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Month: November 2021

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Bart Foster was homeless.  He slept under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which runs along the waterfront in downtown Seattle.  One night, while sleeping, Foster became another statistic of the dangers of living homeless.  Someone crushed his head with a cinder block across from the downtown ferry terminal where tourists and commuters take boats to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton.

I was next-up for a murder.  My partner was Sonny Davis.

I arrived for work in May 1997 to learn that a murder had occurred the night before.

We weren’t called to the scene of this murder; a horrible thing for a detective trying to solve a case like this.  Tom Pike and Paul Suguro were the on-call detectives who went to the scene.  Foster was taken to Harborview.  They didn’t think he was going to die, so they didn’t call us out.

They were wrong.

After he died, I called Richard Harruff, the Medical Examiner, who had conducted the autopsy on Foster.

“He had injuries to the left side of his head,” he said.  “It’s consistent with being hit with a large block.  It caused a fracture to the base of his skull.  There were also abrasions to his knees and his right cheek.”

We (actually I, since Davis had little to do with this case) were behind the eight-ball from the beginning, but I caught a break early on.  Keith Kzmirski, a cab driver, was reportedly a witness to the assault.  I tracked him down to a West Seattle address.  He wasn’t very cooperative at first, but I got him to tell me what he knew.  I have a way with people like him.  This is a murder, not a Goddamned car prowl.  I let him know I wasn’t going away.  If I had to drag him before a judge to tell me what he knew, I was going to do that, and I’d do it on my schedule, when it was convenient for me, with no consideration about imposing on him.  He decided to cooperate.

I knew he would.

He was working for Pioneer Cab Company as a supervisor.

“Where were you between four fifteen and four twenty-five in the morning, on May 20th?” I asked.

“I was near the power plant,” he said, “down on the waterfront.”

“Is that across from the ferry terminal there?” I asked.

“Right.”

“Tell me what you saw there,” I said.

“Well, I was pulling right up by the power plant.  I saw a black gentleman, twenty-five to thirty.  He had a cinder block, and he brought it down on something behind the dumpster.”

“Was it a full cinder block?” I asked.

“No, a half cinder block.”

“So, you saw it was up over his head?”

“I saw it up over his head,” he said, “and then he was bringing it down.”

“With both hands?”

“Both hands.”

“Did he bring it down hard on something?” I asked.

“Well, he didn’t bring it down soft,” he said.

“Could you see where he was standing?” I asked.

“He was standing right behind the dumpster,” he said.  “I had a shot of him from the waist up.  There’s two couches there.  I didn’t realize at the time what he was doing, or I would have called the police myself.

“But then I realized that there’s two guys sleeping on those couches and that he must have been doing something to one of them.”

He’d gotten a good look at the suspect, so I had him help create a composite drawing.

Betty Kincaid was the forensic artist I used.  Betty was a civilian employee of the police department and a very accomplished artist.  I’d had excellent results from her before.  It wasn’t just because she was a good artist—she was.  Her drawings always look like real people, not the alien-looking drawings I see other police departments put out.  She was also an excellent interviewer.  She had a hypnotic way about her that drew extra information from the witness she was working with.  On several occasions, when she developed a sketch of an unknown suspect, the drawing looked just like him once the suspect was identified and arrested.

I set her up with the cab driver.  After about three hours, she had a sketch.  She gave it to me.

I made up a bulletin using the sketch.  I walked it down to the SWAT office on the third floor of the old headquarters building.

When not training (which is most of the time), SWAT officers drive around in plain cars.  I gave them the bulletin.

“Do you think you could grab this guy by seven?” I asked jokingly.

I was back in the office at seven-thirty when my phone rang.  An operator in the 911 center was calling.

“There’s a Zebra Unit (the designation SWAT uses) who have a person stopped at 2nd South and Washington Street that matches a bulletin you put out tonight.”

“I’ll be right there,” I told the operator.

I pulled up at that location.  Officers Joe Fountain and Rudy Gonzales had two people stopped.

“We saw this guy,” Fountain said.  “He looks like the sketch you put out tonight.  The guy he was with said he told him he’d assaulted a guy down on the waterfront a few days ago.

 

That was all I needed.

“Hook ‘em up and bring them to my office,” I said.

Once there, I put the guy that looked like the sketch, whom we had identified as Nathan Payne, in an interview room.  I walked in and advised him of his rights.  Then I took out the sketch and laid it on the table in front of him.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s me,” he said.

After three hours of intense but quiet interrogation, he’d confessed to the murder.  I was getting ready to book him into jail when Sonny came in.

“Who’s that in the interview room?” he asked.

“That’s the killer in our latest murder.  I’m about to book him.”

Sonny had a sheepish look on his face.

“I wasn’t’ there to help you with this at all.  Good job.”

I appreciated the comment, at least.

Fifteen years later, after an appellate court decision that affected his case, I saw Payne again in court, where he was for a resentencing.  He greeted me like we were old friends.

I get that a lot.

 

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Thanksgiving Memories

I was home on November 29, 1996.  Thanksgiving Day.

Seated in a recliner in my living room watching football, dinner had not yet been served when my phone rang.

It was work.

As one might expect, I muttered an expletive and answered the phone.

“Hello?”

“We’ve got an officer-involved shooting at 7518 20th Avenue Northeast,” my sergeant Don Cameron informed me. “SWAT is on the scene.  There’s one fatality. I need you to respond.”

I grabbed my gun and keys to my work car and headed out the door, the aroma of a great meal wafting behind me.

When I arrived at the location about thirty blocks north of the University of Washington, dozens of Seattle Police vehicles, including several SWAT trucks and armored vehicles, clogged the residential street.

I stepped under the yellow tape into the chaotic scene and approached Cameron.

“I don’t know if you heard about the bank robbery yesterday afternoon,”—I hadn’t.

“It was a take-over job by a group that has been robbing banks the last couple of weeks.  A robbery unit spotted their car in traffic, and a chase ensued.  They fired shots at the Robbery detective.  They were last seen in this area.

“The owner of this house has a camper in the back yard.  He was getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner and noticed movement in the camper.  He called the police.

“The responding officers realized this could be one of the suspects in the robbery and shooting.  They surrounded the camper and yelled for the person to come out.

“A shot was fired, and several of them returned fire.  The suspect still didn’t come out, so they called SWAT.

“SWAT arrived and, after also getting no response, fired tear gas into the camper.

They finally approached and found the guy dead inside.

Cameron asked me to go to the precinct where the officers were and talk to them.

I arrived at the precinct.  Four officers and a sergeant, Howard Monta, whom I knew, were in a conference room.

“We yelled at him to come out,” Monta told me, “and then there was a shot.  I was pretty sure he was shooting at us.  We returned fire.”

I returned to the scene.

Myself and my partner, Sonny Davis, were detailed to enter the camper and photograph the inside. Because the camper had been shot with several tear gas rounds, we donned hooded Tyvex suits and gas masks.

As we entered the camper, the CS gas flakes laid thick on every surface.  As we moved, the flakes swirled in the air.  I had to wait until they settled again to take a clear photograph.  Bullet holes pocked the walls of the unit.

The body of a white male, later identified as William “Hollywood” Scurloch, the leader of the band of marauders, lie strewn on a chair.  The nickname Hollywood came from his applying makeup as a disguise before conducting a robbery.

There was a single gunshot wound to the side of his head and a semiautomatic handgun in his hand.

There was what appeared to be a bullet wound to one of his fingers as well.  The tip of the finger was severed off, but there was no blood.  That told me Scurloch had been dead when that shot was fired.

After taking the photos, we exited the camper.

I removed the Tyvex suit and my gas mask.  I knew what would happen since it had happened to me before.  The CS particles swirled around me.  I was gassed as much as I would have been if I had been inside the camper when this happened.

Tears rolled down my face, and my nose ran.

Ann Rule later wrote a book about Scurloch. The first, but not last, time my name appeared in one of her books.

I got home well after midnight.  I entered through the garage and into the laundry room, taking my clothes off and placing them in a plastic bag, not wishing to gas my house as well.

I completely missed Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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Samurai Apartment Manager

In September of 1994, I was called just after midnight to a murder. It was in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, between downtown and the Seattle Center, where the Space Needle is located. The incident happened upstairs from the Casa U Betcha restaurant in the 2200 block of 1st Avenue.
An argument started between the apartment manager and a tenant. Like most people, when faced with an argument, the apartment manager retreated to his own apartment and grabbed a Samurai sword he kept there.
He returned to the scene and confronted the pesky tenant. When he didn’t get the response he wanted, he ran the tenant through with the sword, as anyone would do.
The victim had been transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
This was the second day of three where I would be called to a murder scene before one in the morning. I wasn’t in a good mood.
I spoke to the manager.
“What’s the big deal?” he asked, oblivious to the situation.
“The guy is dead!” I told him. “I’m not an argument detective, I’m a homicide detective!”
The rest of the night didn’t go well for that guy.
I described the incident to friends later as “Samurai Apartment Manager,” doing my best John Belushi impression. 
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Self Defense.

I was called from home one Saturday to report a shooting in Westlake Center just after noon.  Westlake is in the heart of downtown Seattle, just blocks from Pike Place Market, and always bustling.

One man had been shot and taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he died.  A suspect was in custody.

I arrived at the scene; yellow tape encircled the area, a crowd of tourists and shoppers downtown on a lovely afternoon gaping at the spectacle.

“We got the report of the shooting,” a patrol sergeant told me.  “When we arrived, the victim was down on the street.  The suspect stayed.  He told us that he shot the guy.  I had him taken to your office.”

After looking the scene over, I went to my office to interview the shooter.

When I arrived, I ran his name in the computer systems.  He had a history of nickel and dime offenses, but nothing serious.  He had what appeared to be a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon.

I entered the interview room.

The shooter was a Black male in his fifties. He sat quietly in a seat in the room.

He made it clear early that he didn’t much like the police.

After advising him of his rights, we chatted for a while.

“Tell me what happened,” I said finally.

“Man,” he said.  “I was minding my own business.  I was going to see a movie.  I walked across Westlake, and this white dude just attacked me!  He grabbed me and threw me on the ground!  I didn’t know who he was or why he was attacking me!  He started banging my head on the ground.  I thought I was going to die.  I had my gun, and I took it out and shot.  He fell off me.

“When I got up, I put my gun on the ground. People told me to run.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I wasn’t going to run.  When the police showed up, I tried to tell them it was me.  They kept telling me to step back.  Finally, one of them realized what I was saying.  They cuffed me and brought me here.”

He had a slight scowl on his face as he told the story.

“How’s the guy doing?” he asked me.

“He’s dead,” I told him.

His shoulders shook, and he began to sob inconsolably.

“I didn’t want to kill him!  I just had to get him off me.”

I left the room.

Other detectives brought in surveillance video.  It had been controlled by a person in the security section of Westlake Center.  It wasn’t pointed at the scene when the shooting occurred but quickly panned there afterward.

It showed the victim lying on the ground and the shooter standing over him, placing the gun on the sidewalk.

Just like he said, he stood there until the police arrived and tried to let them know he had been the shooter.

A couple of hours later, I opened the interview room door.

He looked up at me, a look of dread on his face.

“Do you need a ride home?” I asked.

“What?” he said, incredulous.

“I asked if you need a ride home,” I said.  “You had a right to defend yourself.”

“Yes, please,” he said meekly.

I drove him to his apartment in the SODO area.

As it ended up, the man that attacked him was a Canadian. He had severe mental issues.

His family in Canada wasn’t happy the shooter wasn’t charged. It is what it is.

I think the guy’s opinion of the police changed that day.

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