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North Richland Hills police solve 19-year-old cold case with advanced DNA technology, but suspect died before arrest

North Richland Hills police detectives announced advanced DNA technology allowed them to identify the so-called "Cowboy Hat Bandit" as Mark Long.

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — Detectives with the North Richland Hills Police Department announced they believe they’ve solved a 19-year-old cold case.  

On Friday, members of the police department held a press conference and displayed some of the evidence that brought them to identifying the man accused of shooting and injuring then-officer Jeff Garner.  

“It has been an overwhelming week,” said Capt. Jeff Garner, who still works for NRHPD. “I have been carrying this weight of this event for 19 years.”  

Garner was shot in 2003, after attempting to stop a driver who, unknown to Garner, had just robbed a bank in Watauga, Texas, police said.

Police said the driver, nicknamed the "Cowboy Hat Bandit" was linked to seven bank robberies from 1998 to 2003, totaling more than $296,000.  

He got away and left many questions unanswered, according to police.

In 2015, NRHPD detective Erik Whitlock picked up the investigation after the case sat cold for many years.

“Nineteen years went by with this family wondering why? Who?” Whitlock said.  

Whitlock described the passion he felt for solving the case, investigating the case was his way of getting justice for Garner, whom he described as a colleague and friend during the press conference.  

Advanced DNA technology led detectives to Mark Long, an Oklahoma resident, police said. 

Whitlock submitted DNA evidence from several of the robberies to Identifinders International for a forensic genetic genealogy examination. In December 2021, forensic genealogists linked the DNA to Long, whom detectives identified as a suspect, according to police.

Undercover detectives traveled to Oklahoma in February 2022 and began surveillance on Long, police said.

Police said that after Long dined at a restaurant, detectives obtained DNA from the items Long used at the restaurant. Those items were submitted and examined alongside previously collected DNA evidence in three of the bank robberies, and they matched, according to police.

Earlier this month, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation obtained search warrants for Long’s home, vehicle and a previously-owned Jeep police believe Long used during a bank robbery in Watauga, police said.

Police said NRHPD detectives and OSBI searched the home and found a revolver in his bedroom. 

Police said the weapon matched the description of the revolver allegedly used during the 2003 shootinh and that it was still loaded. Police said the bullets inside of the weapon matched the projectiles located at the crime scene of the 2003 shooting.  

Police said they also tracked down Long’s Jeep and found that it had body filler repaired on the tailgate. Police said the damage on the tailgate was consistent with a bullet hole from when then-officer Garner returned fire.  

“Against all odds, he still had the weapon he used to shoot Garner and in all bank robberies,” Whitlock said.   

NRHPD Chief Jimmy Perdue described the finding as a major breakthrough.  

“This is what policing is about, that we always pursue no matter how long it takes to get it done,” Perdue said.   

NRH arrest warrants were secured for Long and included several charges, including attempted capital murder of a peace officer, aggravated robbery and two counts of robbery, with a total bond of $675,000.

The story doesn’t end there.   

This month, as police geared up to serve the arrest warrants, they learned that Long was found dead near a cell tower in southeast Oklahoma City, police said. 

NRHPD detectives said they believe Long died by suicide, but the final cause of death has yet to be released by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner.  

“He took himself only things he will know. The why. Why did he do this?” Whitlock said.   

Detectives may never know the why, but they believe the cold case is solved, police said.

“I have received every answer I ever wanted,” Garner said.   

He said he can finally begin the path toward healing.

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