Sgt. James Wischer, longtime detective, loses cancer battle

Detective Sgt. James Wischer Jr.
Detective Sgt. James Wischer Jr.

Detectives are often the silent heroes of a community. They work in the shadows in order to hunt murderers, rapists, child molesters and all those who hurt others or disregard the law.

Detective Sgt. James “Jim” Wischer Jr. knew what it was to be a victim of a child predator. But he didn’t let that define him. Rather, it inspired him to not only tell his story but also to hold those accountable who hurt children.

Wischer died on Sunday after battling a form of brain cancer for more than a year. He was 50.

His investigative work in the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Crimes Against Children Unit is what he wanted to be known for, according to Capt. Todd Shear, who supervised Wischer in that unit and most recently in the Special Investigation Division.

“He has made an impact that none of us are going to be able to quantify,” Shear said.

From January 2009 to December 2015, Wischer worked on hundreds and hundreds of cases, including every major or complex case that the Crimes Against Children Unit investigated.

“All Jimmy did, was he searched for the truth in every case,” Shear said.

But as much as he was known for his work, Wischer is also remembered for the love he had for his wife, Olwin, and their 14-year-old son, Andrew.

Wischer was born April 18, 1966, in Convington, Ky. Four years later, his mother married a man who, unknown to her, would sexually and physically abuse Wischer and his siblings for the next decade.

The abuse began shortly after his father left, and Dave Turner, whom his mother worked for, invited them into his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Turner would later move the family to southern Mississippi.

“He was a morally indiscriminate situational child molester,” Wischer told the Bradenton Herald in June 2014. “He sexually abused all six of us kids in the house, of which some were his. We were terrified to tell anybody. You have to understand, as a 4-year-old, when someone tells you they are going to kill your mother if you say anything, you believe them.”

Turner would never be prosecuted because he was killed during a fight at a poker game. Already in law enforcement and ready to hold his abuser accountable, Wischer never got the opportunity.

But he had decades before forgiven Turner, guided by his Christian faith and knowing that he need to forgive his abuser for himself to begin to heal.

“That’s what got him through his years as a victim,” Shear said referring to Wischer’s faith. “He demonstrated his faith by his actions. He led by example and by his actions. “

In 2012, Wischer would share his story with others with the publishing of his book, “The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf: By grace he survived ten years with a child predator. By providence he now hunts them.”

Wischer began his tenure with the sheriff’s office Dec. 8, 2003, as a patrol deputy. On Jan. 4, 2009, he became a detective with Crimes Against Children. There he investigated child predators, knowing from first-hand experience how they operated.

“He understood that, and he turned that to his advantage,” Shear said.

Other detectives would come to learn from him.

“His passion and dedication for the job was second to none,” Detective Brian Moreland said.

The two worked together for many years and were known to be the best of friends. For Moreland, it was difficult to describe the friend and colleague who would be very missed, he said.

“The most important thing: He was very tenacious in working crimes against children,” Moreland said. “He made everyone want to do things a little bit better.”

But it was Wischer’s laugh that Moreland said he would miss the most.

For the sheriff’s office, it is a great loss to be without a detective with such knowledge, Shear said.

“He’s just an uncommon employee because he had just passion,” Shear said, adding that passion is something you can’t train employees to have.

Among the major cases that Wischer was lead investigator is the case against Dominick Jerome Hawkins.

Hawkins is charged with kidnapping a 5-year-old from the Wayside Glen Mobile Home Park, 5120 14th St. W., and luring her to the India Bazaar store, 5112 14th St. W., with a promise to buy her candy. The girl was then taken to a vacant mobile home at the Aloha Estates Mobile Home Park, 5310 14th St. W., which has since been demolished, and was raped.

The girl managed to escape afterward, and Hawkins was arrested in Sarasota following a 48-hour manhunt.

Hawkins remain in custody as he awaits his trial, scheduled for May after numerous delays.

“One thing that made James really unique was his ability to interview people,” Shear said. “He was very, very skilled at that.”

Shear said because of the level of trust and confidence he had for Wischer, he would trust him to investigate any case and know that he would do the best job.

“He came to work every day and gave us 100 percent,” Shear said.

Over the years, Wischer would be invited to speak about his work investigating crimes against children as well as his own experience. He also received honors for that work.

In 2013, Wischer was awarded the sheriff’s office Bealls Humanitarian of the Year award for his work on behalf of child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. In 2014, he was selected as a Bradenton Marauders All-Star Among Us for his work as a first-responder protecting children from the same kind of abuse he suffered.

Most recently since being promoted to sergeant in December 2015, Wischer had worked in the Special Investigations Division and did so right up until nearly the end. Shear gave his a special assignment tasking him to help the division with their investigations into the heroin epidemic that has Manatee County at the epicenter, as well as other on-going investigations that are confidential.

“He was a valuable asset to us,” Shear said. “I used him in a unique position. It was a blessing to me.”

Just before Christmas Wischer’s condition had become worse, and he had stopped treatment. His family did not know if he would live to see 2017. Thanks to an idea from Detective Shortly Chris Gillum, who visited Wischer after he had been released home from the hospital, the family’s last holiday together was made a little brighter with a special gift from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wischer’s son received a signed jersey from one of his favorite players, wide receiver Mike Evans. On it Evans had written, “To: Andrew. Prayers to you and your family! Thanks for the Support! Mike Evans 13. Go Bucs!”

Funeral services will held Saturday at First Church of the Nazarene, 1616 59th St. W., Bradenton. Visitation is 9-11 a.m., followed by a service immediately afterward. A committal service will be held at 1 p.m. at Manasota Memorial Park, 1221 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012