One of the most satisfying things in my career was getting called to the scene of a murder, having no idea what happened or who did it, working for several hours, making the arrest, and getting a confession.
On April 6th, 1995, I worked late. I was getting ready to go home for the day when a call came into the office. In North Seattle, a woman was murdered in her condo near 135th and Lynden. I was up for the next murder, so I headed to the scene instead of going home.
I arrived at the relatively new building. The officers at the scene briefed me.
“This lady lives alone in the unit,” they said. “Her friends hadn’t seen her for a few days, and they saw newspapers piling up on the porch. A manager entered with a key. He smelled her when he entered. She’s in the bedroom on the bed. It looks like she’s been stabbed.”
I went inside. When I did, I was met with a rancid odor; a scent I had experienced many times before; the smell of death.
I went into the bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed, taking in the scene: The woman lay on her back. There were stab wounds in her chest and a stab wound through her upper lip and pallet. A book lay next to her. It had a notch in the top of the spine; she had been lying in bed reading when the killer approached and stabbed her while she held the book. The killer struck the top of the book with the first stab, which penetrated her upper lip.
A folding-blade Buck knife lay on the bed, a perfect print in blood on the handle. This will be easy, I thought.
In a bathroom off the bedroom where the victim’s body lay, a Sponge bob Square pants watch was lying on the sink, watered-down blood on and around it. The killer had been wearing it when he killed her and washed up in the sink, leaving the watch behind.
A pair of blue jeans spattered with blood was laid on the bathroom floor. In the front pocket of the jeans, I found copper foil. Foil like this is used to clean crack pipes.
The killer is a crack addict.
A pair of white socks lay next to the jeans, also spattered with blood. They had dark spots near the toes.
“The killer has shoes that have holes in the toes,” I told the other detectives at the scene.
A laundry basket was on the floor in the living room. It contained laundered and folded men’s clothing, though she lived in the unit alone.
A pair of socks were folded in the basket. I unfolded them; they had faint signs of the same dirt spots as the blood-spattered socks in the bathroom. Whoever killed her was the person whose laundry she was doing.
I asked the manager about the victim.
“She has a boyfriend. An older guy she sees from time to time,” he told me. “She has two sons. I know that one of them is a manager of a supermarket. I don’t know much about the other son.”
In cases like this, someone close to the victim is almost always the killer. Occam’s razor: the simplest answer is almost always the correct one.
The folded laundry in the living room told me I was right.
She loved the person who killed her.
We spoke to her boyfriend and eliminated him as a suspect. He was devastated by her death. Not that someone appearing devastated is enough to eliminate them, but he seemed sincere. I didn’t think he was involved.
“Her son has been staying with her the last couple of weeks,” he said.
“Tell me about him.”
“He has a drug problem. She tried to help him get his life together.”
We had our suspect.
“She has a car. It should be parked in the lot.”
He told us about the other son, the supermarket manager. He gave us that son’s address, near Green Lake in Seattle.
We went to the address. I knocked on the door, and a young man answered. His pregnant wife stood behind him. I identified myself. He invited us in.
“I’m afraid I have bad news,” I said. “Your mother’s been murdered.”
“My brother killed her,” he said.
I stared at him for a moment.
“Why do you think that?” I asked.
“I just know,” he replied. “My brother has a serious drug problem. He showed up at her house and needed someplace to stay. I told her not to let him stay there, but she insisted.”
He gave me his brother’s name and description. We had put out a region-wide bulletin for the missing car. We added a description of the brother.
It didn’t take long. A couple of hours later, we got a call from the Edmonds Police Department. Edmonds is a suburban city north of Seattle in Snohomish County.
They found the victim’s car in a motel parking lot.
When we got there, we spoke to the Edmonds officers. They had the car under surveillance.
A Korean couple owned the motel. We went to the office and asked them with which unit the car was associated. They told us.
“We will need a key to that unit,” I said.
The Korean man who owned it balked. He wouldn’t give us a key.
“Fine,” I told him. “We’ll just break the fucking door down.” I walked away.
His wife spoke to him in Korean. He retrieved the key and gave it to us. I knew he would. I have a way with people.
We went to the room. I pounded on the door. “Seattle Police! Open the door!”
A moment later, the door opened. A man appeared in his white stocking feet. I looked at his socks; he had stains near the toes.
“You have stains on your socks,” I said.
“My shoes have holes in them,” he replied.
“We just came from your mom’s place,” I said.
He looked down. “Oh.”
We arrested him and put him in the Chevy Astro van we’d driven to the scene and raced back toward downtown Seattle. We were on Interstate 5, heading southbound, when smoke poured out of the back of the van. We pulled to the side of the freeway.
“I’m a mechanic. I can look at the car if you want,” the suspect said.
I smiled. “No thanks. We’ll have it towed.”
Another car picked us up and took us downtown.
Back at headquarters, he and I sat in an interview room.
“I was in the living room watching ‘Reservoir Dogs’ when I thought I should kill my mother, so I went into her bedroom. She was lying in her bed reading, and I started stabbing her. She said, ‘I love you,’ but I didn’t want to hear it. I just stabbed the fuck out of her.”
Later, we went back to the apartment and found the VCR. We pushed the eject button. A copy of Reservoir Dogs popped out.