One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.15Lois Duncan
“I thought that unit had folded!” I exclaimed in surprise.
“It had, but it’s now been resurrected,” Pat told me. “The new lead detective is said to be honest and dedicated. This could be the break we’ve been praying for!”
The Albuquerque Tribune ran a lengthy article about the new APD Cold Case Unit, stating that the lead detective was “the first Albuquerque Police Department agent to take seriously the reams of information acquired by the family in the Kaitlyn Arquette case.”
“I believe the evidence is strong, very strong,” the detective was quoted as saying. “The family’s private investigator and I have agreed to sit down together. There’s so much more we can do now that we couldn’t years ago. That’s what’s really going to solve these cases— forensic science.”
When Pat met with the detective she was favorably impressed. She described him as friendly and accessible and interested in reviewing her information as long as it didn’t implicate the Vietnamese.
“The homicide detectives have assured him they thoroughly investigated the Vietnamese angle and there’s nothing to it,” Pat said. “They’ve told him your book is fiction, so he won’t even read it. I assured him I’m not convinced that the Vietnamese killed Kait. They’re a bunch of crooks and I feel sure they were somehow connected, but I’m thinking now that somebody else did the shooting.”
“Maybe so,” I conceded. “But Dung or his friends must have been there. How else could he have known about it three hours before he was told?”
“The detective said the case can’t be prosecuted, no matter how strong the evidence, because the statute of limitations has run out,” Pat said. “I told him the most important thing is to uncover the truth so the family can have closure.”
“I thought there was no statute of limitations on murder!”
“That’s true today, but not in 1989,” Pat said. “Back then, the statute of limitations on murder in New Mexico was fifteen years. That law has since been changed, but the detective tells me it’s not retroactive.”
“You mean, if somebody came forward tomorrow and confessed to the murder, he wouldn’t be charged?” I asked incredulously.
“Probably not,” Pat said.
When the story about the detective’s willingness to work on Kait’s case appeared in the paper, we received an anonymous e-mail that contained a veiled threat to other members of our family. Then we began to be told things that seemed deliberately designed to send us off on tangents. Members of law enforcement seemed suddenly to be confiding inside information about Kait’s case to everybody they met, and those people were helpfully passing those statements on to us: (1) Kait had been having an affair with Cop Number One and he killed her because she was becoming too possessive; (2) Kait was an APD snitch and was killed in a drug sting; (3) Kait was shot as a message to me that people didn’t like my books; (4) and, of course, the old standby— Kait was the victim of a car-jacking.
We didn’t believe any of those statements, yet we couldn’t arbitrarily dismiss them on the very slim chance that one might actually be accurate. So hours of our time and Pat’s were spent checking out leads, all of which proved to be dead ends.
Pat continued to meet with the detective, but their conferences were turning out to be less productive than we’d hoped.
“He has total faith in the homicide department,” Pat told us. “He acknowledges there were some problems with the investigation, but he’s certain those weren’t intentional.”
“What does he have to say about the fact that no one was there when the ambulance arrived?”
“Police reports don’t support that, so he doesn’t believe it.”
“But the police reports are filled with misinformation!”
“He doesn’t think that way, and that’s understandable. His launching pad is the information in the case file. If he questions that, he’ll have no foundation to build on. He’s not out to reinvent the wheel, just to keep it rolling. Homicide detectives have assured him the Hispanic suspects killed Kait, so his goal is to get information to support that scenario.”
The detective then received a startling new lead. An alleged eyewitness had resurfaced with information that could nail Miguel Garcia. The detective would not tell Pat the identity of this witness, but he did reveal that she was female and said he was working hard to gain her confidence.
“It sounds like that’s going to keep him busy,” Don commented. “Too busy, I guess, to follow up on any of the other stuff.”
To us it seemed oddly coincidental that this eyewitness would suddenly pop up after fifteen years. The term “resurfaced” implied she was already known. If her information was so important and incriminating, why had Bob Schwartz decided not to prosecute? The whole situation felt suspect, and we couldn’t help wondering if this honest detective — an obvious threat to a cover-up — had been served up a manufactured witness in a deliberate attempt to divert his attention from Pat’s information. If so, there had to be some way to get him re-focused.
“I’ve heard there’s now an excellent ballistics expert at APD,” I said. “Perhaps the detective would be willing to ask him to compare the partial bullet from the door frame with the minute bullet fragments from Kait’s head. He did say forensic science was the key to solving cases.”
“If bullet fragments are incriminating evidence, what makes you think they still exist?” Don asked doubtfully.
“They have to exist,” I insisted. “They were checked into evidence. All the things in the evidence room are protected.”
The irony of that statement became apparent when we pulled up the on-line edition of the Albuquerque Journal and were faced with a banner headline:
CLEANUP DESTROYED APD EVIDENCE
According to the article, evidence from hundreds of cases, most of them drug related, had been destroyed at the Albuquerque Police Department during the cleanup of hazardous chemicals, which had been spilled on evidence bags.
Apparently, nothing in the evidence room was protected.
The chemical spill was the tip of the iceberg.
The Attorney General’s Office received an anonymous letter claiming that for many years police employees had been stealing huge amounts of cash, drugs, guns and other valuable items from the evidence room and APD management had covered that up.
The current police chief was quick to deny the accusation. To reinforce that denial, he invited the media to tour the evidence room. During the tour, Sergeant Cynthia Orr seemed reluctant to answer questions and asked her supervisor if she had permission to speak freely. He assured her that the department wanted them to be open and honest, so Sergeant Orr invited a reporter into her office and agreed to be recorded.
The sergeant told the reporter that the police chief had lied to the public and had failed to act despite repeated warnings of evidence theft. Orr said that she, personally, had identified two individuals who were stealing in the evidence room, but the chief had allowed them to continue to work there. She went on to describe how officers under criminal investigation were allowed to work in the evidence room where they were free to tamper with the evidence in their own cases. Orr said she was told not to send reports about missing evidence to the records division because the Top Brass didn’t want it to become public record that items were missing.
“Am I implicating the chief in assisting in this cover-up? Absolutely,” Orr said. “Do I know this is a dangerous accusation to make? Absolutely. But I know this is something that needs to be done.”
USA Today picked up the story and it went viral. “The APD Evidence Room Scandal,” as it came to be known, continued to accelerate as additional whistle-blowers gained the courage to come forward. The list of valuable property that had been sold at auction or “taken to the dump,” (which we assumed meant employees took it home with them), grew longer and longer. An example of such items was a $15,000 plasma television set, which was seized as evidence in a white-collar crime inv
There was instant retaliation against the whistleblowers. A captain, who had reported the damage from the chemical spill, was asked to turn in her badge, gun and squad car. A different captain, who had ordered an investigation into high-ranking members of the police department, was punished by having the Internal Affairs division taken away from his command. At two citywide meetings, attended by hundreds of officers who were required to be there, deputy chiefs encouraged them to be “angry and repulsed” by Sergeant Orr for breaking the code of silence.
In a furious tirade, filled with profanity, one deputy chief warned his lieutenants that if they ever openly criticized the administration he would yank them from their command. One lieutenant taped that diatribe and filed a complaint with the City’s Labor Management Relations Board.
“He was trying to intimidate us,” the lieutenant stated. “Others will not come forward because they are scared.”
Back in 1994, in response to my question, “How is this going to end? “ Betty Muench had told me:
“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, then they will fall, with truth coming out all around.”
Was this the beginning of the fall? I certainly hoped so. My father had once remarked humorously, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper – the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” At the time, I had thought that was funny. It wasn’t funny now. When I’d stood at Kait’s gravesite and told her, “Mother is going to get your killers,” I couldn’t have imagined how long that would take. Now I was feeling threatened by my own mortality.
The mayor told reporters, “When you have a department where there are accusations, counter-accusations, lieutenants accusing captains, captains accusing deputy chiefs, that is a department in disarray.”
In the wake of that statement, the police chief resigned. He was given a hero’s send-off by the police union, who threw a huge retirement party in his honor.
Experts were imported from California to analyze the evidence room problems. One of their suggestions was “Stop storing so much stuff!” Although valuable items were missing, (one woman had already filed a law suit claiming police had “misplaced” $100,000 worth of her family jewelry), there were over one million pieces of evidence crammed into the APD storage area.
The evidence room manager began to dispose of the items by selling them on E-Bay. The threat of a major purge threw us into a panic about the items from Kait’s desk. Her personal property, including her telephone book, snapshots, and correspondence, might easily be considered disposable after fifteen years. Don submitted yet another request for their return, citing our concern for their safety. The new District Attorney agreed that we could have them. The Vietnamese correspondence was missing from the materials, but we now had pictures of some of Dung’s friends in California. Not that they had any value, since the statute of limitations on the car wreck insurance fraud had long since run out.
The evidence room circus continued to provide entertainment for the nation. According to one article, three months earlier, a freezer in the evidence room that contained more than 1,600 samples of blood, urine, saliva and other evidence from rapes and homicides had been shut down. It was hardworking Sergeant Orr, who, although off duty that day, responded to a security alarm in the evidence room to find a door standing open. When she checked out the rest of the building she detected a foul stench and discovered the freezer had a temperature of sixty-eight degrees. The police and prosecutors had withheld that information from defense attorneys, who continued to construct their cases on contaminated evidence.
Although DNA evidence wasn’t a factor in Kait’s case, it was crucial to some of the other cases on our website. We hoped that those cases were not among the ones affected, because many of our Real Crimes families were depressed enough already. Several, who had been optimistic about breakthroughs, had been crushed to discover their cases could not be prosecuted.
Update — Nancy Grice’s daughter, Melanie McCracken:
A grand jury indicted Melanie’s husband, now-retired State Police Lieutenant Mark McCracken, on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. But the charges were dismissed on a technicality — an investigator for the prosecution was in the room during testimony.
Update – Bill Houston’s daughter, Stephanie Houston:
The boyfriend who ran Stephanie over with his truck was brought to trial, but a jury found him not guilty of vehicular homicide. Police had not interviewed witnesses at the time of the incident, and, now that the case was four years old, the prosecutor would not call them.
Update — Arry Frank’s sister, Stephane Murphey:
A judge declared the key jailhouse statement that incriminated David Bologh inadmissible because police had neglected to have him sign a waiver of his rights before taking his statement.
The district attorney said he would appeal the judge’s ruling.
“We hear the appeal may take two or three years, “said Stephane’s mother, who had driven 1,000 miles from out of state to attend a trial that did not take place. “It feels like we’re being tortured. We’re being twisted slowly over a fire.”
On Mother’s Day, 2005, I experienced one of those dreams that left me feeling that I had received a message. It was the first such dream I’d had in over five years. But this time it wasn’t Kait who delivered the message. The visitor who appeared at my bedside was the last person I would have expected, even in a dream.
It was Miguel Garcia.
Although I never had seen him in person, I immediately recognized him from newspaper photos. In the dream he was not in his thirties, as he would have been now, but was still the pimply-faced kid he had been when Kait was murdered.
Miguel handed me a Mother’s Day card with a picture of the Virgin Mary on the front. When I opened the card, the message read, “I DIDN’T DO IT.”
I looked up at the boy, who was standing there, waiting expectantly.
“If you didn’t, who did?” I asked him.
Miguel said, “Juve.” He paused and then added a bit nervously, “She told me to give you a hug because it’s Mother’s Day.”
I didn’t know if he was referring to the Holy Mother or to Kait, but either one was acceptable. In my dream state, I got out of bed and let him hug me. He was a strong but skinny kid, not much taller than I was, and it felt like being hugged by my teenage grandson.
Then Miguel’s image disappeared, and I was awake.
I got out of bed, went into my home office, and recorded the dream. I had no idea what the source was— “Mary, Mother of Heartbreak”; Kait, reaching out to me on Mother’s Day; or Miguel himself, asleep in Albuquerque, dreaming with such ferocity that his dream crossed the miles between us and merged with my own. I decided I would treat this information as I would any other tip. I would consider it a possibility until it was disproved.
Juve Escobedo? The man was an enigma.
APD’s preferential treatment of Juve had always seemed strange. Although the men were arrested at the same time, police had held only Miguel. Even after both were indicted and a bench warrant was issued for Juve, police had not picked him up.
Over and over, psychics had described a shooter who sounded like Juve. Robert Petro had said, “He has a very unusual first name, like a nickname. He appears to be around five feet eight, about 175 pounds, he has a police record, and he has somewhat dark skin, and he has what look like tattoos.”
Shelly Peck had been even more explicit: “I’m getting a short name that starts with J. John? Joseph? And a Michael is involved somehow. And there’s an S name. Or — ‘ES’ — something? Was this person a mechanic? I get him disassembling cars. I get a vision of gas tanks, which is the symbol for a garage. Does he work in a garage, taking cars apart?”<
There was no way I could have influenced Shelly to make such statements. At the time of her reading I had not known about the body shop.
If Juve was connected to that, he quite possibly had disassembled cars. And Betty Muench had definitely placed him at that shop. “The Hispanic suspect, Juve Escobedo, was there,” she had written during one of her trance readings. “This was after the death of Kait. He enters midst much attention and a sense of expectancy. He is to receive something.”
So how did my current Dream Visitor fit into the picture?
According to Betty, “Garcia sought this so called ‘honor’ and must now undergo the pressure.” Was it possible that Miguel had accepted the assignment and hired the others as accomplices? In one of his drunken confessions, Marty had told police that he was paid one hundred dollars.
I went to the computer and pulled up information about Miguel. In February 1989, a warrant had been issued for his arrest for “aggravated assault.” When I looked up the definition of that charge, it was, “An unlawful attack by one person upon another which results in severe or aggravated bodily injury and/or is accompanied by the use of a weapon or by means likely to produce death or great bodily harm.” That was a very strong charge. What had Miguel done? I went back to the database to read the report by the officer who had gone to his home to arrest him.
It said a complaint had been made that Miguel had thrown an unknown object at a truck.
That came nowhere near meeting the criterion for “aggravated assault.” However, the accusation of a felony, even if unfounded, had made it possible for that officer to obtain a warrant that allowed him to enter Miguel’s home. Surprisingly, though, the officer hadn’t arrested him. They’d apparently just had a chat and the cop had left. In his report he had listed an incorrect house number so people who read the report wouldn’t know where Miguel lived.
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes