THE CASE FILES OF ALFONSO SWANSON

NEW GRACE NEWS - TRUE WITNESS - PART ONE

By SHAWN ERICKSON

The next three chapters of my memoirs (titled True Witness, False Witness and Eye Witness) all take place during the scorching hot summer of 2013, when the department was faced with an unprecedented number of murders and other brutal crimes, all of which were unique and fascinating in their own right.  It started with the murder of two working, middle-class women, and the suspicion that a serial killer may be on the loose.  When a third woman disappeared, her case was handled as a suspected homicide.  The investigation of her disappearance led us to a local mob boss, who was assassinated in a spectacular fashion before we had an opportunity to speak with him. 

I have decided to publish these cases together because they beautifully illustrate the problem police forces encounter in dealing with witnesses:  what did they see, and what did they believe that they saw?  What do they want us to believe that they saw?  And most importantly, are they telling the truth? – ALFONSO SWANSON

TRUE WITNESS – PART FOUR

My good friend Johnny Chen provided me with some files on Vincente Caravaggio, including a list of residences, bars and strip clubs where, depending on the hour of the day, he was likely to be found.  According to the files, Caravaggio owned a luxurious apartment building on Pershing Plaza, and was listed as occupying all five apartments.  According to one source, Caravaggio always slept in a different apartment so that no one would be able to find and assassinate him in his sleep.  According to another source, each apartment housed one of his five mistresses, which allowed him to keep constantly entertained without ever leaving home.

As I headed towards Pershing Plaza, a 10-75 call came over the radio, along with a request for an ambulance.  In New Grace County, police code 10-75 means a shooting has taken place, and the request for an ambulance means at least one bullet hit a person.  The address was 10 Pershing Plaza, and a quick look in the file was sufficient to confirm this was the very apartment building I was heading to.  Caravaggio’s place.

I arrived a few minutes later and found the plaza full of patrol cars with their lights flashing, and an ambulance parked outside a three-story brownstone building with an impressive front staircase.  Caravaggio’s apartment complex, I assumed.  I badged my way through the first line of uniforms keeping the gawkers at bay, and found a sergeant commanding other cops to set up a perimeter.  He looked relieved to see me, as he could now pass the baton of responsibility on to the homicide squad.

I asked him so summarize what had happened, and he happily did so.  The call had come in less than ten minutes ago, informing the dispatcher that a man had been shot after exiting the brownstone building.  Patrol units arrived less than two minutes later, and two persons who were present at the shooting and who introduced themselves as business associates of the victim, identified him as Vincente Caravaggio.  They both stated they believed he was shot from across the plaza with a single shot that hit Caravaggio in the upper chest region and that caused fatal injuries.

I looked up, and estimated the distance between the staircase and the buildings across the plaza to be a little more than 100 yards.  Not a difficult shot for someone with experience and the right equipment.  Looking around the magnificent staircase, there was quite a lot of blood collected on the top, as well as dripping down the first ten steps. The glass in the entrance door was broken, presumably from bullet fragments passing through Caravaggio, and splattered with blood from the exit wound.

The sergeant confirmed these observations and opined that the victim likely was shot with a large caliber, high-velocity round.  That would account for the massive injuries inflicted on the victim and the front door.  But the only people using such ammunition were in the armed forces; police snipers typically used smaller caliber weapons designed for higher accuracy.  Criminals shooting other criminals from a distance typically used ordinary hunting rifles with a scope.  I shuddered at the implications, but this looked an awful lot like a professional hit.  The last thing the County needed right now was a mob war.

The medics had lifted Caravaggio’s body onto a gurney and were loading it into the ambulance.  Had I arrived half an hour earlier, I would have had some time to chat with him about Louise Waters.  Then again, we might have exited the brownstone building at the same time, and perhaps I would have ended up taking a bullet for him.  Still, I wondered if we had just lost the last person who could tell us where we could find our missing runner.

I did not have the chance to spend more time on Louise Waters’ disappearance that morning, as the Sergeant introduced me to a witness who had seen the entire sequence of events leading up to Caravaggio’s assassination.  His detailed recollection of events was interesting to say the least, and taking his statement took up the remainder of my morning.

I did not have occasion to consider Louise until I was once again looking for cameras around the plaza that could have captured Caravaggio’s killing.  It dawned on me that if Louise was held captive by Caravaggio in the building being constructed on 9th Street, then at some point Caravaggio or his henchmen must have removed her from the premise.  They must have acted pretty soon after the collapse, as there was no telling how soon the building inspectors and other government personnel would show up with their badges and questions.

I drove back to the construction site and walked around the block.  The building on Island and 9th had its own parking garage, which could be entered either from 9th Street or 10th Street, but only exited onto the eastbound lanes on Island.  The exits took place right in front of the camera that had caught the last known image of Louise.  I went back and looked at the recording from that camera, focusing on the exit from the garage.  But in the half hour following Louise’s panicked run past the camera, not a single vehicle left the garage.

I rewound and looked more closely at the traffic passing by the camera the minutes after Louise ran by.  Everything looked normal; no vehicle was driving too fast or erratic, and there were no pedestrians or cyclists to be seen.  I rewound to the point where Louise passed the camera, and just like Howie had done on his tape, I froze the image just as she ran under it.  The look of fear was unmistakable, and yet we could not find anything or anyone she was running away from.

That’s when it dawned on me that she was looking straight ahead.  She was not running away from what scared her, she was actually running towards it.  I rewound the tape another couple of minutes and watched it intently a few times.  Approximately thirty seconds before Louise appeared, a delivery van drove by the camera at a high speed, and was desperately trying to make a left turn to the parking garage.  Eventually it turned into oncoming traffic and disappeared under the camera, making at least two motorists slam on their brakes to avoid a collision.

I called forensics to let them know I had a tape recording of a vehicle, and I needed them to enhance the image quality to allow us to read the license plate number.  I also looked up the name of the delivery company, but it did not correspond to any local or state business and was probably a fake.  I watched the tape from Louise’s disappearance until it ran out some six hours later, but the delivery van did not reappear.  It probably meant it exited the garage and drove east on 9thStreet or south on Juniper, and was not caught again on the camera.

Further east along 9th Street was the public storage company I had visited last evening, and the warrant for the security tapes had indeed been served and responded to.  I received CDs with recordings from while having lunch, and decided I might as well eat the rest of my sandwich in front of the TV screen watching cars drive by.

The public storage place had eight security cameras around the perimeter, and it took me a little while to find the disc that showed traffic approaching the building from 9th Street.  Once I had it, I quickly fast forwarded to the 8:25 time stamp and started to watch.  I had noted the times of Louise’s progress along Island and 9th, and assuming the time stamps between cameras were somewhat coordinated, I had a good indication of what was happening a couple of blocks away.

Approximately five minutes after the explosion, and three and a half minute after Louise ran past the last camera, I saw a vehicle approaching the storage facility on 9th Street.  To my surprise it slowed down, and as it turned into the storage facility I immediately recognized the name of the fake delivery company.  I made a note of the time stamp and then ran out the door as fast as I could.  Fifteen minutes later I was at the storage facility.  On my way there I called the owner, who promised complete cooperation, without the need for another early morning warrant.

The owner met me at the gate, and I quickly explained that I needed to know if the delivery vehicle that arrived three days ago at exactly 8:47 was there for a storage space, and if so, which one.  The owner tapped a few keys, and confirmed that on the morning in question there had been only one visit made to a storage facility, and he gave me the name of the tenant and the number of the locker. I got on the phone with a judge, and less than ten minutes later a warrant for a search of that storage space was faxed to the rental office.

The owner pulled out a large bolt cutter and opened the door for me.  As we walked to the unit, the owner explained that the space had only been rented out for about three months, with a six month lease prepaid in cash.  He shrugged and explained that the vast majority of his units were paid in cash; it was just the nature of his business.  I understood.  Half the units would likely contain some form of contraband; either something that was illegally obtained, or illegal to possess.

We reached the unit, which was secured by two large padlocks.  The owner looked at me, and I just nodded.  He expertly removed the two padlocks, and I drew my service weapon before I told him to pull open the door and quickly step aside.  The owner did as he was told.

The storage space was largely empty; it was large enough to fit a couple of bedroom’s worth of furniture, but all we found there were a few boxes, a rolled-out sleeping bag, a camping kitchen and the crumpled figure of a woman in jogging gear.  Her arms and legs were tied, but she had a large empty water bottle with a drinking tube in front of her, and she had a pulse and showed definite signs of life.  I called in an ambulance and the crime scene technicians.

Louise Waters survived the ordeal, though she was badly dehydrated and had suffered some tissue atrophy as a result of the hand and leg restraints.  She was in good spirits a day later, when I visited her at the hospital, and she was willing to tell me everything about her abduction.  She told me that when the explosion at the construction site took place, she ran past a delivery van parked at the curb.  She stopped and watched as the scaffold on the building collapsed, when the man in the delivery van opened the passenger door and tried to grab her.  She noticed that he was holding on to a rifle with a large scope, and that the delivery van had a hole in the windshield through which the barrel was pointing.

She escaped the man’s grasp and ran towards the intersection of Island and 9th Street.  Unfortunately it was completely blocked by people and vehicles, and I recalled the Amber Alert that had been issued from a store just a hundred yards ahead along Island.  Rather than being trapped among the people, Louise had crossed Island and turned onto 9th Street.  As she passed the department store parking garage the delivery van suddenly turned in front of her, the man’s rifle pointing squarely at her chest.  He motioned for her to approach, and she was pulled into the car and taken to the storage facility.  She could tell us nothing about the man other than giving us a very generic description, though she had observed some odd looking radio equipment in the delivery van.  By then I had a pretty good idea what that was all about.

The following day I brought her the hero of the day, Howie Flink, to say hello.  I had explained to her that had it not been for Howie, she would likely not have been rescued.  Howie in turn was very bashful, almost embarrassed to have his voyeuristic activities exposed to his audience.  But Louise did not seem to care, and acted like she was simply euphoric to still be alive.

The press was coming in later that day, and Howie steadfastly declined to be interviewed or even participate in a photo op with the lucky victim.  He almost panicked at the prospect of being exposed to the local media, and we had to have him escorted from the hospital through a delivery entrance in the back before the vultures arrived.  Before he left, Louise assured him she would soon be back running the streets of New Grace, including the Park Avenue intersection by the parking garage.  Howie looked bashful for a moment, but finally managed a smile.

“Well, see you soon … at 8:42 to be precise.”

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