Merlin Ector, 52, GBI agent with a storied 30-year career

Merlin Ector had a storied 30-year career with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Credit: courtesy of the family

Credit: courtesy of the family

Merlin Ector, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent who survived three kidney transplants and life-threatening undercover confrontations in a 30-year career, died Sept. 18, seven months after retiring.

He was a faith-inspired youth football coach, family man and a wise-cracking practical joker who used his easy-going personality and quick mind to defuse potentially deadly situations.

“He was truly a genuine man of integrity and maturity," said retired GBI Director Vernon Keenan. “He was often assigned to investigate politically sensitive cases because of his demeanor and thoroughness. Merlin had a way of calming the waters.”

Ector was the son of Moses Ector, the first Black GBI inspector — one of the agency’s top supervisors. Merlin joined the GBI while young in 1990 and carved out his own law-enforcement reputation as a narcotics agent working undercover around the state.

“Merlin was a fast thinker in that undercover world,” said Robert Ford, his partner in the early years. Ford recalled one story when the two pulled up to a house in Rome to buy illegal drugs. The suspect almost immediately held Ford at gunpoint. Ector talked the gunman down.

Ford said in a McIntosh County case, an informant stole Ector’s car just as a suspect’s girlfriend told them a drug dealer was on the way to kill them. Ector talked the woman into driving them away.

“Merlin had that way of making people feel at ease…always in a good mood, always laughing.”

Merlin Ector, far right, at a crime scene. Ector was a smooth talking Georgia Bureau of Investigation undercover agent know for his humor and grace as well as his abilities.

Credit: courtesy of the family

Credit: courtesy of the family

“He was so natural at it because he was such a real person,” said retired GBI agent Cecil Hutchins. Ector took on the role of a drug trafficker to help Hutchins nail a dirty police officer.

After he was promoted to special agent, Ector worked a variety of cases in metro Atlanta, ranging from murder to healthcare fraud.

Retired Covington Police Captain Craig Treadwell said he and Ector worked cases together, one of them an execution-style murder. The two worked to locate an important witness, a drug dealer they knew only by his street name and dangerous reputation. They got a tip about the man being at a liquor store. Tradewell said Ector went inside to look for the witness, while he waited outside, gun in hand. When he looked into the store, he saw Ector laughing and hugging the man. It turned out Ector had gone to high school with him. He said they arrested and convicted four men for the murder.

Ector was barely 21 years old when he met Antoinette “Toni” Edge, who was working in a video store on Columbia Drive. Ector walked in with a date, took the date home and came back to the store to talk to Edge, who would become his wife.

She said other than his work, Ector spent most of his time focused on his family, including daughter Chelsea, 26, and son Chandler, 24. He began coaching youth football when Chandler was five, but continued coaching for years, taking particular interest in the kids few others believed in.

Ector was still in his 20′s when he got the first of three kidney transplants. In 2014, his third transplant began failing, and he began dialysis, though he continued his GBI career for another six years.

“He stayed in and did what he did had to do because he loved the GBI,” said Hutchins.

“Merlin was a great peacemaker, friend, co-worker and he truly loved his family,” said GBI internal affairs director Fred Mays. He quoted the gospel of Matthew to describe Ector: “'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God'.”

Partly to support Toni as she battled breast cancer, Ector administered dialysis to himself at home in his final months.

“Through his many health challenges, he was still a servant who relied on his inner strength and faith in God to carry him through,” said Clarence Cox, past president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

He is survived by his wife, children, his father, stepmother Claretha Ector and sibilings.

Visitation will be Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory, 4347 Flat Shoals Parkway in Decatur. There will be a graveside service Sept. 23 for family and close friends.

In Other News