Dressed in a white protective jumpsuit and gloves, Wayne Wallace and a team of law enforcement officers spent 16 days digging through thousands of tons of garbage at a Dry Ridge landfill. It was the summer of 2000 and Wallace, then a detective with the Kenton County Sheriff’s Department, wasn’t only searching for evidence. He was searching for the truth.
Surprisingly, to many, he found both in the form of the bloody shirt and boots worn by Ronald Scott Pryor, the confessed killer of Stephen Craven, a veteran Delta Air Lines pilot bludgeoned and shot to death in his Edgewood home six weeks prior (July 12, 2000). The bloodstained clothing and the forensic evidence they held provided additional proof to back up Pryor’s confession and his assertion that the murder had been orchestrated by Craven’s own wife, Adele.
Finding the evidence in a literal mountain of refuse was the result of perseverance and strategy, says Wallace, 52, who, as a man of science, doesn’t believe in luck. Many were skeptical of the search, but Wallace needed to try. He was confident if the evidence was there, he and his team could find it.
For Wallace, who today is a noted forensic consultant, criminologist and professor, the role of the detective is to challenge findings in order to ensure truthfulness and accuracy.
“I believed in what I was doing. You are making a difference by impacting people’s lives or the lives of their families if they are gone. I saw families, broken families, and for them I need to do a good job,” he says. “Every case includes a victim and their family.” In the Craven case, Wallace sought the truth for the family Stephen Craven left behind—including his mother, Garnet, and his two sons.
The story of the Stephen Craven murder and eventual conviction of the hired hitman Pryor, Adele Craven and her lover Rusty McIntire riveted the Northern Kentucky community as it played out in the courts and the media.
The love triangle, murder for hire and forensic work that aided in the prosecution of the three conspirators sound like the script of a popular crime show, and in fact the Craven case has been featured on Snapped and Deadly Wives. But don’t tell that to Wallace whose years of work as an actual detective preclude him from being a fan of such shows—shows known to motivate students to study law enforcement and forensics.
“There is a deluge of entertainment programming that revolves around forensics and students come in with the wrong expectations,” says Wallace, who added professor to his list of credentials in 2011. His own research shows that as many as 28 of 30 new students said they were motivated by entertainment programs to enter the field. “Those shows have no basis in reality. Kids drop out when I tell them. It ruins their hopes and dreams.”
He paints them a more accurate picture of the professional life of a detective. It is a life filled with more paperwork than fingerprinting and cases that take months, not hours, to break.
Wallace worked the Craven case for more than three years, until Adele Craven confessed to her role in the crime in order to avoid the death penalty. Kenton County Circuit Judge Patricia Summe sentenced Craven, then 40, to life in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 2020.
The plea was reached with the assistant attorney general, Luke Morgan, who worked several cases with Wallace.
“The Craven case had the most publicity but wasn’t necessarily the biggest case we worked together. It is important to note that Wayne treats all cases with the same level of professionalism and priority,” says Morgan, who, as a private attorney working in Lexington, still occasionally consults with Wallace on cases, calling him as an expert witness. “He fully invested himself into every case. He didn’t leave a case just because of an arrest. He made sure I knew everything I needed about the case. I considered him a co-worker in presenting the case at trial. He would come to trial on his off days. He wanted to see the right thing done in these cases.”
Around the same time, Wallace’s tenacity lead to the murder confession and subsequent arrest of David Parsons nearly a year after he shot Mark Smith of Burlington in the head outside of the Crestview Hills Applebee’s where the men had once worked together. Parsons plead guilty to the crime.
The murder cases cemented Wallace’s reputation as a tough lawman, skilled at his craft and strong in his convictions.
And while solving big cases won him some acclaim, he admits that his sometimes-confrontational attitude when it came to work didn’t win him many friends.
“I wasn’t there to make friends. I only wanted to improve the delivery of our product to our community. I was working to call out voluntary incompetence,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of cases end in a plea bargain. That means most police work never has to face the scrutiny of a jury. We need to recognize where we can do better.”
Morgan witnessed Wallace’s confrontational approach on multiple occasions but described it as more persistent and professional than combative.
“I’ve always seen it as an effort to figure out the truth,” says Morgan. “He’s dogged. He is relentless in trying to determine the truth and the facts in what the matter may be but always in a professional and respectful way. But he also holds his ground. That can be a tough balancing act but Wayne pulls it off.”
Sometimes persistence isn’t enough. Sometimes, even with evidence, the bad guy gets away. And those are the cases that still haunt him.
“It was vicious, violent,” he says of an Edgewood rape case that remains unsolved despite the perpetrator leaving semen at the scene. It was collected and added to CODIS, the FBI’s DNA database. “I’m just waiting for him to get picked up some day. The final chapter of [the victim’s] past won’t be closed until they put him away. That haunts me. It’s undone.”
It isn’t the only case to cause him nightmares. There have been many but the bad dreams are fewer and fewer since his time away from the police department.
Wallace began his law enforcement career as a special agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command where he received intense crime scene reconstruction training. While the training provided him with a wide range of opportunities, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about his career plans when he decided to put down roots in Northern Kentucky.
“I had options but I knew I wanted a woman who lived in Cincinnati,” he says, a small smile breaking his serious demeanor. It is a smile that creeps back each time he speaks about his wife of 24 years, Laurie. While he waited for her to discover mutual feelings, he began work for the Kenton County Police Department.
“This is an area that is easy to put roots down. It gets a hold of you quick,” he says.
He began his stint in 1993, primarily working accident reconstruction, but quickly moved on to working criminal cases including child sexual abuse cases.
“I worked them hard and everyone knew it; the prosecution knew it,” Wallace says, adding that eventually the prosecution began asking him to work major crimes. In July 2000, they asked him to take the lead on the Craven case, which lead him and his team to a garbage dump digging through 35 feet of waste with garden tools.
In 2004, near the culmination of the Craven and Parsons trials, a line-of-duty injury requiring a radical neck surgery forced Wallace to retire from the department. After recovering, he returned to work in the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney’s office, where he began to consider the culture of law enforcement and to question whether officers make assumptions and come to conclusions as they search for evidence. The concept—confirmation bias—was something Wallace felt he had observed during his years in law enforcement and one he wanted to explore further.
In 2008, he struck out on his own as a forensic consultant and a student. As owner of Strategic Solutions, Wallace applies his expertise as a forensic criminologist and behavioral crime analyst to cases across the country, supplying expert witness testimony and specialized forensic services. As one of the country’s leading forensic minds, he is also regularly called to the podium to share his insights with other leaders in the field.
His break from a traditional work schedule also allowed him to return to the classroom, earning his master’s and later his doctorate. In the classroom is where Wallace says he truly “hit his stride.” While a Walden University doctoral candidate, confirmation bias became the subject of his dissertation, The Effect of Confirmation Bias on Criminal Investigative Decision Making, for which the 2015 PhD in Psychology graduate was honored with a 2016 Harold L. Hodgkinson Award.
Today, when he’s not out in the field as a forensic consultant, he shares his insights and career advice with potential new police officers and detectives as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Cincinnati, Indiana Wesleyan University and Walden University.
The classroom, he found, was where he can share his unique skill set and his passion for finding the truth with those wanting their own careers in law enforcement.
“My career in law enforcement was taken from me early. This is my way of continuing that pursuit and making things better for the Northern Kentucky area,” he says. “I take young minds and help them to be servants. What greater thing can I do but influence their minds?”