdiales had more victims, since he's learned from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that serial killers typically confess to only a small portion of the murders they committed. But he said Urdiales is unlikely to confess now and justice should be served.

"It's obvious he was a killer," Fryer said. "It was not an aberration of psychology. You have to separate it from his time in the Marine Corps. He tried to make the case he was crazy, but was found sane and competent to stand trial. He had a complete disregard for human life, and has to atone for what he did. Justice is being served."

Fryer said it was one of a few murder cases he's worked on over the course of his career, and that he found any loss of life to be especially heinous.

"It's what law enforcement is about. Police keep showing up to work every day with the badge and the gun and keep chipping away at it," he said. "The bad guys do what they do. It's going slowly, but we're winning."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.