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 TWO

The day after my meeting with the security-tape watching guard Howard Flink, I received a call from the missing persons unit.  They were aware I was working a case related to a potential serial killer, and were flagging missing women who met the description of the two victims to date: white, middle class, gainfully employed and in their early to mid-thirties.

The missing persons unit had gotten a call from the human resources manager of a local accounting firm after one of their employees had failed to show up for work for a few days.  Calls to her home and cell phone had gone unanswered.  Then the human resources manager had then received a call from a friend of the missing employee, who was concerned when she had not heard a word from her friend for a few days.

The employee’s name was Louise Waters, age 33 and a CPA by profession.  She was also an avid runner who had completed several races the past few years.  I interviewed the HR manager along with Louise’s immediate boss.  Initially, they had both thought Louise was at a competition and simply had forgotten to tell anyone or turn in a time off request.  But after Louise’s friend called, they realized that something must be wrong.  The HR manager asked one of her staff to stop by on the way to work, but there was no response when she knocked on the door.  That’s when they called the police.

The most obvious explanation was that we had a serial killer in our community, and he had just struck again.  But Louise’s disappearance didn’t quite follow the pattern of the killer’s previous crimes – Louise had not been called away from work, and her body had not been dumped in the park the morning after her disappearance.  Perhaps the killer suspected that we had the park under surveillance (which we didn’t), or he had different plans for her?

But as we had no leads on the potential serial killer, we had to focus our efforts on the likely suspects in Louise’s case.  And statistically, the most likely suspect was the guy who initially brought her disappearance to our attention – Howie Flink.  It was a variation on the killer returning to the scene of the crime; in this case the killer alerted us to the fact that a crime had occurred in the first place.

We brought Howie to the station for an extended interview, under the pretext that we needed to learn more about the placement of video cameras.  As we talked to him it soon became apparent that he had an alibi for when Louise changed her route and ran past the camera with a terrified look on her face.  At that moment Howie was sitting in his little office watching the screen from the camera at 15th Street and Park, waiting for Louise to run by.  His time card, and statements from coworkers, supported that.

We next started to map out her life, and the people close to her in the community.  Louise was living alone, and after having suffered a bad break-up less than six months before, was not seeing anyone.  Her ex had the perfect alibi, as he had moved to New York City right after the break-up and never looked back.  She had a few good friends whom she socialized with regularly, but no one who raised any kind of suspicion.  Her family was primarily local to New Grace County, but they also raised no suspicion.  Honest, hardworking Southerners, with nary a handful of parking tickets between them.

After having looked into Louise’s friends, family and connections, I was more convinced than ever that her disappearance was somehow connected to something she had seen or experienced during her last run.  I drove downtown and went to the intersection of 8th Street and Island, and started walking north towards 15th Street.  Right in between 8th and 9th Street I stopped and looked around.

Across Island Avenue was a department store with an attached parking structure running along 9th Street.  On the parking garage I could see the camera which had captured the image of Louise running by.  Behind me, towards 8thStreet were more stores and commercial offices.  In front of me, just across 9th Street, there was a building being completely renovated, a large scaffold running along the entire front.  The rest was just commercial storefronts and entries to commercial offices or private residences.

I looked across at the parking structure at the security camera.  It was pointed at an angle down Island towards 8th Street, and so a person walking or running up the street would be out of camera coverage before reaching 9th Street.  I estimated that point to be roughly halfway up Island, around the GAP store.  So Louise saw something that terrified her while running between the GAP store and the 9th Street intersection.  I walked that stretch of the sidewalk without seeing anything remarkable.

I then turned down 9th Street and followed the path Louise had taken.  About halfway to Juniper Avenue I walked under the last camera that had filmed her run that morning, and captured her terrified look.  From that point on we did not know which way she went, except that she never went back to her regular route, nor did she report to work that day.

I walked up to Juniper and looked up and down the street.  To my left, there was a security camera on the wall of the garage, pointing down towards 8th Street.  Had she run that way, our voyeuristic friend Howie would have seen her when he reviewed all the security camera footage.  If she instead had turned right on Juniper, she would have been back on her path towards 15th Street and the turn towards Park … but she never got there.

I continued along 9th Street, and I was soon walking out of the commercial district and into a more dilapidated part of the city.  The restaurants, department stores and clothing boutiques were replaced by pawn shops, taverns and bail bondsmen.  A gigantic building in front of me proudly proclaimed “Public Storage – Collecting and Holding Your Garbage Since 1947.”

I noticed that the public storage building had a few security cameras, and I rang the bell to be let in through the entry gates.  After an eternity the gate slid open about two feet, barely enough for me to squeeze by.  I entered the management office and encountered a kid barely 20 years old, with a pimpled face and a bad attitude.  I showed him the badge and asked to see the security footage tapes, and he asked if I had a warrant.  I told him no warrant was needed unless he had something to hide, but he didn’t believe me.  He said he knew his rights.

I thanked him and left. As I squeezed through the gate on my way out, I made a mental note to have the warrant served on his boss the following morning at 5 am.  That should teach the kid a little about his rights.

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