The tale of a stolen gun: Tulsa police track a murder weapon


It happens all the time, another shooting in Tulsa. Somebody with a gun robbing someone, hurting someone or killing someone.

Turns out, many of the weapons used in crimes are stolen. Guns once purchased legally are now driving the crime rate in cities like Tulsa.

“If it’s stolen five years ago, it’s in a black hole until it’s found again,” said Tom Harris.

Harris investigates gun crimes for the Tulsa Police Department. He uses technology to link guns to crimes all over the country.

On May 13, 2017, Tulsa police found a stolen 9 MM pistol in an apartment while serving a search warrant. The gun was hidden under a mattress. Harris knows how valuable a stolen gun can be.

“If you can find a stolen gun, (criminals) trade them for drugs,” said Harris. “They’re a commodity.”

When police picked up the stolen 9 MM pistol in May, it went to the crime lab and into the hands of firearms examiners like Joy Patterson.

“I’ve logged so much time on this thing, it’s basically like you’re putting a puzzle together,” said Patterson.

Patterson’s job looks like something on a crime television show, but amazingly it’s real life. She studies and analyzes guns.

“This is the fingerprint of the gun,” said Patterson, pointing out markings on a shell casing.

When the stolen gun was found last May, examiners put it through the paces. The first step is to fire the gun and start analyzing the shell casings under a microscope. The marks on shell casings are like a fingerprint, each is unique to a specific gun.

“Once I find an area that matches, then I will rotate around the entire circumference,” said Patterson, showing how she matches shell casings.

3D images of the shell casings from the stolen gun were entered into a national database called “NIBIN.” It helps law enforcement link guns to crimes all over the country, which is how investigators linked this stolen gun to a homicide in March 2017.

“Over the last year, probably 20 to 30 percent of guns that I’ve seen come through NIBIN are stolen guns,” said Harris.

On March 20, 2017 Durrell Collins was shot and killed in Tulsa. His killers left behind dozens of shell casings at the scene, including eight shell casings that matched the stolen 9 MM pistol.

“It feels good to be able to actually link (it to a crime),” said Patterson.

The gun was reported stolen to police in October 2016. It took 158 days before it left its mark at a homicide.

The owner of the gun didn’t want to be identified in our story, but the gun was stolen from his home in Tulsa during a burglary.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off