One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.13Lois Duncan
“Cop Number One told me he couldn’t take information from the man at the scene because he had to stay with the injured person,” Pat said.
“He didn’t stay with his victim,” Bette said firmly. “There was nobody there.”
“Cop Number Two said she couldn’t take information because she was busy directing traffic.”
“There were no cops at the scene when we got there,” Bette reiterated. “No one was directing traffic. The place was deserted. We came with lights and sirens and we almost by-passed the scene because there was nobody there to wave us over.”
The medics then turned their attention to the scene photos.
“Is that new damage?” Kathy asked, indicating the car’s rear bumper.
“Look right there!” Bette broke in before Pat could respond. “There’s another good six inch intrusion in the front bumper! The only way you’d have that much intrusion into the pole is if there was acceleration or something pushed that car from the back.”
“I don’t understand why your names are not on the police reports,” Pat said.
“It’s probably because there was nobody there to identify us,” Bette speculated.
Pat transcribed the interviews and both women signed affidavits.
It was one more piece in a jigsaw puzzle created by a madman.
There were nights when I lay in bed, too emotionally exhausted to fall asleep, and tried to recall what it had been like to live in an orderly world. I had once been a woman who was seemingly blessed with everything — good health, a happy marriage, five children, a career and a stimulating social life. If anyone had suggested that a day might come when I would have only four children, when I couldn’t care less about writing, when my closest friends would be private investigators, psychic detectives, and the families of murder victims, I would have considered them insane.
Eventually such thoughts would become blurry and start running together and I would slide into sleep, but always now it was a fitful sleep, racked by disturbing dreams. Occasionally one of those dreams would stand out from the others in ways that made me wonder if it was more than a dream. The colors were more vivid, the sounds and aromas were clearer, and many times those dreams contained printed text like the “Katie sat down and read a magazine” message in my dream about Roxanne’s heart tattoo.
One night I dreamed that I was looking at a children’s picture book. There was an illustration of a small car with a little slip of paper floating toward the ground as if it had been dropped from the driver’s side window. Beneath that picture ran a line of text— “If only they knew about the ticket it would explain a lot to them.” As I stared at that image, it was abruptly replaced by a picture of a parking lot filled with cars. Near the front, there was a red Ford Tempo. Beneath that picture the text said, “Look for the BLUE CAR!” In my dream I started scanning the rows of cars in search of a blue one but couldn’t find one. Then, suddenly, a large car pulled out from behind the small red car. It was a police car.
I awoke with my heart pounding and a strong feeling that this was indeed a message. Psychics had told us that Kait’s car was stationery when she was shot, and the accuracy of the shooting supported that theory. Our question had always been, what could have caused her to stop where there was no stop sign or traffic light? My dream contained a possible answer— Kait would have stopped if she had been pulled over by a police car!
As a writer by trade I am practiced in creating scenes. This one comes without effort as if it’s a video playing in my head. A police car materializes behind Kait with its lights flashing. Kait, who is no stranger to traffic tickets, starts to slow down. The police car then rams her car, damaging the bumper and side panel and propelling it across the median and up onto the opposite curb. Kait sits there, trapped and terrified, hemmed in on all sides as predators congregate around her like a pack of wolves. I build my cast of characters, playing no favorites. An Quoc Le is at the forefront, with Dung and Khanh Pham right behind him. Paul Apodaca is there with his brother, Mark, and their drug dealer, Lee. Miguel Garcia and Juve Escobedo are there, accompanied by Marty Martinez, who carefully sets his beer can down on the curb, intending to retrieve it later. There is no record of a traffic ticket, because the driver of the police car doesn’t issue one. The imaginary traffic violation was a pretext for stopping Kait. This is a phantom ticket, existing only in her mind in her final moments of consciousness.
It is Kait’s ticket to the After World.
I knew that Don and Pat would have a hard time accepting that scenario, so I didn’t mention it. But I recorded the dream in my journal against a day when it would either be proved or disproved.
I didn’t expect that day to come as soon as it did.
I had become accustomed to receiving e-mail from visitors to Kait’s Web page, so I wasn’t surprised to find a message with the subject line, “Kait,” in my inbox:
I was in Albuquerque for a wedding back in 1989 and was just up the street from where it happened. We passed by it on our way to the motel. I saw the car and Kait. I can’t believe that this has gone unsolved this long.
May God be with you.
I started to respond with a routine “Thank you for caring,” and then did a double take. “I saw the car and Kait.” How could this woman have seen Kait? Both Cop Number One and Cop Number Two had reported finding Kait prone across both bucket seats with her head against the passenger door.
I sent Carolyn an e-mail asking her to describe the scene. Were there other cars there? Were police directing traffic? Had a crowd gathered?
“Your memories could be very helpful,” I told her.
“In 1989, I was twenty-three,” Carolyn responded. “I had driven to Albuquerque from out-of-state to attend a wedding. We went out to eat around 9:00 p.m. to some steak-type restaurant and were going back to our motel. I remember a car being up on the sidewalk and a girl’s bloody head. A cop car was there and a cop. I don’t remember anyone directing traffic. My Mom remembers me coming home from the wedding and telling her that I had seen the car and Kait.”
I asked Carolyn if she would be willing to talk with our investigator. She said sure, but she didn’t think she had anything of value to contribute. All she had seen was Kait in her car and a police officer standing next to her.
Carolyn told Pat the same story but provided more details.
“She and other people from the wedding party were driving from the restaurant to their motel,” Pat told me. “Carolyn was in the backseat, looking out the side window, and noticed a car up on the sidewalk. She says the driver’s door was open and she could see a blond girl with bloody hair. A police officer was standing next to the driver’s door. She said it looked like he had just opened it to check on the girl and was glancing to the West as if expecting someone. Carolyn assumed he was waiting for an ambulance. She remembers being aware that there was no need to stop because the police were already there. It wasn’t until the next day when she saw the story on the news that she realized that what she’d thought was a car accident had been a shooting.”
“The officer might have been Cop Number One,” I suggested.
“Not possible,” Pat said. “He was dressed in street clothes and driving an unmarked car. Besides, he said he never went to the driver’s side. And when Carolyn passed the scene, Kait was still upright. Perhaps she toppled over because the uniformed officer inadvertently pushed her while feeling for a pulse.”
“Did Carolyn come across to you as credible?” I asked.
“She sounded open and unsophisticated, and she didn’t seem to have an agenda,” Pat said. “I can’t envision a situation that would cause her to make up something like this. I’ve spoken to the parents of the bride, and they confirm the fact that Carolyn came to Albuquerque to attend the wedding and was staying at a motel only blocks from the scene. Carolyn says it was almost eleven when they left the restaurant — the staff was getting ready to close up — so the timing is right.”
She paused and then continued, “If what Carolyn says is accurate, a police officer may have been at the scene when Kait was murdered.”
The new police chief, Gerald Galvin, seemed to be doing his best to deal with the problems Mayor Baca had imported him to rectify, but he was in a difficult position. The former police chief, Joseph Polisar, had enjoyed the support of the police union, while Galvin, as an out-of-state replacement, was regarded with suspicion by many of his officers. That hostility was aggravated by Galvin’s public support for the concept of a citizen review board.
“I will not tolerate police misconduct,” Galvin stated.
Chief Galvin was also attempting to initiate the formation of a Cold Case Unit to investigate old unsolved cases. When we asked him if Kait’s case could be one of those, he assured us that the Cold Case detectives would be very open to reviewing our new information with an eye toward possibly reactivating the case.
However, when Pat submitted an overview of her investigation, the supervisor of the Cold Case Unit became hostile.
“My detectives assure me there are no suspects other than the men they arrested,” she told Pat. She went on to state that, because my book had maligned “an impeccable department,” APD would not accept any information from us or our representatives. They wouldn’t even give credence to a statement by the former medic, Bette Clark, who recently had been named Chief of the Bernalillo County Fire Department.
When we posted that on Kait’s website, the police were incensed.
“I dispute the allegations that we refused to investigate!” an APD spokesperson told reporters. “If information comes to us, we’ll act on it, because that’s what we do!”
The Police Oversight Commission that Chief Galvin had supported turned out to be a disappointment. Though fine in theory, it lacked teeth. The commission was hampered in their efforts to obtain information about police transgressions by the fact that APD was not obligated to turn over their reports. Although citizens could appeal to the commission, the police chief did not have to act on the commission’s recommendations, and no officer named in a citizen complaint had ever shown up for a hearing.
“We have been stonewalled,” the commission chairman told the media.
Meanwhile, the Tally Keeper’s notebook was rapidly filling:
New Case – Arry Frank’s sister, Stephane Murphey:
Stephane was sexually assaulted and strangled in Rio Rancho, just outside of Albuquerque. Her decomposed body was found four days later in her car.
Police processed the scene as a burglary and compromised much of the evidence by allowing outsiders to walk around in Stephane’s house before they took fingerprints. They also resisted submitting DNA evidence to the crime lab. The lead detective told the family he was “stumped” and had nothing more to investigate.
Update – Nancy Grice’s daughter, Melanie McCracken:
NBC Dateline took an interest in Melanie’s case and set up a meeting with a magistrate judge. “When the producer attempted to meet with the judge, two state cop cars blocked the road and turned their lights in her face,” Nancy said. “She was so scared that she filed a report with her legal department.”
The producer then set up an interview with the former head of an ambulance service about numerous 911 calls allegedly made from the McCracken home. That interview didn’t take place because the witness was found hanged in his garage on the day before the scheduled interview. (An alleged suicide).
New Case – Bill Houston’s daughter, Stephanie Houston:
Stephanie died when her boyfriend ran her over with his truck after he saw her dancing with another man. The Medical Examiner urged that Stephanie’s death be investigated as a homicide. The scene investigator, Mark McCracken, (the same “Mark McCracken” who was under investigation for the suspicious death of his wife, Melanie), told the media that his department had fully investigated and Stephanie had caused her own death because she was falling-down drunk. In truth, they had questioned no witnesses, done no reconstruction, and the toxicology test showed Stephanie had very little alcohol in her system.
It didn’t seem possible that the world could contain so much agony. The cases piling up in my notebook were featured briefly in local newspapers and within a few days were replaced by accounts of fresh atrocities. In our own case, at least, I’d been able to get a book published, but most families in our position weren’t so fortunate. After the first rush of sympathy, even personal friends turned away from them, made uncomfortable by what they perceived as obsessive complaints about the way the cases were being mishandled.
An article in the Albuquerque Tribune quoted the new mayor, Martin Chavez, as stating, “We are on the verge of having one of the best police departments in the country.” People desperately wanted to believe that.
A mother named Rosemary Sherman didn’t think that applied to the Sheriff’s Department. Rosemary’s son, John, had been found, slashed and stabbed to death in his van just outside of Albuquerque.
“In addition to the stab wounds, Johnny’s throat had been cut and his teeth knocked out,” Rosemary told me. “Sheriff’s deputies did no investigation. They just said, ‘It’s a suicide. Bag the body and let’s go home.’
“John’s van was not processed for prints or DNA evidence. The alleged weapon, a razor, was not seized as evidence. When I asked the lead detective about that, he said, ‘It was in a pool of blood, so I left it in the van.’ I requested that the razor be examined by a forensic expert to determine if it really was the weapon that slashed my son’s body. The detective didn’t want to do that. I took the autopsy report and the scene photos to a former head of forensics at the Menninger Clinic. He told me, ‘This wasn’t just murder, this was over-kill.’
“I also met with an FBI agent, who is a very nice guy. He indicated that in his opinion something stunk, but he told me errors in handling of an investigation don’t fall under federal civil rights laws. In other words, the FBI can’t step into the case unless I can prove malfeasance. It’s not enough to show the police didn’t do their job, I have to prove that they acted out of malice! How can I possibly prove what was in their heads?”
“You’re not alone,” I told her. “We’re in the same position, and so are a lot of others.”
“Perhaps we could unite,” Rosemary said. “If we pooled our information about mishandled cases it might start forming a pattern. Maybe we could find some way to use that to bring the attention of the citizens of our state, or maybe even the entire nation, to the problems with law enforcement in this country.” She paused and then added wistfully, “I know that’s just a pipe dream. We could never find enough families with the courage to do that.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said thoughtfully as I glanced across my desk at the Tally Keeper’s notebook.
We launched our Real Crimes website in 1998. A philanthropic friend, Tom Arriola, sponsored it, linking it to his own site. I interviewed the families and helped them word their stories, and Don linked their allegations to documentation such as autopsy reports, depositions and scene photos.
It didn’t take long for people to discover the site, and people outside of New Mexico began to submit their own stories. We expanded the site to include those, although the preponderance of cases was still from New Mexico. Tom created message boards so visitors could discuss the cases. Among the most vocal were private investigators, forensic experts, police officers and attorneys, who leapt upon the discrepancies between information in police reports and the visual evidence in scene photos.
One out-of-state cop’s knee jerk reaction to Kait’s case was, “To assume that any conspiracy, let alone a police conspiracy, is at hand is pretty much pushing the envelope of common sense.”
But after viewing the photos from the crime scene, he reversed his opinion:
“Okay, I’m now a believer,” he posted. “Judging from the picture of the bullet hole in Kait’s car, I would have to say that sh
Disgruntled ex-wives and ex-girlfriends of witnesses, suspects and police officers posted information that they’d obtained during pillow talk. There was no way to know how much of their input was valid, but Pat did her best to try to verify it.
The most heartbreaking message was from Bill Houston, the father of Stephanie Houston, the woman who was run over by her jealous boyfriend.
“I hate to bother you again,” Bill said apologetically. “But do you have a limit on how many cases you post per family? Our younger daughter, Crystal, has now been murdered.”
Back in Albuquerque, Pat Caristo was busy. Requests for pro bono services had become too overwhelming for her small agency to handle. She was even receiving secret requests from members of law enforcement asking for help with cases that had been mishandled by their own departments.
To enlarge her workforce, Pat created an internship program in which graduates of the course in private investigation that she taught at the University of New Mexico could obtain the on-the-job experience they needed for certification by working as apprentices. Kait’s case was the focus of many of their training sessions.
One subject of particular interest to the interns was the body shop on Arno. The fact that the shop not only was frequented by Vietnamese, but was a location where drugs were dealt and rogue cops hung out, was intriguing to this group of young crime-solvers. One of them even wanted to apply for a job there. Pat quickly vetoed that suggestion.
Pat drove past the shop on almost a daily basis, as it was located between her office and the Post Office. Sometimes she was startled to see a limousine parked there. Then she started noticing some changes in activity, such as the positioning of cars inside the fenced area at the back, which made it difficult for her to read their license plates.
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