THE TOUGH AND TEDIOUS JOB OF CATCHING A KILLER
Brilliant swift deductions in the Sherlock Holmes tradition don't solve many murders. Real-life detectives crack most cases only by plodding through dozens of interviews and systematically sifting a thousand tiny clues
CHIEF JAMES MACKEY
METROPOLITAN TORONTO POLICE jjj JQLD TO SIDNEY KATZ
THIS YEAR, fifteen or twenty men and women in Metropolitan Toronto will commit murder. They will vary greatly in age, social position, intelligence and motive. Most of them will be ordinary citizens, without a previous criminal record, driven by powerful emotions. A few will be mentally ill, the victims of fantasies and delusions, striking out against imaginary persecutors. Some will be individuals who have lost all sense of restraint, because of heavy drinking. Included in this group of murderers will probably be two or three habitual criminals, prepared to kill for personal gain or to evade capture.
When a case of murder is reported to police headquarters, members of the homicide squad immediately swing into action, gathering every last
How a big-city police force really works
shred of evidence and tracking down the smallest clue. Sometimes this means working three or four days without sleep. Haste is necessary because witnesses and pieces of evidence have a way of vanishing right after a crime. People are reluctant to step forward and act as witnesses, because they don’t want to be involved in any way. For example, last year a woman was found murdered in High Park. At least half a dozen persons phoned in with valuable information. Some had even seen the victim with a certain man shortly before her death, but not a single caller would reveal his name or come down to headquarters to identify the suspect.
In cases where the murderer is unknown, it’s imperative that he be tracked down at once, lest he strike again. Many persons, whose information about police work is derived chiefly from fiction stories, believe that most crimes are solved by brilliant deductions or by inspiration. This may be true sometimes, but more often a criminal is caught as the result of systematic, plodding, investigation. Sheer patience, determination and physical exertion are the qualities that usually pay off. Consider, for instance, the handling of one murder case early last year.
At 5.30 p.m. on March 9, 1959, in response to an urgent call, police hurried to the modest home
of an eighty-one-year-old widow. On the floor of the kitchen her body was found, her head resting on a cushion. She had been stabbed seventy-five times with her own ice pick. An unfinished cup of tea on the table and the doctor's report both indicated that death had taken place about noon of that day.
Relatives, friends and neighbors of the victim were asked, "Do you know of anyone who would have had reason to kill this woman?” But the question drew a blank. Some of the officers carefully searched the house and grounds for clues. The most significant finding was footprints in the fresh snow. They led from the back door, across the garden, over a fence and down a lane to the next street. The footprints revealed an impression made by metal-heel plates with distinctive markings. Plaster molds of the prints were carefully prepared.
Since there were no specific suspects, it was soon apparent that the police would have to track down all* persons who had been on that particular block from about ten o’clock in the morning to two o'clock in the afternoon. From various government departments, names and addresses were obtained of the postman, garbage collectors, hydro-electric and road-repair men. We also compiled a list of milkmen, bakers, butchers, dry
cleaners and other delivery men who had been in the neighborhood.
Careful questioning of forty or fifty of these people revealed nothing. Officers then embarked on a door-to-door canvass of all residents on the block. One woman said a crew of salesmen had been working the block that morning, but she remarked. "1 don’t suppose they had anything to do with it — they were such nice young men.” This was just one more lead to check out and, at the time, it was regarded with no special interest. From a receipt the woman supplied, officers were able to locate the sales crew, consisting of six men, at their quarters in a west-end motel.
Of all the salesmen interviewed, a sixteen-yearold lad was the least likely suspect. He seemed younger than his years and was rather shy and mild - mannered. However, as police questioned him, he revealed a surprisingly savage temper. Certain questions were enough to trigger off a bitter denunciation of the police and their methods. In the closet of his room, officers discovered a pair of shoes bearing metal heel plates identical with those imprinted in the snow in the rear of the victim's home. Confronted with this evidence, the boy broke down and confessed.
Why had he committed this terrible crime? The youth had no rational CONTINUED ON PAGE 53
TEDIOUS JOB OF CATCHING A KILLER
CONTINUED ON PAGE 53
How a big-city police force really works continued from page 29
¡‘There was no doubt the proprietor had stabbed the man to death — but was si premeditated murder?’"
explanation. He told the officers that he had been in a good mood when the old woman answered the door. But within minutes, he said, he was inside the home, bitterly engaged in an argument about religion.
‘i got real mad at something she said and then I let her have it." One explanation for this murderous deed may have been that the boy had been raised by foster parents, who were elderly people like the victim. He had been having fierce arguments with them. The last one had occurred only a few' days previously and ended with the youth running away from home, hurt and angry. Somehow, the heated exchange with the old lady had suddenly released all his pent-up hostility and he struck out at her blindly. This boy was found to be mentally incompetent and. in all likelihood, will spend the rest of his days in a security institution.
In many cases careful observation at the scene of the crime can profoundly influence the outcome of a trial. A few' years ago. a watchman was found on the second floor of an office building on Sherbourne Street, bludgeoned to death. A man was arrested and charged with the murder. The accused did not deny his guilt, but stated that he had been stupefied by liquor and couldn't recall what had happened. He told the court that he had reached the second floor by climbing a perpendicular, ten-foot, fireescape ladder. Investigating officers came to the trial, armed with a miniature replica of the building. It was apparent to the jury that the accused, if he had been as drunk as he claimed, could not have managed to scale the perpendicular ladder.
He killed — over a dime
Again, in a "Dime for a Cup of Coffee" murder, a detailed model of the murder locale became an important exhibit at the trial. This tragedy began when Joseph Major walked into a restaurant on College Street, owned by John Szentandrassy. The customer and the proprietor were acquainted and sat down together to have a cup of coffee. Later, an argument broke out between them. Enraged, the customer leaped from the table and started walking out of the restaurant. The proprietor ran after him, insisting that he pay a dime for the cup of coffee. He refused, however, and walked away.
A few weeks later the proprietor was at the door of his establishment when the same customer walked by. "How about paying for that coffee?" he shouted at him. In reply, the customer struck him and continued walking along College Street. Szentandrassy rushed into his restaurant, picked up a large carving knife, overtook the customer further along the street and stabbed him to death.
At the trial, the point arose as to whether the accused had premeditated the murder, or whether he had responded to a powerful impulse of hate and anger. The model displayed to the jury indicated that the restaurant proprietor had run a considerable distance between the time he was struck and the time he plunged his knife into his victim. He had to travel the full length of his restaurant to the kitchen (which was in the rear) to obtain the knife then cover the same dis-
tance coming out again. On the street, the murderer had passed several stores before reaching his victim. By following these movements on the scale model, the jury concluded that the accused had had sufficient time to “cool off" after he had
been struck by the customer. Sentenced to life imprisonment, the restaurant proprietor committed suicide in jail.
People interviewed in the course of a criminal investigation are sometimespuzzled at police insistence that they tell
everything they know', including what might appear to be unrelated details. The reason is that the police themselves are unable to tell which shred of information may be useful.
Perhaps you will recall the case, a few
How tiny clues go into a crime lab and come out as major evidence
years ago. where a fourteen-year-old girl was found strangled to death in a field, near a lonely road by the waterfront. When police reached the scene at four in the morning, they immediately searched her clothing. In one of her pockets they found the name and address of a boy. The youth turned out to be her boy friend, but he was able to fully account for his movements following the victim’s disappearance the night before. He was questioned for two hours. Among other things, he said the dead girl sometimes waved to a man driving a red truck.
Police officers were stationed on the road near the murder scene, in search of motorists and pedestrians who were in the habit of using this route. “Can you describe the people, the cars or the trucks you saw in this area last night?” they asked. Since the road was lightly traveled, one man was able to furnish a rough description of a red truck he had seen parked in the area the previous evening. Although there are thousands of such trucks in Metropolitan Toronto, the police felt compelled to locate and question the driver. Six detectives embarked on this task. Early in the morning — exactly forty-eight sleepless hours after the girl's body was found—officers were in a large parking lot in the northwest section of the city, searching through dozens of red trucks. This was the depot of a big cartage company that held a post-office contract to pick up mail from street boxes. The police were particularly interested in one of these trucks and its driver, whose collection route included the district where the young girl had lived. In the vehicle, detectives found several bobby pins and lipstick the color and brand customarily used by the dead girl. When the driver came to work, the officers were waiting for him. He blanched when the detectives identified themselves, then fell to the ground in a dead faint. Later, he paid for this crime with his own life.
Sometimes, thousands of man - hours must be spent on a criminal investigation to gather enough evidence to make an arrest. The Newell homicide is a case in point.
This tragedy first came to light on Sunday, October 6th, 1940. A water-works employee was inspecting filtration beds located in a lonely area of Centre Island, overgrown with weeds and shrubbery. Suddenly he spied the body of a young woman, lying on her right side. Police rushed to the scene. It was obvious to them—and later confirmed by the pathologist—that death had been caused by strangulation and that the body had lain there for about a week.
Telltale fibres are found
Every inch of ground around the body was scrutinized and various articles of clothing were collected. Detectives fitted together dozens of small pieces of white paper found in the area and they made up a white envelope, bearing the insignia of the YMCA and RCAF. On it was a diagram of the section of the island where the body was found. On a bush, directly above the victim’s head, were several blue fibres. In a nearby lagoon police fished up a woman’s compact, lipstick and two-foot length of tarred rope.
The first task of detectives was to establish the identity of the victim. A search of our files showed that the body was that of Anne Marie Newell, who had last been seen alive a week earlier, on September 29, and whose disappearance had been reported by her roommate on October 2. Police records showed that, at that time, they had questioned the dead woman’s estranged husband, William Newell, a twenty-six-year-old airman.
Now, with her body definitely identified. detectives questioned the husband much more thoroughly, and interviewed others who might help them reconstruct
the events leading to the woman’s disappearance and death.
Newell, it was learned, was divorced from his first wife, separated from his second and now infatuated with a beautiful young girl. He was living with her in an apartment on Howland Avenue. His two marriages had produced children whom he did not support.
Newell was asked to tell about the last time he had seen his wife. He said he had arrived in Toronto from his air-force station on Sunday, September 29, and called at her home on Grange Avenue at 12.30 p.m. to take her to lunch. They dined at a restaurant near Bay and Dundas Streets, and he left her at 3.45 p.m. at Adelaide and Yonge Streets. “She told me she might get a lift later that afternoon to go and visit our son, who is living in Vineland, near Niagara Falls. That’s the last I saw of her,” he said.
Newell stated that he then went to the RCAF manning depot in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, returned to the centre of the city for a snack in a restaurant, then visited his wife’s place on Grange Avenue to sec if she got her lift. "I waited for ten minutes and then went to the girl friend’s apartment,” he said.
The dead girl's roommate confirmed that Newell had called for her shortly after noon. When she left. Anne said, "I’ll be back in about an hour.” She was wearing black gloves at the time.
Detectives checked the restaurant where Newell said he had lunched, but could find no one who could recall seeing him there. But they did locate a witness, who said that at 2.30 p.m. she stopped her car at the corner of Bay and Fleet Streets to wait for the traffic light. (This is three blocks south of the point where Newell said he had left Anne.) She knew the dead girl—who had once worked for her—as well as her husband. They waved to her.
The constable on duty at the Toronto
ferry dock was interviewed and he recalled seeing a man in air-force uniform about 2.40 p.m.. accompanied by a woman in a dark coat.
Police also located a man and his wife who had been in a canoe in the lagoon, near the murder scene, at 3.45 p.m. The woman said she noticed an airman on the bank, with a girl. “The man kept staring at me until I turned away," she said. (These witnesses later picked Newell out of a police line-up of several men of approximately the same build and complexion. )
Police could not trace Newell’s movements during the rest of the afternoon or early evening. But they learned that he showed up at Anne's house on Grange Avenue at 8.45 p.m. "He was nervous and agitated,” said Anne's roommate, "and he kept turning his head away, as if to hide a scratch on his face.” When he was told that his wife wasn’t there, Newell remarked that she had probably got a lift to Vineland. From Newell’s girl friend, police learned that he had come to her Howland Avenue apartment at 9.30 p.m.
"He had a three-inch scratch on his face, and he told me he had got at In a fight with his wife.” the girl friend said. "That night he didn't sleep. He just kept staring at the ceiling. Every once in a while he'd get up to put salve on his scratch and ask me if it was noticeable.” A search of the apartment revealed a number of important clues. There were several letters Newell had written to his pretty paramour. The envelopes and handwriting were identical with the envelope and handwriting found on the island. In the basement, hidden in the toe of a boot,
detectives found a pair of black gloves, which were identified as those worn by the victim at the time of her disappearance. They also found a coil of rope identical with the two-foot length which had been thrown into the lagoon.
Perhaps the most incriminating evidence came from the examination of the trousers of Newell’s uniform, which was hanging in a closet. By means of a magnifying glass, officers were able to detect a tiny hoie in the right leg. The missing threads were woof or transverse fibres— distinguishable because, unlike the warp, they were brilliantly colored. The threads gathered from the bush at the murder scene were identical with the woof fibres in Newell’s trousers.
From Newell’s letters to his girl friend, and through various witnesses, detectives were able to reconstruct the events which had led to Anne Newell’s death. Newell had become infatuated with his girl friend and, in order to marry her, he had wanted to divorce his wife. His wife had refused. William Newell was found guilty of the murder of his wife and was hanged.
The Newell conviction confirmed something known by police officers for a long time—that a successful criminal investigation largely depends upon a thorough search for clues at the scene. A case that occurred a few years before the Centre Island tragédy underlines this point. One November day the body of a twenty-yearold stenographer was found in a Toronto ravine. Murder and rape were apparent. After exactly twenty-four hours of investigation, detectives arrested Harry O’Donnell, despite the absence of any witnesses. How were they able to do this?
All rapists are checked
As the first step, investigators made a list of all men living within a three-mile area of the ravine who had ever been convicted of rape. These men were checked out, one at a time. Interest soon focused on one, Harry O'Donnell, who worked and lived near the ravine and who. seven years earlier, had served a prison term for rape. O’Donnell gave what appeared to be a plausible alibi, accounting for his movements the night of the crime. He had visited his wife in hospital, taken in a movie, taken a drink at a hotel and then had gone to bed.
Although detectives were able to disprove portions of his alibi, they made other discoveries that were far more incriminating. From cracks in the accused's shoes and trouser cuffs, particles of leaves, burrs and soil were extracted, identical with those where the body was located. The water pipes leading from the wash basin in O’Donnell’s bathroom were opened and there, in the trap, lay a large quantity of the ravine soil. A clothes brush found in his bedroom contained 298 hairs of blue angora wool—exactly similar in color and cellular structure to the sweater the victim had been wearing.
Finally, after scouring the murder area with rakes, officers dug up a heavy wrench, bearing the initials "O.D." This was identified as belonging to the suspect. O’Donnell confessed to his crime shortly before he was hanged.
Newspaper reports often refer to a murderer as "heartless,’’ "ruthless," "coldblooded" or "unfeeling.” These descriptives apply to some killers, like Harry O’Donnell, but most murderers are relentlessly pursued by their conscience.
This was certainly true of a nineteenyear-old boy named Stephen, who is now serving a life sentence for killing a fiftyseven-year-old brokerage-firm messenger. The victim, Fred, was found beaten and shot near a highway outside Toronto.
Stephen’s accomplice in the crime was another teenager, Ian. The horror, fear and guilt occasioned by the crime were graphically portrayed in Stephen's confession.
Stephen and Ian had known Fred for a few months, after striking up an acquaintance in a pool hall. He sometimes gave them money. On the night of the crime, the two boys were desperate for money and decided to rob him. Under the pretense of demonstrating the driving qualities of Ian’s new car, they drove their victim out into the country. Ian suddenly stopped, pretending his motor had stalled. He asked the victim to gel out and look under the hood. Stephen’s confession read, in part:
"‘Fred was looking at the motor and ¡an went up to him saying, ‘I want your money.’ I was standing there with a gun in my hand. Fred turns around and says, 'You’re not going to have it.’ Just then the gun went off. It just went boom! It didn't feel like me. Fred falls down and Ian says, ‘You shot him.’ It didn't feel like I shot anybody. We lifted him in the trunk and drove away. I crossed myself and prayed and asked God what I d do. Ian kept driving fast, saying nothing for a long time. Then he says, ‘We’d better find some place to hide the body, because if they can’t find the body, they can't prove anything.’ A police car passed, but they didn’t notice us. Ian said that he didn’t feel sorry for the old bastard and that we were doing the world a favor by getting rid of him.”
The next part of the confession described an even more macabre scene.
Fred evidently regained consciousness, for his screams could be heard coming from the trunk. To drown out the noise, the car radio was turned up high. The confession continued:
“We pulled off at the side of a lonely road. Ian gave me the gun and said, ‘You lift up the trunk and I'll hit him on the head and knock him put as he comes out.’ I did. Ian hit him, but it wasn’t enough. Fred got out and kept walking. Ian then shot him and he fell. Ian then asked me to help drag the body away from the road, but I couldn t I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to go neai him. I didn't want to touch him. Then Ian shot him again and went through his pockets \ . . I shot him again, and we got back in the car. I was worried. Ian said to me, ‘You’ve got to have no feelings.’
I went home, but I couldn't sleep. I smoked all night, trying not to think about it, but l could clearly hear Fred still screaming and yelling. Since we did this thing four weeks ago. I haven’t been able to sleep, thinking about it. I wanted to tell you about it . .
Thus ended Stephen’s statement. I'd like to say a few words about such statements — or “confessions,” as the newspapers like to call them—because we re often accused of forcing them out of people suspected of serious crimes by the use of intimidation and violence. 1 would like to assure you that any officer on my force who is found guilty of abusing a suspect — will be severely punished.
Experienced criminals are well aware of this. By falsely claiming to have been
beaten, they hope to discredit the police and to repudiate incriminating statements they have made before their case comes to trial. False charges of violence against the police are common. One prisoner banged his head and face against the steel bars of his cell, then claimed that the detectives who questioned him were responsible for his injuries. In another instance, a man with a lengthy record of armed robbery showed a magistrate a number of wounds and bruises on his legs and face. “The cops did this with a steel-edged ruler,” he said. The magis-
trate was not impressed. Three days before his appearance in court, the suspect had crashed into a tree while trying to escape with a stolen car. His injuries were carefully noted on the accident report made out at the time.
Breaking a homicide case is often the source of great satisfaction to the police, because it may mean removing a dangerous criminal from society. On the other hand these are cases where officers will work for weeks, and even months, amassing so much evidence that, in their minds, the suspect is surely the guilty party. Yet,
because of the court's heavy responsibility to ensure that no innocent person is convicted, he then may go free.
This can be frustrating, but the police recognize that it underlines an important principle in our system of justice: the laws are designed to protect the innocent, even at the cost of allowing the occasional guilty person to go unpunished. ★
In the final installment in this series, Chief Mackey will describe how the average citizen can protect himself and his property against criminals.