Causes and Effects of Failed Criminal Investigations

Monroe County suffered two terrible murders that would end up having a terrible connection in the end due to failures in a criminal investigation. The murder of Viola Manville in 1988 and Kali Ann Poulton in 1994 were committed by one man who police let slide under the radar in 1988. Many reasons are to be blamed for the deplorable acts of violence that happened but, in the end, these murders still occurred, and families were devastated by the actions of one violent man who should have been looked at more in depth by investigators.

On November 29, 1988, 74-year-old Viola Manville was brutally murdered in the village of Hilton, NY (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling). At 4:30 pm that day a duck hunter discovered her lifeless body lying in the bushes along a railroad bed, she was shot with a BB gun and beaten to death. The initial autopsy report said that Ms. Manville died between 2:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.

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m. as a result of blunt force trauma to her head consistent with having been struck with the BB gun (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling).

During the investigation, police discovered that Viola’s daily routine involved a walk along the railroad between 9:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. this allowed for the police to start creating a timeline and lead to the questioning of people who may have had a connection to the victim. One of the people in question was Frank Sterling whose older brother Glenn, had been imprisoned after pleading guilty for attempting to sexually assault Ms.

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Manville three years prior to her murder (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling). Sterling was 25 years old at the time and voluntarily went to the police station for questioning in November of 1988, he had no criminal record or history of violent behavior.

Sterling provided a detailed account of his whereabouts on the day of the murder and denied any involvement in the murder. This is where the criminal investigation for this case begins to fail due to pressure from law enforcement to produce a false confession. He worked as a school bus aide from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00p.m. on the day of the murder which was verified by co-workers, after returning home at 1:30 p.m., he walked to a grocery store to pick up a few items and returned home around 2:00 p.m. then he watched television until 4:00 p.m. and went into details about shows which were verified by network representatives (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling).

This was a factually proven alibi given by Sterling which should have eliminated him as a prime suspect. Due to the lack of other evidence the case went cold for two and a half years until a new investigation team at the Monroe County Sherriff’s office was assigned the case in 1991. This new team approached Sterling after he had worked a 36-hour long trucking job and asked to speak with him and he complied to go to the station (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling). After a long interrogation which started in the afternoon and lasted until the next morning Sterling confessed to the crime.

A key aspect of this investigation failing was the pressure by police in this interrogation to force a confession out of Sterling. While the preliminary investigation suggested that Ms. Manville was killed early in the day, during her morning walk during, which Sterling had a concrete alibi; yet he confessed to killing her between the hours of 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm and said that he met her on his way back from the grocery store even though the murder scene was in the opposite direction (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling). Sterling also stated that he discarded the BB gun as he ran home but fragments were found in the opposite direction of his house. This investigation relied on a “hunch” that Sterling was the killer and used a corrupt interrogation along with hypnosis to make him confess to a crime he did not commit.

This investigation also failed because the other suspect Mark Christie was not fully investigated. Several people came forward to say that Christie had bragged about shooting and beating Viola Manville, later questioned by police Christie said he was innocent and ended up passing a lie detector test (Lonsberry, Bob). Christie regularly walked the railroad bed with his BB gun but had claimed to have broken it when questioned by police and he admitted to the police that he had walked along the route where Ms. Manville was murdered (The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling), this evidence should have prompted a more detailed investigation into Christie along with an interrogation based off of deductive reasoning. Unfortunately, Christie slid under the radar while the police focused their efforts on Sterling allowing him to commit the murder of Kali Ann Poulton in 1994.

Kali Ann Poulton lived in an apartment complex near Christie, on May 23rd, 1994, when she disappeared riding her tricycle, she was four years old at the time (Lonsberry, Bob). Patrol deputies and command officers coordinated a physical search that lasted all night to try and locate the missing girl while the detectives from the Monroe County Sheriff Zone A Substation interviewed the girl’s parents, their friends, and family members for additional information about the disappearance of Kali (Crough, Patrick). On the day after her disappearance Kali’s mother had told police about Christie and how he made her uncomfortable, the police allegedly checked on him but there was no evidence to point the finger at him (Dobbin, Ben). The next day through the use of reasoning and intuition the case was reclassified from a missing person investigation to a kidnapping investigation.

After talking to Kali’s mother the investigators then began to look into Christie more deeply, he had a criminal record but nothing related to crimes against children, three investigators interviewed him for several hours but Christie maintained his innocence. The trail began to become cold for investigators as they were overwhelmed with thousands of misleads that they had to follow up on which helped to cause this investigation to fail. It took two and a half years for there to be a break in the case when Christie admitted to his then-wife that he killed Kali during an argument (Crough, Patrick).

The wife then immediately called police when she got to safety, this then prompted an investigator to drive to the residence to speak with Christie. The investigator then prompted Christie to tell the story about what happened to Kali over lunch due to the level of skill that the investigator had, Christie verbally confessed what happened. Christie knew that the police would search every apartment under the exigent circumstance’s exception, so he destroyed the evidence of the tricycle before police were able to search his apartment (Crough, Patrick).

Christie heard the mother calling out Kali’s name, he began to get nervous after the girl entered his room he panicked and strangled her to death, he continued to confess to the investigator to fill his ego. He then placed the young girl’s body in a laundry basket, covered it up and carried the basket to his vehicle, placed it in the trunk then he drove to the Nor-Tel Company on Humboldt Street in Rochester where he worked (Crough, Patrick). This is surprising to have happened because in order to leave the scene Christie had to pass through a roadblock where officers should have questioned him and could be another reason as to why this investigation failed. Once at the Nor-Tel Company he climbed to the top of an enclosed 30,000-gallon tank filled with liquid coolant and disposed of her body. After the verbal confession was done the investigator drove Christie to the station where he was later arrested for the murder of Kali Ann Poulton (Crough, Patrick). All of this occurred due to the mother’s intuition that something was off about Christie and the need to have investigators take a deeper look into him.

These two investigations failed for many reasons that should not have happened and unfortunately, if more was done in the first case of the murder of Viola Manville to find the actual killer, Kali Ann Poulton’s murder could have been prevented. Lazy police work is the main reason why Frank Sterling was made out to be the main suspect when the police knew about Mark Christie. Although Sterling had a solid alibi that was backed by witness’s the police still targeted him even though there was exculpatory evidence in his confession to show he was not involved. When they should have looked at Christie due to the evidence that suggested he could have been involved such as people coming forward saying how he bragged about killing Ms. Manville. It seems that the officers in charge of the Manville case wanted to give the community a sense of ease so that they would believe that the killer was finally off the streets when instead he was still walking amongst them.

The Kali Ann Poulton investigation failed because of the lack of awareness of the situation that was unfolding. If the scene was properly locked down and people were not allowed to leave until a full search was done on the area, Kali’s body would more than likely have been located. The mother’s suspicion of Christie should have been enough for probable cause or even an exigent circumstance to search his apartment.

Even though Kali was most likely dead before the first officer arrived, a thorough canvas could have been done to see if anyone was acting out of place and witness statements taken in case anyone may have briefly seen anything related to the incident The main reason this investigation failed was the lack of evidence to tie Christie to the murder, the tricycle and the body where both missing and the police had nothing to pin him to the murder. If he had never told his girlfriend during the argument which led to a verbal confession by an impressive investigator the case may have not been solved until who knows when.

Both of these murders shocked the residents Monroe County and are still remembered to this day because of the terrible connection to Mark Christie. In 2010, Frank Sterling was released from prison as an innocent man because Christie gave a confession which proved that he was responsible for the murder of Viola Manville. Sloppy police work in the murder of Viola Manville allowed Mark Christie to walk the streets as a free man and was the direct result that caused Kali Ann Poulton to tragically lose her life. A complete investigation should have been done on Christie back in 1988 instead of just focusing on Sterling who had a solid alibi. In the end, what happened can’t be reversed but these failures can serve as a learning point for future police officers and agencies to move forward from the failures of the criminal investigations that occurred in these two cases.

Works Cited

  1. Crough, Patrick. “A Tribute to Protecting Our Children – The Tragic Story of Kali Ann Poulton.” Lighthouse Trails Inc, 11 May 2016,
  2. Dobbin, Ben, and Associated Press. “Police: Ex-Neighbor Killed 4-Year-Old.”,, 10 Jan. 2011,
  3. Lonsberry, Bob. “A 22-YEAR-OLD CRIME.” Bob Lonsberry Dot Com, 29 Apr. 2010,
  4. The State of New York County of Monroe Supreme Court. The People of The State of New York V. Frank Sterling. Indictment no:624/91.

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Causes and Effects of Failed Criminal Investigations. (2021, Dec 14). Retrieved from

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