Count me as one of the many saddened Monday to learn of the death of Maj. Thomas Cribbs, perhaps the finest cop I ever knew and probably ever will know.
I think most reporters who have worked the Hinesville crime beat and benefited from his knowledge, patience and kindness will say something like that.
I also suspect most who covered a story in which he was involved — solving one heinous crime or another, and there never seemed to be a shortage of those — called him Maj. Cribbs, out of respect.
There wasn’t any Tommy, or Tom, at least not on this end. Not from me.
I knew what he kept under his desk.
He showed me, once, at some point during that year or so in the late 1990s when I covered cops and was in his office doing an interview.
I may’ve asked him if he ever worried about anyone trying to get even for his putting them in the slammer.
He rolled that chair back and pulled out what looked to my untrained eye like some kind of Uzi. And then he pulled out something else that looked pretty dangerous, with a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.
Or maybe I’m just remembering wrong.
I am always a bit slow off the mark — only got to E4 in the Army and barely graduated college — when it comes to some things, like automatic weapons and nuclear physics.
But I do recall the firepower Maj. Cribbs brandished that day would’ve certainly made me think twice about storming his office.
Back then, you got the police reports downstairs, but you got the real information upstairs, where Maj. Cribbs and his assistant, now HPD Chief Detective Chris Reid, led an able group of investigators who stayed busy. I haven’t seen many of them in ages, but I recall their names and I suspect they’re deeply saddened by this.
Maj. Cribbs must’ve been a joy to work for, whether you liked him (as I did) or not (I don’t know anyone who fits that bill, apart maybe from some folks who he sent up the river).
The man just knew so much cop stuff. Ask anyone who knew him, and they’ll tell you.
He was a born detective. Sure, he was a graduate of the FBI and GBI academies, but he probably could’ve taught them a thing or two.
Maj. Cribbs also had, at one point, a thumb he kept in a mason jar of alcohol, or some clear liquid.
I got to see it, too, and got the backstory. It turns out there had been this fight, and one guy bit another guy’s thumb off. Rather than swallow, he spit the thumb out and Maj. Cribbs kept it as evidence, or something, or maybe hung on to just because, well, let’s face it. It’s not every day you run across a loose thumb.
I’d enjoy working for a guy like that. A guy who knew his stuff and kept an Uzi under his desk and a thumb in his jar.
And even before cigar smoking got to be something of a fad and all the cool kids did it, Maj. Cribbs smoked cigars. But he wasn’t a bombastic sort, never bragged about this case or that. He was soft spoken and called you sir a lot, and everyone said you could take what he said to the bank because it was gold.
If you were a reporter, Maj. Cribbs wouldn’t do your job for you, but he wouldn’t make it harder for you to do, either. Those are the folks you truly respect. The ones who treat you like a human being with a job to do, cut to the chase and tell you what they know and can, and sometimes, help you connect dots when you are too busy or tired or obtuse to connect them yourself.
There was the morning I was told to pay special attention to an incident report involving a kidnapping in Liberty County that also involved someone from Hinesville and, as it turned out, Richmond Hill. Before I could get settled in my desk, the man embarked on what would ultimately be a two-day, two-state crime spree that resulted in one of Richmond Hill’s first murders in memory (at that time) and ended with the guy getting into a shootout on a South Carolina highway with some SLED agents.
I’d never have pieced the way this whole thing together early enough to report it had Maj. Cribbs not let me know off record ahead of time that the guy first went postal in Liberty County.
He also taught me not to believe everything I see in a police report. There was a woman who claimed she was abducted from a convenience store by a man who’d hidden in her back seat. He’d forced her at knife point to drive out to some lonely road where he raped her, then turned her loose.
That was her story. But the woman didn’t realize that the video cameras at the store where she claimed this took place were working and showed it never happened. She admitted making up the report.
When I left here in 2006 to go to Bryan County, Maj. Cribbs gave me some advice on how to deal with the folks over there and we promised to keep in touch.
I really wish now I had kept my part of that bargain, but you always figure you have another day to go say hello. And then you don’t. Maj. Cribbs was one of a kind, and one of the best for 41 years. And even though I only knew him for a little while, I respected him greatly. I thought you should know.