One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.11Lois Duncan
That evening, after the newlyweds left on their honeymoon, the rest of us reminisced about happy times and sad ones. Kait was very much on our minds.
“Since the cops don’t want your information, why don’t we put it on the Internet?” Brett suggested. “Maybe somebody out there will read and react to it.”
Brett, who was a computer guru, designed the website, which included a message board and e-mail envelope for informants. 8
He posted the page, and surfers found it. Steve Schiff, United States Congressman from New Mexico, called to suggest that we request an Internal Affairs investigation. I told him we had little confidence in the APD Internal Affairs Unit, since a former supervisor — an alleged field officer at Kait’s scene — had been charged with burglarizing a liquor store.
“Good point,” Schiff acknowledged. “Let’s try to go over their heads then.” He wrote a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, requesting that the Justice Department look into a possible police cover-up. The Civil Rights Division responded that the federal five-year statute of limitations prohibited their doing that.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you,” Congressman Schiff told us. “I do have one suggestion. Under New Mexico law, the State Attorney General can prosecute a case where the local district attorney declines. As the DA has not charged the individual you suspect, I recommend you contact the AG’s office.”
It was a well-meant suggestion from a good and caring man, who didn’t realize that the Attorney General wouldn’t meet with us. And even if Congressman Schiff could convince him to do so, whom would we accuse of Kait’s murder? Dung Nguyen? An Quoc Le? Bao Tran? Paul Apodaca? A hired hit man who might or might not have been Miguel Garcia? As private citizens, neither we nor Pat had the authority to force witnesses and suspects to talk to us. Only the police could do that.
The traffic at Kait’s website continued to accelerate, and many of those visitors contacted us by e-mail. Among them were a forensic expert from Illinois and a crime scene technician from Michigan, both of whom offered to review Kait’s scene information. They asked us to send them copies of the scene reports, autopsy report, and a full set of crime scene photos.
We were able to provide them with everything except the pictures and set out to get those by submitting an Inspection of Public Records Act request. The APD photo lab told us that nine rolls of pictures had been taken but only a couple of shots on each roll had turned out. We ordered two sets of the twenty-two photos. The charge for those snapshot size prints was $176.
I was not prepared for the impact those photos would have on me. Although Kait was not in the pictures, her blood was sloshed on the seat and floorboards of the car. There was a large pool of body liquids on the curb next to the passenger’s door, and a small black object that looked like a shoe lay on the ground outside the closed door on the driver’s side.
I opened the packet while standing at the mailbox and trudged up the driveway to the house, clutching the photos to my chest. Since Don was not home, and I had to reach out to somebody, I e-mailed the technician in Michigan.
He responded instantly: “Lois, Lois, Lois, it’s a grim business, this. It’s not for anyone who ever loved the victim. We hope the pictures tell a story, but it’s probably not a story you should have to read or can read. It’s told in the language of blood and broken glass and bullet holes. Put those pictures away for now. I’ll let you know my reaction when I receive my set.”
I went into the bedroom and buried my face in a pillow and screamed until the back of my throat felt like I’d swallowed lye. Because I could read the language of broken glass and bullet holes, not with the mind of a criminalistics expert, but with the heart of a mother. I could see my daughter in that car, gripping the steering wheel, frozen with horror as a bullet crashed into the door frame next to her head, and there was no place to run, no place to hide, and Mother and Daddy just a few miles away in that big safe house, and no way to reach them. If only I had been with her! In my mind I rewrote the story so I was seated beside her and could grab that shiny gold head and yank it down below window level. In that vision I threw myself across her and leaned on the horn. People came rushing to windows, came pouring out of buildings, came racing to save this terrified girl, who by now I had somehow managed to shove down to the floor boards. When the other shots came — (if they came, for perhaps the killers would be frightened off by the commotion) — I would be the one to receive them. And, oh, I would receive them gladly! I would smile as I slid into darkness knowing that Kait would survive to go to college, to become a doctor, to meet and marry Prince Charming, to have children just as ornery and strong-willed and naughty and wonderful as she was, and to live and live and live.
“I want her back!” I shrieked into the muffling mound of the pillow. “I want her back!”
Then finally I cried.
Eventually I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion, because the next thing I knew I was sprawled on the bed in a room that was gentled by twilight, and the sound of the TV in the living room told me that Don had returned and was watching the 6:00 p.m. news.
I sat up and turned on the light and spread out the photos on the bed. The object on the ground was, indeed, Kait’s shoe. Since the first two officers at the scene had stated that they had gone to the passenger’s side, I wondered if the killer might have opened the driver’s door to check and make sure she was done for. If so, it was possible that either he — or Paul Apodaca, if Paul wasn’t the killer himself — had cleaned out her purse. That purse had been returned to us at the hospital, and when I opened Kait’s wallet I’d been surprised that it contained no money. I knew that Kait had had cash when she’d left our house that night, because she had mentioned her plan to buy ice cream to take to Susan’s. Susan had said Kait didn’t arrive with ice cream.
We mailed the reconstructionists copies of the photos, and both were puzzled by their limited number and poor quality.
“Are you saying that they were not able to take more than twenty-two pictures out of all those exposures?” asked the cop in Illinois. “Where are the shots of the large concentration of glass that was used to determine the spot where the shots were fired? If auto glass found at the scene was considered important enough to measure and describe, there should be photographs of it along with evidence markers.”
Our consultants were also frustrated by the fact that there were no well-lighted, close-up, scale photos of Kait’s car.
“There ought to be photos that include a scale or ruler and are labeled with markers,” they told us. “Once the scene work was completed, the car would have been removed to a secure location for a detailed search, latent print processing, and photography. There should be at least one roll of film showing that process.”
We contacted APD and were told there were no daylight photos, no pictures with scale markers, and no pictures of the pile of glass. No photos existed other than the ones we’d been given.
Then, something happened to convince us that wasn’t the truth.
The crime scene analysts had asked to see televised news footage, so one evening, while I was fixing dinner, Don set out to make copies of our videos of TV coverage.
Suddenly he shouted, “Come see what I’ve found on Sightings!”
I rushed in from the kitchen, and he backed up the tape and re-ran it. An image flashed onto the screen and immediately vanished. It was there for only an instant, but that was long enough.
“That’s Kait’s car!” I exclaimed. “And the photo was taken in daylight!”
“Hang on,” Don told me. “There’s a better image coming up.”
There it was — another daylight APD photo of Kait’s car that zeroed in on a close-up of the bullet hole in the doorframe. That hole had a piece of evidence tape positioned above it, which did not appear in the photos that we had been given.
We sent the video to the crime scene technician in Michigan, who scanned the frames and transferred them to discs. Neither of our consultants w
“What these do reveal, however, is that APD has been holding out on you,” one told us. “Keep asking for copies of the photos. I’m sure there are people in APD who refer to you as ‘that nutty Arquette woman,’ but somewhere you may run into someone who sees this as a noble search for the truth.”
Don submitted a second request, asking for all the case photos that had not been provided to us. The supervisor of the photo lab responded that there now appeared to be only four rolls of negatives in Kait’s file, as compared to the nine rolls that had been there previously.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” she commented. “We don’t have the things we ought to have.”
She had those eighty photos printed for us. All turned out to be night scenes and none showed the broken glass or evidence markers. Don reiterated that our request was for all photos taken by APD of the crime scene and of Kait’s car, including the daylight images with the evidence tape.
The lab relayed that request to the legal department and was told to inform us case photos were not public record. Then, one hundred and twenty-six more photos mysteriously surfaced. None had been taken in daylight and none showed the glass.
The new batch of photos contained shots of Kait in the hospital. As I gazed at the bloated face that had once been so beautiful and at the poor shaven head encased in bloody bandages, I recalled Bob Schwartz’s statement about his view of reality.
“A prosecutor’s reality is not defined by truth,” he had told me. “It’s a refined and screened and artificial version of it.”
There was nothing refined about the content of these photographs. I ran my finger across Kait’s shattered temple and traced the curve of the ravished cheek, as if by touch I could magically make them whole again.
These were my reality.
The fact that police had taken daylight pictures of Kait’s car, revealing evidence tape that wasn’t in any of the scene photos, indicated a second day work-up that wasn’t on record.
The Criminalistics Supervisor in charge of Kait’s scene was no longer with APD and now lived out of state. He told Pat on the phone that he had not seen any pile of glass and thought the “trail of glass” referred to in scene reports might just have been fragments and could not even have been determined to have come from a particular vehicle. He had no explanation for the “No Evidence Hold” note in the case file and acknowledged that there had been a second day work-up. He said reports of that work-up had been sent to the case detectives and to the records department. He didn’t recall that his team had found anything significant or taken any photographs.
But the picture with the evidence marker indicated that they had taken photos, whether the supervisor remembered that or not. And a homicide detective had confided to Robin’s girlfriend Maritza that the location of a bullet found “later, not during the initial investigation,” had proved that the shooting was a “hit.”
Was it possible that Criminalistics had found more than a fragment of the bullet that penetrated the doorframe, and that bullet was of a larger caliber than the bullets that fragmented in Kait’s head? Since the investigative units appeared to be compartmentalized, it was probable that Criminalistics would not have been aware of the findings of the medical examiner. But the detectives in the homicide department, who were coordinating information and picking and choosing which reports to place in Kait’s case file, would have been acutely aware of what they were looking at if evidence indicated those bullets were different sizes. Two individuals, firing different caliber weapons, could not be considered “random shooters.”
And what about the “large accumulation of broken glass” that suddenly now had become undistinguishable fragments that might not even have come from Kait’s car?
“Maybe there was no glass in the street,” Don speculated. “Perhaps Kait was not shot at that junction.” 9
Our only hope of obtaining the rest of the photographs seemed to be to file a suit against the police department. So we made another trip to Albuquerque to meet with attorneys to see what our legal options were. We were up front about the fact that our goal was to take the case to court so we could subpoena copies of the case materials.
One attorney after another told us they weren’t interested.
The last one we met with was compassionate enough to tell us why.
“No attorney will take on this case with that stipulation,” he said. “True, there are those of us who have built our practices on suing the police, but we always settle out of court with no admission of wrongdoing. That’s the way it’s done here.”
Once again, we submitted a request for the return of the materials from Kait’s desk. This time we channeled that request through the APD Legal Department, who sent a legal assistant to the evidence room. She found, as Pat had done, that Kait’s things weren’t there. However, she continued to investigate and eventually discovered a closet safe in the Violent Crimes Unit which contained all the “lost” materials from Kait’s desk.
Pat insisted on being there when the safe was opened and attempted to reclaim Kait’s personal belongings for us. She was thwarted by Detective Gallegos, who belatedly had everything placed into evidence.
So many questions screamed for answers, but there was one that could never be answered by posting it on the Internet. It was the source of my dream about a heart named “Roxanne.”
Where had that image come from?
Much as I wanted to accept the dream as proof that consciousness continues after death and that those who pass over retain the ability to communicate with loved ones, my skeptical nature was my enemy. A nagging voice in the back of my mind kept telling me it was far more likely that at some point Kait had mentioned to me that her hairdresser had a heart tattoo. The fact that I didn’t recall such a conversation didn’t mean that it hadn’t taken place and the memory had been stored in my subconscious. Having that memory surface in a dream and lead us to valuable information could have been mere coincidence.
I phoned Roxanne to thank her for telling Pat about Dung’s phone call.
“I hope that it helps,” Roxanne said. “Kait didn’t deserve what happened to her. She told me about the staged car wreck. Dung didn’t tell her about it until after he’d done it.”
“You mean Kait wasn’t in on it?” I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my heart.
“Definitely not,” Roxanne assured me. “They had a big fight about it. She agreed to give Dung one more chance to shape up and get a real job and break with those awful friends of his. Like I told Detective Gallegos, I don’t believe Dung killed Kait, but I’m certain he knows who did.”
“Did Pat Caristo tell you about my dream?” I asked her.
“That’s so bizarre!” Roxanne exclaimed. “And what’s even weirder is that I’d only just gotten that tattoo. I’d had it about a week when Pat came to see me.”
That revelation was so startling that it took me a moment to absorb it. Not only could Kait not have told me about Roxanne’s tattoo, that knowledge had not been in her memory bank when she died. For those who sought proof that those who die have on-going knowledge about events that occur on this earth plane after they’ve left it, that dream message would seem to provide that.
Meanwhile, the hits on Kait’s website were rapidly increasing. My fellow writers were among the most frequent visitors, as the Mystery Writers of America had announced the URL in their newsletter.
Alec West, a writer in Washington State, became so incensed by the situation that he sent an impassioned e-mail to an assortment of New Mexico politicians.
“I am flabbergasted that the State of New Mexico hasn’t stepped in officially to put this crime scandal to rest,” he said.
No one responded.
Alec was not a man to take rejection lightly and contacted us for permission to organize a writers’ e-mail campaign to bombard New Mexico officials with letters demanding that APD either reope
We gratefully accepted his offer, and Alec plunged into the project with vigor. He suggested that we choose a symbolic day for this effort, such as Christmas, so people could “give Kait a present.”
The image of Roxanne’s heart leapt into my mind.
“I’d like it to be Valentine’s Day,” I said.
Alec set up a website that would allow participants to click on Kait’s picture to send one message simultaneously to a number of public officials and to the media, with copies to Alec and us. We decided that the ideal time for the mailing would be February 13, after the politician/media types left their offices for the day. That way the mailings would filter in overnight, and when the recipients arrived at work on Valentine’s Day they would be greeted by overflowing mailboxes.
With Alec handling the technical aspects of this venture, I devoted my own time to posting e-mail to writers around the country, inviting them to visit Kait’s website and, if they felt comfortable doing so, participate in the campaign.
The day of February 13 seemed eighty hours long. As we inched our way through the final countdown, I was beset with the same sort of panic I used to feel when I gave one of our children a birthday party and none of the mothers bothered to RSVP. In effect, we were throwing a party for Kait, and I didn’t think I could bear it if nobody came.
At precisely 6:00 p.m., Alec activated the website, and the floodgate flew open.
The first letter through set the mode for those that followed:
“A terrible crime has been committed in Albuquerque. The crime is not the murder of Kait Arquette, but the inadequate i.e. bungled job that the Albuquerque Police Department made of the investigation. It was criminal. As is necessary when crime is carried out, call in the troops — in this case, the FEDS!!! It’s time to police the police!!!”
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes