Here’s the lastest episode of Citizen Detective. You can listen here.
I was a guest on the All Things Crime podcast with Jared Bradley discussing the recent quadruple murders of four University of Idaho students. You can watch it on YouTube here.
I recently wrote an article for Voice of Police e-magazine about cold case murder investigations. You can read it here.
Here’s an exerpt from a podcast I was a guest on recently. (760) Bonus Episode: Retired Detective Cloyd Steiger speaks about the murder of officer Timothy Brenton – YouTube
I’m a regular contributor to the Citizen Detective podcast. It’s on live every other Tuesday and then a recorded version is posted the following Saturday. You can watch it on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter.
Check it out and join in the conversation.
In early 1980 I completed my Field Training for the Seattle Police Department. I was assigned to the Georgetown Precinct, third watch. From 8 PM to 4 AM.
I walked into roll call in the station. It had been a police station since about 1889. The décor was early Barney Miller.
I sat in the second-floor roll call room, my uniform immaculately pressed, advertising my status as a rookie.
The sergeant entered the room. He went through the things we should look for during our watch. Finally, he called roll.
“Steiger,” he said. “Here,” I responded.
“Here,” an older officer responded.
“3 Robert 3.”
I looked at the person who would be my partner that night. Mustachioed and spectacled.
After roll call, he approached me.
“Harry,” he said, holding his hand out.
“Cloyd,” I replied.
We got the keys to our car and put our gear in it.
We headed out.
Harry was a good guy. We got along great.
At about midnight, a call came over the radio.
“A Downtown car is pursuing a car southbound on fourth avenue approaching Spokane Street.”
Harry was driving and rushed to fourth avenue just south of an overpass over the railroad tracks.
He turned the car south and waited.
After just a few minutes, a Cadillac came over the top of the overpass at a high rate of speed. So much so that it became airborne before landing in a blaze of sparks reminiscent of Bullit.
Harry turned on our red and blue lights and prepared to take off in front of the suspect vehicle.
The car saw us and tried to make a left turn onto the side street. He was going too fast. The car slammed into the building on the southeast corner of the intersection.
We turned around and went to the intersection. The driver got out of the car and ran eastbound.
There was a female in the passenger seat. She was trapped in the car.
Harry went to her, and I ran eastbound, looking for the driver.
As I turned the corner, I couldn’t see anyone. I held my breath. I heard someone panting. I grabbed the suspect hiding under a parked car. I pulled him out and handcuffed him.
His name was Orel Sledge. What a great name for a bad guy. I’ll never forget it. He was charged with the first case of Felony Eluding, or as we called it, Felony Flight, a new law in Washington.
He went to trial and was convicted.
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.
On June 1, 2014, my phone rang at 2:30 in the morning.
Bob Vallor was calling.
“There are two dead at 29th and South King Street from a shooting,” he told me.
I got out of bed and headed to the scene.
29th and King is in the middle of the Central Area. There had been a lot of gang shootings there recently. I was sure I was on my way to a gang-related homicide.
I was wrong.
Two bodies lay in the middle of 29th Avenue in a residential neighborhood. They’d both been shot multiple times, though one of them had been shot more, with several close-range shots to the face.
My belief that this had been gang-related evaporated that night. I would be surprised that this was the work of a serial killer.
Over the next few weeks, we tied these murders to another in Skyway, in unincorporated King County just south of the Seattle city limits.
We identified the killer as Ali Muhammed Brown, a radicalized American Muslim. We started the hunt.
We released his photo and name to local media a few days later.
I was in my office when I received a call from a detective in the small New Jersey Coast city of Point Pleasant Beach.
He told me there had been an attempted carjacking in his tourist town the day before. He had identified the suspect as Ali Muhammed Brown, who was still at large.
“I Googled the name,” he told me, “and found out he was wanted for murder in Seattle!”
He had a surveillance photo from his crime. I asked him to email it to me. When I got it, I confirmed it was the same person.
“You know,” he said. “There was a weird murder in West Orange a few days ago.”
He told me about the crime: a seemingly innocent 19-year-old man home from his freshman year in college was gunned down on the street in a pretty affluent area.
I contacted the Essex County Homicide Task Force in Newark, and we compared notes. At first, they didn’t think their crime was related, but ballistics showed that the same gun used in the three Seattle cases was used in their case too.
Brown was arrested in New Jersey. I flew there the next day, along with Al Cruise from my office, Jake Pavlovich from the Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor John Castleton.
We went to the Essex County Jail, where Pavlovich and I interviewed Brown. He admitted to the murders. He picked his victims at random. This was payback for all the Muslim lives ended by the US in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
He was also charged with the murder in New Jersey.
I flew to Newark to testify in a pre-trial hearing. Before the trial, Brown surprised everyone, including his attorneys, by saying he wanted to plead guilty. He admitted in open court that he’d killed the New Jersey victim and said, “I killed those people in Seattle too!”
He stayed in New Jersey for a couple of years before being sentenced to life without parole for the murder and a state charge of terrorism. Then he was sent to Seattle.
He languished in the King County Jail, refusing to speak to his attorneys before finally entering guilty pleas here as well.
On Friday, September 9, he will be sentenced to three more consecutive life sentences, more than eight years after my phone rang that June early morning.
I planned to attend the sentencing to support the victim’s families, but I will be in Savanah, Georgia, preparing to speak at a crime conference.
Brown left a trail of destruction in the lives of four innocent families for no good reason. May he rot in prison.
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.
He later pleaded guilty to the murder.