One of his last cases was the trial in which David Westerfield was convicted of murdering 7-year-old Sabre Springs resident Danielle van Dam in February 2002.
As a hobbyist, Mr. Emmerson amassed an exemplary collection of American cut glass from an era known as American Brilliant spanning from the late 1800s to the early 1920s.
Mr. Emmerson lectured throughout the country, paying special attention to the work of fabled designer William C. Anderson. He was active in the 1,700-member American Cut Glass Association, of which his wife, Kathy, is executive secretary.
Leigh George Emmerson was born Sept. 23, 1929, in Placerville, where he excelled in basketball while growing to a height of more than 6 feet 7 inches.
After attending California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, where he continued playing basketball, he joined the Navy. During the Korean War, he served on the attack cargo ship Washburn.
Mr. Emmerson joined the San Diego Police Department in October 1955. Two years later, he became one of the first patrol officers assigned to the Southern Division.
In 1961, when "Car 54 Where are You" was a popular television series, he could have doubled for the show's Officer Muldoon character, Fred Gwynne. A San Diego Union photo layout illustrated the uncanny resemblance. As a detective in April 1965, Mr. Emmerson was involved in one of the biggest shootouts in San Diego at the Hub Jewelry & Loan Co. at Fifth Avenue and F Street. Mr. Emmerson arrived during a robbery and exchanged gunfire with suspect Robert Page Anderson, a convicted murderer with a history of narcotics violations. More than 60 law enforcement officers converged on the scene. One of Mr. Emmerson's colleagues, Sgt. Allen Brown, was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1988 for his role in wounding and apprehending Anderson.
"Leigh tried to enter the shop through a back door, and the suspect fired several rounds at him," Collins said. "He later was able to enter with Brown."
Mr. Emmerson worked in narcotics for more than a decade, making several key arrests, Collins said. He was assigned to intelligence and the fencing unit before developing his specialty in latent prints.
During his police career, he received one commanding officer citation and two department citations for investigations. He received an exceptional performance citation upon retirement.
His first wife, Beverly Dawn Govan, whom he married in the early 1950s, died of a heart attack at age 45 in 1975. In 1977, he married Kathy Showers, with whom he shared his passion for cut glass.
In addition to his wife Kathy, survivors include his son, Thomas Emerson of St. Louis; daughter Lisa Blaske of St. Louis; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
DETECTIVE LEIGH G. EMMERSON
BADGE 702, ID 1295
SDPD 10/24/1955 - 07/08/1982
09/23/1929 - 01/10/2006
Leigh Emmerson, 76; fingerprint examiner was cut-glass expert
By Jack Williams
January 14, 2006
If there was one thing Leigh Emmerson could do as well as match fingerprints from a crime scene, it was appraise and identify ornate cut-glass figures.
"He had an investigative mind," said his son, Tom. "Little by little he got hooked on cut glass as a hobby, and he became an expert.
"He could walk into a shop and be able to tell when a piece was made and who the glass cutter was."
Mr. Emmerson took up his hobby in earnest 1982, when he retired as a latent prints examiner after 27 years with the San Diego Police Department.
He died of cancer Jan. 10 at his home in Ramona, his family said. He was 76.
In his last seven years as a police detective, Mr. Emmerson matched an extraordinary 901 latent prints recovered from crime scenes with those of possible suspects, said police Capt. Jim Collins.
"He was recognized as a national expert," Collins said. "He not only handled our cases but cases for other agencies, including the FBI."
After retiring, Mr. Emmerson worked until two years ago as a consultant in latent prints, appearing in court as an expert witness.