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 THREE
After having spent the afternoon in downtown New Grace trying to retrace the last known steps of Louise Waters, I spent the evening going through police reports pertaining to events that happened in the area at the time when she was last seen. It turned out the area had seen quite some activity that morning.
First there was a traffic accident in the corner of Island and 8th Street involving a pedestrian who had suffered injuries. An ambulance was called, and two patrol units had reported to the scene. At the same time an Amber Alert had been issued for a possible child abduction at a breakfast place on Island between 9th and 10th Streets. Finally, there was an accident at a construction site on 9th Street, which involved an explosive device.
I pulled up the report on the child abduction – of the three events that had occurred, this was the only criminal act, and one that was so serious it could have triggered the abduction of a potential witness. But I soon realized that the Amber Alert had been called in error; the child had indeed been taken from the eatery, but only from one table to another, and only by his estranged biological father. The spiteful mother had called the police and reported the abduction, even though the child was clearly still on the premises, and in no danger to be kidnapped. No one was arrested, although the mother would soon face a stern lecture from the Department of Social Services about using her child and the Amber Alert system to get even with her ex.
That left the traffic and construction accidents. The former was simple, although the fracture turned out to be complex. A Toyota Camry was stopped at the traffic light on 8th Street, waiting for crossing pedestrians on Island, when it was rear ended by a Ford F-150 driven by a teenager engaged in a heated mobile phone argument with his girlfriend. The Toyota careened into two women crossing the street, both of whom sustained injuries including concussions, contusions and one complex fracture of a femur. Terrible, but hardly terrifying to a passing Louise Waters.
The construction site accident had some interesting twists to it, and the more I read the more intrigued I got. The construction project was contracted to CC&R Concrete & Steel, a known front for Vincente Caravaggio a local mob boss. Whenever CC&R was involved in a project there was controversy … everything from allegations of rigged bidding processes to outright bribery of the decision-makers. The unions were always protesting at the construction sites as CC&R hired only non-unionized workers, and allegedly paid half of them off the books to avoid the state’s minimum wage laws.
On the morning of Louise’s disappearance, Vincente Caravaggio, the Capo himself, had been at the construction site when a floor partially collapsed. The collapse triggered an explosive device that was stored on the floor below, which in turn resulted in a collapse of the scaffold erected on 9th Street. Luckily, no one was on the scaffold at the moment, and no one on the street was injured. It was unclear why there had been an explosive device in the building in the first place, as the company did not have a County permit to use explosives for the project. In fact, the project had been started and halfway completed even though they had not even obtained the necessary building permits.
I stopped and pictured the scene in front of me. I imagined Louise running up Island Avenue towards 9th Street, passing the security camera. The building under construction I saw earlier that day must be the construction site where the accident took place. There is an explosion, and Louise veers off Island onto 9th Street, perhaps to take a closer look? Or did she run past the construction site and get caught in the falling scaffold, her body swiftly removed because the site is illegal? Is she even close when the explosion takes place? I realized I may already have the answer to the last question.
I brought out the disc I got from Howie with the recordings from the surveillance camera on Island, and fast forwarded to about the 8:25 mark. As I had noted earlier that afternoon, the camera’s angle did not allow me to watch any portion of Island south of the GAP store, though I could see all the way up to the 8th Street intersection where a crowd of people had gathered on account of the traffic accident. After a few minutes I could see Louise run around the crowd and continue along Island. She was looking normal and relaxed, with no sign of fear or anxiety. As soon as she disappeared from view, I started my phone’s stopwatch and focused on the other people in the picture. Twelve seconds after I lost sight of Louise, two people walking by the GAP store suddenly stopped dead in their tracks, turning around and pointing towards the construction site. The explosion. Not enough time for Louise to have reached the 9th Street intersection or the construction site; she would barely have gotten halfway there. So why did she turn onto 9th Street?
I pulled up the police reports from the scene of the accident. When the first patrol cars showed up, the foreman had initially denied that any accident had taken place. Once he had been appraised of the pile of steel and wood on 9th Street that used to be his scaffold, he grudgingly admitted that there had been a partial collapse and the accidental discharge of a small explosive device, for which they had all necessary permits. When more patrol cars showed up, the foreman called the Capo himself, who came down and threatened all kinds of lawsuits unless the police left the premise.
There must be a reason why Vincente Caravaggio didn’t want the police in the building. It could of course be related to the lack of building permits, or the storage of explosives on site. A more sinister explanation would be that Louise ran up to the building after the explosion and collapse, and saw something she shouldn’t have. And then was chased down and taken by Caravaggio’s crew and held in the building while he was shooing away the police.
The next morning I went to have a word with Signor Caravaggio, and perhaps put a squeeze on some of his henchmen. As is the case for all criminal empires, Caravaggio’s gang had its fair share of cracks, and the New Grace police as well as the FBI had a number of informants within its ranks … most of them low, but a few fairly high. The department had been building a case against Caravaggio for years, but was holding back an indictment waiting for him to make a major mistake that would send him away for the rest of his life.
I called my friend, Detective Johnny Chen, who worked narcotics and street gangs, and told him I needed some background materials on the biggest street gang leader in town. The police department has an organized crime unit, but they would not take too kindly to a homicide dick showing up and asking questions if no homicide had been committed.
As it turned out, I could simply have waited a few hours and then called upon them directly.