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The Closer

After 28 years, a Henrico detective finally puts to rest the haunting cold case surrounding the murder of 6-year-old Alex Glanz.



As ice-cold waves broke across smooth sand, Henrico County investigator Robert Hewlett Jr. stood on a balcony in the crisp Virginia Beach air of Dec. 4, his thoughts a jumbled blur as he numbly sought to process three words from Hanover County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Shawn Gobble:

“We got him.”

John Bradley Crawford, murderer, would pay for his crime.

For Hewlett, an investigator with the department's cold-case team, the news was justice 28 years and one day overdue.

“It was almost like 50 pounds had been taken off of my back,” Hewlett says. “There was a sense of, it's over. When you live with it for so long …”
Hewlett was a fresh-faced police officer in 1980 when he was assigned to night-shift road patrol in the county's east end. The father of a young boy, he'd been on the beat just over two years — no longer a rookie but not yet jaded.

As that Dec. 3 afternoon gave way to dusk, a bitter cold settled over the Highland Springs community where Hewlett lived and worked. He reported for duty at the department's old Dabbs House Road headquarters for the night's assignments.

Hewlett, along with other officers were briefed on a missing child report called in around 6 p.m. by Diane Glanz, mother of Alexander Paul Glanz, a 6-year-old boy. The family lived in a rented house on Oakley's Lane, a fast-suburbanizing part of Highland Springs.

Hewlett and his fellow officers were ordered out on the search.

“We were on foot — I was along the roadway, on Masonic Lane,” says Hewlett, recalling temperatures that plunged below freezing. “We knew he was wearing a jacket when he got off the school bus, but still, it was too cold for a 6-year-old alone in the woods. In the back of your mind you are always thinking the worst.”

Hewlett's own fears were only compounded by his personal connection to the case. His son was about the same age as Alex. He lived within walking distance of the Glanz home.

But in 1980, fearing the worst was a job largely reserved for police. It was a different time; violent child predators were not yet a societal concern.
“Kids would play in the neighborhoods and parents would depend on their neighbors to watch out for each other,” Hewlett says. “We didn't have that type of problem back then.”

In Alex's case, that informal security arrangement did nothing. His school bus driver was the last person to see him alive. Diane Glanz found his house key in the front door, his books just inside and at first assumed he'd gone off in search of the family's missing cat.

By the time police joined her search, it was too little too late.

“Our search was a one-mile radius from his home,” Hewlett says. It was doomed from the start. Alex's frozen body was found three days later by a hunter in Hanover County. Despite being bound at his wrists and ankles and clad in only underwear and socks, Alex had managed to crawl to where he was found, just 20 feet from Cold Harbor Road where he might have been saved.

The murder investigation quickly turned up leads, and all arrows pointed to Crawford. A black-and-red work truck belonging to his family's pesticide business had been seen in the Glanz driveway about the time Alex went missing. The owner of the Glanz home said he'd scheduled an annual pesticide treatment for that day. Tests revealed Alex's socks and the ropes that bound him were saturated in pesticides.

And a truck matching the description of the one in the Glanz driveway, owned by Crawford's father, John Crawford, was sold shortly after the crime and shipped to Jamaica.

“They knew we were looking for that truck and so probably got rid of it,” Hewlett says. “The truck was registered to the father. The truck would not have been sold or gotten rid of … unless the father knew [of Crawford's crime].”

It was all circumstantial evidence, but it was solid stuff.

Then-Hanover County Commonwealth's Attorney Eddie Vaughan chose not to prosecute. Shortly after the Glanz killing, Crawford was nicked for the double abduction of Hanover sisters who, in a scene eerily familiar to the Glanz case, were bound — this time to a tree — in rope saturated in pesticide. Crawford, apparently feeling remorse for Glanz's death, wrapped the two in coats, one of which belonged to his brother.

He was later sentenced in that case to 50 years.

But when parole threatened to put Crawford, now 47, back on the street 20 years later, Hewlett went to work to bring justice to the boy he calls “little Alex.” He'd begun working the case in 2004, but Crawford's impending release added a renewed urgency.

“The urgency was that we felt the case should have been prosecuted,” he says. “After talking to all the original investigators — they felt the case should have been prosecuted 28 years ago.”

Hewlett saw a chance to do justice for Alex, but also perhaps to prevent another tragedy. In addition to Alex and the sisters, there had been another victim.

“One of the things we had also after I got hold of the investigation four years ago that we didn't have back then was he had been acquitted for the sexual assault of a 5-year-old boy in Hanover,” Hewlett says of Crawford, noting that “because he was acquitted, we could not use that against him.”
After two mistrials during the past two years, a jury convicted Crawford on Dec. 4, 2008. The day Crawford finally faced justice for the murder and sexual assault of Alex Glanz, Hewlett says that the years of effort leading up to that final day had worn him down. He left town with his wife to spend time with friends, and to watch the soothing break of the Atlantic Ocean.

After the call from Gobble, Hewlett made dozens of his own calls, to witnesses, friends, former investigators on the case, to tell them the news: “I'm standing on a balcony looking out at that ocean — it was a tremendous pleasure to be able to say, ‘Guys, we got him.’”

Shortly after, Hewlett returned to work, to his desk at the Henrico Police Department's Parham Road headquarters. It was the end of a long patrol that began on a cold night 28 years earlier.

Looking up, he stared into the happy eyes of a mop-topped grinning boy. Alex's Highland Springs Elementary class photo had been taped above his desk for four years.

“On Tuesday [Dec. 9] I was able to take it down,” Hewlett says. “I took it down and I said, ‘Young man, you can rest in peace.’” S

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