The photo of “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary was taken May 4, 1984, the day after Columbus Police arrested him.
Homicide detective Mike Sellers has his left hand around Gary’s right arm. With his right hand, Sellers is pointing to the left.
Directly over Gary’s left shoulder is this thin man, Lem Miller, a young plain clothes homicide detective. Miller was 31 years old and had been on the force for 12 years.
That photo has lived for more than 33 years and probably has been published by the Ledger-Enquirer more than a hundred times. When there is a development in the Gary case — he was convicted in 1986 of three of the seven stranglings of elderly Columbus women — that photo often finds its way into print.
Today, Gary is still on Georgia’s death row.
As of Oct. 31, Miller will no longer be a cop.
Friday, the department held a retirement ceremony for Miller, 64, who now is the assistant police chief. He spent 45 years in uniform and he made a symbolic gesture when instead of the white uniform shirt that the chief and assistant chief wear, Miller was in his blue shirt, three stars on the collar.
“I am going out the way I came in,” he said.
That’s Miller in a nutshell.
His old partner, Sellers, who left Columbus in 1987 and went to the Gwinnett County Police Department, came back for the retirement ceremony.
“Carlton was acting like a rock star,” Sellers said of Gary.
It is hard to imagine one moment in a 45-year career being captured the way that one was for Miller. Sellers and Miller had been critical in breaking the case that led to Gary’s arrest.
“He and I were working together when Carlton Gary’s name and fingerprints came across our desk,” Sellers said.
But it was something else Sellers said that hit home.
“He’s the dearest friend I have ever had,” Sellers said Friday, 30 years removed from Columbus.
That was the theme of the day as the second-longest serving person in the department walks into retirement. Only Chief Ricky Boren, who started in 1971, has been there longer.
When a career is done, it’s not all about longevity. Miller has taken on some of the toughest jobs in the department. He led the Professional Standards Division, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing within the department.
Maj. J.D. Hawk has been there for many of Miller’s years.
“He was always the person who calmed things down,” Hawk said. “You’ve got to have balance, and he was the balance.”
Steady and stable —that’s Miller.
But Maj. Wanna Baker-Wright noted another side of Miller that impressed her. She noted how he has cared for his mother in her final years and his wife, Tee Cee, as she battles breast cancer.
“With his mother, he has said that a nursing home is not an option, and he has used sick leave to be with her when the sitter can’t, and he has been with his wife at all of her appointments,” Barker-Wright said.
Co-workers see and respect that.
“He loves his family, and he puts them first,” Barker-Wright said.
Miller thanked Boren for working with him over the most recent period when he needed to take leave to care of those he loves.
Miller offered a glimpse of what family means to him when he told of what he did in late August 1985. He had worked the multiple homicide in which a pregnant mother and her two children were hacked to death.
It was a horrible and unimaginable crime scene.
Miller went home for a few minutes when he left the scene at the Curry house.
“Lenny was 5 at the time,” Miller said. “I just wanted to go by and see him sleeping peacefully.”
Several times during the ceremony, people spoke of Miller’s late father, Lem Miller Jr., who served as clerk of Columbus Council for 30 years.
Recently, Miller was going through a box of stuff and found a letter his father had written when he was nearing retirement.
“I discovered a letter he had written to council and mayor and told them he was fixing to retire,” Miller said. “And in the letter he told them he wanted to go out as quietly as he came in. I took that letter and I shook it in Tee Cee’s face. Now you see why I am the way I am.”
Paul Voorhees, who leads a police officer support organization called “Back the Blue,” put it best.
“Lem, since you have been willing to die for us for 45 years,” Voorhees said, “we want you to be willing to live for us now.”