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?