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CBS-11 Exclusive: Dallas Police Say 1996 Murder of Prominent Black Businessman Solved

Jun 17, 2004 4:27 pm US/Central
By Todd Bensman <>
Investigative Producer
CBS-11 News

After eight unrequited years of investigation, Dallas police say they have finally identified a suspect in the brutal slaying of politically connected businessman and former Dallas Plan Commission member Arnold Blair,Jr. CBS-11 has learned.

At the time his body was found gagged and tied in May 1996, Blair was one of the city's most successful black realtors and served as then-Mayor Ron Kirk's appointee to the influential city plan commission. Blair, 48, had been stabbed repeatedly inside his Oak Lawn apartment. The unknown killer drove away in Blair's Lincoln Continental.

Because of the Blair family's prominence, the Dallas Police Department's homicide unit came under some pressure in 1996 to quickly solve the murder. Detectives, however, ran into one dead end after another as they worked through their leads.

But after CBS-11 began inquiring about the case last week, police suddenly announced they had located a suspect and that they planned on Friday to charge him with first-degree murder. Sgt. Ross Salvarino declined to provide further details until after charges have been filed against the suspect.

"Murder cases are very difficult cases, and you want to make sure you do the best job that you can," Sgt. Salvarino said. "We make sure all our T's are crossed and I's dotted. You don't rush a case."

A year or two ago, detectives say, they identified but could not locate their transient male suspect. Nor could they find a key former witness - a handyman who once worked for the Blair family and was considered crucial to police filing any case. Then about a year ago, police found the handyman in a Galveston-area prison, dying of cancer. But the prime suspect still could not be found.

Family members received the good news from detectives Thursday while preparing to be interviewed by CBS-11 inside Blair's former office, preserved as it was in the family real estate firm on Martin Luther King Blvd. Sgt. Salvarino called Blair's older brother, Donald, and informed him that charges would be filed within a day.

"That's wonderful to hear," said Donald, holding the telephone receiver.

After hanging up with the detective, Donald Blair said: "I'm just wishing it had not taken eight years. Hopefully, there will be closure for us on this."

Donald Blair said the intervening years have been painful ones without knowing that justice was done for his younger brother. He is the one who discovered his brother's body.

"It's something that hurts, and no one likes to be hurt, so you try to live from day to day without thinking about it," he said. "It will awaken you at night and tell you that it's still...there."

Dorothy Blair, the victim's sister-in-law, wiped away tears after the phone call from police. She said she was relieved to hear the case may be close to completion.

"Right now I'm numb, and I pray to God that it is what he said it really is," she said.

But Dorothy Blair said she worries that the family's expectations will be dashed. It wouldn't be the first time. About a year ago, she said, homicide detectives called and said they were about to arrest the same man and warned the family to prepare for publicity, but the family never heard back from police, straining relatives.

"I want to say it's a sigh of relief, but I'm afraid we may have to replay this again," Dorothy Blair said.

After Arnold Blair's body was discovered, his family and prominent friends, including Ron Kirk and State Sen. Royce West, remembered him as a much beloved churchgoer and talented choir singer who had used his money and influence to elevate the city's disenfranchised.

But then homicide investigators in 1996 began focusing much of their investigative effort on the city's gay subculture in the area of Oak Lawn where Blair kept an apartment. Blair, according to police, was gay and had for years hidden a dangerous alternative lifestyle of illegal drug abuse and male prostitutes.

Police said at the time that Blair's lifestyle probably held the key to his murder. This week, police indicated that their suspect and Blair did indeed know each other from the Oak Lawn area.

"The suspect and victim were acquaintances. They knew each other, and that's about all we can say at this point," Sgt. Salvarino said.

Relatives say police told them a year ago that the evidence needed to charge the murder suspect was testimony from the former family handyman and maid, a transient who hadn't been seen by anyone in years. At issue was whether the handyman could say when he had changed the victim's bedding.

That was the only way DNA evidence on Blair's sheets could be dated, the family said police told them.

For many years, the handyman could not be located but about a year ago turned up in a Galveston prison dying of cancer. Police took an affidavit from him before he died, then turned their attention on finding their main suspect, also a transient who could not be found.

Detectives won't say how they finally located the suspect this week as CBS-11 was preparing a report about why the Blair case had gone so long unsolved. The CBS-11 report was prompted by this month's slaying of Dallas Plan Commissioner Lawrence Wheat.

Wheat was found earlier this month beaten and strangled in his South Dallas loft apartment. Authorities say that while both murdered men were Plan Commission members, the two cases are entirely unrelated.

Blair's brother and sister-in-law said they have longed to see justice and punishment meted out for the slaying.

Donald Blair said he has never forgotten the savagery of his brother's death.

"The scene was horrific. If the jurors could see that, then they would certainly take that into consideration at sentencing," he said. "It was horrible."






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