One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.8Lois Duncan
“How can you possibly know what’s in the Internal Affairs file?”
“I stole it,” Renee said.
I stared at her in amazement.
“You stole the Internal Affairs file?”
“I prefer to consider it ‘borrowing’,” Renee said mildly. “I was in an attorney’s office, sort of poking around while the lawyer was in the john, and right there on his desk was that file. I read it, of course, and when I came to the part where Officer Nakamura told his supervisor, ‘I can’t believe it! They shot him in the back and he didn’t even have a gun!’ I flipped! Nakamura also said Peter followed all instructions and made no threatening gestures, and two other officers backed him up on that. I knew nobody would believe me if I quoted that statement, so I tucked the file under my arm, walked out past the secretary, and got the thing copied. Then I sneaked the original back before it was missed.”
“My God!” I exclaimed in awe. “How wonderful!”
“I only did what I had to do,” Renee said modestly. “There’s so much evidence of a police cover-up you wouldn’t believe it. Rheardon’s report — he’s the former chief justice who investigated for the police department – says in his very first paragraph, ‘I believe there is a question about whether Mr. Klunck was armed at the time he was shot and, even if he was, whether it was necessary to shoot him.’ So, guess what the police chief told the press? He issued a statement that the Internal Affairs investigator had concluded that the shooting was justified!
“Police can shape situations into anything they want. An honest cop called the Attorney General’s office and told them the derringer was an alibi gun planted there by the police. That cop said APD had intended to mask the whole thing, but the coroner’s office leaked information that Pete was shot in the back, so that put a crimp in their self-defense claim.
“The grand jury was told out-and-out lies, Lois! It took them seven minutes to come to the decision that there wasn’t any evidence of wrong-doing. There was plenty of evidence, but it had been withheld from them! Can you imagine my fury and frustration? There I sat with all this material that pointed to murder and a police cover-up and nobody wanted to look at it!”
“So what did you do?” I asked her.
“I gave it to the newspapers and all the TV stations,” she told me.
“So that’s how the Albuquerque Journal got a copy of it!”
“Everybody wanted to kill me,” Renee continued. “But by that time I didn’t give a damn. The system can’t be allowed to screw around with the truth like that! There’s a huge drug operation going on in New Mexico, involving VIPs with control over law enforcement. That’s what Peter found out about, and Kait may have too. I have a gut feeling there’s a link between our children’s cases.”
Don and I returned from our trip to Albuquerque to find a letter from my agent saying that NBC had purchased film rights to one of my novels.
Ironically, the title was Killing Mr. Griffin.
In the spring of 1994, the paperback edition of Who Killed My Daughter? came out. That led to a fresh round of media blitz, and one of the shows I appeared on was Sally Jessy Raphael.
That show provided an 800 number for tipsters, and one of the calls was from a woman named Patricia Caristo.
The message she left for us was: “Do you know that a man with a record of violent crime, who was at your daughter’s scene when police arrived, has never been interviewed?”
It turned out that Pat was a private investigator in Albuquerque, who, in 1992, had been retained by a law firm to conduct an accident reconstruction of Kait’s shooting in respect to a possible motor-vehicle insurance claim. When Don and I declined to pursue that action, Pat’s job was officially over, but by then she had become so intrigued by the case that she had not been able to let go of it.
“The crime scene appears to have been badly mishandled,” she told Don and me during a three-way phone conversation. “When I read the reports, I was appalled. Not only was the man at the scene not interviewed, but there was evidence that wasn’t followed up on, and no evidence hold was placed on Kait’s car. When I saw you on television, still asking all the same questions I started asking two years ago, I felt that I had to get in touch with you.”
“Who was the man at the scene?” Don asked her.
“His name is Paul Apodaca,” Pat said. “He’s a predator with a long record of violent attacks on women. In one case he abducted a woman, tied her up, and struck her repeatedly on the head with a baseball bat. Just three months before Kait’s murder, Paul and a relative were arrested for negligent use of a handgun of the same small caliber that is thought to have killed Kait.”
“What do you mean ‘is thought to have killed Kait’?” I asked. “Surely police could determine the caliber of the bullets.”
“No bullets or casings were found,” Pat said.
“But a bullet went into the door frame!”
“Only a tiny piece of it was found in the car— not enough to determine the caliber.”
“The rest vanished into thin air?”
“Two bullets went into her head—”
“They weren’t found either.”
“But there weren’t any exit wounds!” I exclaimed in bewilderment.
“The medical examiner told the Grand Jury — wait a minute, I’ve got his statement right here—” We could hear her shuffling papers. “He said, ‘I recovered five very small bullet fragments along the wound tract. The larger portion of the bullet was not present in the body.”
It was too incredible to take in, so Don switched subjects.
“By ‘the evidence that wasn’t followed up on,’ do you mean the beer can?”
“That’s only part of it,” Pat said. “Police say they were able to identify the location where Kait was shot by a large accumulation of broken glass. From there her car traveled over seven hundred feet, crossed the median and the opposite lane, went up onto the sidewalk and came to rest against a pole. It was found with the automatic transmission in park, and one of her shoes was on the ground outside the closed door on the driver’s side.”
“That’s impossible,” Don said. “Kait was in a coma. She couldn’t have put the gear shift in park. And how would one of her shoes get outside the car?”
“That’s a good question, since neither of the first two officers at the scene admits to opening the driver’s door. Both say they went directly to the passenger’s side, which is why they didn’t notice the bullet hole in the doorframe. That bullet hole is another piece of evidence that wasn’t taken seriously. Field investigators speculated that the hole was made by a larger caliber bullet than the ones that must have shattered in Kait’s head. If true, that means two guns were used.
“I’m a former police officer and intelligence analyst. With your permission, I’d like to put together an analysis of the police investigation, based on the materials in the case file, and present it to the new police chief, Joseph Polisar. When I worked with the Intelligence Unit here in Albuquerque, Polisar was the supervisor, and he seemed to value the concept of analysis.”
Pat did this work without charge and hand-delivered the seventy-five page report to the chief’s office.
“Please, accept this analysis in the spirit in which it is offered,” she said in her cover letter. “I have taken no actions that might compromise any on-going law enforcement investigation. I am at your disposal to discuss my analysis and the results of my investigation to date if you so desire.”
Chief Polisar didn’t respond.
In September, Don and I flew to Albuquerque to meet with Pat in person. By then we had checked out her background. The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia PD had commended her for heroism and both they and the UNM PD had awarded her commendations for meritorious performance before she moved on to become a private investigator.
This was enough to make us feel safe in her hands.
“I have so many questions about the crime scene that I hardly know where to start,” Pat told us. “We have an off-duty police officer — I’ll call him Cop Number One — stumbling onto the scene minutes after the shooting. According to his report, when he first catches sight of the scene, he sees two cars, Kait’s red car against the pole and another car. As he passes the scene, he radios headquarters to ask if an accident has been reported. The answer comes back negative, and he makes a U-turn and drives back to check things out. By that time the second car’s gone, but Paul Apodaca is still there. Would you believe that nobody has ever raised the question of what that second car was doing there, who was in it, and why the driver took off when a cop showed up?
“Then Cop Number One radios in a report of an accident with no injuries.”
“He does what?” I gasped.
“You heard me right. The second officer at the scene — we’ll call her Cop Number Two — was dispatched to a 10-44, an accident with no injuries. And neither cop took information from Apodaca.”
“Do you have any idea why?”
“I’m totally stymied. This case appears to have been compromised before the investigation started. You may be right when you speculated that Detective Gallegos was used as a scapegoat by his own department. At the start he was doing a fine job, interviewing all the right people and keeping good notes. Then it seems as if somebody closed him down. Crucial information in his field notes was withheld from his reports, and he destroyed all of his notes prior to discovery. Luckily for Miguel Garcia, his defense attorneys found copies of the notes in a file the police apparently forgot to purge. That’s when the DA dropped the charges against the Hispanics.”
“What sort of information was in those notes?” Don asked her.
“Things that indicate the shooting might not have been random. For example, Kait’s next-door neighbor told Gallegos that Kait was followed from her apartment by a VW bug. That statement is in Gallegos’s field notes, but not in his report.”
“Michael Bush was puzzled by that too,” I said. “Why would he withhold that important piece of information?”
“Perhaps his superiors wanted to close the case quickly?” Don suggested. “A thorough investigation would have taken a lot of manpower.”
“The problem with that theory is that a cover-up seems to have started long before the complexities of the case became evident,” Pat said. “Witnesses who lived a half block north of the scene reported being wakened by gun shots. They also reported seeing a VW bug with more than one person in it race up their street, pull into a lot next door to their house, turn off its lights, and after a short time make a U-turn and drive slowly back the same way it came. I started to wonder if the killers disposed of a weapon, so I decided to check to see if there was a Dumpster there. It turns out there was, but, more important, there’s an auto body shop. 5 Police reports don’t acknowledge the existence of that building. Why didn’t they interview the owner of that business? They talked to the owners of other businesses in the area, so why omit that one? So many questions!”
“Michael talked with a P.I. who was investigating an auto repair shop,” I said. “I wonder if this could be that shop.”
I phoned the investigator, Roy Nolan, identified myself as a friend of Michael’s, and asked him what, if anything, he knew about the body shop.
“I’m aware of that place,” he responded cautiously. “Why are you interested?”
“We’re hunting for a possible connection to our daughter’s murder,” I told him.
“Like I told Mr. Bush, you’re looking at a crooked body shop where you take a wrecked car, they give you an exorbitant repair figure, and you give it to the insurance company,” Nolan said. “From what I’ve observed, they also chop parts from stolen cars. In 1991, that shop was raided by the FBI, APD, ATF and the Department of Public Safety. They confiscated guns, and the owners’ son was charged with drug dealing.”
I handed the phone to Pat.
The two investigators talked for half an hour.
“Nolan’s a gold mine of information,” Pat told us after she hung up. “He had that shop under surveillance for weeks, and he says Vietnamese in expensive cars were always coming and going. In fact, he’s established a link between the owner of that shop and a Vietnamese consultant for APD, whose son is a close friend of Dung’s.
“The owner of the body shop also knew Kait. His girlfriend told Nolan they met Kait at a disco when Kait was there with a woman who fits the description of Susan Smith. Also, while Nolan was questioning the owner’s girlfriend, he saw a newspaper article with a picture of Matt Griffin tacked up on the wall. The girlfriend told him the shop was a hangout for Griffin and other cops who held late night parties there. It’s a lot to be coincidence — Vietnamese in fancy cars; a Vietnamese consultant for APD, whose son was one of Dung’s buddies; the Ninja Bandit and his cop friends — all linked to a chop shop where drugs were sold and the owner knew Susan and Kait. And that’s where the VW bug went after the shooting? It looks like we may have a tiger by the tail.”
Since Pat was convinced that our answers lay at the crime scene, we decided that she should concentrate her main efforts there. We made up a list of people she should try to interview, including the first two officers at the scene, the medics who transported Kait to the hospital, and the witnesses who saw the VW bug pull into the parking lot. She would also try to locate Paul Apodaca, although that was not going to be easy, since the police had not obtained any identifiers.
We also decided it was time to take assertive action to get back the materials from Kait’s desk.
The first thing Don and I did after leaving Pat’s office was drive over to look at the body shop. It was a large multi-bay garage on a double lot. Along one side of the building and extending around behind it, there was a fenced area, the gate to which was padlocked.
Why had the VW bug gone straight to that site? Were the killers familiar with the area and aware of the Dumpster? Had they tossed a weapon into it? Had a passenger been dropped off? Had they planned to hide in the storage area and found it locked?
Back in 1990, when Juve Escobedo had abruptly vanished, I had asked Betty Muench to do a reading to see if he was dead. Betty had assured me that Juve was alive and said he was confined in a garage in Albuquerque.
“I don’t get a sense that he’s being held by the Vietnamese,” she had said. “It seems like somebody in authority is acting independently without the people he works with knowing what he’s doing.”
That had made no sense at the time, but now, right here in front of us, was a garage that had been identified as a hangout for cops like Matt Griffin. On the day the bench warrant was issued for Juve’s arrest, he had been on the phone with his girlfriend and suddenly told her, “Well, the police are outside now. The next time I talk to you, I guess it will be from jail.” Then he’d vanished and didn’t reappear until the charges were dropped. Whatever those cops had come for, it wasn’t to arrest him.
If they’d taken him somewhere, it certainly hadn’t been to jail.
We’d given Pat power of attorney, and she was able to get permission to inventory Kait’s personal belongings under the supervision of an evidence room technician. When she did so she found that the materials from Kait’s desk were not there. According to the evidence room log, Detective Gallegos had misled us. Kait’s personal belongings never had been entered into evidence.
Soon after that we received a call from a woman in Albuquerque with information about something else that was missing.
“I’ve come across one of your family videos,” she told me.
The shock was so great that for a moment I couldn’t get my breath.
“Where in the world did you find it?”
“We want it,” I said. “Yes, we want it! God bless you for calling us!”
I told her where to mail it.
Another winter was upon us, bringing with it the holiday season and, like a blow to the heart, a new calendar. What right did it have to be 1995 when we had not yet closed the door on 1989? When we thought back upon the people that we had been immediately after Kait’s death, reluctant to leave the house for fear of missing the call that would tell us her killers had been arrested, it was like remembering ridiculous overgrown children who still believed in Santa Claus. Back then there had been no way that we ever could have imagined that six years later we still would be waiting for that call.
The mystery of the missing videos continued to haunt us. They hadn’t been lost after all, they were back in Albuquerque, and at least one of them had been discarded by whoever had taken them. But why would anyone want to steal those videos? The tape Donnie’s friend had returned to us was mostly of a nephew’s wedding. Toward the end of the tape Kait made a cameo appearance at a cookout, and we watched, spellbound, mesmerized by such simple wonders as the sight of her spilling catsup on her shirt and the sound of her voice squabbling with one of her brothers. But although such scenes evoked memories that were precious to us, there was nothing on tapes like that one to make it worth anyone’s while to break into our house and take them.
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes