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Author: csteiger

The Jungle

In September 2008, just after midnight, my partner, Jason Kasner, and I were called to a homicide scene in an area colloquially known as “the Jungle.”

The Jungle is a wooded area just east of downtown Seattle, on the east side of Interstate 5 and south of Interstate 90. We’ve all been to murders in the Jungle. It’s rife with homeless camps, drug dealers, and other ne’er-do-wells.

On this early morning, our victim was identified as a black male named Major Lee Gay. He was known to dabble in the freelance pharmaceutical business. He’d been shot to death.

We didn’t have much information the morning of the murder, but after a short time, we were contacted by a Narcotics detective. He had an informant who told him that a Vietnamese person known to frequent the Jungle admitted to the informant that he’d shot Major.

We met with this informant, who spoke very little English. The informant repeated to us what he’d told the Narcotics guy. An older Viet suspect said he’d killed Major in conversation with the informant.

We applied for a wire authorization with a judge, requesting permission to put the wire on our informant. We would then facilitate a meeting between him and the suspect, hoping to get the suspect to admit on the recording that he’d killed Major.

The first time we wired the informant, we met him at Seattle Fire Station 28 in Rainier Valley. As the tech put the wire on him, I talked to him.

“Remember,” I said. “It’s essential that you say ‘Major’ and ‘shooting’ in your conversation. Can you do that?”

“Yes, yes!” he said enthusiastically.

He then went off for the meeting.

We could listen remotely to the conversation. However, they spoke in Vietnamese, so we couldn’t understand what was being said.

We later had an interpreter listen to the conversation. The informant didn’t discuss Major or the shooting at all.

A week or so later, we tried again.

“It’s very important,” I said, “that you get the suspect to talk about Major and the shooting. Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes!” he again said.

We sent him to meet with the suspect. Once again, no mention was made of Major or the shooting.

Later, we found that the suspect was in custody for an unrelated crime. We decided to bring him over for a chat.

We had a great friend who was an ICE agent. He was born in Vietnam. We used him as our interpreter.

Jason and Lee (the ICE agent) went into the interview room with the suspect. I watched on the other side of the one-way glass. (You don’t want more than two people in with the suspect during an interrogation.)

Jason interviewed the suspect, interpreted by Lee. At one point, Lee angrily yelled at the suspect in Vietnamese. Jason asked what that was about.

“He told me I don’t understand his dialect. I told him I understand all dialects, motherf**ker!”

After a few minutes, I spoke to Jason in the hall outside the interrogation room.

“Play a few seconds of the wire recording,” I said. “See what he says.”

Jason went back in and did that. The suspect didn’t know when that had been recorded. For all he knew, it was when he admitted the shooting. He changed his story, saying that he’d shot Major in self-defense.

Nice try.

He later pleaded guilty to the murder.

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Russell and Shirley Dermond Murder

 

 

 

I recently participated in a live discussion with my friends at Citizen Detective about the bizare murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond.

You can listed to the recording of the discussion here.

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Cafe Racer

May 30, 2012, was a Wednesday. It was a beautiful sunny Spring day in Seattle.

I attended a weekly case review at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. The ME would go over cases in a Powerpoint presentation and discuss findings, unusual issues, and the like of various death scenes. I attended these weekly meetings for several years and was often the only law enforcement representative there.

In the middle of the meeting at about ten thirty in the morning, my cell phone blew up. When I answered, the administrative assistant in Homicide told me that there had been a mass shooting at the Café Racer at Northeast 59th Street and Roosevelt Way, several blocks north of the campus of the University of Washington.

I jumped in my unmarked police car and raced to the scene.

When I arrived, the scene was chaotic.   A dozen police cars, fire engines, medic units, and other emergency vehicles blocked Roosevelt Way.

A patrol sergeant briefed other detectives and me.

“A guy was seated at the bar,” he said—the Café Racer was a coffee spot during the day and a bar in the evenings— “He suddenly pulled out a gun and began shooting everyone in the place. We have several dead inside and more transported to Harborview.”

I stood at the front door of the business. There were large pools of blood covering the floor. I could see bodies near the rear. Spent handgun shell casings littered the floor.

More detectives were arriving. We discussed how we would approach the scene when Bob Vallor, my sergeant in Homicide, approached me.

“Cloyd, we just had a shooting downtown at 8th and Seneca. They’re calling for Homicide to respond. Would you go there and see what’s going on?”

“Sure,” I said and went to my police car. I activated my lights and siren, navigating through traffic backed up because of the activity at the scene.

Traffic is always bad in and around downtown Seattle on a weekday, but I made it to the scene in about twenty minutes.

When I arrived, a sergeant at that scene briefed me.

“A woman was going to a business meeting at Town Hall,” which was the name of the building where the shooting took place.

“She parked her car and was walking away from it when a white male approached her and just shot her in the head with no words or warning at all. The suspect then drove away in her car, a Mercedes SUV.

“Medics took her to Harborview, but she was DOA.”

The scene consisted of a large blood pool in the parking lot and a single fired shell casing.

I got down on my knees and looked at the headstamp on the casing. It was a .45 ACP.

I called Vallor at the Café Racer scene.

“What caliber are the rounds at that scene?” I asked.

“I’m not sure yet. CSI is just entering.”

“Let me know when you find out,” I said. “I wonder if these two scenes might be related. This is a lot of violence for a Wednesday morning in Seattle.”

“Will do,” he said before hanging up.

My partner, Jason Kasner, had taken off early. On the way to the downtown scene, I’d called him.

“Get your butt back in here. The shit’s hitting the fan.”

He arrived at the Seneca Street scene. A minute later, Vallor called back.

“These are .45s,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure this is related then,” I said, though I wondered if the shooter could make it from there to this location in that short amount of time without the aid of lights and sirens that I had.

A short time later, we got word that the downtown victim’s car had been found parked on Delridge Way in West Seattle, the complete opposite side of town from the Café Racer.

We raced to that scene.

Dozens of other officers were scouring the area, guns drawn, looking in the backyards of houses to see if the shooter was nearby.

After pulling the surveillance video at the Café Racer, the shooter was identified as Ian Stawicki. He was a regular at the bar who had recently been barred from going there because of bizarre behavior.

After clearing that scene, we went to our office to sort out what we had.

We were only there a short time when we heard that Stawicki was spotted walking in a residential area of West Seattle by an undercover detective who had been driving the streets looking for him. We switched our police radios to the frequency that covered that area.

Soon after, officers reported that shots were fired at the scene.

I jumped in my car, along with prosecutor Jessica Berliner, and for the third time that day, I raced, lights and sirens on, to the scene.

We arrived to find the suspect in the back of a medic unit. He had been declared dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

We looked at him and confirmed that it was Ian Stawicki.

Stawicki had a history of mental illness. His family had tried in vain to have him committed as a danger to himself and others. The mental health system failed him, his family, and the victims of his rampage.

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Dealing with the news

I attended a meeting of the Retired Seattle Police Officer’s Association today.

The guest speaker was Brandi Kruse, a former Seattle news personality who has recently gone independent with her podcast-a refreshingly common sense take on Seattle’s hard-left political landscape—one that is destroying a once-great city.

You can subscribe here:  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/undivided-with-brandi-kruse/id1596795035.

I first met Brandi when she was a twenty-something reporter on KIRO Newsradio. She wanted to interview me about an equivocal death investigation I was doing. I agreed to the interview. She later went to the Seattle FOX affiliate. She interviewed me on the air about my first book, Homicide:  The View from Inside the Yellow Tape.

Her appearance got me thinking about my relationship with local—and a few national—news personalities.

I know most of them well, our paths crossing several times over the years.

Most reporters covering crime stories are trying to do a good job. Our objectives didn’t always mesh. They wanted the exclusive tidbit on high-profile murders; I had to protect the case by not releasing sensitive information.

In a phone conversation with a well-known local reporter about a super high-profile murder, she begged me to give her something she could report.

“I can help you get this guy!” she said.

“Everything I say to you,” I told her, “I’m whispering right into the ear of the killer. He’s watching all of the news about this case. If he knows I’m on the right track, he may destroy evidence or do something else to throw me off. If he knows I’m not, he can relax. I want him to wonder, so he’ll screw up and make a mistake.”

In that case, that’s exactly what he did. My partner and I were right there to catch him when he f**ked up.

I also had fun with the local press too.

Whenever I was at a murder scene where multiple news cameras were filming, I sought out a patrol officer who was obviously a rookie, probably on their first murder scene.

I would walk up to him or her.

“Call your mom and tell her you’re going to be on the news tonight.”

I would then walk them away from the crowd and kneel down,.  I’d point at the ground while speaking with them or I’d point off in the distance. The news loves detectives pointing.

I wouldn’t be pointing at anything really, but invariably that shot would make it on the air.

A year or so before I retired, I was at a horrific murder scene where a woman and her baby had been murdered.

As I walked out of the house, a line of camera’s pointed in.

I was passing the cameras when one of the videographers looked at me.

“I’ve been filming you for thirty years.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. We spoke for a few minutes. He was a good guy.

The photo in the post wasn’t a fake point.  Photo credit:  Brandi Kruse.

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Visiting Agencies

One of the things I was most proud of during my time in SPD Homicide was how we treated visiting agencies when they came to Seattle and needed help.

We had an unwritten policy: Help the visiting agency by working the case with them as though it was your own.

I made many friends, most of which I still have today, by doing just that.

In the early 2000s, detectives from the Wichita, Kansas police department came to Seattle. They were investigating a no-body domestic violence murder of a woman there. The woman’s boyfriend had disappeared before being found unconscious on the shore of Puget Sound in Discovery Park. He’d been taken to Harborview Medical Center and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

The Wichita detectives flew to Seattle on a four-passenger prop plane belonging to the local sheriff’s office, flying in hops to Seattle and landing in various places to refuel.

Not familiar with Seattle, they landed at SeaTac airport on a windy and rainy evening between incoming passenger jets instead of heading to Boeing Field. Later, they described the landing to me as harrowing.

I met them in the Homicide office on the 7th floor of police headquarters.

One of the detectives I met was Kelly Otis. He and I became friends and continue to be so today. Kelly was involved in the BTK serial killings in Wichita and later took part in the arrest of Dennis Rader for those killings.

After we discussed what they needed, I took them to the site in Discovery Park, where their suspect had been found. It was a beautiful sunny day. They were amazed at the beauty.

Later I drove them to Harborview.

We went to the ICU there.  A young female resident was in the unit when I approached.

“These detectives,” I told her, “are from a star named Kansas.  They’ve come to the Emerald City in search of answers.”

She stared at me for a moment before laughing.  She answered all their questions.

Shortly after that, they received word that the suspect’s car was located in Colorado. The victim’s body was in the trunk.

The plane they flew in on had been moved to Boeing Field.  I drove them there so they could begin their hops to Denver.

 

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Is DNA enough?

In recent years, advances in DNA and other forensic technologies have helped solve crimes, especially in cold case murders.
I often tell people that forensics has advanced more in the past two or three years than in the previous twenty years.
That being said, it’s still up to the detective investigating a case to be diligent in their investigation. Just because DNA or a fingerprint is found at the crime scene, even on the victim, it doesn’t mean the contributor is the person who committed the crime. It’s up to the detective to figure out how the evidence could have been at the scene other than by the suspect. There will never be a technology that replaces good police work. Sometimes inexperienced detectives think the crime lab can do all the work for them. That is a fatal mistake.
In sex crimes, this is especially important.
Allegations of inter-family sexual abuse where a few spermatozoa were found on a child’s underwear are a particular problem.
An act as simple as doing laundry can transfer DNA when no crime was committed. Evidence can survive going through the wash. There must be corroborating evidence (such as disclosures by the victim) before one can be sure how the evidence got there.
When I trained young detectives, I told them to think of any way the evidence could have been deposited other than by the commission of the crime. Then go and find out why that couldn’t have happened.
When I was a young Sex Crimes detective, I investigated a case where an older woman was raped in her home. A fingerprint was developed on a phone book just inside her door in processing the scene. It was matched to a suspect. I brought the suspect in.
“Remember the time you stopped by this house to borrow the phone book?” I asked.
“I never borrowed a phone book!” the suspect said.
“Well then, you used to deliver phone books to that neighborhood!” I accused.
“I’ve never delivered phone books!” the suspect told me.
Thank you very much. I just eliminated the only two ways his fingerprint could have gotten on the phonebook, other than having committed the crime. I didn’t even need a confession.
He pled guilty before trial.
Don’t rely on forensics to solve the case. They’re a great tool, but they don’t replace good detective work.

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