One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.12Lois Duncan
We stayed up most of the night reading one supportive message after another, laughing and crying and cheering. Occasionally a familiar name would pop up to identify a known member of Kait’s Army, but in general the letters were from strangers. The bottom line message was summed up in a one sentence e-mail from the editor of Mysterious Galaxy: “If Kait Arquette’s concerned parents were able to gather the amount of information they have, surely the proper professionals can apply themselves to bringing her killers to justice.”
The outpouring was so overwhelming that Alec was forced to close down the site before noon in response to complaints from recipients with overloaded servers. “What the hell are 5,000 God damned letters doing in my mail box?” one of them exploded.
The media latched onto the story with enthusiasm. An Associated Press article with the headline “E-MAIL CRUSADERS WANT TEEN’S MURDER SOLVED” began with the sentence, “It may seem like a strange plot twist — mystery writers banding together in cyberspace to pressure New Mexico officials to solve the murder of a teenager,” and went on to describe Kait’s website, “which questions the police investigation, accusing officers of failing to question important witnesses.” APD responded to that with a statement that the department believed its investigation was complete.
The only person on the hit list who was willing to be interviewed was Department of Public Safety Secretary Darren White. “I have nothing but the utmost confidence in the homicide unit of the Albuquerque Police Department,” said White, a former Albuquerque police sergeant.
By now killings by police officers in Albuquerque had reached such an all time high that the City Council commissioned an independent study “in the context of a serious and ongoing community crisis.” The report confirmed that oversight mechanisms for the police department were not working.
“The number of shootings is extraordinarily high for a department of its size,” one of the authors of the report told city councilors. He also disclosed the fact that the city set aside $4 million per year to settle claims against APD.
Since the largest portion of those settlements went to attorneys, it was easy to see why they might be reluctant to upset that lucrative apple cart.
Although the Valentine’s Day campaign had no effect upon the people for whom it was intended, it did yank Kait’s murder back into the public eye. Inside Edition filmed a segment about the case which included an interview with former DA, Bob Schwartz.
“I would categorize the police investigation as competent and thorough,” he said, apparently forgetting his taped statement to me that the APD investigation was “sloppy and unskilled.”
When the segment aired, Lieutenant Richard Tarango of the APD Violent Crimes Unit issued a statement to the media that APD’s investigation had been solid.
“Nobody the Arquettes has brought to us has shown us a shred of evidence,” he told reporters. “They have brought us nothing.”
That statement triggered a barrage of letters to the editor. Among those was one from Kait’s therapist, saying, “I contacted the APD within days of Kait’s murder and spoke to Detective Steven Gallegos. I reported information that seemed pertinent to her death. He declined to interview me.”
Another outraged person to respond was Roxanne.
“I called Detective Steve Gallegos within days of the murder,” she wrote. “I provided important information which to my understanding is not in the case file.”
Those letters provided an impetus for other Albuquerque crime victims to get in touch with us. One was Nancy Grice, the nurse supervisor who had been on duty on Kait’s ward the day that she died.
Now it was Nancy’s own daughter who was dead.
“Melanie died in 1995,” Nancy told me. “Her husband, Mark McCracken, a New Mexico State Police officer, said he found her unconscious on their bed. Instead of calling for an ambulance, he put her in the back of his car — ignoring his State Police car with lights, siren and radio, which was also in the driveway — drove onto the Indian reservation, and ran the car into a tree. The State Police told reporters that Melanie died in the car wreck. Mark said she died of leukemia. The autopsy showed no evidence of either.”
Nancy requested an independent police investigation but was told there was no conflict of interest.
“No conflict of interest!” she exclaimed, her voice shaking with anger. “Mark’s buddies were in charge of the investigation! I’ve appealed for help to every agency I can think of, and everybody’s furious that I won’t let this alone. I even received a call at work from a homicide detective, threatening to have me arrested for obstructing justice.”
I hung up the phone and sat staring at my list of homicide survivors. These mothers had suffered the most excruciating loss any woman could experience and had hung in there to battle the System in behalf of their dead children. Every one of their names was engraved on my heart.
Betty’s reading had said that, in a previous life, Michael Bush had been a “Tally Keeper.”
“It was as if Michael will have been one to come along behind this family of warriors and take tally. This tally will sometimes have caused him great alarm.”
As I scanned the names on the list of suspicious deaths—
Renee’s son, Peter Klunck
Linda’s son, Nathan Romero
Nancy’s daughter, Melanie McCracken—
I realized with a shudder of horror that now it was I who had become the Tally Keeper.
Albuquerque now had a new mayor, Jim Baca, who was doing his best to deal with the problems he’d fallen heir to. In response to newspaper headlines claiming, “THE CITIZENS OF ALBUQUERQUE ARE AFRAID OF THEIR COPS,” Mayor Baca imported a new police chief from out of state to replace Joseph Polisar and was attempting to establish a citizen review board for police-misconduct cases.
“The police department has to be accountable to somebody besides themselves,” Baca stated.
The police union was not happy with Mayor Baca’s attitude.
The president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association told the media,
“If he screws with us, we will do everything possible to defeat him in the next election.”
Which they did.
The union strenuously objected to the idea of a review board. They contended that the Internal Affairs unit was more than sufficient to deal with charges of misconduct, despite the fact that for the past three years excessive force charges against police officers that were found to have merit had resulted in nothing more than written or oral reprimands.
“Letters of reprimand for beating the hell out of people is not enough,” said the director of Vecinos United, a group that had long decried continual civil and human rights violations by APD.
As the debate raged on, I received a call from Patti March, a founder of the New Mexico Survivors of Homicide.
Patti’s son, Gary, had been murdered in Albuquerque in 1995.
“I read your book because I was told by a homicide detective that my family was a pain in the ass, just like the Arquettes,” Patti told me. “We were doing the same things you did — talking to people the cops didn’t talk to, printing flyers and trying to pressure the police to follow up on leads.”
Patti told me that one of the mothers in the survivors group thought her son’s murder might be linked in some way to Kait’s. Of course, I phoned her.
Carmen Haar turned out to be the ultimate homicide survivor. Her son, Stephen, who had been shot to death in January 1998, was the third of Carmen’s children to die a violent death.
“Steve had been estranged from the family because of his drug use,” Carmen told me. “In the month before he was killed he tried to make amends. Steve told me twice, ‘Mom, they’re going to kill me.’ I asked, ‘Who is going to kill you?’ He said, ‘These are high profile people. It’s best that you don’t know.’ I said, ‘You’re talking crazy. You think ‘high profile people’ kill people?’ Steve said, ‘They don’t have to. Other
“Do you know who killed Steve?” I asked her.
“A man named Travis Daley confessed to the shooting, but he claims self-defense, so the police won’t charge him. How can it be self-defense when Steve was shot in the back? After Steve’s death, I found a note in his pants pocket warning him about a contract that had been put out on him. I believe Steve was killed for the same reason Peter Klunck was — he knew too much about VIPs who were involved in the drug scene. Steve and Peter knew each other. Both did body work on cars. And both of them knew Matt Griffin.”
When Pat ran the information about Steve Haar through her database, she did find a strange link to Kait’s case. At the time of Steve’s murder, he had lived at the same address as the witness who had told police he saw Kait followed from her apartment by a VW bug.
On August 4, 1998, the nurse, Nancy Grice, filed a federal civil rights suit against her former son-in-law, New Mexico State Police Sergeant Mark McCracken, and the state police chief. She accomplished that just one day before the statute of limitations ran out. “I couldn’t get a lawyer, so I read some books and learned how to do it myself,” she told me. Her suit was later amended to name other individual officers and the State Police in their official capacity. Nancy then petitioned the court to appoint an attorney for her and had Melanie’s file submitted for review by a forensic expert.
Meanwhile, I had been contacted by yet another mother whose child had died in Albuquerque under suspicious circumstances. Jennifer Vihel’s son, Josh, 16, had died of apparent alcohol poisoning at a party, but the fact that there were bruises on his body and money missing from his wallet caused his family to suspect foul play. Police claimed they were unable to question the party-givers, because they couldn’t find their house. Josh’s sister conducted her own investigation. She located the house with no problem and interviewed the neighbors, who told her the owners of the house threw frequent parties at which they charged cover fees and sold liquor and drugs to minors.
“One neighbor said she called in four complaints and no one ever did anything,” Jennifer said.
I added “Jennifer’s son, Josh Vihel” to my Tally Keeper notebook.
It had been a long time since I’d last consulted a psychic. In recent years my focus had been on practical matters — forensic data, crime scene evidence — things that could be used in court. Now, however, I found myself yearning for something more. I needed reassurance that there was still hope for all of us — that, as bad as things seemed, there was a Master Plan and we were part of it.
So I wrote to Betty Muench with yet another question:
“How is this going to end, or will there ever be an ending?”
Betty mailed me her reading:
“There will be this which will go beyond the enforcement officers of the law, for none locally can be trusted with this. But there will be other legal activity which will be connected to this. This will have to do with the infiltrating of certain groups, and this can only be done by men. This will have to be very assertive and aggressive and will ultimately require the use of the authorities in the manner of certain police actions. It will be like starting from the top and tracing all this information downward.
“There will be a final need to act, which will require the use of the highest form of policing, and that will be the federal level. There will be for Lois the continuing battle to put these pieces together, but there will come those with high integrity who can be trusted, and they will work with what she has already, and this will aid her greatly in the finding of those who will have knowledge of Kait’s murder.
“Right now there is this group which is not understanding how things operate and they will be making their own rules. When this will border on anarchy, they will fall, with truth coming out all around.”
From the Tally Keeper’s notebook:
New case — Janie Phelps’s son, Sal Martinez:
Sal arrived late at a bachelor party and was shot as he walked in the door. He was still alive when police got there, but the officers wouldn’t perform CPR because they had forgotten their plastic mouthpieces. Police said they couldn’t charge the admitted killer because he claimed self-defense, although Sal wasn’t carrying a weapon, nor was anyone else at the party except the killer.
New Case — Valerie Duran’s sister, Ramona Duran:
Ramona was found dead of a drug overdose in the apartment of two men with criminal records. There was a strong odor of gas, and Ramona had bruises on her arms. The first officer at the scene termed it “a suspicious death”. A neighbor reported hearing a woman screaming. Ramona’s family believes she was sedated with gas and forcibly injected with drugs. Ramona had told family members she feared for her life, because she had fingered VIPs in the drug trade.
Update — Nancy’s Grice’s daughter, Melanie McCracken:
Dr. John Smialek, expert witness in forensic pathology, issued a written opinion that Melanie died as a result of “homicidal suffocation.” When it began to appear that the case might turn into a murder case, Nancy’s court appointed attorney succumbed to pressure to settle out of court. The State Police then promoted Sergeant McCracken to the rank of lieutenant.
Update — Carmen Haar’s son, Stephen Haar:
Police told reporters they were forwarding Stephen’s case to the District Attorney. Months went by, and nothing happened. Carmen finally contacted the DA’s office to ask why charges hadn’t been filed. They told her APD had not sent them the case file.
In the fall of the year, a movie loosely based upon my novel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, opened in theaters around the country. This was my first box office movie and I was ecstatic until I settled into a theater seat and discovered that Hollywood had turned my story into a slasher film. The first thing I did after leaving the theater was phone our daughter, Kerry, and warn her not to let the grandchildren see it.
The positive side of this misadventure was that I had been paid for the film rights. We used part of that money to post a reward for new information about Kait’s murder and donated the rest to help Pat turn her investigations agency non-profit so she could provide pro bono services to other crime victims.
We placed announcements about the reward in Albuquerque papers and mailed flyers to everyone remotely connected to the case. Among those were Dung and his girlfriend from Oregon.
The girlfriend reacted by calling the police. Since Pat’s office number was on the flyer, she was the one police contacted with the harassment complaint. Pat explained that the reward offer was genuine and the girlfriend had not been specifically targeted, as we had mailed out over three hundred flyers. The officer seemed somewhat mollified but requested that Dung and his girlfriend be removed from our mailing list.
Then the girlfriend contacted Pat to accuse us of sending threatening letters and stalking her. Pat told her truthfully that we weren’t doing either of those things.
“She said you sent Dung a video of one of Kait’s birthday parties,” Pat told me. “She found that very upsetting.”
“I didn’t send Dung any video!” I said. “Our family videos were stolen before we left Albuquerque.”
“Well, I guess Dung’s got one of them,” Pat said.
Not long after that I received a frantic e-mail from Susan Smith. She, too, was receiving threatening messages in the mail and suspected that someone was stalking her.
We couldn’t blame the two women for being frightened, since the incidents they described came right on the heels of our reward offer, and they were obvious candidates to claim that reward. Susan, who was the last person Kait spoke with before the shooting, and Dung’s current girlfriend, who was regularly exposed to the same people and activities that Kait had been, might reasonably have been suspected of having access to the same information Kait did.
By now Pat had found two more witnesses, Bette Clark and Kathy Baca, the medical team who had transported Kait to the hospital. Locating them hadn’t
Kathy was now a member of an emergency medical helicopter team, and Bette was a captain with the Albuquerque Fire Department.
Pat interviewed the women individually and then together, and their memories of that night were identical.
“What did you see when you got there?” Pat asked them.
“Nothing,” Kathy told her. “I remember it was very dark. It was so quiet it was eerie.”
“I remember that too,” Bette said. “There was a red car up against a utility pole on the sidewalk. I don’t know who could have made the call, because nobody was there.”
“Nobody was there!” Pat exclaimed. “An off duty police detective stumbled onto the scene right after the shooting. He says he’s the one who called for rescue.”
“Then, where did he go?” Kathy asked her.
“A second, uniformed, female officer arrived at the scene in less than one minute,” Pat continued. “She was dispatched to an accident without injuries and saw the detective standing behind Kait’s car, talking with a young man. She assumed that man was the driver of the red car, because no other cars were there. The detective told her, ‘Don’t worry, rescue is en route.’ She said, ‘Rescue? Why do we need rescue? He looks fine to me.’ The detective said, ‘No, we have a victim.’”
“Those people were there before we were?” Kathy exclaimed.
“Well, they left before we got there, then,” Bette said.
“Then, who told you what happened to the victim?” Pat asked them.
“Nobody,” Bette said. “We had to figure it out for ourselves. When we were removing the victim from the car, Kathy had her hands on the girl’s head and felt the defects. That’s the first indication we had that it was more than a traffic accident.”
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