After retiring in 2003 from a highly decorated career in law enforcement, Lt. Tom Gratz had a tale to tell. Harley C.I.: A Detective Story is the result.
In the early 1990s, Gratz and his longtime partner in the Allen County Sheriff’s Department’s Criminal Investigation Division investigated and brought to justice one of the most prolific burglary rings the state of Indiana had ever seen. In a span of just a few months, the Wells Street Gang, as they were known, stole tens of thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise and caused nearly as much damage to property during the type of brazen crime spree more common to the mean streets of Chicago or New York than the cornfields of Indiana.
The burglars, led by a Fort Wayne man, were experts at stealing safes from gas stations and convenience stores, cutting them apart and looting them, then dumping them along the back roads and byways of counties across the state. Gratz and his team were at their wits’ end in the case when a tattooed, smooth-talking ex-con named Scott Bell, a.k.a. “Harley,” offered them his services as a confidential informant (C.I.).
Using skills he’d honed in drug-trafficking cases, Harley infiltrated the gang and was instrumental in the apprehension of several of its members. But along the way, he scammed the sheriff’s department, carried on a love affair with the gang leader’s sister, impersonated a preacher to gain confessions from the burglars he’d befriended, landed in the hospital with heart and alcohol problems, feuded with his ex-wife (nearly compromising the investigation in the process), went AWOL with a family from Ohio, and generally caused chaos for Gratz.
The C.I.’s unorthodox methods worked, though, culminating in a wild car chase and the arrest and prosecution of the gang members. The resulting narrative is an engaging, humorous, small-town police procedural – equal parts Donnie Brasco and Fargo.
When Gratz needed someone to help tell the story of Harley and the Wells Street Gang, he turned to Bloomington-based journalist Brian Hartz, who grew up in northeast Indiana and has worked at newspapers and magazines around the world. Hartz took Gratz’s bare-bones account of the investigation and turned it into a novel that will fascinate true-crime fans interested in how a complex, long-term, multi-agency police investigation really works.
Harley C.I.: A Detective Story is published by FriesenPress in Victoria, B.C., and is available now in print and e-book editions via Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and the FriesenPress online bookstore (www.friesenpress.com/bookstore).