New Year’s Homicide
Keys to getting a confession in a brutal murderBy Dave Grossi | Oct 23, 2017
Every now and then I like to author a reality piece that our readers might enjoy. No real teaching point, just interesting cop stuff. (The last such piece was in April, 2016, “The Full-Moon Kidnapper & a Clerk Named Sue.”)
This new article has to deal with the last case I worked as a Physical Crimes detective. It was New Year’s Eve. My partner, Ron, was taking some lost time and we were on our way to drop him off at home. I was then going to head back to finish out the night filing some late paperwork. The radio call came in around 6:45 p.m., an apparent DOA at an apartment complex. A mother had returned home from work to find her 36-year-old daughter, a virtual quadriplegic, on the rug next to her wheel chair, lifeless.
Upon our arrival, CSU and the patrol sergeant were already there and the uni’s were conducting neighbor interviews. The details surrounding this homicide are gruesome, so I’m going to mask the names of both the victim and the suspect. Upon our arrival, it appeared that the only thing missing was a color TV. The scene was fairly neat save for the vic, a plastic drink cup containing what appeared to be white wine, and a long brown paper bag that wine is normally sold in. A large shoe impression was found soaked in the rug from the urine that had flowed from the victim’s catheter when she was forcibly yanked from her wheel chair. It appeared to be a size 12 or larger.
Our vic lived with her mother, didn’t drink alcohol, and rarely ventured out of the apartment except for weekly physical therapy trips. Her four head wounds appeared to be made with a heavy rounded object, the ME investigator suspected a hammer. According to the mother, a ball peen hammer was missing from under the kitchen sink. The neighbor canvas came up with a witness who observed a 20 – 25-year-old male standing outside the vic’s door about 3:00 p.m. that afternoon. A composite drawing was provided. The ME investigator placed the TOD to be around that same time.
While the techs finished up their work, we retired back to the station and worked up a background on our vic: a quadriplegic who rarely ventured out except for physical therapy, didn’t entertain visitors, and didn’t consume alcohol. Our calls to the owner of the medi-trans outfit revealed that our vic was always transported by one driver. A search of their records revealed that driver to be a recently terminated—25-year-old convicted felon who was paroled after serving two years of a nine-year hitch for armed robbery. He stood 6’4” and weighed 225 pounds. We woke up his parole officer, who provided a photo.
On a hunch, we canvassed the local liquor stores nearest the apartment complex and got a positive ID from one clerk who recalled the purchase around 2:45 p.m. by the suspect who bought a bottle of Manischewitz Cream White Concord wine.
“An unusual item” he said “for New Year’s Eve. Most of the purchases have been for champagne.”
And while our witness from across the hall could only make a “kind-of-looks-like-him” ID, the local ADA said the ID on the purchase of the unique brand of wine made around the time of the death and in close proximity to the murder scene, coupled with the record of transports by the suspect, was enough for a warrant. We then set up house in the detective bureau for the next three days.
For the next day and a half, we began searching all known locations for our suspect and got a lead on a girlfriend. A late night visit the following day found our suspect hiding under her bed. A search warrant executed at his house resulted in a recently consumed Manischewitz Cream White Concord bottle on the kitchen counter, the suspect’s prints all over it. Our interrogation resulted in a full confession. The motive, according to the suspect, was that he left a witness to his last robbery and that got him hard time, so this time, “no witnesses.” The wine was his “kiss” in to the apartment. The hammer was ditched in the river and never recovered. The TV was pawned off, but recovered on January 3 from a local fence. We returned back to our respective homes the evening of January 3.
According to our DA, this was the first time he could recall a murder defendant pleading guilty to every count of an indictment: Murder 2, Felony Murder, Assault 1, Robbery, and Grand Larceny. The deal was 20–to-life instead of the normal 25-to-Life.
Fast forward two decades.
I’m on the west coast teaching a Street Survival Seminar when I get a call from the NYS Division of Parole. It seems our defendant had served his 20-plus and was now looking to get paroled. Since I was the lead detective, they wanted me to fly back to testify at his parole hearing. While I was more than willing, I called my retired partner to give him the news. Turns out Ron volunteered to make the drive from Rochester to Attica State Prison and provided the testimony needed to keep our guy locked up for a few more years courtesy of the NYS Department of Corrections.
Keys to the plea:
- The ID at the liquor store.
- The unique brand of wine purchased.
- The print-laden wine bottle found at the suspect’s house.
- The confession.
- The recovery of the TV.