“We heard the missing persons report broadcast while we were working the scene and we knew it was him,” the veteran detective tells PEOPLE.
The quarterback’s murder was one of more than 700 homicide cases 56 year-old McFadden has worked in his career. He’ll never forget any.
The 2006 case is the focus of the first episode of Investigation Discovery’s new true-crime series, I Am Homicide, which profiles McFadden’s 21 years as a legendary homicide cop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the opening sequence he talks about where the name of the show came from: “Most people don t even know my real name. They ll say, ‘That’s Homicide. That’s Homicide.'”
McFadden started with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police in 1982 when he was just 22. He worked patrol then burglary before a captain suggested he go for a homicide position.
“I kind of fell into police work as a joke, a competition between friends in college. When the captain suggested me for homicide, 125 people applied and I got the job. I never thought it would get to this point.”
But now, he says, it was meant to be.
The show has helped him realize a devastating loss from his childhood – the murder of his cousin when he was 12 years old, growing up in Aiken, South Carolina – helped mold him into a dogged homicide detective. After his cousin’s death, he believes the police brushed his family aside. The case remains unsolved.
“We had no answers. Nobody really sat down and talked to us,” he says.
“I held it in my heart, completely. I never talked to anybody about it, never thought about being a police officer, never thought about being a homicide detective, and them my life went in that direction,” he says. “I kept that little secret in my heart because I watched how we were treated in Aiken and how we felt as a family – I never wanted to be treated the way we were treated.”
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That s why his approach over the years has been just the opposite. McFadden gives out his cell phone to everyone. Victim s family members, witnesses, suspects – everyone. And he always answers when they call.
“Everybody says I want to be accessible, but they re not. It s not a 9-5 job, it s while you re at the movies with your wife and you’ve got to slip out to take the call.”
McFadden has done security for everyone from president Obama to Oprah and Bill Gates. As a black police officer, his passion is in helping to bridge the racial divide and the gap between the police and the community.
His work landed him at the White House last year. Police departments across the country have brought him in as a consultant.
“Baltimore happened because nobody talked to the youth. Ferguson happened because nobody talked to Ferguson,” McFaddeen told the Charlotte Observer.
Glenn Counts, a veteran television crime reporter in Charlotte, says, “He s one of the best. They nicknamed him ‘The Mayor’ for a reason. I ve never seen a cop with his people skills, and he s got [guts]. He s never afraid to buck his superiors.”
McFadden knows his candor makes him a compelling presence on television. And despite being a reluctant star, he says he loved shooting the six episodes and is hoping for more.
The most rewarding part, he says? Circling back with some of the victims’ families. “We reconnected, kind of open a small wound but then there was a lot of laughter, a lot of fun, remembering things like, I had a mustache back them, I was thinner. It was good. It was really good.”