One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer, p.9Lois Duncan
But, then, we reminded ourselves, there had not been a break-in. The thief had apparently had a key.
“Dung and his friends sometimes used Kait’s car,” Don said. “Our house key was on her key ring. It would have been easy for one of them to make a copy, and Dung knew where we kept the family videos. He used to watch them with Kait.”
But what had been on those videos that made them worth stealing? We couldn’t think of a thing.
In the spring, I was asked to serve as replacement for the dinner speaker at a convention of fraud investigators in Austin, Texas. Don suggested that I make a stopover in New Mexico to meet with the State Attorney General and make him aware of the problems we were having with the police investigation.
Pat set up the appointment and put together a packet of information. She also obtained tapes of all the interviews conducted by Miguel Garcia’s defense attorneys and invited our new investigator friend, Roy Nolan, to meet with us to discuss them.
“It’s no wonder Schwartz wasn’t willing to prosecute,” Pat told us. “The case against the Hispanics was non-existent. Even if the witnesses had been credible, which they weren’t, the case would have been thrown out because of fabricated evidence. The police re-transcribed a tape to reverse its meaning. They couldn’t have expected to get away with something that obvious. It’s almost as if they wanted the Hispanic suspects to get off.”
“Maybe they did,” Nolan speculated. “All it took to shut down the investigation was an arrest. There didn’t have to be a conviction.”
“You think they may have arrested the Hispanics even though they knew they weren’t guilty!” I exclaimed.
“That happens quite often,” Nolan said. “A lot of times it’s with the cooperation of the suspects. Most narcs have a stable of snitches who do whatever they’re told to in exchange for protection from arrest for more serious crimes. People like that can earn money and favors by cooling their heels in jail for a while, knowing they’ll never be convicted.”
“But Miguel sat in jail for fifteen months!” I protested. “That’s an awfully long time for a nineteen-year-old kid to ‘cool his heels’.”
“He was due to serve that much time anyway for an unrelated burglary,” Pat pointed out. “Schwartz dropped the burglary charges without explanation at the same time he dropped the homicide charges, so Miguel just traded one stint of jail time for another. And Juve didn’t serve any time at all.”
“Marty Martinez didn’t serve time either,” I said. “Police didn’t even take a statement when he called and confessed. If the arrest of the Hispanics was just for show, and the police didn’t want them to be prosecuted—”
“That would explain Marty’s statement when he was questioned by the assistant DA,” Pat said. “He said, ‘The whole thing was a hoax, you know.’”
“Marty’s confession would have wrecked the game plan,” Nolan said. “Marty’s a loose cannon. He may have been so drunk that night that he didn’t remember afterward exactly what they’d been hired to do— intimidate Kait or kill her. All he knew was that he got paid a hundred dollars. The bottom line is, APD didn’t want Marty confessing to murder for hire. They wanted him to shut up and go away.”
“My question is, who controlled the investigation?” Pat said. “Who had the power to make the determination that the case was ‘over’ when the DA told police to investigate the Vietnamese?”
“What about the Vietnamese consultant whose son was Dung’s friend?” I asked. “Would he have had that kind of influence?” 6
“That ‘consultant’ is in business with some very sleazy characters,” Nolan told me. “One of them is under federal investigation for trading gold for cocaine. Almost all major crime in this state comes back to the drug scene. Small time dealers like Peter Klunck get killed. The guys at the top are in high level political positions.”
“None of that explains what went wrong at the scene,” Pat said. “That’s where the cover-up started.”
“I’ll try to find out what happened that night,” Nolan said.
“Be careful,” Pat cautioned. “You don’t want to rattle the wrong cage.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Nolan told her. “I’ll make a few calls and get back with you. Where are you staying, Lois?”
I told him the name of my motel.
That night, reeling from jet lag, I went to bed early, only to be jerked into consciousness several hours later by the blast of the telephone. I groped in the dark for the receiver, and when I finally located it, it took me a moment to recognize the staccato that ripped into my ear as the voice of the unflappable, street smart investigator with whom I had spent the afternoon.
“We were totally off base,” Nolan said urgently. “The cops who handled the crime scene are clean as the driven snow.”
“How do you know?” I asked, still groggy with sleep.
“Just take my word for it,” Nolan told me. “There wasn’t a cover-up, Lois. And we were wrong about the motive for Kait’s murder. She was the victim of a car-jacking.”
“What?” I was fully awake now and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Paul Apodaca was a car-jacker. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“But what about the car wrecks and drug dealing?”
“The Vietnamese had nothing to do with this case,” Nolan insisted. “And drugs didn’t play any part in it. This was a car-jacking, pure and simple. There’s no other possibility.”
“I don’t buy that,” I said.
“You’ve got to believe me, Lois!”
“I don’t buy it,” I repeated and hung up the phone.
Nothing about the outrageous scenario was credible. Was I really supposed to believe that Paul Apodaca was standing on the sidewalk, drinking a Budweiser, and became so enamored of Kait’s five year old Ford Tempo as she drove past that he shot her? Then he set his beer can down on the curb, leapt into his VW and drove to the auto body shop, where he disposed of his weapon in a Dumpster, made a U-turn and returned to the scene of the shooting, just in time to cozy up to an off duty police officer, while his own car left the scene all by itself without a driver?
Obviously something had happened since I’d last seen Nolan, and whatever it was had him terrified, either for himself or for me. In his effort to get information, he must have gone to the wrong person.
It struck me that I might have made a very bad mistake. I should have pretended to accept the car-jacking story. Now they — whoever the mysterious “they” might be — would have to find another way to convince me, and that might take a rougher form than a friendly phone call.
A chill swept over me as I envisioned one of Matt Griffin’s buddies arriving at my door. How could I refuse to open up to the police? It was hard to imagine the type of person who could intimidate a man like Roy Nolan, and I wasn’t in a hurry to find out.
I threw on my clothes, grabbed my suitcase, and left the motel room. The light above the doorway shone down like a spotlight, and I had never felt more vulnerable in my life than I did as I stood there fumbling in my purse for my car keys. I found them, got into the car, and pulled out of the parking lot onto a street as deserted as the one that Kait had been driving on the night she was shot. I could visualize the headline— “Mother Imitates Daughter — Random Shootings Run In Family” — a natural for the National Enquirer.
It seemed like forever before I spotted a motel with a vacancy sign. I pulled in and took a room for the remainder of the night, and the first thing in the morning, drove to the airport to trade in my eye-catching teal rental car for a car of a different make and color.
It was possible that Nolan had noticed what I was driving.
In my innocuous new vehicle — (I had specified that I wanted something “inconspicuous and grungy,” a request that had not gone down well with the people at Avis) — I drove to Pat’s office.
“Where have you been?” she demanded. “Roy Nolan has been trying to locate you. He says he’s check
“Why did he want to know that?”
“I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he was going to try to look for you. He seemed very concerned that you’d left your motel without telling us.”
“Did he tell you Kait was shot during a car-jacking?” I asked her.
“Of course not,” Pat said. “That’s ridiculous.”
“We’ve lost Roy Nolan,” I said. 7
When I told her about Nolan’s late night phone call, she shook her head in bewilderment.
“Maybe he’d been drinking?” she suggested.
“He didn’t sound drunk, he sounded frantic.”
That was the day we were scheduled to meet with the State Attorney General, but that didn’t happen. He stood us up, and we were relegated to a new assistant AG who reluctantly accepted Pat’s case materials. We knew when we left his office that we wouldn’t be hearing from him.
Faced with an unexpected block of free time, I decided to pay a visit to Renee Klunck. The federal grand jury had now concluded their civil rights investigation of Peter’s death and no indictments had been returned. According to a statement by the U.S. Attorney, the case was too old and there was too much conflicting testimony to charge Griffin or any member of the police department with criminal conduct. “Accurate recollections fade with time,” he said. “No one can now say with certainty exactly what happened on the morning of January 27, 1989.”
Renee, though disappointed, had accepted the inevitable.
“At least, they didn’t find the shooting justified,” she said.
“Did Peter ever mention an auto repair shop on Arno Street?” I asked her as we settled ourselves at her breakfast bar with our cups of coffee.
“Not that I recall,” Renee said, but the Kluncks’ youngest son Danny, who had wandered into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich, overheard the question.
“I know where that is,” he said. “Pete used to do off-the-books body work for those people. I know he worked at that shop in December of 1988, because that’s where he took the dents out of my car.”
“But that would mean—” Renee sent her coffee cup crashing to the counter as the significance of that statement hit her. “That would mean that, one month before Griffin shot him, Peter was working at a location where Griffin hung out! For six years the cops have insisted there was no possible way that Griffin and Peter could have known each other. Now we find out they were right in each other’s pockets!”
“Do you know if Peter had Vietnamese friends?” I asked Danny.
“No, but Griffin did,” he told me. “The first time I ran into Griffin, before all this shit came down, he was in a parking lot in the Northeast Heights with a bunch of guys on motorcycles. A lot of those bikers were Vietnamese.”
At the end of the day I flew to Austin to speak at the conference of fraud specialists. Michael Bush flew in from L.A. to provide emotional support, bringing with him his friend Leslie Kim, the editor of a national trade paper for insurance claims investigators.
The investigators were an intimidating group to speak to, especially when I discovered that the speaker I was there to replace was Texas Governor George W. Bush. After my presentation I asked for questions and was confronted by stony silence from a roomful of deadpan, primarily male, investigators. Too drained and discouraged to make even a token attempt at socializing, I made my apologies to Michael and his editor friend and headed up to my hotel room.
“By the way,” Michael told me as we said our “good nights” at the elevator, “I had the weirdest call this morning from Roy Nolan. I think that guy must have blown a batch of brain cells. He kept trying to convince me that Kait was the victim of a car-jacking.”
John Cooke Fraud Report, April 1995:
A CHILD IS DEAD, A FAMILY STILL MOURNS
WHO KILLED KAITLYN ARQUETTE?
On March 4, 1995, almost six years after losing her youngest child to what the Albuquerque Police Department terms (to this very day) a random, drive-by shooting, Lois Arquette spoke before the Texas International Association of Special Investigation Units at their annual seminar.
Speaking in front of nearly 300 investigators, it was clear that her need for an answer to this tragedy was paramount to an eventual healing of the wounds. …
Nearly an hour later, she stopped and asked if the audience had any questions.
Silence. Deafening silence.
She looked around the room and saw no hands raised. Later, she confided to me that she thought that the lack of response was due to disinterest. She could not have been more mistaken. What Arquette thought was disinterest was instead attributable to the overwhelming effect she had on that crowd of big, tough investigators.
The front-page article, illustrated by a photo of Kait’s grave, contained a footnote by the editor:
While we still do not know who killed Kaitlyn Arquette, we do know that her death was far more than a random drive-by shooting. The answer may be buried beneath the tens of thousands of suspicious auto accidents that are crammed into our collective insurance industry files.
At the conclusion of Arquette’s speech, one of the people in the audience made an incredibly generous offer. This family-owned company that owns a proprietary database of over 160 million name-search entries has donated as much on-line time as we need to assist in the solving of this crime. Two weeks ago, claims investigator Jim Ellis, sat in our office and began the massive task of running the information….
Leslie Kim shipped me a hundred copies of the article, and I sent them to everyone I could think of including the FBI, the U.S. Attorney, the Attorney General, the INS, and the claims department of every insurance company in Albuquerque.
Only one person responded— Charlie Parsons, Special Agent in Charge of the L.A. Office of the FBI. The FBI had recently assumed federal jurisdiction in both automobile accident fraud schemes and Medicare fraud, as well as Vietnamese organized crime in the United States. Agent Parsons wrote me that, based upon the information provided by us and our investigators, their office was opening an official investigation of the subjects in California who were participants in the fraud ring.
I mailed a copy of Agent Parsons’ letter to the FBI office in Albuquerque.
“I accept that you can’t become officially involved in the investigation of Kait’s murder unless APD invites you in,” I said. “One would hope, however, that the fact that the FBI in L.A. has initiated an investigation of this crime ring may bring you into this situation by the back door.”
They did not respond.
Once again we were at a plateau as far as the case went, but we didn’t feel alone in our impotence. The flood of mail from readers of my book had accelerated since the publication of the paperback, and I spent many hours each day responding to letters:
“Our daughter, Natalie, was killed by a shotgun blast to the head in the presence of her jealous boyfriend, an officer with the local police department. His own department performed the investigation and labeled the death a suicide. Natalie, who was breaking up with the boyfriend, had been out that night with another man, and the boyfriend had been tailing her. After the shooting, the boyfriend pried Natalie’s teeth out of the bedroom wall and carried them in his mouth during the funeral. To us, this does not seem like normal behavior. We do not believe Natalie killed herself.”
“Two years ago my best friend and both her daughters were murdered. She was suffocated. Her twelve-year-old was strangled with a phone cord and raped, and the three-year-old was drowned in the bathtub in an inch of water. Evidence was destroyed because a sheriff deputy’s son was accused, (his prints were found on the bathtub). My friend comes to me in dreams, crying and wanting to know why.”
There also were letters that renewed my faith in humanity:
“I am a 17-year-old girl who lives in San Diego. I am one of the Vietnamese boat people and proud of my heritage, except I am shameful of the conduct of some of my fellow refugees. I am afraid for my life when I am in Little Saigon after dark. My mother’s hairdresser was gunned down by the Vietnamese Mafia. Storekeepers close shop early for fear of being robbed and killed. The fear this community has is fear of retaliation. It’s a catch 22 — tell and hope that justice will prevail — don’t tell and keep your family alive.
“Thank you for writing your book. You have taken one of the first steps in unveiling organized Vietnamese crime to the general public and in turning the legal wheels that will one day make Little Saigon and all other Vietnamese communities safe again.”
Then, three days short of Kait’s twenty-fifth birthday, I received a very different sort of letter with the return address of a federal correction facility:
“Compassionate Lois, peace be upon you,
My name is Lawrence *, I am presently incarcerated at the above stated institution. Back in 1987 through June 1989, me and your daughter Kait used to correspond. I found her name and address in a correspondence magazine. She claimed she was 19, when in reality, as I later found out, she was only 16. She said if I answered her letter I should address it in care of a girlfriend because her parents wouldn’t approve. I did respond, and we continued to correspond.”
This scenario struck me as plausible. Over the years, Kait had had many pen pals. When she was sixteen a sudden surge of mail had alerted us to the fact that she had listed her address in a singles magazine and lied about her age. We insisted that she remove the ad, and the letters stopped coming. As far as we knew that was the end of it. But, as headstrong as Kait had been, it was perfectly in character for her to have continued a clandestine correspondence.
I continued reading:
“Kait told me about the activities her boyfriend Dung was involved in. She told me she was frightened, she felt used and trapped, and Dung’s friends had warned her to keep quiet or they’d harm her entire family. In the last letter I got from her in mid-June, 1989, she told me she had reached the end of her rope and was going to report Dung and his friends to the authorities. I never heard from her again. Her girlfriend wrote and told me Kait had been killed. There is much we need to discuss. I believe I can tell you who the trigger man is.”
One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer by Lois Duncan / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes