For the first time in 46 years, Mike Landis isn’t spending the holiday season as a cop.
Regarded highly in Lancaster County as the “CEO of local law-enforcement” and perhaps the single greatest contributor to public safety here in his near-half-century era, Landis left a mark on many.
A decorated patrolman and investigator with the Lancaster city police for three decades.
Chief of the city police force from 1994 to 2000.
Chief of the Lancaster County detectives for 15 years after that.
Most recently: retiree.
“It just occurred to me: It’s time. I don’t want to retire as a dinosaur,” Landis said at a celebration of his career on Dec. 18, his last day at work. “I’ve had a very blessed career.”
“Forty-six years,” he said. “And I went through that pretty much unscathed.”
Landis stood in front of numerous professional peers, friends and family, and accepted a plaque adorned with his police badge. During a standing ovation, Landis looked down and paused in reflection, but remained stoic, as always, without shedding a tear.
Little surprise to those who know him best and praised him as a rock-solid investigator with integrity and respect – which he garnered from the countless young cops he mentored along the way.
“He was a well-oiled machine,” said Dennis Arnold, a retired county detective and longtime city policeman. “I’ve never met anyone more competent. A supreme mentor.”
Craig Stedman, Lancaster County’s district attorney and a prosecutor here for 24 years, called Landis the “best police officer I’ve ever worked with.”
“He’s the best. Whether it was regarding a major investigation or a personnel matter, he was always right,” Stedman said at the ceremony. “I can’t think of one time when he was wrong.
“I’m not going to lose his phone number.”
Landis cracked a modest smile, and with that, his professional career had officially ended.
It all started in 1970, when Landis joined the city police force as a 19-year-old cadet. Arnold was hired at the same time and the two men worked their first shifts as partners.
It was clear from the start that Landis was something special.
“He was born to be a policeman,” Arnold said. “It came natural.”
Arnold, who retired last year, recalled what might have been the pair’s first arrest: corralling a trespasser hiding behind a basement coal furnace of a city home.
Arnold went on to detail the major-crime investigations that earned Landis recognition locally and eventually at the state House of Representatives.
Two immediately came to Arnold’s mind as Landis’ finest work:
- The September 1979 killings of a pair of elderly city siblings, Horace and Mary Swarr.
The Swarrs were robbed, tied up and left in their West Walnut Street home. An anonymous call was made, apparently by one of the robbers, with the Swarrs’ whereabouts, but a wrong address was provided. The siblings weren’t found until it was too late.
And their killers weren’t charged for nearly 10 years.
‘Mike worked that for a long time,” Arnold recalled. “It was horrible the way they suffered.”
Landis’ devotion to the case paid off with the arrests of five Maryland men. Four were convicted of murder; the fifth pleaded guilty to planning the crime.
- In 1985, a city typewriter repairman and his girlfriend were found brutally murdered at the man’s North Queen Street apartment.
Paul Conard, 55, and 19-year-old Sandra Wiker were found gagged and stabbed numerous times.
Landis “tenaciously” worked the “heinous” case, according to Arnold.
Police learned the couple were killed during an attempted robbery at the apartment, located behind the repair shop.
Robert P. Zook Jr., 25 at the time, was convicted of the murders and initially sentence to death. Two other men, Sandy Michael Nace and Allen Ault, also were charged and convicted.
ACHIEVEMENTS, RETIREMENT PLANS
Landis was named city Patrolman of the Year in 1978 and twice earned the Kauffman Award for investigation, in 1983 and 1989. He received commendation at the House of Representatives in 1989.
He was an early member of city police’s TAC-4 Unit, now defunct, but an early model of Lancaster County’s existing Major Crimes Unit. In the 1970’s, the concept of having a cluster of brilliant investigators working the region’s most serious crimes was far ahead of its time.
Landis’ impact reached beyond awards, arrests and convictions.
Young officers imitated him.
Countless investigators learned from him.
Said Arnold: “I tried to follow in his footsteps.”
At a separate ceremony at a recent Lancaster County Commissioners meeting, that panel gave parting praise and wishes.
Commissioner Scott Martin, the son of a police officer, said his father told him early on, “You should be a guy I get to know and emulate.”
Commissioner Dennis Stuckey thanked Landis for always keeping his door open, calling the chance to build their relationship “a total honor.”
Said Commissioner Craig Lehman: “Lancaster County is better off because of your service.”
As for life beyond the badge, Landis has no immediate plan – other than his wife’s to-do list, which he said could take years.
For the first time since 1970, he’ll have the time.
(Special thanks to LNP Media Group for the early photo.)
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