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.