Bob Bromage: Cold Case Files
Author: Courtney Hampson Naughton | Photographer: Photography By Anne
At first glance, he is your typical cop. Cop hair. Cut short, a sprinkle of salt among the pepper. Cop shirt. Tan not white. Cop tie. Tan and green—no contrasting colors.
At second glance, Captain Bob Bromage is all business. In his twentieth year with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, Bromage is Criminal Investigations Branch Commander, responsible for all detailed and technical criminal investigations not assigned to the Enforcement (Uniformed) Patrol.
Originally from Connecticut, Bromage entered the Army after High School and was stationed in Savannah, where he became familiar with the Lowcountry and Beaufort County. After leaving the Army, he moved back North and began his search for a position in law enforcement with the Connecticut State Police. At the time, however, available positions were few and far between, and a job posting would attract 2,000 applications. Rather than waiting to be the needle found in the hay stack, Bromage journeyed south once again and was hired in 1990 as a patrolman for Beaufort County, working the midnight shift.
As most crime happens under the cover of darkness, the midnight shift was “pro-active patrol,” meaning Bromage would be at the scene of the crime oftentimes not long after the crime was reported. And that is where he got the bug—the investigative bug.
Since that time he has risen through the ranks and held positions handling traumatic death investigations, working with the coroner’s office, working surveillance (in an oceanfront villa for three months, the view perhaps a bright spot in the often dismal reality of what he sees every day), and even working with Court TV on a re-enactment of one of his solved crimes, where he tells me the director made him get in and out of his police cruiser 15 times because he “wasn’t doing it right.” “I know how to get out of my car,” he quipped sarcastically.
Impressively, Bromage is a 2001 graduate of the FBI National Academy, a distinction that less than half of one percent of all law enforcement officers hold. In addition to FBI training, the FBI National Academy also serves as a learning and research center, an advocate for best practices throughout the global criminal justice community, and a place where law enforcement professionals worldwide are able to forge relationships and share experience and knowledge—all a bonus for the residents of Beaufort County. (It’s nice to know that our local law enforcement has connections around the world.) In addition, for the past two years, Bromage served as president of the South Carolina Chapter of the FBI National Academy, with his term ending December 31, 2009.
Today part of his responsibility as Criminal Investigations Branch Commander includes the cold case files, of which there are 15 in Beaufort County, dating back to 1972. A case becomes a cold case when the leads dry up and the momentum stalls. Cold cases are still active, and as there is no statute of limitations in South Carolina for major violent crimes, Bromage and his team continue to work these cases day in and day out. This is the stuff television dramas are made of, but Bromage isn’t a fan of made-for-TV police work. “Most of what you see on TV is not accurate. It takes more than 60 minutes to investigate and solve most crimes,” he said.
Cold case files are tougher than most. “You have to create your own luck and know that persistence pays. There is somebody out there who knows exactly what happened in each of these cases,” Bromage said. “How do they live with themselves?”
So, he is on the road a lot—interviewing witnesses, combing over the files repeatedly, reviewing the evidence—looking for that one clue, that one person that will re-ignite the case.
The work is not easy. Bromage has seen horrible things—things that would keep most of us awake at night—images that would haunt our dreams. But Bromage is matter of fact. “You have to desensitize, flip the switch,” he said. There are the good days, like when he gets to knock on a front door and tell a family that the case has been solved. The bad days are more frequent. “They are stamped in your mind,” Bromage said. His worst day was in 2002 when the Sheriff’s Department lost two officers, Corporal A.J. Coursen and Lance Corporal Dana Tate, who were responding to a domestic dispute and were ambushed. Both died at the scene and left wives and children behind. The shooter was arrested about a mile away after a large manhunt. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to die by a Beaufort County jury. He sits on death row today.
“You remember the first fatality you saw, the most recent scene, those that make the largest impact. The rest … you try to forget,” said Bromage. But how? “I exercise a lot, I focus on my daughter, Alexandra, and I seek a healthy balance.” Probably easier said than done when you develop a personal connection to each case (Bromage easily spoke from memory about every victim in the cold case files), and to each victim’s family.
In contrast, he must also make a connection and build a rapport with suspects. How does he stomach that? “Trickery, ruse, and deception—the tools of investigation,” Bromage said. He has to be part actor and part psychologist, because where normal emotion should prevail, he has to shut those feelings down to be an effective interrogator.
Interrogation skills aren’t the only skills that Bromage finds key to his success. “You need passion, common sense, street savvy, adaptability, and a very good working knowledge of forensic science and the technology that is available and ever-changing.”Bromage credits his mentors, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, former Deputy Director of the FBI Deke DeLoach, retired Major David Randall of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, and his own father for showing him the importance of all of the above. And, he humbly hopes that his legacy includes passing on some of the same—creating good, well-rounded investigators.
His job is “a surprise a minute,” and while he does get frustrated, Bromage will never give up. He loves his job—so much so that I had a hard time uncovering any personal information. However, since he educated me on the proper techniques of interrogation, I turned the tables, used a little trickery, ruse and deception of my own and was able to uncover the real man and some answers to our deepest questions:
Starbucks drink of choice? Coffee, bold and dark, chased with water.
Starsky or Hutch? Hutch.
Favorite police drama? Miami Vice.
Whereabouts on the night of December 31, 2009? Command duty.
Powdered or glazed donuts? Powdered.
Why no copstache? No tattoos, no facial hair.
Sunglasses of choice? Oakley.
When eating in a restaurant, does he sit where he can watch the door? Normally.
Is gum chewing an essential job function? Rarely.
Does he always carry a gun? No.
Streaker. Watch or apprehend? Apprehend, every time. (Note: there was
a definite pause before this answer.)
While his job is no joking manner, I did discover a down-to-earth cop, who still takes the time to laugh, to have a good time, and to find balance. And I … have a little bit of a crush.
About the Cold Case Files
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has made cold case files accessible to the public at www.bcso.net/coldcases.php in the hopes that someone might come forward with information that may have yet to be uncovered. No matter how insignificant it may seem, any information offered in reference to a cold case could prove to be the missing link needed to solve the case. If you think you might have any information regarding a cold case, contact Captain Bob Bromage at (843) 816-8013 or via email at email@example.com.