crime-sceneThe detectives had put the murder in the cold case file some months earlier. There had been no evidence whatsoever: No witnesses, forensics, and of course, no suspects.. The victim was an elderly woman who owned a grocery store in what had slowly – but surely – become a bad part of town. She’d been murdered shortly after the store had closed for the evening, and she was apparently in the process of locking up.

She’d been found dead on a stairway leading to the basement a few hours after her daughter had made her routine nighttime call to make sure that Mom was okay. After too many “no answers,” the daughter called the police, who investigated and discovered the crime. All of the routine investigative procedures had been completed that night.

Officers who interviewed the victim’s daughter said she’d flashed between hysterical crying and screaming anger. She’d been telling her mother to sell the damn place and get the hell out of that criminal neighborhood for years. And now the nightmare had happened. Everyone had predicted it, that she’d be a crime victim or maybe even end up dead if she didn’t leave.

The killer(s) had been nasty. The dead woman had incurred a fractured skull, had poured out some thick gouts of blood while she tumbled and rolled to the bottom step in the stairwell, and then died. Her upper dentures had been knocked out of her mouth during the beating, and lay on the step next to her.

Some people in the neighborhood knew her; many did not. A lot of people had moved out over the years, and many of those who’d replaced them entered what was a mixed and rapidly deteriorating business and home area of Milwaukee. Most did not shop in her store. It was no longer the cozy, “homeland” kind of place it had been for generations. What made things worse was she was not the first veteran of the neighborhood’s small businesses to be murdered on their the premises.

The warnings were clear and present, but so was the stubbornness.

But there had been a break in the case. A young man with an already bad criminal record was arrested for a crime at another location, and was facing serious jail time. Same old story told thousands of times a day across the country. He said that a dude from the ‘hood had bragged and laughed about how some old lady tried to interrupt his breaking in to her store, and he had to smack her one. He quickly left after she fell down the stairs, and the next day he learned that she was dead.

Just another occurrence involving young members of local street gangs. Meant nothing to anyone, until the young man now caught needed leverage to help him avoid a lengthy prison term. Another old game played in horrible, crime ridden neighborhoods: Things like murder don’t mean nothin’ until handing over the information to the police can do you some good.

Detectives and uniformed back up officers went to the home of the named suspect in the murder of the old woman. They found him. He laughed when they told him why they were arresting him: Some whining snitch made up a lie about him, he said while chortling. An officer accompanied him to his room so he could get dressed, while other officers in the living room talked about the case. One of them mentioned the dentures found laying next to the victim’s body.

“I remember those,” the prisoner muttered quietly – undoubtedly thinking it was only to himself. The officer standing near him noted the remark, and told the detectives who’d been assigned to interrogate the suspect. He laughed and denied saying it, but the detectives told the officer to file a report; that they’d make it an official part of the investigation. During the interrogation the suspect volunteered more than once to take a lie detector test. He admitted nothing, and did not ask for an attorney.

The following morning the D.A. assigned to the case stated that the “I remember those” statement by the defendant to the officer regarding the dentures was one-on-one hearsay, and that he simply could not go to trial with that alone. He’d hold off on the charges if the defendant made good on his offer to take a polygraph exam. Maybe more information would come in during the waiting period. When the D.A. inquired, the defendant laughed and said, “Hell, yeah.” The D.A. directed him to Public Defenders office to get a community funded lawyer who would help him make the arrangements  .

The D.A. told the officers something they’d already known: Even if the defendant failed the exam, he still wouldn’t file any charges. Lie detector results are inadmissible in court; they cannot be presented as evidence to the jury. While feeling outraged, the officers also shrugged. They knew the score. The D.A., himself being deeply disappointed, commiserated with the cops. The story goes that he and two of the investigating detectives went out drinking that night. Got hammered. Hammered good. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s possible.

Many so-called cold cases have that anchor holding the case in place. We know he did it but we can’t prove it. Into the cold file it goes, most of them forever.

Being a homicide detective has its drawbacks.

I’ve heard it said that being a cop on any level sucks. Hell, I’ve said it. And it’s crap like this that provokes you.

The sneering killer punk actually lived up to his word, and submitted to the polygraph. He passed. (It was later reported that he’d taken more than one lie detector before this one, had passed even though he’d been guilty, and bragged to his buds in the neighborhood.) The D.A. and the cops laughed, knowing things would go no further. Sociopaths have long been known to be able to pass polygraph exams. If a person doesn’t care or feel anxiety when they lie, the needle won’t move. A normal person will make the needle jump off the page, in a manner of speaking, but the sickos won’t make it budge.

The detectives who went through all of this went on with their lives. Wasn’t the first time a slam-dunk bad guy had beat the system, and it wouldn’t be the last. And we’d all laugh things like this off, and make extremely insensitive remarks. It’s a well known means of defense.

But no one ever joked with the two detectives about this case. That poor, defenseless old woman, whom everyone loved. The weeping daughter with a broken heart, made worse by knowing that the murdering gang member, who had later become a pimp and a drug dealer, was living like royalty. That he was admired and even revered by his fellows for beating the murder rap.

Dark faces with scalding stares would confront anyone joking about that one in front of the investigating detectives.

Almost two years later a group of burglars were arrested for committing more than one hundred burglaries. It meant that one man living in the lap of criminal luxury was about to be in serious trouble: Two of the burglars who were cooperating had been with the man who’d smashed the head of the old woman two years earlier. They gave detailed confessions, which included information that had never been made public. Like the dentures lying next to the dead woman’s body. Like naming the man who had done it.

It was over for him.

One of the original investigating detectives of the murder happened to be working the day the co-defendants snitched off the Main Man. The detective was taken off of a different assignment and brought along to make the arrest of the soon-to-be doing life in prison without parole guilty man.

The detective later said it was the best day of his career; one of the best days of his life.

Someone said the arrested man had fought with the detective who first laid hands on him when the arrest was made, and that he had a few bumps on his head and face. None of us were surprised. Murderers always fight with the cops who arrest them – as the old saying goes.

He was later convicted of the crime. One of the city’s most notorious, royalty like gang leaders, went from a glittering pot of gold to sharing space with a stinking, stainless steel toilet that sat two feet from his prison cot. This happened in the early 1980s. Several years ago, long after I’d retired, I was told that he’d died in prison, and that his unclaimed remains were cremated and disposed of in the usual manner on the prison grounds.


ROb2This is number 20 in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

Rob is published by Orange Hat Press

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