Sunday, January 12 2014, 11:06 PM MST
Charles Illsley, Respected and Unorthodox Utah Cop, Dies
(KUTV) He had an appearance suited for Woodstock, but a passion for fighting crime in the Salt Lake Valley. Charles Illsley, the long haired, bearded cop---likely to be mistaken for a retro hippie---a man who made life safer for countless among us, died Sunday evening at the age of 60.
Illsley fought criminals for decades, and his own staggering health problems for years. He suffered multiple heart attacks, and respiratory trouble---perhaps brought on by numerous undercover drug investigations---from a time when the extent of toxins from the illicit manufacturing were not fully understood.
Over the weekend, Illsley had gone to a local convenience store, where he would sometimes write into the wee hours of the morning on one of his favorite subjects, forensic laser technology. But it would be his last marathon writing session on earth. Illsley collapsed, and emergency teams rushed him to a nearby hospital; he was then transferred to Intermountain Medical Center, where he passed away.
Last year, in an extended, award-winning story, 2News profiled the grizzled retired police officer, who never really quit. He was promoting a new more powerful and portable laser, one Illsley thought could help revolutionize the search for missing persons---both on land and in the water.
With a flair for the dramatic and unusual, Illsley convinced the Zermatt Resort in Midway to allow laser demonstrations at its famous deep, warm water pool---a geothermal phenomena nearly entirely encased in stone, said to be formed by mineral deposits over the millennia.
Assembled were crime scene investigators, an investigator from the Utah Attorney General's Office, and the head of the state Department of Public Safety Dive Team, Doug McCleve.
Illsley, breathing heavily in the warm mist, dropped bones into the water, and then tried to make them light up with the souped up laser. He also had a diver plummet into the pool.
"It appeared to me, just when the diver was surfacing, it illuminated his arms that were exposed, which is a big advantage I think for us," said McCleve, who called Illsley a "legend" in Utah law enforcement.
Illsley, the cop who shunned police uniforms---who had photos of himself holding bags of narcotics taken in drug seizures---may have had a knack for getting the police establishment to pay attention.
He consulted the TV show CSI, investigated the shooting of Taiwan's former president with famed criminal researcher Dr. Henry Lee; and even after his retirement, Illsley joined a search for bodies at the remote California hide-out of Charles Manson.
His wife said Illsley was also once president of the International Association of Identification, which describes itself as "the oldest and largest forensic science identification organization in the world." The IAI, as it's known, said on its website that it has 7,000 members.
In his world where the unsavory was often present, Illsley kept an outsized sense of humor, once saying in front of a 2News camera near Christmas, after an apparent cracked case, "Look real lose, Santa is wearing a West Valley Police uniform this week."
"Charles colors outside the lines," said Crime Scene Investigator Francine Bardole, who relied on Illsley for advice on forensic techniques. "I think he's a wonderful teacher. Charles shares his secrets."
Bardole knew for some time Illsley's health was not what it once was, but she noted his passion remained, saying, "When he does this (forensic work), he comes alive."
Charles Illsley was born in Salt Lake City, and never left. He earned two undergraduate degrees---Police Science at Weber State---and Communication at BYU. He is survived by his beloved wife of 31 years, Valeen, and a son from a previous marriage, Peter, an aeronautical engineer who once worked for NASA.
Funeral plans are pending.
By Brian Mullahy
(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)