One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.7Lois Duncan
“Another thing Gallagher told me was that a truck driver reported seeing a high speed chase involving a car like Kait’s and a low rider Camaro like Juve’s. But that chase occurred around nine thirty, over an hour before Kait left Susan’s house.”
“We suspect that Kait may have been on her way to Susan’s house at that time,” I said. “The truck driver said the cars were headed west in the direction of Susan’s place, not east in the direction Kait was driving when she was shot. Susan now denies this, but Detective Gallegos quoted her as saying Kait got to her house at nine-thirty.”
“That would mean Kait was chased twice that night,” Michael said, “once on her way to her friend’s house and once when she left. What reason did Susan give for changing her story about Kait’s arrival time?”
“She said Detective Gallegos misquoted her.”
“That’s unlikely but not impossible,” Michael said. “What was Susan’s demeanor at the funeral?”
“She didn’t attend it,” I said. “Her dog bit her, and she was in the emergency room getting her arm stitched up.”
“She was bitten by her own dog?”
“That’s what she said.”
“And that was on the day of Kait’s funeral? Isn’t that the same date Dung Nguyen tried to kill himself?”
“Mike Gallagher doesn’t buy that,” I said. “He thinks Dung was stabbed as a warning to keep his mouth shut.”
“If that’s so, that same person may have gotten to Susan,” Michael speculated. “I’d like to talk to that woman. Do you know how to reach her?”
“Yes, but I told her I’d keep her location confidential.”
“Then give her my number and ask her to call me,” Michael said. “My guess is that Susan may know a lot more than she’s told people.”
As soon as I got back to my room I dialed Susan’s number and left that message on her answering machine.
From then on, every time I came back to my room between workshop sessions, the light on my phone was blinking with a new message from Michael:
1:10 p.m.: “I’ve talked to a Vietnamese guy who was a friend of Kait’s. He says he has information but won’t divulge it unless he’s guaranteed protection.”
3:07 p.m.: “I’m calling from the office of Miguel Garcia’s defense attorney. He’s got copies of some of Detective Gallegos’s field notes, and one of them says Kait’s next door neighbor saw her followed from her apartment by a VW Bug.”
5:42 p.m.: “I’ve met with the new manager of Kait’s apartment complex. He said last week a young blonde woman came in pretending to want an apartment. She said she’d been a friend of Kait’s and started asking the manager a lot of questions about Dung. It finally came out that she hadn’t known Kait at all. She was Dung’s new girlfriend from Oregon. Dung’s moved back to Albuquerque and brought her with him, and she’s apparently heard enough rumors so she’s checking up on him.”
The luncheon on Saturday was a highlight of the writers’ conference. As we neared the end of the main course a woman across from me suddenly exclaimed, “Aren’t those pretty!” I turned in my chair to see a young man headed in our direction with an elaborate arrangement of silk flowers. People were craning their necks to follow his progress as he worked his way across the room, struggling to avoid colliding with tray-laden wait people.
Assuming the floral arrangement was for the luncheon speaker, I resumed my conversation with the person next to me. Then, to my astonishment, the flowers were plunked down in front of me.
The conversation at our table was extinguished in a heartbeat. Everybody stared at me expectantly as I removed the card from its envelope. The message on it was the last I would ever have expected.
Mrs. Arquette, I wish you the best in finding Kait’s killer. I don’t think I have the answers you seek, but someday I would like to meet you. You’re a strong mother and I wish Kait had introduced us before she left. I hope this arrangement shows that there are some out here who are still looking and love her very much. Rod.
I felt as if somebody had crashed a fist into my chest. According to psychics, Rod was Kait’s secret second boyfriend. For four years I had been searching for evidence that this man existed, and now suddenly, here he was!
Our lunch plates had by now been removed from the table and a glass of tangerine sherbet of the exact same shade as the flowers sat melting in front of me. Somebody at the head table was clinking a spoon against a glass to indicate the start of the program. Mumbling an awkward apology to my tablemates, I picked up the flower arrangement and carried it out to the lobby.
“Do you know who delivered these?” I asked the clerk at the front desk.
He said he did not.
I went up to my room and set the arrangement on the table next to the bed. It was exceptionally pretty and clearly not inexpensive. There was even a little feathered bird nestled among the clusters of pastel blossoms.
I wondered if it had a bomb in it.
How in God’s name could I know the intentions of the sender? Who was this “Rod” and how did he fit into the picture? Was this the young man who allegedly took Kait to a party at a “Desert Castle” where she saw a VIP involved in a drug transaction
The phone rang.
I snatched up the receiver, but it was only Michael checking in with the news of the day.
“So what’s going on at the conference?” he asked conversationally.
“Rod sent me flowers,” I told him.
“The kid you described in your book? He’s finally revealed himself?”
“Not exactly,” I said. I read him the message on the card. “He doesn’t give his last name or say how to contact him.”
“What was the name of the flower shop?” Michael asked. “I’ll check and see if they remember the order.” A short time later he called back to report that the proprietors had no trouble recalling the flower arrangement because they knew the young man who bought it.
“They don’t know his name, but every Friday since Kait’s death he’s come in to buy flowers to take to her grave,” Michael said. “It’s gone on so long that he just asks for ‘the usual.’ Next Friday I’m going to fly back here and try to intercept him.”
“Oh, and guess what? Susan left me a message on my voice mail. She won’t give me her home address, but she told me what city she’s living in and has agreed to meet me at a coffee shop in a shopping mall. I’ve made plane reservations for this evening.”
“You’re going to fly there!” I exclaimed. “This has to be costing you a fortune! Couldn’t you just ask her questions over the phone?”
“I want to get a look at that dog bite scar,” Michael told me.
Michael sent us a tape of his interview with Susan and then phoned to discuss it.
“She was pretty convincing,” he said. “But her statements conflict with each other. She told you that she left Albuquerque because she was scared. She told me she relocated because of a wonderful job offer.”
“What was your impression of the scar on her arm?” I asked him.
“It’s a straight slash about four inches long, and I didn’t see any opposing set of tooth marks. Susan says it tore a bunch of tendons and required three hours of surgery, which seems like a lot of damage for a nip from your own dog. 1 She told me, ‘The scar looks weird because it got stitched funny.’ I asked if she’d be willing to let us look at the ER report. She insisted she has nothing to hide, so I’ve mailed her release forms. It’s important to nail this down because an amazing number of people suffered suspicious injuries following Kait’s murder.”
“Dung’s suicide attempt—”
“It goes far beyond that. Dung’s Hispanic friend, Ray Padilla, and two of Ray’s woman friends had their arms and wrists slashed. Ray’s the guy who told police that Dung had friends in California who were big time drug dealers. When your book came out, Marty Martinez was found lying in his doorway with his wrist slashed, an alleged suicide attempt. And afte
Susan did not sign the forms to release her ER records. She told Michael she hadn’t received them. He mailed her a second set, which she didn’t sign either. After that she screened all her calls and would not respond to those from Michael.
I wrote to her, pleading with her to sign the forms so we could get that issue off our platter. “The doctor’s description of your wound should clearly indicate that it’s a dog bite, and that will be that,” I wrote.
She did not respond.
True to his word, Michael flew back to Albuquerque to hang out at the flower shop and wait for the mysterious “Rod” to show up the next Friday. Rod came into the shop right on schedule, and Michael intercepted him.
“Rod and Kait went to high school together,” Michael reported. “He has an I.D. bracelet she gave him for his birthday. He had to change schools and the two lost track of each other, but he ran into her again in 1989 and they started going out for coffee or to a movie on nights when Dung was off with his buddies. Rod says Kait was close-mouthed about what was going on in her life. He says he didn’t know anything about the car wrecks until he read about them in your book. And he swears he didn’t take her to the Desert Castle.
“Two days before the shooting, Kait asked him, ‘What would you do if I died?’ He thought she was joking. 2 Then, she did die, and he’s been going through hell ever since. It sounds like she was priming herself to confide in him, and he didn’t take her seriously. We definitely need to find out if the print on that Budweiser can belongs to one of the Vietnamese suspects.”
I phoned the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Albuquerque and requested that they provide APD with the immigration files for Dung and his alibi friends. I spoke with an agent named Doug 3 who was extremely sympathetic because his daughter had gone to school with Kait and because his friend, Police Chief Sam Baca, had told him Kait was killed by the Vietnamese. Spurred by that disclosure, Doug had ordered the immigration files for Dung and his friends sent up from the regional office in El Paso. When he attempted to give them to the APD, the police had not wanted them, so he had sent them back to Texas.
I asked him, please, to get them back and check to see if they contained any information that might help us.
He did so and phoned me, sounding very excited.
“There’s something crazy going on!” he said. “An Quoc Le has a double!”
“A double?” I repeated blankly.
“In 1987, an An Quoc Le who lived in Westminster was naturalized in California. A person with a different face, but with the same name and same date of birth, was naturalized in Albuquerque in 1991. I’m not sure yet which is the legally naturalized An Quoc Le. I’ll have to compare the fingerprints.”
“An Quoc Le is a common Vietnamese name,” I said. “Couldn’t this be a coincidence?”
“No,” Doug said with certainty. “One of these guys is an impostor. The An Quoc Le who came to Albuquerque was admitted to the United States in 1982. An Quoc Le Number Two, the one in California, was naturalized in 1987, using the same Alien Registration Number.”
I gave him the Social Security number for “our” An Quoc Le.
“That matches the one who was naturalized in Albuquerque,” Doug said. “We’ve definitely got two individuals. Hopefully when we get through investigating we’ll denaturalize one of them. When I find out more, I’ll let you know.”
Day after day we waited for him to call back, but, like other good men before him, he seemed to have been road-blocked. An Quoc Le continued to enjoy the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed, and we were never to hear from that nice INS agent again.
However, something did soon come out of Albuquerque to give new direction to our thinking.
“Does the name Matt Griffin mean anything to you?” Michael asked me.
“Wasn’t he the cop who was the ‘Ninja Bandit’?”
“That’s the one,” Michael said. “The press started calling him the Ninja because he dressed all in black and leapt over counters during bank robberies. His get-away cars were stolen sports cars. He’s currently serving a life sentence for shooting a witness.”
“I remember that,” I said. “He was arrested the same week Kait was shot.”
“That story is back in the news again,” Michael said. “In January 1989, Griffin killed a man named Peter Klunck. The official story was that it was self-defense. Well, it’s now come to light that the APD Internal Affairs files contain information that Peter was once Griffin’s snitch. There’s also a rumor that Griffin’s fellow officers covered up for him.”
“What does this have to do with Kait?” I asked him.
“The federal prosecutors have demanded to examine the I.A. reports. APD refuses to release them.”
“But what’s the connection—”
“I’m getting to that,” Michael said. “A P.I. in Albuquerque, Roy Nolan *, has been investigating an auto repair shop that’s an alleged chop shop for stolen cars. A cop friend of Nolan’s told him that one of the I.A. reports contains information that Vietnamese were stealing getaway cars for Griffin, which were later dismantled at that shop. That isn’t as crazy as it sounds, because one way the fraud rings operate is by stealing cars to use to stage hit and run accidents.
“If it’s true that members of Dung’s bunch were working for Griffin, then it’s likely they have inside knowledge about the Klunck shooting. If that includes the fact that cops planted an alibi gun at the scene, it would put that group in a position to blackmail those cops.”
“Can APD be forced to release the Internal Affairs files?”
“A judge has ruled that they must, but they continue to refuse to,” Michael told me. “My guess is they plan to hold out until it’s too late to prosecute. The statute of limitations on criminal prosecution runs out on January 27.”
In February, Don and I made a trip to Albuquerque to visit Donnie. While there, we went to the library to see what we could find out about Matt Griffin.
We started by pulling up articles from the time of the Klunck shooting. According to the Albuquerque Journal, police Chief Sam Baca told reporters that Peter was shot twice in the chest — when in reality he was shot three times in the back. The Journal also had somehow obtained a confidential report that disclosed that the three officers who fired at Peter gave conflicting statements. Matt Griffin, whose bullet was defined as the one that killed Peter, refused to give a statement at the scene. Officer Robert Valtierra said Peter had a gun in his left hand. Sergeant Paul Heatley said he clearly saw a gun in Peter’s right hand. Officer Steve Nakamura, who did not fire at Peter, reported that Peter was unarmed.
The gun that Peter allegedly had been carrying was not found until seven hours later when a derringer turned up fifteen feet from where Peter fell. It tested negative for prints.
Griffin then gave a statement that he had fired in self-defense. The grand jury, who weren’t aware of the conflicting statements of the police officers, found them not criminally liable, although they did raise questions about the delayed appearance of the derringer. Peter Klunck’s parents had questions about that too, and in January 1990, they filed a federal wrongful death and civil rights suit against the police chief and several officers. The city settled out of court for $325,000, which the Kluncks placed in trust for Peter’s son, born twenty days after his death. The settlement contained no admission that Peter’s civil rights were violated.
The Klunck family refused to give up on the civil rights issue and contacted the FBI in Washington D.C. In December 1993, a federal grand jury subpoenaed APD’s Internal Affairs files, which APD still refused to release.
An editorial in the January 10, 1994, issue of the Albuquerque Journal gave an update on the case:
I phoned Peter’s mother, Renee Klunck, and asked if she would talk with me. She said to come right over and the moment we met we bonded into instant sisterhood.
“When I read your book, I went out of my tree!” Renee told me. “I sat there, pounding my fists on the kitchen counter as I read the names of the very same cops who dealt with us.
“Our son had a drug problem, and Griffin was part of it. A police officer told the FBI that Griffin had Pete pushing speed for him. Then, in October 1988, Griffin ordered Peter to steal a car for him, but this time Peter turned him down. Pete’s girlfriend was expecting a baby, and he was getting into rehab and trying to turn his life around.
“On the day of his death, Pete was scheduled for an appearance in court, and he told me he was going to blow the lid off APD. But it was more than just squealing on Griffin. Pete had the goods on VIPs who control the New Mexico drug scene. That morning he called his girlfriend and told her he loved her and if anything happened to him he wanted her to keep the baby.”
“What do you think happened that morning?” I asked her.
“According to the Internal Affairs file, Officer Nakamura — the honest cop — had Peter out of the car with both hands in the air and no gun in either one of them, when they heard a gunshot. Peter looked behind him and took off running. My guess is he may have seen Griffin running toward him and realized he was going to be killed.”
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