ST. PETERSBURG — Because of his laid-back demeanor and drawl, colleagues sometimes compared Denis Quilligan to former NFL quarterback and wisecracking broadcaster Don Meredith. The people he helped put in prison might remember someone a bit less folksy.
During his 23 years with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, the last 19 as chief investigator, Mr. Quilligan did the legwork on some of the most high-profile cases in the area's history. Guilty parties included organized crime figures and three county commissioners convicted in a zoning payoff scandal.
He moonlighted with a trombone. In the 1950s, he formed the Jailhouse Seven, which consisted of his first wife, three cops, three newspaper reporters and the city's dog catcher.
Mr. Quilligan died March 29 in Blountville, Tenn. He was 89. The family announced his death in an obituary Sunday.
"He was not only the chief investigator, he was one of (then State Attorney) James Russell's closest confidantes," said lawyer George Tragos, a former assistant state attorney. "If Denny had an opinion, it really mattered."
At a lean 6 foot 5, with a cigar and a blazing stare, Mr. Quilligan looked the part of the G-man he might have become. He graduated from the FBI's National Academy in 1955.
People wanted to talk to him.
"As an investigator, the way you get information is to have the sort of personality where you can talk to them and they will give you the information voluntarily," said Allen Allweiss, a former assistant state attorney. "He had a way about him."
Allweiss first worked with Mr. Quilligan in the early 1970s, then against him after leaving the State Attorney's Office. When Allweiss' client, Pinellas County Commissioner George Brumfield, was convicted in 1974 of taking bribes, the two sides worked together as Brumfield agreed to wear a wire.
"That's when the house of cards began to fall," said Richard Mensh, former chief assistant state attorney. Commissioners A. Oliver McEachern and William Dockerty were convicted of corruption charges. Several officials in Clearwater, Largo and the beaches were also convicted.
Denis J. Quilligan was born in Granite City, Ill., in 1923. He joined the Merchant Marine during World War II and married Gloria Davis in 1945. They had two children.
He joined the St. Petersburg Police Department in 1947, was promoted to detective two years later, then to detective sergeant in 1956. He went to the State Attorney's Office a year later.
Mr. Quilligan took a leave in 1964 to run for sheriff, winning the Republican nomination but losing to incumbent Don Genung. He remained with the State Attorney's Office through 1980, then became a private investigator for 15 years.
Mr. Quilligan's second marriage, to the former Marilyn Oldridge, lasted 40 years, until her death in December.
He leaves behind a legacy as one of the best. "Most assistant state attorneys stay a few years," Mensh said. "I stayed year after year, with Denny as my role model — his loyalty, his dedication and his moxie."
Researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.