Monday, 03 April 2023 06:31

The Suspect Detective

Credit: Molly Mendoza for Reveal

A Philadelphia homicide detective on the rise abused his power in bizarre and extreme ways. How did he get away with it for so long?

In 2010, Milique Wagner was arrested for a murder he says he had nothing to do with. The night of the shooting, Wagner was picked up for questioning and spent three days in the Philadelphia Police Department’s homicide unit, mostly being questioned by a detective named Philip Nordo.

Nordo was a rising star in the department, known for putting in long hours and closing cases – he had a hand in convicting more than 100 people. But that day in the homicide unit, Wagner says Nordo asked him some unnerving questions: Would he ever consider doing porn? Guy-on-guy porn?

Wagner would go on to be convicted of the murder in a case largely built by Nordo – and Wagner’s experience has led him to believe Nordo fabricated evidence and coerced false statements to frame him.

For years, Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Chris Palmer and Samantha Melamed have dug into Nordo’s career, looking into allegations of his misconduct. In this episode, they follow the rumors to defense attorney Andrew Pappas, who subpoenas the prison call log between Nordo and one of his informants. It’s there he finds evidence that something is not right about the way Nordo is conducting his police work.

It’s Pappas’ findings that prompted the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to launch an investigation into Nordo. The patterns that prosecutors found by reviewing Nordo’s calls and emails with incarcerated men, examining his personnel file, and interviewing men who interacted with him showed shocking coercion and abuse.

Almost 20 years after the first complaint was filed against Nordo, the disgraced detective’s actions became public. He was charged and his case went to trial. Palmer and Melamed analyze the fallout from the scandal and seek answers from the Philadelphia Police Department on how it addressed Nordo’s misconduct and how he got away with it for so long.

This is an update of an episode that originally aired in December 2022.

Dig Deeper

Read the Philadelphia Inquirer’s reporting on Philip Nordo’s case:

• Predator in Blue and four takeaways from the investigation

• Philly detective benched as attorney alleges improper payments to key witness

• Under secrecy, another Philly murder case tied to ex-detective is tossed. Will more follow?

• Former Philly homicide detective charged with rape and intimidation in the course of his investigations

• Former Philly homicide detective Philip Nordo was found guilty of sexually assaulting witnesses while on the job

• A Philly detective was convicted of raping witnesses. What happens to those he locked up?


Reporters: Chris Palmer and Samantha Melamed | Lead producer: Najib Aminy | Editor: Jenny Casas, with help from Jim Neff and Queena Kim | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Production manager: Steven Rascón | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode illustration: Molly Mendoza | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Post-production team: Steven Rascón and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Al Letson

Special thanks to Nancy Phillips. Support for The Philadelphia Inquirer is provided by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.