The Sixth Season of HOMICIDE HUNTER: LT. JOE KENDA starts Wednesday, August 24, at 10:00 PM on the ID Channel!
Twenty new shows!
Also look for the hilarious new commercial promoting the season!
The Sixth Season of HOMICIDE HUNTER: LT. JOE KENDA starts Wednesday, August 24, at 10:00 PM on the ID Channel!
Twenty new shows!
Also look for the hilarious new commercial promoting the season!
The sixth season of Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda begins August 2016. Look for twenty new cases!
Another cruise is in the works. Sail away with us! Lt. Joe Kenda will be on board, along with his wife Kathy. Carl & Iona Marino will be there. Several old Kenda Cruise friends will be on board. And so will I, along with my husband Bill Kenda.
Look for the trivia contest on board. I’m writing the questions. How much of a challenge do you want?
Cruise departs out of Ft. Lauderdale, Thursday, January 5th to Monday, January 9th, 2017. Details are available at www.kendacruise.com.
Look for the new ID DETECTIVE podcasts beginning in August 2015. Lt. Joe leads off with 20/20 — twenty podcasts, each twenty minutes. They’ll appear biweekly, every other Wednesday.
ID channel promotes this series as “juicy tidbits and shocking insights” from the world’s greatest real-life detectives. But you know my brother-in-law when he talks about his life and cases. Expect more juice, more shock, and certainly more insight than you can get from any other of the world’s greatest detectives.
Find “Detective” on iTunes and also on CrimeFeed.com.
“If I lived another 100 years, I could not help all the people who need help. I have no jurisdiction…I’m retired. I am no longer an officer of the court. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do it.”
We may not be able to reply individually to each comment, but we do read them all!
The fifth season of Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda begins Tuesday, August 18th. Look for the trailer on the ID channel.
Finally! Seasons 1 & 2 arrive on DVD, at the Investigation Discovery store, July 27th. All four seasons are currently available live stream.
And a Cruise!
Lt. Joe is going on a Homicide Hunter cruise. Cruise will feature daily appearances, programs, Q&A sessions, trivia contests, photo ops.
Look who else is going: My sister-in-law Kathy will be on board. I will be there, along with husband Bill & daughter Ann. Carl Marino, the actor who plays Lt. Joe as a young man, will be there with his wife Ilona.
Cruise departs out of Ft. Lauderdale, January 11th to 16th, 2016. Details are available at www.kendacruise.com.
Mark your calendars, Season 5 of Homicide Hunter starts on August 18th!
Good news! Lt. Joe has arrived in Colorado to begin production on the fifth season of Homicide Hunter.
Even better news! The fifth season is expanded to 20 shows.
Is this your favorite case? Good guy wins. Bad guy loses. Both victims survive.
As an added bonus, we get to hear from the original judge in this case–a man whose probity & wisdom give hope for the judiciary.
But: This is a stranger-upon-stranger crime, the most difficult to solve. It’s going to take brains to figure out this one.
Front Page News, 1977: These are newspaper photos showing Lt. Joe making the arrests in his first case.
Summary: It’s early Sunday morning, 1977. A Colorado rancher, Fred Howard, stops at a convenience store to buy a newspaper. He hears calls for help. Susan Irving, the young cashier, has been shot. Just as he rushes in to help, he finds himself facing a gun. He struggles against the attacker.
Lt. Joe (not yet “lieutenant”) is a hard-working young officer back then, assigned to burglary cases. He’s ambitious, with hopes for his future. He wants to work his way up to homicide detective.
Back in the day, though, detectives were hired more for their burly appearance & aggressive personalities than for their intelligence, which was sometimes sub par. They tended to be poorly educated, more brawn than brain.
Lt. Joe doesn’t fit in, since he’s more brain than brawn.
The older detectives tease him. They refer to him contemptuously as “college boy.”
He doesn’t take much guff. “I assured them it was true that I was smarter than they.”
When Lt. Joe arrives with the other officers, both victims have been taken to the hospital. Susan Irving is in critical condition. Fred Howard is undergoing surgery.
As the junior in the group, Lt. Joe is assigned to interview neighbors. That’s a useless task. No one heard or saw anything. Frustrated by the lack of results, Lt. Joe notices that the door to the convenience store is open. Even though he’s not in charge of this case, he decides to go in & look around.
He finds this is not the usual convenience store robbery. There’s been quite a struggle. Displays are knocked over. Things are a mess. But in the mess, Lt. Joe finds a clue. It’s an ID bracelet.
His boss orders him back outside. The superiors are discussing the case. It would take a lot of work to solve it. They probably wouldn’t succeed. They decide they should just move on to easier work. “How odd is that?” Lt. Joe remembers thinking. “We’re just going to give up?” But then he sees an opportunity. He volunteers to take on the case solo.
The bosses are amused. Of course, they sneer, this college boy is going to fail. But then again, it would be fun to watch him fail. So they give him permission to go ahead.
Lt. Joe keeps the ID bracelet as his only bit of evidence. The name on it is “Ingrid.”
He visits the hospital to see what he can find from Susan or Fred.
Lt. Joe is just learning how to do detective work in a hospital. He acts as if he belongs. Someone greets him as “doctor.” He strides into Susan’s room as if he is, indeed, a doctor. She is lying there, heavily sedated. He reads her chart & discovers that she is suffering from a bullet wound to the brain. Suddenly, Susan screams out in pain & terror. Nurses rush in & order him out.
“So my first attempt at posing as a medical doctor,” he remarks, “went very badly. I got better as time went on.”
He goes on to find Fred. Fred is not in good condition, but he can talk. He tells Lt. Joe about the events that morning. Fred had rushed in when he heard cries for help–from the gunman, who was luring him inside. As he knelt to help Susan, he heard the click of a trigger. He put his hands up as if to surrender, but was shot in the finger. He lunged at the gunman, & they struggled, with more shots fired. Fred remembered tearing off the bracelet. So now Lt. Joe knows that the “Ingrid” bracelet does indeed link to the perpetrator. But Fred’s memory of the traumatic event is not perfect. He describes a young, white male.
Back at the office, the bosses discourage Lt. Joe from going any further–& indeed he is discouraged. “My opportunity for solving this was slowly circling the drain.” Susan is mostly unconscious & cannot talk. Fred is suffering & is not sure of his memories. The only clue is a piece of “junk jewelry.”
At night, Lt. Joe stays on in the office & stares at the bracelet. What can it tell him?
The name “Ingrid” is cut with a 3D effect, popular at the time. Lt. Joe goes to see a jeweler, John. John tells him that a new Hermes engraving machine is the only way to achieve that effect. Lt. Joe calls the company & asks for a list of stores that own that particular machine. The number in Colorado Springs alone is 27. Ever persistent, Lt. Joe sets out to visit every one of the 27 stores.
But he’s discouraged. “It could be Denver,” he moans to himself. “Kenda, you moron, it could be Pueblo.”
But he hits the jackpot with one of the 27 stores in Colorado Springs. The “Can-Do Shop” sold an “Ingrid” bracelet to a mixed race couple. The manager of the store remembers the black boyfriend as “loud, profane, a real a..hole.”
“Well,” remarks a delighted Lt. Joe, “I’m looking for someone like that.”
But his next job is to find a needle in a haystack. The store has hundreds of carbon copy receipts from previous sales. He’s found one needle in a haystack, the machine. Now he has to find another needle in a haystack, the receipt.
Lt. Joe sits for two hours reading receipts. At last, he finds “Ingrid.” The receipt gives an address on the west side of Colorado Springs. That’s Ingrid’s address.
Now he embarks on yet another search. He looks up every arrest record from that part of town. This search takes days. But he succeeds. He finds a parking ticket (just a mere parking ticket!) from directly in front of Ingrid’s door.
The parking ticket was in the name of Fred Henry Swain, age 21.
Now Lt. Joe looks further. Swain has an arrest record “as long as your arm,” including violent crimes. He does not live at Ingrid’s address. He lives three blocks from the convenience store. “It’s very common,” Lt. Joe points out from his current long experience, “for robbers to rob where they live.”
But this is hardly solid evidence. Lt. Joe doesn’t want to lose out. “It’s my first time in the deep end of the pool,” he remarks, “and I’m not going to drown.”
So he goes to work writing a case for probable cause, to convince the district court judge to issue an arrest warrant. He piles on every detail, with all the supporting evidence he can muster. His request eventually reaches seventeen pages.
The judge, now retired & interviewed for this show, issues the arrest warrant.
How does Lt. Joe feel? “I didn’t walk out of his office. I floated,” he exults. “I had just become Sherlock Holmes.”
Now, in yet another test of Lt. Joe’s patience, he stakes out the apartment building where Swain lives. He brings backup. “The principle,” he says, “is overwhelming force.” He needs to convince the (possibly armed & dangerous) suspect that there is no escape, no opportunity to fight back.
It takes several hours, but here comes Fred Swain, along with Ingrid.
Fortunately for Lt. Joe’s career (& our attachments here), the press has sent a photographer to the stake out. The news hits the front page of the newspaper.
Lt. Joe is triumphant. Only five days have gone by, & he has “the guy they said I would never find,” in a case where everyone else wanted to give up. With the bosses looking on, Lt. Joe leads his suspect, in handcuffs, to the interrogation room.
Swain refuses to talk. Lt. Joe gets a search warrant for Swain’s apartment, where he finds filth everywhere, dirty clothes, empty food containers–& a pistol. The ballistics match. It’s the weapon used in the assault, proof positive.
The judge convicts Swain on two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of aggravated burglary, with adjudication as an habitual criminal. Sentence is 60 to 98 years. The judge constructs the sentence so that Swain will never return to the outside world.
People congratulate Lt. Joe. He gets a transfer to the homicide unit. People praise his “innate talent.” “But,” he says, “doing it is what made me feel good.”
The journalist who is interviewed says she hopes the victims went on to live long & happy lives.
The victims: Of course, you know there’s a dark side. Fred Howard, the rancher, was 63 when this incident occurred. The first bullet hit his wedding ring & destroyed his ring finger at the base. Three more bullets entered his chest at close contact. He recovered as well as possible & went on to live another ten years in what Lt. Joe believes was a happy & constructive life. Susan Irving, in her early 20’s at the time, was left a paraplegic. She did not live long after that.
Ingrid: The old newspaper photos show Ingrid under arrest. She soon went free. Her only crime seems to have been a remarkably poor choice of boy friend. She seemed to have no knowledge of the Sunday morning assault. Plus, she had an alibi. What was she doing early that Sunday morning? She was working. Lt. Joe thinks she may have been clerking–at another convenience store.
Motive: Fred Swain got away with all of $20. He selected early morning when few people are around, only one clerk in the store. He could easily have taken away the meager amount of money without hurting Susan. And what possible reason was there to shoot the kind-hearted man who tried to help? Did he wish to eliminate him as a witness? Lt. Joe calls him “as cold blooded as it gets.” As far as I can see, this is one more crime that lacks any logical, rational motive.
The perpetrator: Fred Swain is in his 60’s now. He spends time at the prison law library, where he writes legal motions & appeals to the court to release him. The court turns him down every time. But, as Lt. Joe bitterly remarks, all this legal action comes at tax payer expense. Lt. Joe also bitterly remarks that all these years later, Fred still has a big mouth & nasty attitude, & that it’s remarkable that other prisoners haven’t attacked or killed him. Can we conclude that, as well as a well-run judiciary, there’s also a well-run prison?
Bullying in the workplace: The workplace harassment Lt. Joe experienced is far too common. After he solved this case, the bullies backed off for a while. But essentially, he didn’t get a break until all of them retired & left. By then the atmosphere in detective work had changed. Intelligence began to hold a value. Before long, a college degree was a requirement.
Safety in the workplace: Look at Susan’s workplace. Did she belong there isolated, alone, with no backup, no protection? Lt. Joe stood up fine, as you know he would, to years of insults & teasing. No one can stand up to first-degree assault & aggravated burglary.
This is the most difficult & disturbing of all Lt. Joe’s cases. The real-life level of violence was so high that managers at the ID channel asked the production company not to depict what actually happened. The television version actually lightens up the case, although that’s difficult to believe when you contemplate the gruesome torture deaths of two small children & a pregnant woman.
Even as Lt. Joe told me what happened, he said he had to gloss over some of the depravity.
As he puts it at the beginning of the show, “I had not seen that kind of violence before. It was very, very disturbing to me.”
Favorite quotes: “People are capable of anything.” “People are the most dangerous animals on earth.” Although Lt. Joe repeats these lines elsewhere, this is the show where they resonate most. (I expect you agree that “capable of anything” is a phrase that could apply to the jury as well as the perpetrator.)
Summary, the television version: It January 12, 1979, 9:00 in the morning at the Fountain apartments in Colorado Springs. Sorella Wollford, interviewed for this show, plans to spend the day babysitting for her upstairs neighbors, in apartment 210. The children are Carlos, age 4, & Benjamin, age 2. Their mother is Yvonne Sisneros, expecting her third child. When time passes & Sorella does not hear from Yvonne, she goes upstairs & knocks on their apartment door. She hears a thumping noise. There’s a ruckus going on. No one answers the door. Not knowing what to do, Sorella returns to her own apartment. Hours later, she hears the sound of sirens.
When the call comes, Lt. Joe is in his office poring over cold case files. For once, this is during regular daytime business hours, a rare time for murder. But there is nothing routine or common about this case. Every detective on the force responds.
Lt. Joe arrives to find Benjamin Sisneros, the husband & father, intensely emotional, sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the apartment. All of the normally cool, professional responders were distressed & upset. Surveying the scene from the front door of the apartment, Lt. Joe was staggered by what he saw.
What he saw was the woman’s body, now covered with a blanket, bloody with as many as 60 stab wounds, plus strangulation & sexual violence. The two-year-old boy has been stabbed 22 times; the four-year-old 19 times. A bloody barbell lies nearby, used in beating the children in the head.
You can imagine Lt. Joe’s reaction, all the more as a photo comes up of his own two small children.
“I was so disturbed,” he says, “that I was filled with rage. My thought was I am not going to eat, sleep, anything, until I had this son of a bitch by the throat.”
How did this crime begin? Lt. Joe finds no sign of robbery & no sign of forced entry. Stab wounds are small & round, unlike those a knife might inflict. Police find a possibly significant clue, a ballpoint pen, covered in blood & white flecks. Lt. Joe speculates that it fell from the killer’s pocket.
Benjamin Sisneros is interviewed for this show. He was young then, now approaching old age. He is Lt. Joe’s first suspect. Benjamin reveals that his wife was three months pregnant. He is an air traffic controller at Fort Carson. He had been at work since early that morning. But when he called home & no one answered, he says he became worried. He signed out of work at 12:10 PM. He drove home. He called police at 12:45.
Figure how long it took him to drive home, there is a very short period of time–about five minutes–unaccounted for. Could he have murdered his wife & children during that five minutes? Lt. Joe believes it’s possible. He is stretching to find a plausible reason to suspect Benjamin.
But Benjamin says that when he arrived home, he found the door unlocked, unusual for his wife, who was careful about security. He discovered his wife’s body in the bathtub. Horrified, he pulled her onto the floor & covered her with a blanket. Then he called police. Nothing about him suggests guilt.
Besides, the coroner reports time of the deaths as between 9AM & 11AM, & Benjamin had not left work until just after noon. Lt. Joe dismisses Benjamin as a suspect.
An anonymous tip gives an address for the possible killer. Lt. Joe arrives, along with two backup cars. He finds a 28-year-old man. This man can account for his time that day. He shows no physical signs of having just committed three murders. He reacts to the abrupt arrival of police as a normal person would. “We were hoping this meant something,” Lt. Joe says. “It didn’t.”
Meanwhile, police have been canvassing everyone in the apartment building. The city is shocked. Media are everywhere.
The police find a witness, a man who was going out to walk his dog. This man saw someone with a key letting himself into apartment 210. The man is dressed in a plaid shirt & tan pants. This could be Jimmy, a maintenance man for the apartment building. Finally, Lt. Joe has a lead. “This is a euphoric moment,” he says.
The director of maintenance for the apartment complex identifies this as James Joseph Perry, although he says Jimmy does not have a master key. But a background check reveals that Jimmy has a criminal record. He arrived in Colorado after fourteen years in a New York prison for murder. Lt. Joe orders a search warrant.
When police arrive at Jimmy’s address, they find Victoria Martinez, Jimmy’s common-law wife. She says Jimmy has been away all night. He has girl friends with whom he often spends the night. She does not find this unusual. Then she reveals something truly important. She works cleaning apartments in that same building, & she has a master key. The key is missing. Police look in the washing machine & find the clothes they hoped to find–a damp plaid shirt & tan pants, washed with a great deal of bleach. Bleach destroys blood stains. Lt. Joe mourns, “We were inches away from finding damning physical evidence. He beat us to it.”
Police return to the maintenance office of the apartment building. One officer requests to use the telephone. As he stands at the desk, he finds himself gazed at a jar of ballpoint pens. These are pens exactly like the bloody pen police found. Furthermore, he notices a paint roller flecked with white paint. Is he looking at an explanation for the white flecks on that pen? Laboratory analysis will later reveal that yes, there’s a match.
But as this officer is still at the desk, he looks up & sees Jimmy himself entering the office. Jimmy is wearing a watch flecked with white paint & blood. His shoes look suspiciously streaked.
Police rush to arrest Jimmy. Lt. Joe states the obvious, “There is nothing I wanted more than to lock him up.”
Jimmy looks caged & cornered. He demands a lawyer. The lawyer brings an end to any idea of a tough interrogation of Jimmy.
Lt. Joe does discover more about him, though. Jimmy is a sexual hustler. He hassles women. He’s been accused of molesting & assaulting women.
One witness even heard him remarking about an attractive woman named Yvonne.
Lt. Joe believes Jimmy planned ahead. He took Victoria’s master key. He used it to open the door to Yvonne’s apartment. He raped & murdered her. He murdered the children. Then he went on with an ordinary day at work. He did all that, & then he just went back to work.
The day arrives for Jimmy’s trial. Jimmy pleads innocent. Jimmy testifies, & he is quite a performer. He tells the jury that while he was in that New York prison, he found God. He talks about how religion made him a changed man. He came to Colorado to start a new life.
The jury believes. The jury acquits Jimmy on all charges. Jimmy walks free.
Lt. Joe’s reacts, “I was absolutely dumbstruck, & he is laughing at me.” The other officer interviewed, Skip Armes, describes this as his “greatest professional disappointment.” The acquittal shakes faith in the court system. It’s a “violation of the human spirit,” an affront to civilization.
The case goes cold. There are no other possible suspects. Several months pass by.
Lt. Joe gets a phone call from NYC police. They want him to know that Jimmy has been found dead in the Bronx. Someone threw Jimmy through a window on a tenth floor, & as Lt. Joe puts it, “he didn’t bounce so good.”
Yvonne had “the greatest possible misfortune of living in view of a monster.” Benjamin, who lost his wife & children to the monster, talks about suffering over his entire life, nearly forty years of mourning & pain.
Summary, real life version: Remember that that the ID channel considered the details of this murder too disgusting for television viewers. Lt. Joe considered the details too disgusting to reveal to me in private conversation. Anything you read here is short of the truth.
In the TV version, Jimmy is said to murder the children so they could not serve as witnesses. That makes no sense, since small traumatized children could not have been able to testify, in or out of court. In real life, he murdered to silence them. One was found with a rag stuffed down his throat. Also, the frenzied & prolonged nature of the attack indicates that this monster was enjoying himself.
In the TV version, police find the ballpoint pen. At about the same time, there’s mention of extreme multiple stabbing with a small-diameter round weapon. A ballpoint pen could not be that weapon. It is too breakable. In real life, police found the apparent weapon in Jimmy’s tool belt. It was a nine-inch cross-point screwdriver washed in gasoline. Its dimensions matched the wounds. Police also found a bloody kitchen knife.
The TV version mentions several weapons Jimmy used to commit murder, but not the weapon that actually caused Yvonne’s death. Cause of death was a mop handle thrust from her vagina to the base of her heart.
In the TV version, Jimmy is able to walk away, make his way home, & wash his clothes. In real life, he was covered with blood, just as you’d expect. Several people noticed, but described the stains as brown, & assumed he had been working on some particularly filthy task. Police found blood on his belt, shoes, & watch.
The lunch time routine at that delightful place of employment (don’t you wish you worked there?) was to sit in a car & slug down vodka. Jimmy arrived in time for one drink, but he was not his usual self. His co-worker noticed Jimmy was agitated & sweaty. He had scratches on his hands. He was shadow boxing, pretending to fight. He declared, “Oh, man, I can handle three people at once.”
Yes, the jury heard that evidence. Yes, Lt. Joe commented just as you’d expect, that Jimmy could handle three people at once, as long as two were children, one was a pregnant woman, & all were defenseless.
In the TV version, police find dry-looking clothes in Jimmy’s washing machine. In real life, they found the clothes still damp, smelling strongly of bleach, & covered with bleached-out spots, in a clear attempt to get rid of blood stains.
In the TV version, the jury ignored evidence. In real life, the jury ignored a Rocky Mountain range of evidence.
In real life, Lt. Joe says he went home & hugged his children for half an hour.
Criminal’s progress: The progress from one crime to the next is something like a jobs lists on a good resume, ever bigger & more accomplished as years go on. Jimmy started out as a small time burglar & molester of women. He worked up to sexual assaults. Next was murder. In New York, he was convicted of first-degree murder, with a sentence of twenty-five years to life. Ever the charmer, he told the parole board that he had been accepted to a Bible college in Colorado. This was the first time he won by “playing the God card,” as Lt. Joe puts it. The New York parole board jumped at the change to get him far away. As a Bible student in Colorado, he specialized in seducing the female scholars. He took them to his car in the parking lot of the school, then videotaped sex with them. Some were too embarrassed to object; others complained to authorities.
Tracking down witnesses: You’d think residents of that neighborhood would have been frightened & horrified. You’d picture them falling all over themselves to aid in the police investigation. They should have been outside, milling around, demanding police get rid of the monster in their midst. At the time, the press thought so, too. They were surprised that residents & neighbors did not help–or even show up, looking worried. Potential witnesses avoided the police. They stayed silent, even when they had information. Lt. Joe says that, in a bad neighborhood, that’s an ordinary pattern of behavior. People have criminal histories, outstanding arrest warrants. They don’t invite police notice.
But, Lt. Joe says, if you track them down, they do tell the truth. They’ll cooperate if they have to.
Other children involved: Victoria, Jimmy’s common-law wife, had two children from a previous relationship. She was at least somewhat aware of Jimmy’s proclivities. Yet she allowed Jimmy to have access to her children. Lt. Joe says bitterly that she needed Jimmy around to help with the rent.
How much time does it take to commit murder? Lt. Joe momentarily considered whether a perpetrator (Benjamin, the husband & father of the victims, only briefly a suspect) could theoretically have committed this crime in a period of only five minutes. When Lt. Joe teaches, he demonstrates the possibility of speed in a crime. He asks the students to time him in a demonstration. Here’s how the demonstration goes: Lt. Joe sets up a dummy (or any physical object). He enters the classroom, shouts at the object that he hates it & is going to kill it. He then begins a virtual stabbing, counting with each blow…one, two, three…up to a count of fifty. He then shouts that he is glad the object is dead & storms out of the classroom. Total time: less than two minutes.
God is my character witness: This case was so important that the chief district attorney prosecuted it personally. Legally, when Jimmy took the stand as a witness, that meant the DA could cross-examine him about his criminal past. Jimmy’s true depravity should have been clear & visible to the jury. Yet Jimmy turned on the charm. He used religion as his chief persuader. He somehow brought the jury, mostly nice middle-class women (including a friend of Kathy’s), into a sentimental world of his imagination in which sin is wiped clean, past crimes forgiven, & a very bad guy magically becomes good, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Nearly the moment they were dismissed, the jurors realized their mistake. In the bright light of the outside world, they came to their senses. They refused interviews. They asked the judge not to reveal their names.
In the public outcry over the verdict, there was even a ballot initiative to eliminate trail by jury in the state of Colorado.
If you pay attention to the news, you’ve seen other verdicts gone wrong, other juries bamboozled. You’ve heard of other criminals finding self-serving religion. This has all happened before & will happen again–just not to the extreme of this case.
Karma: Police in both Colorado & New York were quite pleased with the fate that struck down Jimmy. Lt. Joe mordantly refers to Jimmy’s defenestration as “cement poisoning.” Police in the Bronx did not investigate the murder. They put the case away in their “Had It Coming” file. They even sent Lt. Joe a photo of Jimmy on the sidewalk. Lt. Joe kept that gory picture in his desk for the next seven years.
Few of Lt. Joe’s shows have a bright spot. This one does, at least off screen.
The victim, Jimmie Stevenson, is a police informant, a snitch. “There is no more dangerous occupation,” Lt. Joe points out, “than being a police informant.” But did Jimmie die because he was a snitch?
Most quoted lines: “He [referring to Barney Davis] is a one-man crime wave. If he’s awake, he’s doing something criminal.”
“A homicide investigation is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Your guy is doing something. You’d better be doing something.”
Summary: It’s a summer night, 1993. People are gathered in the parking lot of a convenience store when two police officers approach. The crowd starts to disperse. A shot rings out. The two officers find a man lying dead on the ground. They know him. He’s Jimmie Stevenson, a police informant.
When the call comes in, Lt. Joe is at his office. It’s 10 PM on a Friday night, & he is just finishing up for the weekend. Now, as he says, “We’re gong to work until we run out of things to do, whether it’s four hours or four days.”
Jimmie Stevenson was one of Lt. Joe’s most valuable informants. Police appreciate help from people like Jimmie, whose information can be critical. Jimmie had a minor criminal record. He had trouble holding his life together. And there were those with a motive to kill him.
As Lt. Joe explains, “Snitching, as it is referred to on the street, is something that is frowned upon to the point of death.”
Jimmie is dead by one bullet to the heart. It was a perfect shot. The killer is either an expert marksman–or lucky. One 9mm casing lies near the body. The bullet is lodged in a hole in a fence behind.
Just two hours before, Jimmie had talked with police in the same parking lot. He had told them he had information about drugs. Could this conversation have led to murder?
A young woman has been standing by the public telephone. She waited for a call that never came. But she did see a car speeding away.
This leads to an interesting character. The license plate of the car reads KINGPIN. That certainly sounds like a criminal moniker.
Instead, Lt. Joe finds that the “king” is Marlin King, age 17. He’s a teenager with no criminal record. He lives in the suburbs with his mother. But he likes to act like a tough guy, & sometimes he hangs out in the city’s worst neighborhoods. His mother lights into him. This kind of behavior is very much against her maternal rules. He tells Lt. Joe he departed that parking lot scene in order to get home in time for his curfew. Lt. Joe decides Marlin King is just a “want-a-be, hang-around kind of guy.” Maybe the “king” gets a kick out of disobeying his mother.
In interviews back at the scene, police talk to an apartment building manager, who saw two men moving guns into one of the apartments. It’s the middle of the night by now, & Lt. Joe & other officers make what could be a dangerous entry into Apartment 4-B. But they find shotguns not handguns. There’s no evidence of murder here. But a woman who lives there does admit she had a call from a friend who was at the scene of the shooting.
This is Ebony Jones, who lives in an apartment one floor up.
Police move up for another potentially difficult entry. They find Ebony Jones, asleep. She doesn’t want to talk, even after they show her a disturbing photo of Jimmie Stevenson lying in a pool of blood. She claims she ran away before the shooting started. She is obviously afraid to snitch. Lt. Joe can’t force her to talk, so he decides to leave her alone, temporarily. “Let her stew in it for a while. Sometimes the mind is its own worst enemy.”
Ebony Jones was a down-and-out teenager then. Nearly twenty years later, as she appears in interviews for this show, she is good looking & articulate, with a competent & confident air. She probably looks healthier now than she would have back then.
Next, Lt. Joe goes to talk with Jimmie’s parents. They are distraught, as is Jimmie’s sister, Stephanie Riley.
Stephanie says she has spent the night conducting her own investigation. She says that as she drove around the neighborhood, another car almost ran her off the road. Driver shouted, “I killed that mother-f—er.” She says this is Barney Davis. Lt. Joe describes Barney as a one-man crime wave. He had been harassing Jimmie for the last few months, ever since Jimmie witnessed a murder outside a nightclub.
Lt. Joe decides not to talk with Barney Davis. There’s no point. As he puts it, “Somewhere between the ‘Barney’ & the ‘Davis,’ he tells you to drop dead.” But, of course, he tracks down Barney. Alas, Barney has an alibi. At the time of this murder, he was in police custody, under arrest. His other crimes provide an alibi for this crime.
Stephanie confesses she was not telling the truth about Barney Davis. She is emotionally distressed & pleads with Lt. Joe to find her brother’s killer. He promises he will.
In a surprising twist, a woman calls. She tells Lt. Joe that she is concerned about her 15-year-old daughter. Her daughter, she says, witnessed just enough to know something about who the killers are. She says a woman is responsible, Michelle Shalazar, along with twin sisters, Shawna & Sheena. “That girl,” she says about Michelle, “is crazy.” According to this woman, Jimmie owed money to the twins. There was reportedly an argument at school that day. (These people go to school?) She says that Michelle has a gun, a 9 mm. handgun, just what Lt. Joe is looking for.
This information is hearsay. It is not sufficient evidence to arrest Michelle or the twins. Lt. Joe needs an eyewitness. He needs to go back to Ebony Jones. “She is fearful for a reason,” he says. “She watched them kill somebody.” This time, he takes Ebony for interrogation at the police station. “The purpose,” he says, “is to take them away from their comfort zone.” Before they reach the interrogation room, there are no fewer than six locked doors “between her & sunshine.” He has her under psychological control. He threatens to arrest her as an accessory. But he also promises that, if she talks, he will protect her.
Ebony talks. Shawna & Sheena have been dealing drugs. Jimmie owes them $40. On that night, Ebony was in one car with Shawna. Michelle & Sheena were in a second car. They were cruising around, when by chance, they come across Jimmie in that fateful parking lot. They demand money. He doesn’t have the money. Michelle rants, calls him names, threatens him. He still doesn’t have money. Michelle works herself into a murderous rage. She pulls the trigger because she is angry, not because it will get her the money.
Ebony recalls seeing Jimmie fall in slow motion. She runs away. The murder, she says, was “senseless & stupid.” About the non-existent money, she says, “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”
With Ebony’s testimony, Lt. Joe issues three warrants for first-degree murder. All three turn themselves in. All three are 17 years old, & are charged as adults.
With a plea bargain, Michelle is convicted of second-degree murder & sentenced to twenty years in prison. Sheena is sentenced to eight years’ probation. In a jury trial, Shawna is acquitted.
Ebony Jones describes herself back then as “young & dumb & crazy.” Under a witness protection program, she relocates & starts a new life. She goes to church. She works in the community. She says she does her best to be a good person.
Lt. Joe summarizes this taking of a human life over a small amount of money & at the hands of a teenager. It “doesn’t make much sense.”
The murderers: You won’t be surprised to hear that Lt. Joe describes these three women as “scum of the earth.” He figures the IQ level at 85. One twin may have been acquitted on this case, but soon enough, she was in prison on other convictions. Lt. Joe doesn’t know for sure, but he believes all three are now either dead or locked up. That’s certainly how they were tending.
The sentences: In this case, the plea bargain makes sense. This actually was second-degree murder, an unplanned killing. Michelle didn’t plan to find Jimmie that night. She found him by happenstance.
The motive: Killing Jimmie was not going to pay his debt. So the killing wasn’t really about money. It was about rage, Lt. Joe says, & because this young woman had the ability to kill.
A sort of happy ending: When all this happened, Ebony Jones was 17 years old & alone. She had no father, & as Lt. Joe puts it, her mother was “in the wind.” She was hanging around with bad people. Given the difficult decision about whether to talk to police, she had no one to advise or guide her.
Imagine where this life was taking her. She was on a path toward prison or an early grave. On the witness protection program, she moved to Arizona. She started a new life. She appears to be on an entirely different life path.
Lt. Joe says he could have moved her to the next block, & the dimwits of her neighborhood would never have found her.
But note that on screen, all these years later, she is wearing dark glasses & a large hat.
Carl Taylor was a veteran, & not just any veteran. He was a hero of the Korean war. He had rescued fellow combatants from a burning plane. He had back to retrieve bodies of the fallen. A grateful nation had presented him with awards for his courage.
He continued in the Air Force for another ten years after that.
And then, as Lt. Joe bitterly says, when he was used up, they threw him away. Lt. Joe refers to a long history of the neglect of American veterans, back to the Revolutionary War, when no one bothered over much about paying salary due, & any injuries soldiers suffered were their own problem. It was true in 1776, Lt. Joe says, & it’s too close to true now. (This was in private conversation. The show does not dwell on such issues.)
Carl ends up deeply underemployed & semi-homeless. With poverty all too often comes danger. It takes money to buy a safe place to sleep in a secure environment. Carl could not afford such luxuries. And so as he attempted to sleep in the back of a unlocked truck, Carl was murdered.
Most quoted lines: “A murder case is like a spinning top on a table. Put pressure on it, & it goes off the table, & you never get it back.”
Summary: This is one of Lt. Joe’s early cases, 1978. The murder happens in the wee hours of a hot August night, just outside the South Hancock apartments, a Colorado Springs locale with a reputation for street crime. Carl Taylor & his boss Jim are movers from Oklahoma who have been working on a job. They’ve parked the truck for the night. Jim is sleeping in the cab. Carl is sleeping in the back.
About 1 AM, Jim hears a commotion. He jumps from the cab & runs to the back of the truck, where he finds Carl beat up & bleeding, on the point of death from severe head injuries.
When the news comes, Lt. Joe is going through paperwork at his office. He’s been working what he calls the “cocktail shift,” 6 PM to 2 AM. Now he’ll be working the rest of the night & who knows how long after that.
He finds a gruesome scene inside the truck. The scene is bloody, not only pooled blood from the body but also castoff blood. The castoff blood tells of violence, the cruel repeat of a blunt instrument. It seems that the perpetrators had in mind to steal from the truck. But the truck was nearly empty. In their panic to run, they left behind what little loot they did pick up. Lying nearby is a cardboard box they dropped. The box contains a few Christmas ornaments. Lt. Joe also finds $43 in blood-stained cash.
Carl’s brother talks about what a good man Carl was, his courage in the Air Force, his family of a wife & two daughters, his post-military work as a long-haul trucker, a delivery & moving man.
First Lt. Joe talks with the boss Jim. Then he interviews Everett, a local boy who had been working with them the previous day. Everett reveals that Jim was a loud & argumentative boss, complaining & even threatening Carl, as in “I’m going to punch your lights out.”
Lt. Joe goes back to talk with Jim again. This time, Jim is defensive. He says he didn’t really mean his threats. That was just talk. More important, Jim’s hands are clean. His clothes show no sign of blood. He says that, just hours before, he had paid Carl $43 in cash for the day’s labor. That accounts for the blood-stained cash.
Jim is no longer a suspect. But people in the nearby apartment building are certainly suspects. Lt. Joe knows many of them by their arrest records. A number of them are soldiers living off base. (The base has rules, Lt. Joe remarks, & these guys are not the type to obey rules.)
In an attempt to narrow down the suspects, Lt. Joe interviews Lois, who manages the apartment building. Lois knows everyone who might or might not get involved in a crime of this magnitude. Lt. Joe begins interviewing right & left. One person doesn’t know everything, but everybody knows something. It’s a early version of crowd sourcing.
One interview is with Joe White, a soldier with a minor criminal history. He’s distressed, confused, & frightened during the interview. (Yes, that does sound suspicious. But people do tend to get that way when Lt. Joe is the interrogator.) This man says he was with his girl friend all night, but he can’t remember where she lives. Lt. Joe tries a polygraph test on him. Joe White passes. He seems to have nothing to confess.
Now comes the part where I become squeamish: Lt. Joe attends the autopsy. He does this routinely, he says, because he can learn something. What he learns from this autopsy is that the head injuries show a pattern of ridges. The weapon was heavy. It had mass. It imprinted a pattern into the injuries it inflicted.
Lt. Joe himself is no longer squeamish. But the autopsy does impress him with “the sadness of it all, the uselessness of it all.” All this violence was for what? Just a box half full of old Christmas decorations & $43 cash?
Lt. Joe doesn’t know what type of weapon could have inflicted these patterns. But he comes up with a good idea. He takes the autopsy photos to those who very well may know, the employees of a local tool manufacturer. Autopsy photographs are not for the uninitiated. One of the tool experts throws up in a trash can.
But the tool experts, those who can bear to look, think the patterns look familiar. They decide it’s the leg of a surveyor’s transit. That makes no sense to Lt. Joe. “Who’s going to have that in his pocket in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night? I don’t think I’m looking for Mason and Dixon.”
The tool experts think again. Perhaps this is a bumper jack from a General Motors vehicle, 1972. Now that makes sense. Now police have something to look for.
Police also arrest a man for burglary. He claims to have information. In exchange, he wants a deal for a lighter sentence. This is a necessary evil of police work. Criminals know criminals. Lt. Joe suggests this man talk first, think about a deal later. Here’s Lt. Joe the interrogator again: “I’m going to beat him up psychologically to see what he knows.”
What he hears is that four men were involved in the crime. They are Sonny Evans, Phil Brown, Eric Kendall, & “some other dude.” The three named suspects all have criminal records. All live in the apartment complex. Best of all, a “lightning bolt,” as Lt. Joe puts it, is that Sonny drives a 1972 Cadillac. Want to bet there’s a bumper jack in that car?
Lt. Joe gets a search warrant & impounds the car. Sure enough, there’s the jack. “I’ve seen these ridges before,” says Lt. Joe glumly. He takes the jack to the crime lab. Although wiped clean, the jack still shows a tiny bit of human hair, just about 3/8 inch. Hidden inside the hollow center of the jack is dried blood, plenty of evidence.
Police arrest Sonny & Phil. Eric has fled to Philadelphia. Police find him there & extradite him back to Colorado. Lt. Joe likes interviewing Eric. “It feels very good when you reach that point,” Lt. Joe declares. “You’re talking to a player–not one who knows them, one who IS them.”
Eric confesses “in complete order & in detail.” He names that missing fourth man, the “some other dude” that the informant had mentioned. That’s Rickie Dillon, a bad guy with a big swagger. According to Eric, the other three men knock on his door that night. They invite him to join them in a fun little theft. That truck looks like easy pickings. They consult on a plan to steal what they imagine to be valuable contents. Why does Rickie carry the jack? He assumes he will need it to pry open a lock.
But the truck is not locked. Rickie is surprised when the victim jumps up. Rickie panics. He attacks. He keeps on attacking.
Jim hears the noise & jumps out of the cab. The would-be thieves drop the box & the cash. They run off.
As Eric signs his confession, Lt. Joe goes looking for Rickie Dillon. People around the apartment complex don’t like Rickie. (Wonder why?) They’re willing to talk. And Rickie is not good at hiding. Police find him virtually the first place they look, at his girl friend’s house. While she’s saying he’s not there, they find him in the basement, hiding behind the furnace.
Eric, Sonny, & Phil are convicted of first-degree burglary. They each get sentences of five to seven years.
Ricky Dillon is convicted of first-degree murder. He gets a life sentence.
This was, as Lt. Joe says at the end, brutality without purpose. The victim presented himself to the killer just seconds before the attack. The attack came without thought or explanation. Carl died at the hands of a man who didn’t even know his name.
Real life versus the TV version: On TV, Lt. Joe leads the SWAT team into a building to find Rickie. He is in front, seemingly dressed in just a suit & tie, no protective gear. In real life, he tells me that, of course, he had protective gear. On TV, the crime lab appears not to find dried blood on the jack. Only Lt. Joe can spot it. In real life, he & the manager of the crime lab lifted up the jack at the same time & peered in from each end–& guess what they saw?
Making a deal with a criminal, part one: In the course of interrogation for burglary, a man offers information about this case. He’d like to exchange his information for a lesser charge or lighter sentence than he might otherwise deserve. Lt. Joe promises nothing, & in the end snarls, “No deal.” Actually, Lt. Joe did not have the authority to make a deal. He could tell prosecutors that the man has been helpful. And indeed, this prolific & well-informed burglar did offer up the names of three of the perpetrators. That’s something for prosecutors to think over.
Making a deal with a criminal, part two: In the show, Rickie’s girl friend claims she doesn’t know where he is. Lt. Joe threatens her with arrest as an accessory if she doesn’t tell the truth. She continues to lie, even as police find Rickie hiding in the basement. What happened next: Lt. Joe did indeed arrest her. She was convicted & served ten years.
Finding a criminal who’s hiding: Lt. Joe tells me it’s common for criminals to be really dumb at hiding. (Just read the current headlines.) “You need to not sit still,” he says. “If you sit still, I’ll find you.” (Why is he telling me this? Some sort of sibling thing?)
Judgments & sentences: Compare Rickie Dillon with the killer Ronald Ball in “Death Grip,” the 4th show of this fourth season. Rickie Dillon got a public defender. He also got a life sentence. In contrast, Ron Ball’s parents paid half a million dollars for an expert defense team & a bevy of expert witnesses. A jury found Ron Ball to be temporarily insane. He served about ten years in a state psychiatric hospital. That’s a prison facility, & he left with a criminal record. But it’s nothing like a life sentence.
Does money make all the difference?
Temporary insanity: If you’re thinking about sudden impulsive killing, such as one might expect from a verdict involving “temporary insanity,” consider this further contrast. Ron sought out his victim with a loaded gun. Doesn’t that look as if he was demonstrating an ability to plan ahead? The ability to premeditate a decision is a factor in the legal definition of insanity, even if not necessarily in a medical diagnosis of mental illness. On the other hand, Rickie seems not to have planned ahead for murder. He arrived with a car jack intending to pry open a lock. He seems to have had no idea a human being was inside the truck. Seconds later he uses the jack to kill, hitting again & again in a frenzied attack. Doesn’t that seem like insanity, temporary or not?