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Utah police pioneer Charles Illsley dies, but his stories and contributions live on

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 5:58 p.m. MST

"Once the lab was set up and we were ready to introduce the chemicals, we had enough to charge him. I think that's probably the first and only time a meth cook agreed to teach two undercover cops how to make meth in a police department facility."

In another case, a man broke into a house to steal items, but called Illsley before he left to see if he wanted anything. Illsley delayed the man long enough for police to arrive and arrest him while he was still on the phone.

In one sting operation, Illsey set up a fake store to buy stolen merchandise. A single car thief brought 132 stolen vehicles to Illsley, while other suspects brought him a total of 115 pipe bombs, 511 sticks of dynamite, two machine guns taken from inside a Rolls Royce, checks and IDs from 44 different accounts, a home burglar alarm system stolen right out of a home, a car full of stolen meat and a fake eyeball.

All of those cases resulted in arrests.

After his days of undercover work were done, Illsley got an entirely different position and became the face of the West Valley Police Department by being appointed its spokesman.

But Illsley also continued to work with forensic science.

"He was amazingly dedicated to the value of forensic science in police work," Black said.

Illsley didn't just study fingerprints, he helped with advances in looking at collecting palm prints, shoe prints and even fabric prints.

"He was ahead of his time in a lot of that stuff," Black said. "Then it evolved into the more high tech forensic things, mainly forensic light, laser light."

The small department became known as being on the cutting edge of forensics. Illsley was invited at one point to the set of the CBS show "CSI" to be a consultant.

In 2001, Illsley took his laser technology to Uintah County where Roosevelt Police Chief Cecil Gurr was killed in a gun battle. Ken Wallentine, who was the county attorney's chief deputy at the time and a close friend of Gurr, remembered Illsley worked tirelessly, with little pay, to help put together the case for prosecutors.

"It was like one call solves all. Charles came out and spent days and days and days and gave me an education on how to teach a jury about ballistics," Wallentine said.

Illsley's laser reconstruction of the gun battle helped determine bullet trajectories and located spent rounds. Without Illsley's contributions, Wallentine said he wouldn't have had as strong of a case to present to the jury.

"Charles Illsley gave me the tools to inject humanity into otherwise cold hard facts of a situation. I don't know how you can thank anyone for that," he said. "Charles Illsey was the guy who made sure I didn't stumble and fall."

But Illsley, while hard-working and dedicated, also went about his business as only Illsey could. Wallentine remembers the day he was to meet with him and other detectives to prepare for trial.

"They'd gone to Wal-Mart the night before and had all bought matching Hawaiian shirts to show up to this dignified trial preparation meeting," he said.

Those shirts soon became a trademark tradition.

In 2008, Illsley was sent as a consultant with a team from the Utah Attorney General's Office to the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, Calif., to use their expertise in forensic technology to help search for human remains — possible additional victims of Charles Manson.

"Same deal, everybody had to have Hawaiian shirts," Wallentine recalled.

During his career, Illsley worked on other high-profile cases including murderers Richard Allen Davis, Elroy Tillman and Ralph Menzies. His work helped catch criminals profiled on "America's Most Wanted" and some who were on the FBI's most wanted list.

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