Almost 30 Years Later, a Detective Looks for the Degree He Left Unfinished
If you heard Chris McMullin’s no-nonsense tone—wrapped in his unmistakably thick Philadelphia accent—on the street, it might not come as a surprise that he’s a police detective.
Or that he’s a damn good police detective at that, one whose palmàres include solving a 30-year-old murder case that had long gone cold since before he became a police officer.
Or that he’s the type of guy who ends up successful at anything he does, like getting into acting by chance in his late 20s and then landing parts as Alec Baldwin’s stand-in in The Departed and the police officer who arrests Bradley Cooper in 2010’s Limitless.
Failure and half-heartedness aren’t options for McMullin. They never have been, and his mindset manifests itself very clearly in his demeanor.
Now, with his police career winding down, McMullin is taking that attitude back into the classroom to finish his college degree.
“Just because I’m going to retire from the police department doesn’t mean I’m going to sit home and watch Good Morning America. I want to do something, and I want to have better education to enable myself to do that, the same reason we all go.”
McMullin has built his career and life on seeing things through, and it’s a life skill he learned from a young age, as he became a father in high school.
“My daughter’s 31 years old. I’m 48, so do the math,” he says. “When I was out of high school I had a child to take care of…I was delivering pizza, mowing lawns, pumping gas—name it, I was doing it. And I was taking classes at Holy Family [University].”
A few years after his daughter, Caitlin, was born, McMullin took his first full time job as a police officer in Philadelphia and then eventually in Bensalem—time-consuming jobs, which forced him to stop taking college classes.
The Philadelphia native had found his niche, though, and would later get promoted to detective—getting the job through fate when a detective took a chief of police position with just six days left before his application’s 18-month shelf-life expired.
McMullin would go on to become a very successful investigator, his career case being the 1984 murder of 14-year-old Barbara Rowan that mystified the public and detectives alike for over three decades—which he solved after more than a decade of conducting interviews and research. His work on the case recently got him featured on the Investigation Discovery Channel’s show On the Case with Paula Zahn.
McMullin’s success is thanks in no small part to the grittiness he learned early on.
“I’m lucky and I’m really good at not giving up,” he said. “That was the only reason we solved the Rowan case. We would not let up, we refused to let up.”
Now, almost 30 years after joining the police force, the detective plans to retire from law enforcement within the next few years, and has started taking classes through the DeSales ACCESS program to finish his degree.
While McMullin says he plans to start a second career and a degree is a means to that end, he will also be fulfilling a promise to his grandmother, who helped him along when he became a father.
“I promised my grandmother I would finish college, so I’m keeping that promise,” he says. “She helped me out a lot with everything—with my daughter, financially, a place to live…She was my rock.”
Plus, not following through just isn’t McMullin’s style.
His daughter says him returning to get his degree is yet another example of the dedication he has shown her and his family.
“He’s always been my calm voice of reason when I thought I couldn’t do something, he’s always been the person to sit me down and tell me to take a deep breath and prove myself wrong,” she says. “His going back to continue his education is just another endeavor that shows his never-ending work ethic to better himself and continue to provide for my family.”
Jennifer Schorn, the chief of trials for the Bucks County District Attorney’s office, has worked with McMullin on a number of cases and says that his returning to school isn’t a surprise for her either.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with him for years and despite not having his degree, that was never an obstacle. He excelled at his job at the highest level and achieved unbelievable results in criminal cases. With that being said, I’m not surprised that he’s the type of person that wants to have that degree also,” she says. “It’s consistent with the person I’ve known him to be.”
McMullin says that, like with acting, he came across DeSales by chance when Tom Andrews suggested he look into the ACCESS program for criminal justice.
“We were up in Happy Valley for this conference, so one night in my hotel room I actually got on my computer and I went on the website and I reached out and inquired, and then the next day Linda Bell, who’s now my advisor, got back to me and we started talking and here I am four classes later.”
McMullin isn’t sure of the direction his next career will take him. He says he will try to get back into acting, but is also considering continuing his education and earning his master’s so that he could teach at the college level.
But by now, success in anything McMullin chooses to do is a given. For now he is enjoying school the second time around, and focusing on finishing what he started—what he does best.