Bobby Craig supervised homicide detectives in the District during some of the city's deadliest years until retiring a decade ago to become a farmer in Missouri.

On a recent Saturday night, the former sergeant found himself back in the Washington area, attending a rare reunion of D.C. homicide investigators. Craig said he could not resist the chance to reminisce and bond with old comrades who understood the unique and grueling job of investigating slayings.

"You come back because you worked with a tremendously dedicated group of people that you really admire," said Craig, 56.

Scores of former and current detectives, crime lab technicians and prosecutors and at least one judge attended the reunion Aug. 21 at a banquet hall in Greenbelt. It was the first such gathering in at least a decade, police said.

Organized by Detective Jeff Williams, a former homicide detective who now investigates sex crimes, the event was intended to reestablish bonds between police veterans who worked long hours together -- sometimes spending several days at the office and bunking on couches. They often saw their partners more than their family members.

"It's like being in the Marines," Williams said. "Homicide detectives are on top of the food chain. There is camaraderie."

The event drew about 200 people and included an awards ceremony, slide show, dancing and dinner. Many said they came to honor the service of Detective Willie Jefferson, who is retiring after 37 years on the force. Jefferson received a lifetime achievement award from organizers.

Many former detectives worked in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when detectives were known for their idiosyncrasies and their squads had distinct personalities.

Members of the "hat squad" wore distinctive head gear. Detectives on another squad were known as "the littles" -- most were well under six feet tall.

Before the awards ceremony and slide show, Willie Wade, who retired from the homicide unit in the 1990s, spotted an old member of the "ghost riders" squad and jokingly referred to that unit's moniker: "They came into the office and were gone," Wade said, cracking a smile. "But they did their jobs."

Former detectives Jim Slawson, 62, and Francis McCloskey, 57, served on the force in the 1970s and 1980s and noted that police work has changed quite a bit since they chased homicides.

"If we had DNA back then, we would have closed all of our cases," McCloskey said.

They also recalled tragic events. When an Air Florida jet crashed into the 14th Street Bridge in January 1982, killing 78 people, Slawson was dispatched to the morgue to witness the autopsies.

Later, during a debriefing session, a counselor asked former detective Henry J. Daly how he felt about working amid such carnage, Slawson recalled.

"We did what we normally do," responded Daly, who later was killed in the line of duty when a suspect fired an assault weapon at police headquarters in 1994. "We just did it more often."

Detectives Lorren Leadmon and Dean Combee said they attended the reunion because they could not pass up the opportunity to chat with investigators who trained them in the craft of solving homicides.

"No one else can understand what we've seen, what we've been through," said Leadmon, a 33-year veteran. "It's important to respect the people who came before you."