On my way to work on July 3, 2013, I was notified of a body found on railroad tracks south of South Spokane Street at 5th Avenue South.
I was next-up for a murder, so I responded directly to the scene.
When I arrived, a freight train was stopped northbound on the tracks. Just in front of the train on a parallel track was the mostly-nude body of a white female, her arms and legs splayed to the side.
I spoke to the patrol sergeant at the scene.
“That train,” he said, pointing to the locomotive, “was coming slowly up the track when the engineer saw the body on the next track over. He stopped and called the police.
“We contacted two transients in the tents over there,” he said, gesturing to two tents beside the track. “The people inside denied knowing anything about the woman, but a male in one of the tents had blood on his shoes. He told us he’d been in a fight earlier, and it was his blood. I’m having them transported to your office.”
I walked to the body. A light blue top was bunched up near her head, and a purse strap was against her neck. She was nude from the stomach down. Her face was bloodied.
On her left wrist was a parallel blood drop. That’s unusual in a case like this. I hoped the killer had been bleeding and had dripped blood on her.
There were what appeared to be drag marks from the area of the tents to the body’s location.
I looked around the tents next to the tracks. The bloody shoes one of the males had worn were outside one of the tents.
CSI detectives arrived to process the scene. Later the medical examiner arrived. Doctor Aldo Fusaro examined the body, and it was removed.
I returned to the office to interview the people Patrol had detained.
Roger Seela was a Native male. I entered the interview room. He was very intoxicated. I obtained a search warrant and had him taken to Harborview Medical Center for a blood draw to determine his blood alcohol content in case he was the killer.
When he returned, I had him placed back in an interview room. I let him sleep for a while until I thought he was sober enough for the interview.
He denied knowing anything about the murder.
“I was in a fight earlier,” he said. “I got a bloody nose. That’s how the blood got on my shoes. I was super drunk when I went back to my tent. I didn’t hear anything.”
I also interviewed a Native female who identified herself as Seela’s girlfriend. Her story was consistent with his.
Later I submitted a lab request, asking that the blood on Seela’s shoes be typed for DNA and compared to my victim’s blood.
Dr. Fusaro conducted an autopsy on my victim, later identified as April Frederick. He determined she died of manual strangulation (strangulation by hands) and blows to the head.
A few days later, I got a call. The caller said that a transient male named Joseph Cecceralli told people he knew who killed my victim.
I ran Cecceralli’s name in the computer systems. He had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
I put a bullet out asking for Cecceralli to be picked up for the warrant.
A day later, I heard from a patrol officer. They had Cecceralli in custody.
“Bring him to my office,” I said.
They arrived several minutes later and placed Cecceralli in an interview room.
I went in. I expected to meet with resistance, but that wasn’t the case.
“I hear you’re telling people you know who killed April Frederick,” I said.
“I think I do,” he replied, completely cooperative. “Someone tried to sell me a watch. It had blood on it.”
After speaking with him for a while, I realized he wasn’t a bad guy.
“You’re going to be my informant,” I told him. “I want you to try to get that watch and report anything you hear to me.”
I got him a cell phone and recorded the number. He called me from time to time, reporting anything he heard.
I made arrangements to meet him one day near where he stayed. I went there at the appointed time, but he wasn’t there.
I drove around the area for a few minutes until I spotted him several blocks away speaking with other transients. I called to have a patrol car meet me nearby.
“There’s a transient at 4th and Holgate,” I told the officers. “He’s an informant of mine, and he was supposed to meet me. I want you to go over there, get rid of the others, and tell him to go to the spot we were supposed to meet.”
I watched as the officers approached the group. They shooed the others away and then spoke to Ceccarelli. He looked startled and then walked away.
The officers returned to my location.
“We talked to him and said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to meet Detective Steiger?’ He said he had forgotten and was heading there now.
I drove to the spot. Ceccarelli was there waiting.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He had obviously been drinking.
He updated me about what he knew.
“You really want to catch the person who did this,” he said, “even though they’re homeless.”
“They pay me to solve cases,” I said. “It doesn’t matter to me who the victims are.
He told me about his life.
He had been painting houses in Hawaii, but he had a severe drinking problem. His father was a state representative, and his brother was a lawyer.
“You should really get yourself into rehab,” I said. “You can’t stay on the street.”
He told me he had a warrant out of Snohomish County.
“I have sixty days hanging up there.”
Winter was fast approaching.
“You need to turn yourself in soon. At least you’ll have somewhere warm to sleep in the winter, with three meals a day,” I told him.
He agreed and got out of my car.
The lab report came back.
The blood on Seela’s shoes was my victim’s. I arrested him for murder. He had cancer and died in jail before trial.
A couple of months later, I was working nights. I spoke to a friend of mine at the Medical Examiner’s Office, Alison Myrabo, on the phone.
“I have a dead body call down on 3rd Avenue South near Holgate,” she told me.
“I had a homeless informant that stays down there,” I said.
After a while, I decided to drive down there to see what happened. Alison was pulling away as I approached.
“What was your informant’s name?” she asked.
“Joseph Cacceralli,” I said.
She looked at me, a concerned look on her face.
“That’s the dead person,” she said.
I found out that Caceralli died of pneumonia. He hadn’t taken my advice about spending the winter in jail.