MANCHESTER, NH – Robert “Bob” Freitas Jr., a longtime criminal investigator for the city of Manchester and the state, returned Monday to the city where he started his law enforcement career, officially sworn in as a Reserve Officer at the Manchester Police Department.
Chief Allen Aldenberg personally conducted the oath of office and handed Freitas his badge. Freitas’s wife, Christine, attended the intimate ceremony in the station conference room near the chief’s office.
“Thanks for having me back. Thank you,” Freitas told Aldenberg immediately after the swearing-in. “Feels good, man, to be home.”
For Freitas, a lifelong fan of Batman comics, Batman memorabilia and the old 1960s TV show starring Adam West, Manchester is his Gotham City.
I first met Freitas in 2012 when he was working in the Cold Case Unit at New Hampshire State Police, already about two or three years into his retirement from Manchester Police. I was just starting as a green reporter for public radio.
He had a framed page of Batman comic book art hung on the wall next to his desk. Batman is, among comic book superheroes and vigilantes, first and foremost a detective, he explained. It’s often forgotten that his title first launched when publisher DC was known by its full name: Detective Comics.
Freitas isn’t shy about his fandom. He has a cabinet in his home with Batman items on display, including a 16-inch statue that his kids gifted him for his birthday one year.
“I’m not even embarrassed anymore,” he said.
Around 2007, while a Manchester detective, he and fellow Det. Stacey Howe went to see Adam West at the Palace Theater. They had their picture taken by Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.
Now that Freitas, 58, is returning to Manchester, it echoes a seminal work of Batman lore called The Dark Knight Returns (1986), written by Frank Miller. In the story, Bruce Wayne is 55 and long retired from crime-fighting. But as things worsen in the city and chaos and madness run rampant, he dons the cape and cowl again to shake up the criminal underworld.
Of course, there aren’t many other parallels between Frank Miller’s hard-boiled caped crusader and Freitas. Freitas isn’t (as far as we know) taking the law into his own hands by moonlighting as a vigilante ninja, nor is he the haunted, grizzled personality the book portrays.
If anything, Freitas brings a jovial and positive attitude to the police station. Assistant Chief Steve Mangone said having Freitas back will not only be an asset to the Investigative Division but will likely boost officer morale.
“Bob could always cheer you up if you’re having a rough day,” Mangone said.
When Mangone started in the department about 24 years ago, he said he worked the midnight shift in patrol and would occasionally work alongside Freitas, who joined the force in 1985.
“Bob was one of the reasons I realized this was the place to be,” Mangone said.
He said Freitas is generally well-liked on the force. When Freitas retired, Mangone said he had the most well-attended retirement party he’d ever been to before or since.
Aldenberg said Freitas still wants to serve after decades of experience as an investigator and inviting him to return as a reserve officer was a “no-brainer.”
“Glad to have him back,” Aldenberg said.
These past few weeks have weighed heavily on the Manchester police department as they search for 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery. Despite hundreds of tips, a sizable reward and thorough property searches, they have so far been unable to locate her.
If there’s ever a time when the department needs a morale boost, this would be it. And Mangone said when a major case takes priority, like a missing child, a lot of other cases go on hold. So, having Freitas will ease the burden of sifting through the backlog.
Freitas said he feels like a professional athlete in the twilight of his career signing on with his original team.
“I’m looking forward to this opportunity,” Freitas said.
He was first inspired to become a cop (after getting his associate’s degree in culinary arts and hotel restaurant management at New Hampshire College) by his neighborhood friend Billy Burke, who served as a Manchester cop before finishing his career as Chief of Police in Chester.
“I owe a lot of this inspiration to him,” Freitas said.
His great-great-grandfather, Walter Scannell, also served as a Manchester cop from 1911 to 1936.
Freitas started his investigative work for the juvenile crimes unit in 1990 until about 1997. While at juvenile, he was part of the first Child Abuse and Sexual Exploitation (CHASE) Unit.
In 1999, Freitas was off the job for 14 months due to an injury when a pick-up truck hit him during an arrest. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to rejoin the force. It was a scary time, but he remembers the kindness of his fellow detective Carlo Capano, who would come to his house and hang out. Capano would later become chief.
In 2002, he joined detectives and then retired at the age of 46 in November 2009 to take a job at the newly formed Cold Case Unit in Concord.
While there, he enjoyed investigating and solving cases that had long gone unsolved. There was less immediacy and he could contemplate and tackle a case from a new angle alongside then Sgt. Scott Gilbert, then Det. John Encarnacao, both of NHSP, and prosecutor Will Delker.
“That was probably the most fun I had in my law enforcement career, was Cold Case. I enjoyed that the most,” Freitas said.
Still, he developed a newfound appreciation for the emotional turmoil unsolved cases can wreak on victims and family members. The years of uncertainty and a lack of resolution can feel hopeless. Freitas said they wanted to give those families hope.
Often, they had a solid suspect but insufficient evidence for a case to go to trial. And the thing that sometimes helped solve a case was a stroke of luck; a new DNA technology or a witness speaking up after years of silence.
After he left Cold Case in 2014, he began work as an investigator for the state’s federally-funded Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which was one of only half a dozen grandfathered jobs in the state that still allowed a state pensioner to work up to about 32 hours a week in an agency that pays into the pension system.
“It’s an important job,” Freitas said. “There’s a lot of documentation. … It’s not sexy by any stretch of the imagination.”
Now, Freitas said, he’s looking to dial back a bit and put in fewer hours while continuing to put his years of investigative experience to work.
“I started my law enforcement career here at Manchester PD, and it would be nice to end it here, too,” he said.