Superior's top investigator is receiving statewide recognition for his detective work.

Police Capt. Chad La Lor was honored with the Michael Vendola Death Investigator of the Year Award on Thursday for his sleuthing ability. The honor was given during the Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators conference last week.

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La Lor was recognized for his work in solving two of Superior's cold case murders.

"He makes me look good," said Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters, who decided to put La Lor's detective skills to the test when the chief asked his then-investigations sergeant to take another look at Superior's unsolved murders in 2004.

Superior had five of them then, one dating back to 1966.

Today, Superior only has three, although a trial is pending in one of them.

La Lor, working with Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent John Christophersen, brought about the 2005 arrest of Rodger Gran in connection with the 1986 murder of his mother, Lynnea Gran in Les's Grocery.

Gran was arrested almost to the day, 19 years after his mother's murder. He pleaded guilty last summer, ending a 20-year mystery.

About two weeks after Gran was sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the 1986 murder, Superior police announced the arrest of Michael D. Mattson for the 1993 murder of Myrna Jean Clemons.

A state investigator, Dennis Miller of the Eau Claire DCI office, who has also done some work on cold cases, nominated La Lor for the honor.

"I'm extremely honored, and at the same time, a bit humbled," La Lor said. "First off, to even be nominated for it is an honor."

The award is named for a Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation special agent recognized internationally for his work in solving shaken baby homicide cases. Vendola, who had worked on dozens of shaken baby syndrome cases, including a 20-year unsolved murder of an infant killed by a child care provider. After Vendola died, the top honor given of the Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators, formed in 1996 to advance homicide investigation training, was named in his honor. The first award was given in 1997.

"To have an award that bears the name of someone of that caliber truly is an honor, La Lor said. "To be selected from the nominations that have been turned in from across the state truly is an honor ... it was a humbling experience to stand up in front of 250 investigators, chiefs, sheriffs prosecutors on Thursday and accept that award."

And the cold cases that earned La Lor recognition are never far from reach. While the Gran homicide files have been put away, a trial pending in the Clemons case and the unsolved mystery surrounding the deaths four-years apart of sisters Denise and Mary Daly, and Mary's infant son Christopher, the cases remain in easy reach for La Lor. And the 1983 murder of Claude Espeland and 1966 murder of 14-year-old Michael Fisher haven't been put out of mind.

"It's a very prestigious award," Peters said. "For Chad personally, and for our department, I'm very proud that one of my staff was recognized by his peers. It demonstrates the work that has been done on the two particular cases, and the success our department has had is recognized by other professionals in our field as being exceptional work. It's not often that cases of that age and vintage are successfully reinvestigated. And certainly much of the credit goes to Chad and his work initiative, abilities."

Shelley Nelson can be reached at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com