Mitchell slaying unsolved, but detective convinced he talked to killer

Editor’s note: This is part of a special project looking back at what fueled the 1966 west Dayton riots and exploring how far we have come in addressing those issues, and how much farther we need to go. Click here for an overview of the “Lasting Scars: the 1966 west Dayton riot” project.

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No one ever was convicted for the Sept. 1, 1966 shooting of a black man named Lester Mitchell, an incident that sparked one of the worst riots in Dayton’s history.

But retired Dayton police detective Dan Baker believes there is evidence that Mitchell’s killer may have been Neal Bradley Long, a racist who terrorized west Dayton for years, shooting dozens of black men and eventually gunning down the architect of Dayton’s school busing plan in the federal courthouse.

Baker says he came to this realization after retiring from the police department and writing a book with his wife, attorney Gwen Nalls. The book, titled "Blood in the Streets: Racism, Riots and Murders in the Heartland of America," was published in 2014.

Baker wanted to write about race riots that shaped his first years on the force in the 1960s, and about Neal Bradley Long, who in 1975 confessed to Baker — then a homicide detective — that Long shot “25 or 30 people” with a shotgun while stalking the west side at night.

As he began to research the Mitchell killing, “I began to think there was a linkage,” he said.

>>> Read “Lasting Scars, Part 1: Shooting sparked 1966 Dayton riots”

Baker said it hadn’t occurred to anyone when Long was collared because most thought the Mitchell killer had been identified. Several months after the killing, Dayton’s police chief told the media that a jailhouse snitch had fingered the Mitchell shooter as another man who had died in a shootout.

But in his research, Baker says he found little evidence police put much effort into confirming this theory. The police file today still lists the crime as unsolved.

Baker realized the description of Mitchell’s killer matched Long; the time, place and manner of the shooting were the same.

“Everything is there. Every inch of the MO is there,” Baker said.

Perhaps most bizarrely, Baker discovered that Long walked into the Dayton police department on Halloween 1966 and told police he had stabbed and possibly killed a black man two decades prior. Baker said the confession was dismissed by detectives.

The Midnight Slayer

Long died in a federal prison in Minnesota in 1998.

It’s unclear when his shooting rampage began. Long originally said he shot maybe 30 people over four years. There were three confirmed deaths. But he later told a federal court psychologist that he fired at around 100 blacks, possibly killing 20.

He outlined his motivation in the 1975 confession.

“Well, there was so much trouble between the colored and the white and colored was, looked like they was doing everything they could, at that time they made threats against the white people,” he told Baker and another detective.

“They didn’t want ‘em (white people) in west Dayton, it wasn’t safe, wasn’t (unintelligible) safety to go to work across west Dayton and that’s why I first started,” Long said, according to a transcript of his confession.

The interview took place in a U.S. Marshals holding cell in the federal courthouse in Dayton. Long had walked into the courthouse office of Charles Glatt, who was brought in to plan the desegregation of Dayton schools. He shot Glatt to death with a handgun.

Long later said he killed Glatt to keep his 12-year-old son from being bused to a black school.

When the shooting occurred, Baker and detective Gary Prugh were at the nearby Moraine Embassy bar and restaurant discussing ways to track down the man dubbed by media as the Shotgun Slayer or Midnight Slayer for gunning down numerous black people over several summers.

Baker rushed to the courthouse. He remembers seeing Glatt being carried out on a gurney, and walking into the third floor holding cell where Long was washing his hands with his back to the door. Baker saw his reflection in the mirror over the sink.

“Long looks up and looks at us. Gary and I just gasped because he looked like the composite (sketch of the Midnight Slayer),” Baker recalled.

The interview transcript included Long describing how he would get drunk on beer and whiskey and cross the bridge to the west side on evenings warm enough to roll down his windows. He drove a 1964 Oldsmobile at first, and fired his sawed-off Marlin shotgun out the window at black men usually as they walked alone — often several victims each night.

Missed opportunities

Baker noted that officials missed several opportunities to stop Long.

Two months after the Mitchell shooting, at roughly the same time in the morning, Long drunkenly crashed his car into the Rosedale Drive bridge into west Dayton over Wolf Creek. Baker said the responding officer didn’t search the car in the pouring rain. Long told doctors he heard voices from God and was committed to a state mental hospital as schizophrenic and homicidal. He was later released and stopped checking in with his doctors.

The FBI kept a file on Long, Baker found, after he sent a letter critical of J. Edgar Hoover. They tracked his mail and his interest in communism.

Baker said researching Long reminded him of being a homicide detective again.

“Having sat close to him, talked with him, looked him in the eye, and viewed his lifeless victims, he was, without a doubt, a cold-blooded racist killer,” Baker said. “I was proud as a member of the Dayton police department to be part of bringing Long’s reign of terror to an end.”

>>> VIDEO: Lasting Scars: West Dayton and the 1966 riots (a documentary)