This holiday season was the first since 1980 Joseph Hockley didn’t spend as a cop.
Hockley’s list of retirement plans - traveling, time with family - and chores - lots of painting - isn’t nearly as long as his accomplishments over four decades with the Lancaster city police and Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.
Hockley, 63, turned in his badge and vest Dec. 22, leaving behind an empty desk once filled with case files, family photos and newspaper clippings of bad guys nabbed long ago.
He spent the past 13 years as a Lancaster County detective and the 23 before that with the Lancaster city police.
Known as an interviewer who could make a suspect or witness feel like they were speaking with a confidant, Hockley also carved his niche as a polygraph expert, child-abuse investigator and, of course, world-class tension breaker for his colleagues.
“I’d always do something goofy,” Hockley said, “When I could see people were getting tight.”
Police work, especially homicide and child-abuse investigations, can be a heavy burden. Hockley could sense when that burden was becoming too much for his colleagues to carry.
“You need an outlet,” Hockley said, “to get rid of that tension.”
Lancaster County Chief Detective Kent Switzer and Deputy County Chief Charles Schmidt – who worked alongside Hockley for most of his career – were often on the receiving end of Hockley’s tension-breaking wisecracks.
Only a few of them could be re-told without laughter before the punchline arrived.
But Hockley’s reputation as a jokester was topped by his ability to tackle the most difficult and serious cases.
In his time with city police, he filed charges in eight homicide cases – seven of them ended with murder convictions.
He broke open one of his earlier ones, he humbly recalls, by pure luck.
He was on the scene of a grisly killing of a man in downtown Lancaster in 1990. The victim was dismembered and beaten to death. There were no identification cards or evidence to put a name to the victim, let alone who killed him.
That’s when it appeared to Hockley – a distinct-colored, Post-It note – hanging on a storm drain grate near the body.
It was a receipt of sorts, from a lost-item report the victim had made to city police in days prior.
“It might have dropped out of his wallet,” Hockley recalled. “That was key to finding out who he was.”
Hockley reached out to the police employee who assisted with the report, and the ball was rolling.
The victim was identified and a suspect developed: Andre Pedro Clark. Police obtained information that Clark had bragged about the killing.
When police arrested Clark days later in Philadelphia, he was wearing the victim’s clothing and watch.
Clark was convicted of first-degree murder and has since died.
Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman praised Hockley for his ability to handle the most serious cases, his versatility, and knack for procuring valuable information from interviews.
Hockley filed charges in what would become Stedman’s first homicide trial as a prosecutor: the murder conviction of Justin Webb in 1994.
Hockley also did an estimated 200 polygraph examinations in 24 years as an expert. Not admissible in court, polygraphs are conducted only when an individual consents to take the question-answer format exam. Information obtained from the exams is often vital to a criminal investigation.
In 2004, Hockley was hired by the district attorney’s office, as county detective, working a variety of assignments across the county.
Through it all, Hockley’s wife, Patty, was always impressed by how Joe kept his high-stakes work away from the family home.
“At times, he would come home and I could tell he was stressed out,” Patty recalled, “but he’d usually find a way to keep it at work.”
She only noticed a visible strain toward the end of Joe’s 12-year stint with child-abuse cases.
“That was such a big part of his career, but so many years of it got to him,” Patty said.
Joe and Patty hope his retirement is filled with much less stress - and much more time with family. Joe’s son, Ryan, followed him into the police field, now working with the Lancaster city police.
“Joe is so proud of his son’s career,” Patty said. “He’s such a devoted family man.”
Joe’s longtime colleagues still on-duty will miss their brother on the beat – recollections of his legendary jokes filling the void, still lightening the load.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright