Early Sunday morning, long after the annual fireworks show Rhythm & Booms was over and done, a Madison police dog led his handler through the area, and on a nearly four-mile trek, trailing the scent from the shoe of an alleged killer.
"It's one of the longest ones I've done. It was excruciating," said Officer Carren Corcoran, whose K-9 partner, Slim, came close to finding Matthew O'Dell, 25, the suspect in a stabbing death that took place around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in a mobile home park on the city's North Side.
Detectives found a pair of flip flops belonging to O'Dell, and Corcoran said she used a patch of sterile gauze and placed it in one of the shoes for about 10 minutes to pick up O'Dell's scent.
She then presented it to Slim, and he started tracking from an address on Troy Drive where investigators believed O'Dell fled after leaving the scene of the stabbing in the 500 block Waxwing Lane.
The trek that ensued, which lasted from 1 to 4 a.m., cut right through the area where 75,000 to 100,000 people had been watching the fireworks in Warner Park.
"The compelling part is all of the people who had been through there," Corcoran said.
Although hard for humans to comprehend, dogs can stay on a particular scent even while tracking through an area where so many others have walked, she added.
Eventually, Slim led Corcoran along Northport Drive to North Sherman Avenue, Fordem Avenue, Burrows Park, East Johnson Street, East Gorham Street and finally to North Brearly Street.
The evening was sweltering, so every 15 minutes or so Corcoran would give Slim a break in an air-conditioned vehicle where he'd drink some water. Then she'd give him another sniff of the gauze and off they'd go again.
"That was how he was able to go for so long," she said. "Because it was a homicide, all bets were off. We really needed to try to find this person in a timely fashion."
Slim, a German Shepherd imported from the Netherlands, eventually led officers to a porch of a residence on the 200 block of North Brearly Street, 3.8 miles from where he started the track.
O'Dell was not there, but instead turned himself in later that afternoon. Still, the investigation showed that O'Dell did have ties to the Brearly Street address, and had indeed walked there that night, said Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain.
"He was pretty clear on it," Corcoran said. "Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough and we didn't catch the guy."
While Slim didn't lead the police directly to O'Dell, he did help in the "totality of the case," and to corroborate information, DeSpain said.
"I think Slim's track on the night of the homicide really illustrates just how valuable our canine partners are," DeSpain said. "They help us track down suspects, find lost people, discover evidence and sniff out drugs."
Sgt. Brian Chaney submitted an official performance recognition for Slim that will go in his file and could lead to a departmental award, DeSpain said.
"Although his human partner normally receives credit for much of the work they do as a team, I think it only appropriate to give credit to Slim for a change. A job well done Slim!" Chaney wrote.
Corcoran, who has partnered with Slim since February 2009, said the dog's skills were validated by Slim leading her to the right address.
"The length of it, the heat, and I think the big part is working through all of those odors," she said. "It seems remarkable to us."