For nearly 60 years, Warren Holmes sought the truth with a Keeler Polygraph machine, a beat cop’s street smarts, and intuition that bordered on the clairvoyant.
Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and reporters knew that when the former Miami Police detective, who became founding president of the Florida Polygraph Association, said someone was lying, that person was lying.
Longtime friend John Tiffany, a former corporate security expert, said that Holmes was a pioneer in modern polygraphy who conducted 70,377 examinations as a private practitioner, and “thousands’’ for the police department.
“His whole focus was on trying to understand human nature as it related to lying,’’ Tiffany said.
Holmes’ findings in some of the country’s most sensational murder cases helped free wrongly-convicted men who’d spent years behind bars.
He and the late Miami Herald reporter Gene Miller proved that Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, two black men sent to Florida’s Death Row for the 1963 murder of two whites, were innocent, despite confessions that police beat out of them.
Miller won his second Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for reporting on the case, which persuaded then-Gov. Reubin Askew to pardon the men.
An expert in exposing false confessions, Holmes relied on his instincts as much as on his device.
Miami criminal defense lawyer Willian Tunkey, a former prosecutor, said Holmes used two tests: the machine and “the ‘Warren test.’ If you don’t pass the ‘Warren test,’ I don’t care what the machine says, he’s not going to call you as truthful.
“I can’t even tell you how many times he exonerated people because of his opinion alone, and many more times he confirmed my suspicion that a client wasn’t telling me the truth...I must have taken 100 people to him, and I can’t think of a single one where he was wrong,’’ Tunkey recalled.
Warren DeWitt Holmes, who lived and worked in a frozen-in-time Little Havana duplex — where he banged out reports with one finger on a 20-year-old word processor — died of congestive heart failure Thursday at Metropolitan Hospital of Miami. Born in St. Petersburg on Oct. 30, 1927, he was 85.
Daughter Debra Holmes, of Atlanta, said he fell April 15, which weakened his already damaged heart. He also suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
She said her dad spent the winters of his youth in Hallandale Beach, where his parents ran a seasonal hotel. They ran another in New York during the summers. He left the University of Miami a couple of credits short of a bachelor’s degree, despite having led the UM debate team to a national championship.
He never retired, and was about to send off a report in the case of 65-year-old candy heiress Helen Brach, who disappeared in 1977 and was declared dead in 1984.
No one was convicted of her murder, but in the mid-1990s, a younger love interest, Richard Bailey, was sentenced to 30 years for conspiring to kill her.
After questioning Bailey, Holmes told his daughter: “They’ve got the wrong man in jail.’’
Holmes, a giant of a man who stood 6-foot-5 in his prime, carried his 1950s-era police revolver in his pants pocket, drove a rust bucket 1983 Lincoln Continental, and recently asked his daughter: “What the hell is a debit card?’’