One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.14Lois Duncan
One day, when she drove past, the building was a skeleton. It had been destroyed in a fire.
Pat called the foundation that leased out the property and obtained permission to visit the burned out building and recover any unclaimed documents that had survived the fire. She was told she had better move quickly as the property had been sold and the new owners soon would be tearing down the remains of the building.
The maintenance man used his keys to open the iron gate, and Pat and her interns finally had access to what remained of the hub of illegal activity that all of us had wondered about for so long. They entered the building from the back, stepping carefully over fallen beams and the blackened remnants of what once had been furniture. They discovered the building was divided into three major areas — the south end that had contained the business offices, which was where the fire had started; the middle working area for vehicle repair; and the north end, where the manager had apparently run a second business operation. A kitchen area and a bathroom were located in the middle section of the building. The second floor had collapsed in the fire, so they were unable to determine if there had been an upper level living area that might have been used for parties.
In the ghostly silence of the building, Pat couldn’t help but recall the reading Betty Muench had done in response to that particular street address:
“During the time of Kait’s involvement there was attention placed on this address by many sources. Some of those will be listed, but this also was under the scrutiny of federal authorities, who were not consulted during the investigation of Kait’s murder.
“Kait, herself, did not visit this place in person, but both before and after her death, those in attendance will have on various occasions spoken her name here. Dung’s energy is felt here because of his anger, both before and after Kait’s death. He was in a rage in this place. The Hispanic suspect, Juve Escobedo, was here also. This was after the death of Kait. He enters midst much attention with a sense of expectancy. He is to receive something.”
Pat forced the psychic images out of her mind and focused her full attention on the job at hand. She and her interns conducted a walk-through of the building, collecting papers, checks, forms, and ledger pages that were scattered among the ashes. Then, they returned to Pat’s office to do an inventory.
The majority of the material they retrieved was dated in the mid-to-late 1980s. That included a series of checks, signed by the owner’s girlfriend, who also had worked as his bookkeeper. This was the same woman who had told investigator, Roy Nolan, that she and the owner had been introduced to Kait at a disco, when Kait was there with a woman who fit the description of Susan Smith.
One check, dated May 24, 1986, was made out to “Susan Gonzales”* in a handwriting that was different from the bookkeeper’s handwriting. On the back of that check was written “Smith Deposit.” The check was stamped for deposit in an out-of-state bank.
“We have something here that we need to look into,” Pat said.
When her students regarded her blankly, she continued, “‘Susan Smith’ is the name of the friend Kait visited on the night of the murder. Susan’s maiden name was ‘Gonzales.’ Several months after this check was written, Susan married a man named ‘Smith.’ The bank where this check was deposited is in the town where the couple lived at that time. It’s possible this is a coincidence. But if it isn’t, that would mean that Kait’s new friend, who routed her down Lomas that night, received a check from people linked to this business three years before she moved to Albuquerque. I’ve no idea what the significance of this may be, but we need to find out whether the person who received this check is our ‘Susan Gonzales Smith’.”
“How do we do that?” one of the interns asked.
“We need to locate the employee who wrote the check,” Pat said. “The owner of the shop is now deceased. Your assignment is to track down his employee-girlfriend.”
The interns set out eagerly on their mission, but the challenge was more than they could handle. The bookkeeper had married, divorced, remarried, and divorced again, and was listed in public records under four different names. Following her court history of fraud, forgery, and embezzlement, the interns tracked her progress as she racked up residences in ten towns in two different states. Then the trail ran out.
One more lead down the drain.
However, Pat was able to locate and interview Susan Smith’s best friend, the woman Susan had trusted to forward her tax statements. That friend told Pat that she hadn’t met Kait in person, but Susan had talked a lot about her. The friend said, according to Susan, a few days prior to the murder, Kait had overheard Dung screaming on the phone. She heard enough to get the gist of the conversation and had told Dung, “I know what you guys are up to, and I don’t want to get involved.”
Dung had responded, “Too late. You’re already involved.”
“Involved in what?” Pat asked.
Susan’s friend became nervous and refused to say anything more.
In 2003, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department formed its own Cold Case Unit. The officers who came out of retirement to man the unit had impressive track records and were actively solving old cases.
One detective, a former FBI agent, had spent forty-seven years in law enforcement. In a newspaper interview, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White described him as “no frills — 100 percent cop — a legend.”
Although the Sheriff’s Department didn’t have jurisdiction over Kait’s case, Pat, who had met the detective socially, decided there was nothing to lose by requesting his unofficial take on the physical evidence. He agreed to review the scene materials, so Pat sent him the APD field and forensic reports and the scene photos.
The detective responded with his written opinion:
1) This was not a random drive-by shooting.
2) The shooting occurred after Kaitlyn’s vehicle struck the utility pole.
3) The accuracy of the shots suggests they were fired at a very close range at a non-moving target.
4) Had the shooting taken place while the victim’s car was in motion, it would have veered to the right of the roadway due to the left-to-right camber of the pavement. Also, the victim’s falling to the right would have turned the steering wheel in that direction if she was grasping the steering wheel at the time of shooting.
5) Damage to the left end of the rear bumper suggests the rear of her vehicle was struck and pushed to the right by a second vehicle which veered her car across the median and into the utility pole.
6) This shooting was intentional and Ms. Arquette was the specific target.
From an Internet search I learned that the method of tactical ramming described in Point # Five is called the “PIT Technique” and is widely used by police to force a car off the road. I was able to find a diagram that depicted the process. It meshed precisely with the damage to Kait’s rear bumper.
This report from a highly respected member of law enforcement supported our suspicions, but what could we do with it? The APD Cold Case Unit had disbanded, and no other agency had the authority to follow up on this.
But one thing I did now have was an interpretation of the odd postscript that Kait had tacked onto one of Betty’s early readings: “Mom, I love you. Look out for the walker, the innocent walker, who does more than walk.”
Apparently Kait had been shot by someone on foot.
By now, the families who posted their stories on our website had begun to network among themselves, sharing information and occasionally establishing links between what initially appeared to be unrelated cases. The families of twenty-four New Mexico murder victims became so closely united that they held their own press conference in Albuquerque to demand the creation of a New Mexico Bureau of Investigation with jurisdiction to investigate cold cases throughout the state and to investigate any case in which there was a conflict of interest involving the investigating agency and the victim or the suspect. The families’ stories cited instances of alleged malfeasance
Despite the fact that she’d broken a leg and was in a wheelchair, Rosemary Sherman flew to Albuquerque from her home in California to keynote the conference. Rosemary described her meeting with the new Sandoval County sheriff, who had promised to reopen her son’s case. “When the sheriff pulled John’s case file to prepare for our meeting yesterday, he discovered that the previous sheriff had shredded its contents,” she said. “There is nothing left but a partial autopsy report.”
The press conference received extensive coverage by the media, followed by a flurry of horrified letters to local newspapers. One week later, it was as if the event never happened. It was yesterday’s news.
However, the website continued to elicit new information in regard to the top echelon of the New Mexico drug scene:
One person wrote: “This is in response to the psychic’s description of the house in the mountains where Kait Arquette saw a VIP buy drugs. I know all about those homes and what they are used for. A man I used to do business with in New Mexico got involved with a drug cartel. He purchased a number of homes, some with airstrips. That’s how the cartel laundered money. Some of those homes were mansions worth millions of dollars. Rarely did anyone live in them. Occasionally they would be used for visitors of the cartel or other drug transactions.”
So many people seemed to have first hand knowledge about VIPs who controlled the New Mexico drug scene, yet no one was willing to speak out. And with good reason. There was no way to know whom to trust.
Although the Real Crimes site had not yet produced any miracles, it was serving the purpose for which it was created – bringing allegations of mishandled cases to the attention of the public. A number of reporters and TV producers were using the site as a resource, and an investigative Internet newspaper was running a series of articles titled “Corruption in New Mexico.” Several of our cases were also subjects of books.
From the Tally Keeper’s notebook:
Update – Nancy Grice’s daughter, Melanie McCracken:
Melanie’s case was featured on NBC Dateline, earning them the Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting.
Update — Arry Frank’s sister, Stephane Murphey:
Thanks to on-going pressure from a reporter, the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety finally agreed to submit DNA evidence from under Stephane’s fingernails to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System Program). The DNA matched that of a prison inmate, David Bologh, who had been a neighbor of Stephane’s. Bologh was arraigned on charges of murder, kidnapping, aggravated burglary, auto theft and tampering with evidence.
Update — Bill Houston’s daughter, Stephanie Houston:
After nearly four years, Bill and his private investigator were finally able to convince the district attorney to reopen Stephanie’s case. A grand jury indicted her boyfriend, Patrick Murillo, on a vehicular homicide charge.
No, the Red Sea, (or, more aptly, “The Blue Sea”), had not parted, but some waves had been created. The voices of the twenty-four families who spoke out at the Albuquerque press conference had been twenty-four times louder than the voice of one family alone.
In June 2004, I was invited to speak at a convention of the New Mexico Survivors of Homicide. It was a moving experience to finally meet in person some of the families that I had come to feel so close to through e-mail and phone conversations.
Following my opening talk, a panel of judges entertained questions from the audience. As I studied the names in the program, I realized there had been a substitution. The Chief Judge of the judicial district that covered all of Bernalillo County was missing from the line-up.
“Where’s the star of the panel?” I whispered to the woman seated next to me.
She turned to regard me with surprise. “You mean you haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?” I asked.
“He’s been arrested. He and a lady friend were stopped when they tried to avoid a DWI checkpoint. They’d apparently come from a party. The judge had cocaine on the crotch of his pants and a bindle of it in his lap. He’s been charged with drug possession and tampering with evidence.”
“Where was the party?” I asked.
“Who cares?” the woman said. “He was out with his friends snorting coke. Isn’t that enough?”
No, it’s not enough, I thought, although I didn’t say it aloud. If this renowned judge was doing drugs at a party, there must have been other well-connected people in attendance.
I leaned forward and tapped the shoulder of a reporter in the row in front of me.
“Who does the judge who got arrested hang out with?” I asked her.
“There’s a clique,” she told me. “It’s tight and goes back a long way. Politicians and well known business people.” She paused and, then, as she realized where our conversation was headed, added hastily, “Of course, he has other friends too. He’s a popular man.”
There were immediate calls for the judge’s removal from the bench. After issuing a statement of apology to his family and the public, he was whisked away to the Betty Ford Clinic in California. Protesters lined up outside the courthouse, furious that the judge remained eligible for retirement benefits because he’d submitted his resignation before he could be suspended. One outraged woman stood sweltering in the 95 degree heat, waving a sign that read, “Who’s your dealer, Judge?”
Legislators expressed their concern that “one sad, isolated incident” might undermine the integrity of the System in the eyes of the public.
But, as it turned out, it was not one isolated incident.
Several days after the judge’s arrest, an investigative reporter exploded a TV news story that revealed that the judge had a lengthy history of using illegal drugs. The story was based upon information in a long-buried narcotics report that alleged that the judge’s cocaine use had been known to law enforcement for at least eight years, along with the names of other socially prominent drug users.
The judge’s name appeared four times in the forty-eight-page report, which documented a Department of Public Safety investigation to pinpoint participants in New Mexico’s multi-million dollar drug trafficking business.
Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who had been the DPS secretary at the time the report was written, denied knowing anything about it.
The TV station stood by their story.
As the conflict continued, more information surfaced. The report had, indeed, been prepared by a DPS agent, who was assigned as the state’s representative to an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force. The document detailed drug smuggling and money laundering in New Mexico that spanned twenty years, along with a list of participants that — according to the privileged few who had seen the report—read like a “Who’s Who” of the New Mexico drug underworld, with judges, lawyers, politicians, sports celebrities and prominent businessmen listed right alongside the state’s narcotics kingpins.
Because no charges had been brought against any of those people, their names could not be released.
The Judicial Standards Commission obtained a copy of the report, and David Iglesias, US Attorney for New Mexico, was interviewed on television.
Reporter: Important document?
Reporter: Eye opener?
Iglesias: A page-turner. I couldn’t put it down.
Governor Bill Richardson asked the state Judicial Standards Commission to initiate an investigation.
The judge’s attorney was adamantly against such a probe.
“That’s the kind of crap that can ruin people’s lives,” he said.
People’s lives have already been ruined! I longed to scream at him. The drug activities of the people on that VIP list dated back to before Kait’s murder. A limousine driver told investigators that, in the 1980s, he transported the judge and two prominent attorneys to Santa Fe to meet with legislators at a bar, and the judge and his associates used cocaine through
Three psychics, from different areas of the country, had given almost identical responses to our question, “Who was the VIP Kait saw involved in a drug transaction?” Those descriptions formed a thumbnail sketch that I thought I might recognize if I could compare it to names of the people in the narcotics report. 10
I did everything I could to get a list of the names, but even my reporter friends couldn’t get access to them. Unless the VIPs were careless enough to be caught with cocaine in their crotches their identities would forever be protected.
When the (now former) judge returned from rehab, he pleaded guilty to DWI and possession of cocaine. He was sentenced to a year’s probation and two days of house arrest and given a conditional discharge on the drug charge, so the felony conviction would eventually be removed from his record. His lady friend also pleaded guilty and received the same “punishment.” By entering guilty pleas, they avoided trial, which meant they never would be forced to disclose where they had been that night or identify their drug suppliers.
Years were passing, and Don and I were growing old. We kept ourselves busy adding cases to the ever-expanding Real Crimes site and doing volunteer work. We had developed a casual social life on the Outer Banks, but we missed the longtime friendships we’d enjoyed in New Mexico. Most of all, we missed our children. With the loss of Kait, the family unit had fragmented, and our surviving children were scattered all over the country. We visited them, of course, and they visited each other, but the solid structure of “Family” no longer existed and our lives felt empty without it.
Then, one day, when I was feeling particularly downhearted, Pat called with some up-lifting news.
“Remember the detective with the Bernalillo County Cold Case Squad, who was convinced Kait was forced off the road and then shot?” she said. “Well, I ran into him and his wife last night at a barbecue, and he told me he’s submitted his findings to the APD Cold Case Unit.”
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes