Cold case investigator stresses respect, details

Richmond County Investigator Mark Dobbins left "the happiest place on Earth" for one of the busiest police beats in Augusta.

But if there is one thing the tourists at Disney's Polynesian Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the drug users on Walker Street have in common, it's that both groups respond to respect.

"I kind of tried to use as much customer service as possible out on the streets because you find that treating individuals, whether they are individuals down in the 'bottom' or individuals on the 'hill,' they're people," said Investigator Dobbins, referring to predominantly low-income and high-income areas of Augusta. "We are all God's creatures and treating a person with respect -- it doesn't matter what walk of life they come from. It just matters who they are."

Just more than seven years ago, Investigator Dobbins found himself questioning his career with the Disney World resort. He liked working at the resort's lush recreation area, where he managed the lifeguards and oversaw the operation of three swimming pools, but he thought he needed a change. He and his wife, Rosetta, had gotten jobs with the company on a whim. They were traveling in Florida, saw a billboard and made a call.

"We got the job before we even left from vacation," explained Investigator Dobbins. But after several years "climbing the corporate ladder," Investigator Dobbins became concerned that he wasn't devoting enough time to what he considers his primary duty -- spending time with his wife and children.

So the couple moved to Augusta, where they had met while both working at downtown businesses, and Investigator Dobbins began his career in law enforcement.

A self-professed "obsessive compulsive" with a penchant for poring over details, Investigator Dobbins said he always wanted to pursue the career.

As the department's cold case investigator, he's had plenty of opportunities to use those skills. For the past few months, he has been scouring open murder cases dating back to the 1960s. Three cases show promise: the July 1988 murder of Lani Smith and Patrick Jones, who were found in the 3900 block of Windsor Spring Road; the December 1988 murder of Nathaniel Brown and Marcus Proctor on Lover's Lane; and the 2000 discovery of the body of an unidentified man dressed head-to-toe in FUBU clothing behind the Golden Harvest Food Bank on Commerce Drive.

"The majority of these cases have the meat and potatoes that you need to solve them, but the important piece of that puzzle is knowing who your victim is," he said, citing the John Doe case.

Investigator Dobbins said he tries to put himself in the shoes of the deceased's loved ones to determine what they would expect of an investigator. The answer he gets is that they want someone dogged, who won't give up. One of the best parts of the job, he said, is calling a victim's family and telling them someone is still trying to catch their loved one's killer.

"I don't think I could have a better position in my field," he said. "To be able to try to bring these cases back to life and bring closure to these victims and their loved ones -- it's a phenomenal task."

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

MARK DOBBINS

AGE: 35

FAMILY: Wife, Rosetta, 38; children, Leara, 8; Karena, 4; and Isabel, 3.

POSITION: Richmond County investigator

QUOTE: "With age comes wisdom, but wisdom can come much earlier -- it just depends on whether you can earn it."