Skip to content

Category: Blog Posts

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.

Comments closed

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.

 

Comments closed

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.

Comments closed

Off Duty jobs

I was hired by the Seattle Police Department one month after my twenty-first birthday.  I wasn’t the youngest member of the department.  Tim Moellendorf, a classmate in the academy, was two days younger.

“Come on kid,” I told him.  “I’ll show you the ropes.”

I often ran into old high school friends when I was working.

One time I walked into the jail with a prisoner.  A guy who I’d gone to high school with, (now deceased), was in a holding cell near the entrance.

“Cloyd!” he said.

“How are you doing?” I asked. “Call me when you get out. We’ll do lunch!”

I worked a lot of rock concerts in my early years.  I remember working a Moody Blues concert at the Seattle Center.  Dozens of friends I’d gone to school with shuffled in.  I stood back while they were patted down before entering.

“Dude!” they exclaimed. “You get to work these?”

Not only did I get to work there, but they were also paying me good money to do so.

I also worked all the Seattle Seahawk games.  I’d often run into old friends there, as well as Seattle Mariner and Sonic games.  It sounds better on paper than it was.  I spent most of my time throwing drunks out.  I watched a lot of great first half of ballgames.

When the new stadium for the Seahawks opened, (Century Link and now Lumen Field), a friend approached me.

“Let’s work the games!” he said.  “It will be fun!”

It only took a couple of games before I remembered why I’d stopped working them.

I was on the 300 level of the stadium when I got a report of a disturbance near the top of the stadium.  I stood at the bottom, looking up.  There was an older couple seated near the rail.

“If I have to walk all the way up there,” I told them.  “Somebodies ass is getting thrown out of this game.”

A few minutes later, I was back at the bottom of the stairs, a rowdy fan held by the caller.

“I told you,” I said to the couple, who laughed.

I worked a game when the Seahawks were playing the San Francisco 49ers. A woman was drunk and causing problems.

“I’m Jeff Garcia’s (49er quarterback) girlfriend!” she told me.

“Tell Jeff I said hi!” I said, as I tossed her out of the gate.

I remembered why I stopped working the games.

Comments closed

Glenn Taa

During the last couple of years in my patrol career, I worked in the East Precinct, 3rd Watch, from 8PM to 4AM.   I was assigned to Charlie Sector.

My area was near Harborview Medical Center.  I spent a lot of time in the Emergency Room of Harborview, or as we aptly called it, “The Zoo.”

I was in the Emergency Room one day when medics brought in a stabbing victim.  When they wheeled him in I recognized him immediately.

His name was Glenn Taa.  He had the unfortunate distinction of being the smallest Samoan in Seattle, standing about five feet nine inches and about one hundred seventy pounds, the normal Samoan being well over two-hundred pounds, and often closer to three hundred.

I knew Glenn from my days working in Rainier Valley.

As they wheeled him in he saw me.

“They got me Staggart,” (he always mispronounced my name), “they got me!”

I followed him into the treatment room.

A crowd of medical personnel surrounded him and began trying to save his life. Among them was the guru of Harborview and father of the Medic One program, Dr. Michael Copass.

A nurse was inserting a catheter.  In her rush to insert the tube, she wasn’t as careful as she should have been.  Once the tube is inserted, a bulb is inflated to seal it off.  Unbeknownst to her, the tube was not inserted sufficiently.  She inflated it.  Glenn screamed in pain, and the tube that carries the urine immediately turned red.  She had bust his urethra.

Needless to say, Dr. Copass was apopletic.

I quietly left the room.

Glenn Taa survived the stabbing, as well as the medical misadventure in the ER.

Years later, when I worked in Homicide, Taa was murdered, having been beaten to death in the head.  The case was assigned to me and my partner, Jason Kasner.

After a couple weeks we made an arrest and closed the case.

People and faces often came in and out of my life on the Seattle Police Department.

Comments closed

Joseph Cecceralli

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.

How convenient.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments closed

Officer-Involved Shooting

On a Tuesday, April of 2006, my squad worked nightshift in Homicide. The main phone line into the office rang just before 8:30 that evening.
“Homicide,” I said, answering the phone.
“Hi Homicide, Radio here,” the operator replied. “We have an officer-involved shooting at Broadway and East John. They’re requesting that you respond.”
“We’re on the way,” I said.
We gathered our things in the Homicide office on the seventh floor of police headquarters downtown and headed to the car deck to respond.
My partner Jason Kasner and I pulled up to the chaotic scene. Several police cars parked in the street, their red and blue lights flashing, yellow crime scene tape blocked East John Street east of Broadway. The body of a young white male lay on the sidewalk, his shirt removed, EKG stickers placed on his bare chest by medics before they pronounced him dead.
I approached a patrol sergeant.
“We received a call from that phonebooth,” he said, pointing to a nearby payphone. “The caller said a male told him he would shoot the first police officer he saw.
“Officers arrived and saw the suspect standing on the sidewalk. They approached him, and he pulled a revolver and pointed it at them. They fired and hit him. His gun is over there,” he said, pointing to a revolver on the sidewalk behind the deceased suspect.
I walked over to the weapon. I shined my flashlight on it and noticed an anomaly. There was something in the cylinder gap between the cylinder and the grip. I knelt to get a closer look.
From my position on my knees, I realized what it was. A bullet, presumably fired by one of the officers, had gone in the opening in the cylinder and struck a round that had been loaded there, sending it back to the rear of the gun. It was very significant, unequivocal evidence that the suspect’s gun had been pointed at the officers when they fired. It was physically impossible for the bullet to enter the cylinder if that wasn’t the case.
The show Mythbusters did a segment on this shooting several months later. They had the situation all screwed up. They had the officers armed with the revolver and the suspect with the semiautomatic pistol, opposite reality. They had the round entering an empty chamber, not one loaded with a live round, which had been the case. They concluded that this could have happened.
I know it could have. I was there.
May be an image of 1 person, road and street
Comments closed

Federal Courthouse

On June 20, 2005, just before noon, a man walked into the federal courthouse at 700 Stewart Street. He wore a backpack backward on his chest and carried what appeared to be a hand grenade. He ignored security officers standing near magnetometers just inside the front door and walked to a wall in the lobby. He ignored further instructions from personnel in the lobby.

A call came into 911.

I was in the homicide office with my partner Jason Kasner when we heard about the incident. This had officer-involved shooting written all over it. We were next up for a case, so we responded to the location.

We arrived at the chaotic scene and stayed on the perimeter.

A call was made for SWAT. A visiting head of state was leaving, so most of the on-duty SWAT officers were escorting him to the airport. Tim Pasternak was the only SWAT officer available. He responded from the SWAT office on Airport Way South. Bill Collins was a patrol officer who had recently transferred from SWAT. When Pasternak arrived, Collins joined him in the lobby.

Pasternak was armed with an M-16 rifle. Collins had a shotgun loaded with slugs. Several other patrol officers joined them in the lobby of the building.

The lobby of the federal courthouse was ensconced with bomb-proof glass. That’s very helpful when the threat comes from outside the building. When it is inside, the threat is exponentially worse. The glass will capture the concussion within the building rather than releasing it through broken glass.

People peered over rails from the exposed landings above. If the suspect had a bomb in his backpack, as officers suspected, it was likely they would all be killed in an explosion.

“I don’t like this,” Pasternak told Collins. “I’m going to give him one more chance, and then I’m going to shoot.”

“Drop the grenade!” Pasternak yelled, “and lie down!”

The suspect ignored the commands.

Pasternak fired one round, striking the suspect in the lower lip and through his brain stem. At about the exact moment, Collins fired his shotgun, striking the suspect as well.

Jason and I were outside when we heard the “shots fired” report over the radio. We prepared to go in but had to wait. The Bomb Squad needed to make the scene safe.

Detective Scott Karahawa, dressed in his full bomb suit, entered the lobby. He approached the deceased suspect. He examined the hand grenade the suspect had been holding. It was a blank, with no explosive charge in it. He then carefully opened the backpack. Inside he found a wooden cutting board.

Once he secured the scene, we entered and conducted our investigation. This was clearly a suicide-by-cop.

Comments closed

The Hokey Pokey

I mentioned the “Hokey Pokey” incident in a recent post about my past partners.  Since several people have asked me to elaborate, I’ll do so.  I’m pretty sure I posted this on Facebook earlier, but anyway…

 

In the late 1980s, I was working in Patrol out of the East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department.  My partner at the time was Bill Brandner.

Our precinct adopted a bar as our own.  Charlies on Broadway, 217 Broadway Avenue East.

We frequented Charlies for coffee when we were working and for other libations when we were off duty.

The bar at Charlie’s was Cheers-like.  We knew all the regulars who went there and called each other by our first names.

There was Kevin, the Boston-born cab driver, and John, the recently divorced bank manager.  Both were great guys, and we had fun swapping stories whenever we were there.

Two guys at night tended the bar.  Dave Roduin, an aspiring writer who later went to work in the Starbucks corporate headquarters, and Tim Sweeny, a Vietnam veteran who flew spotter planes in the war, had a Master’s in finance but landed at Charlie’s.  Both great guys who became great friends to us and all the other East Precinct officers.

One night Bill and I were in the bar at closing, as we were wont to do.  Tim Sweeny spoke to me.

“Man,” he said. “I thought I was in trouble the other night.  I was driving home on the lake,” he lived near Seward Park near Lake Washington, “ and I was going a little fast.”

Lake Washington Boulevard follows the shores of the lake and is a very scenic drive.  The speed limit on the boulevard is 25 miles per hour.  Tim lived on a house just off the boulevard near Seward Park.

“I was cruising along after work,” Sweeny continued, “when I shot past a south-end car.”

Tim knew all the officers in the East Precinct, but didn’t know any in the precinct to the south.

“I saw him start out after me,” he continued, “and when I got to a curve, I turned the corner and shut my lights off.  I saw him fly past the street I was on.

“I’m afraid he’ll be waiting for me down there,” he said.

“You’d better be careful,” I said to him, laughing.

A few nights later, Bill and I were in Charlies at closing again.  It was a beautiful summer night.

“Tim,” I said.  “Are you going to take the lake home tonight?”

“Probably,” he said.

“We got a call,” I said, and we left.

I was driving.  Once we got to our car, I headed for Lake Washington Boulevard.

We were outside our precinct, but I backed into a spot near Mount Baker Park.  Then we waited.

About twenty minutes later, I heard the unmistakable sound of Tim’s MG convertible traveling down the boulevard well over the speed limit.

I waited until he passed and then took out after him.  I didn’t turn my headlights on until I was right behind him.  When I did, I heard his car slow by compression.  Then I turned on our red and blue lights. Again, his engine slowed as he pulled to the curb.

“Let’s let him sweat a minute,” I said to Bill.

After a moment, I switched on the PA system.

“Driver of the car,” I barked, “get your hands up where I can see them!”

Tim’s hands shot into the air, his convertible top down.

“Reach outside the car and open the door!” I ordered.

He did.

“Step out of the vehicle!”

Again, he did.

He looked over his shoulder at us.

“Look forward!” I commanded.

“Now, walk backward to the rear of your vehicle!”

He followed the instructions.

“Place your hands on the rear of the car!”

Again, he did.

“Step away from the vehicle!”

He complied.

“Now, put your right foot in!”

He did.

“Now, put your right foot out!”

Again, he complied.

“Now, put your right foot in!”

He did.

“Now, put your right foot out!”

Again, he did.

“Now, you shake it all about!”

By that time, Bill could take no more.  He laughed so hard he opened his door and fell on the ground.

Tim looked back at us, an incredulous look on his face until he finally realized it was us.

“You asshole!” he yelled, “ I thought you were going to shoot me!”

The story of the Hokey Pokey spread quickly.

I was at roll call a couple of weeks later.  The precinct captain, John Pirak was there.  It was an 8PM roll call. Captains aren’t usually there.

After roll call, Pirak approached me.

“Cloyd, can I see you in my office?”

Great, I thought.  I’m going to get jammed up over this. I was way out of my precinct.

I went into his office.  He was at his desk.

“Close the door,” he said.

I did and took a seat across from him.

His face broke out with a grin.

“Tell me the Hokey Pokey story.”

I guess that really is what it’s all about.

 

 

Comments closed