This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2022, to include comments from members of the Hall family
More than 50 years after a Montgomery County deputy sheriff was fatally shot while on duty in Aspen Hill, Montgomery County police have arrested the suspect, who they say was living in upstate New York under a different surname for more than 45 years.
The case is the oldest cold case solved by the department, according to police.
Larry David Becker, now 71, is accused of killing Capt. James Tappen Hall, a county special deputy sheriff, in October 1971. County authorities announced the arrest during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
According to authorities, police were called to the Manor Country Club in the 14900 block of Carrolton Road around 10:40 p.m. on Oct. 23, 1971. Officers found Hall suffering from a gunshot wound. He was taken to a local hospital and died of his injuries three days later.
Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin, who grew up in the county, recalled the shock and sadness that rippled through the community after Hall’s death. Hall was working as an off-duty deputy the night he was shot in order to supplement income for his family, Popkin said.
“Sadly, that night at age 53, Jim was ambushed, rushed to the hospital and passed away a few days later at Montgomery General Hospital,” he said.
Police Chief Marcus Jones said that in October 2021, on the 50th anniversary of Hall’s death, Detective Katie Leggett and Cpl. Lisa Killen of the department’s cold case unit decided to take another look at the unsolved case. Leggett and Killen determined that investigators had interviewed Becker in 1973, but he wasn’t labeled a suspect at the time.
Leggett and Killen then determined that Becker began using the last name “Smith” starting around 1975 and had been living in Little Falls, N.Y., Jones said.
On Sept. 1, Leggett and Killen interviewed Becker (now known as Smith), and he admitted to shooting Hall, Jones said. Becker was arrested and charged with murder, and awaits extradition from Herkimer County, N.Y. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. He has waived extradition, Jones said, and will likely be in Montgomery County by the end of the week.
State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Wednesday that he expects Becker will have a bond review hearing as soon as Monday, and the matter then will be forwarded to a grand jury. Becker faces a life term in prison if convicted, McCarthy said.
Court records for Becker were not immediately available Wednesday, and it was not clear if he had retained an attorney.
Retired Capt. Ruben Rosario, who formerly led the Major Crimes Division, said Wednesday that detectives in the cold case unit reviewed interviews and case files and spoke to previous investigators who had worked on the case. When a reporter asked why Becker agreed to be interviewed by detectives, Rosario said he couldn’t speak to Becker’s motives.
Jones said the arrest of Hall’s killer is a “tremendous accomplishment,” one that is personal for him because Hall’s nephew, Cpl. Frank Hall, was Jones’s training corporal when he came to the department 36 years ago.
“To come full circle, to really kind of bring this home for me is personal. It’s personal in a different kind of way,” he said.
Family speaks out
Hall’s children, Melvin Hall of Virginia and Carolyn Philo of Texas, were on hand Wednesday along with other members of the family to express their gratitude to law enforcement for solving the case.
“We’re so happy. I just wanted to thank the cold case unit. I want to thank the sheriff’s department, the police department. We love you. We will never forget you,” Philo said during the press conference. “I just knew somebody was out there. And I don’t want anyone to forget that if you are missing a loved one, if someone has been hurt, please don’t give up. Please keep after the police department and the sheriff’s department. They’re here to help you.”
Philo said in an interview afterward that for years authorities would tell her they were working on the case of her father’s murder, but the status remained uncertain.
“I probably called every six months [to say], ‘You know, guys, you’ve got to do something. I know he’s out there. You keep looking.’ And they did,” she said.
Melvin Hall said he was shocked when he got the call that his father’s killer had been arrested.
“I thought for 50 years that this case would never be solved. We never gave up hope. We just didn’t know what would happen,” he said.
Melvin Hall described his father as “a very generous person” who loved baseball and taught him to play. He said he regrets that his father didn’t have an opportunity to meet the younger generations of their family and develop relationships with them.
When asked if Becker’s arrest brings them closure, Hall’s children agreed that closure wasn’t the word that described their current state of mind.
“People talk about closure. We’re glad that this person is caught. He needs to be punished. He did something terrible. And that’s what makes me happy is that he’s been caught,” Philo said.
Melvin Hall said Wednesday that he won’t be satisfied until Becker is prosecuted.
“There’s no such thing, in my opinion, as closure. I hope he had a miserable life. I know that’s a bad thing to say, being a Christian, but he killed my father and he should pay for it,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org