Authorities said Wednesday they had identified a suspect in the 2003 shooting of a North Richland Hills police officer, and the man was found dead as detectives prepared to arrest him this week in the Oklahoma.
DNA evidence has helped police identify Mark Alan Long as the bank robber known as the “Cowboy Hat Bandit” who shot Constable Jeff Garner 19 years ago, police said.
“This case is an outstanding example of genuine dedication to the pursuit of justice,” North Richland Hills Police Chief Jimmy Perdue said in a written statement.
Garner – now a captain – was shot dead in March 2003 while trying to arrest a man who, unbeknownst to him, had just robbed a bank in Watauga. No arrests were made at the time and the case went cold.
In 2015, North Richland Hills Detective Erik Whitlock reviewed evidence in the case and linked the shooter to seven bank robberies between 1998 and 2003, police said.
Whitlock submitted DNA from the case for a forensic genetic genealogy review in 2019, and authorities learned in December that Long matched the DNA sample.
In February, undercover detectives traveled to Oklahoma to surveil Long and obtained DNA from items he used at a restaurant – which matched DNA from three bank robberies, police said.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation this month obtained search warrants for Long’s home, vehicle and jeep that officials believe he used in the Watauga robbery.
Authorities found a revolver in his home that matched the ballistics of the weapon used to shoot Garner, police said. The Jeep underwent a body filler repair to its tailgate, and the damage was consistent with a bullet hole caused by the officer’s return fire, police said.
With “overwhelming evidence”, four warrants have been issued for Long’s arrest, police said, for attempted robbery, aggravated robbery and two counts of robbery.
But Long was found dead in Oklahoma City as authorities closed in on him, police said. He fell from a radio tower on Sunday, KOTV-TV reported.
Authorities believe Long committed suicide, but his official cause of death has not been determined.
Perdue said her detective worked “tirelessly and with passion” to solve the case.
“Whitlock spent countless hours and many years working on what appeared to be an impossible case to solve,” the police chief said in a written statement. “We are fortunate that Detective Whitlock is helping to protect our community.”