The Atlanta Co-Ed Murder
The Dead cannot cry out for justice: it is a duty of the living to do so for them.
Lois McMaster Bujold,
Diplomatic Immunity, 2002
The original call arrived at a pigeon’s breath before 6:45 P.M. Outside, following a brisk soaking downpour, a stoic summer evening dressed in smoldering humidity was quietly settling in. The relentless slivers of steam rising gently from the hot pavement took on the mushroom-like image of a nuclear explosion’s aftermath.
Three times the phone rang shrilly. The anachronous answering machine made its usual gyrating noises before finally clicking on. The anxious caller had listened patiently in hopes the intended recipient would pick up during the recorded message. But that was not to be, and the caller elected not to leave a message.
The second call, almost predictably, especially considering the identity of the caller, came a few hours later, around 10:30 P.M. The phone was promptly answered after the first ring.
“Hello, Detective Lincoln?”
“This is Franklin Dillard.”
“Good evening, Sir! It’s been awhile.” The caller’s authoritative voice had a soothing effect, touching chords in the detective’s fonder memories.
“Indeed, it’s been over two years.”
There was a pause, as the detective’s mind flashed back to the case involving the brutal slaying of his caller’s youngest daughter. That case, a real mind twister, had brought the detective dangerously close to death.
“When will you be returning to the mainland?” Dillard asked, in a monotone voice. The tone made the question straightforward, thereby begging a direct response.
“Actually, I really don’t know. I never dreamed I’d be staying in Hawaii this long. Sir, I would assume this is not a social call.”
“No, I’m afraid not. Frankly, I need your services again, Detective.”
Before the investigator could respond, his mind once again automatically flashed back to the high-profile Dillard murder case with its many challenging aspects. Abstract images paraded rapidly across his mind’s screen, images he thought were securely stowed away.
“Tell me, what’s happened?”
A brief pause passed before the precise words were coolly delivered by the caller.
“A good friend of mine just lost his daughter. She was raped and killed on her fiancé’s college campus, Douglass University, in Atlanta.”
The detective listened closely. He knew that Dillard possessed keen innate insight, a man who had built a formidable legal empire and knew intimately the levers of influence and power.
“When did it happen?” Detective Lincoln asked.
“Seven days ago.”
“Do the authorities have any suspects?”
“They’ve detained three male students, top athletes on the basketball team. Of course the students insist they’re innocent.”
The detective continued to silently listen. Dillard, an attorney and a father, had lost a daughter in similar circumstances. He would unquestionably tell the private eye all he knew.
“One of those three students was dating the young lady. The father of the deceased, my friend and associate, was not very fond of this young man. He considered him from the wrong side of the tracks, an unfit suitor for his daughter. All three young men have had prior minor run-ins with the law. The police found marijuana in their room and forensic tests confirmed they had been using drugs that evening.
“They claimed they had just finished playing a basketball game and had returned to their room… discovering the young lady dead in the closet. The young men further admit that, because of their intoxication, regrettable decisions were made that night. They allegedly panicked and foolishly attempted to dispose of the dead girl’s body.”
Dillard paused, allowing his words to sink in.
“The police have yet to arrest and charge them with anything because of the intense pressure they’re receiving. The boys, all top athletes, attract major college revenues. The victim attended the neighboring all girls’ school, Sojourner Truth College. The renowned Rev. Deek Johnson is standing, right now, firmly behind the boys. The Reverend is an alumnus of the boys’ school, Douglass. The President of Douglass is a good buddy of Deek’s.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Dillard?”
After a brief moment, Dillard responded. He was not a man by formal training or accumulated knowledge that minced his words. Powerful men possessed a natural ability to instill a sense of urgency.
“I want you to find out the truth. I have some influence there and the Atlanta police have agreed to allow you to consult. My Atlanta office routinely interacts with the Atlanta Police Department’s top brass. Chief Bernhart will talk with you. He’s aware of your potential role in finding my friend’s daughter’s murderer.”
“When did you want me to start?”
“As soon as possible, if you’re interested?”
“I should be able to fly out in a few days.”
“Good. I’ll get you all the names and telephone numbers of the people that you’ll need to contact.”
“Will you be going to Atlanta?” the detective asked.
“No, I just attended the funeral. There’s nothing more I can do there. But, I have confidence you can help.”
“I’ll call you when I get to Atlanta, Mr. Dillard.”
“Thank you. And goodnight, Detective.”
Detective Lincoln thought back on the past couple of years. It was time. He suspected what might be before him. Well rested, he felt fit and ready. Here, again, was an opportunity to retest his skills.
Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.
Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)
Detective William Monroe Lincoln, tall, tanned, and dapper landed at the Atlanta International Airport three days after the Franklin Dillard call. He picked up his bags, rented a car, and drove toward Richard and Carla Valencia’s house, the dead girl’s parents. Carlita Valencia’s parents resided in a sprawling suburb twenty-five minutes from downtown Atlanta. The home was five-thousand-square-feet with ample accommodations for the detective. Normally, the investigator would have declined the offer to stay there, but in this case, he welcomed the opportunity to obtain as much information about the victim as possible.
Before driving to the Valencia home, he detoured to police headquarters. Chief Bernhart was off site, but Detective John Michael O’Brien, who was assigned to the case, was available. O’Brien was a third-generation Atlantan and the fifth family member in law enforcement. The Officer, medium height and muscular build, was rambunctious in nature. He led Detective Lincoln to his office where numerous sports trophies and old newspaper articles were nicely framed on the walls. O’Brien, a former athlete, had achieved some measure of local fame.
“What do you have so far, Officer? Are the boys guilty?”
O’Brien turned around and walked back to his chair. His eyes remained focused firmly on the investigator. He was naturally leery of outsiders broaching his domain to solve his cases. This is not a good thing from the average detective’s perspective.
“It would seem so. A security guard caught them red-handed trying to dispose of the body. The young men had wrapped the corpse in a rug. They were stopped in the parking lot of one suspect’s dormitory. They ran. The guard caught one immediately and the other two were apprehended the next day.”
“What do they say happened?” Bill inquired.
O’Brien surveyed Lincoln. How did this famed detective operate? Was he going to pull a rabbit out of a hat and proclaim case solved? He’d wait and see.
“Two of the boys claimed they discovered the body in their friend’s closet. They had played a home basketball game that night. All three are team starters. After the game, they went to Roger Brown’s place to talk and do ‘other things’. Brown resides in the dorm and his two teammates live in an off-campus apartment. Brown was dating the young lady, or whatever they call it these days. The three students were smoking pot in the dorm room and had worked up an appetite. Brown lost the bet on deciding who would go get food.”
“While Brown was gone, his two buddies looked for a particular game while they waited. They claim when Jesus Gonzalez opened the closet door, looking for the board game, he discovered the girl’s body.”
A long silence filled the room. Detective O’Brien wanted his words to weigh heavily in the listener’s ear. Detective Lincoln, however, sat patiently and waited for Officer O’Brien to resume.
“According to them, they ‘freaked-out’. They figured people would think they had killed her. They’re saying they made a bad decision and got caught.”
“Why haven’t you arrested them yet?” Lincoln asked.
It was obvious, by O’Brien’s body language, that this was an irritating issue. The Police could arrest a man who they themselves watched commit a crime, but the judicial bureaucrats of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors would intervene and the wheels of justice would then move at a crippled snail’s pace. This issue drives most Officers to the abyss.
“Because of the damn politics being played! That’s the reason! That loudmouth self-righteous Rev. Deek Johnson is involved, telling everyone to ‘go slow’. He not only has the university president’s ear, but even the damn President of the United States too! He’s making sure those boys get extra-special treatment. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s got two Harvard law school professors giving them legal advice.”
“I heard that the good Reverend also went to school at Douglas.”
“Yeah, you heard right.”
“So, how is the media playing it?”
“It was an open and shut case before Deek Johnson got involved. Now, the papers are sniffing around looking into the young lady’s affairs. She was a nice girl from a decent family, but that’s history. Every disgusting piece of dirt imaginable is being manufactured. For instance, they interviewed a student just last night. This guy says he heard she was a lesbian. When the reporter asked if he thought it was true, the student didn’t know. Even though he’s never met the young lady, he was still only too willing to repeat this ugly rumor. What’s going on is sickening. It makes me want to puke!”
Lincoln could feel O’Brien’s disgust. He had seen the ugly side of politics for himself and had spent several painful weeks in jail because he found himself on the wrong side of the political equation.
“So, it appears that Rev. Johnson is running the show?”
“Well, almost, until Dr. Elizabeth Bay Crockett, the president of the women’s college, got involved. Now she’s leading the charge, fighting Deek and his cronies. Her recent comments have hit the mark.”
“Will you arrest the three young men?”
“Oh yes. It’s only a matter of time. The political waters have shifted slightly now that Dr. Crockett has spoken out.”
“So, the lines have been drawn?”
Lincoln could imagine the intense battle of wills. Both Rev. Johnson and Dr. Crockett were very determined individuals who would normally be found working on the same side; however, they were now worthy opponents.
“So, tell me, what are these three students like?”
It was time for Detective Lincoln to start getting background information. The outcome of a case is usually determined by the characters involved. The detective sought character profile types. The more he knew the better his data analysis.
“Roger Brown was dating the girl. He’s the starting point guard on the basketball team. Brown is from New York and is a junior.”
“Is he pro material?”
The Officer tilted his head back, reflecting on Lincoln’s question. He already knew his answer, but wanted to show Detective Lincoln that he was not one to rush to judgment, that he was reflective.
“Well, he’s good, but there’re lots of guys who are good. In my opinion, he’s playing for the wrong school to make it to the pros.”
“Okay, who are the other two?”
“Jesus Gonzalez is from Los Angeles. You don’t find many Hispanics who can play ball like he can. He’s a class act. He grew up in inner city neighborhoods and he’s athletic. He learned by playing against the neighborhood’s best. He figured out that basketball could get him a ticket out of the barrio. The third boy is Jamal ‘Tiny’ Muhammad. Jamal is six foot-seven and they’ve always called him Tiny. He’s from Washington, DC.”
“Are they clean?”
“Are you kidding? You know the blueprint. They’re all top athletes and have been treated royally. Each has had scrapes with the law. They’re not Boy Scouts, far from it.”
“I’d like to read the file. Is that possible?”
“Sure. Chief Bernhart has already agreed. I’ve got it right there,” O’Brien remarked, pointing his finger at a set of gray six-foot filing cabinets. O’Brien pulled a set of keys from his pocket and took out two very full sets of manila folders.
“You can read them here at my desk. I’ve got to take care of a few things upstairs anyway. Be my guest.”
“I appreciate it. Thanks.”
After an hour of reading, Lincoln figured he was about halfway through. He decided to call the Valencia family to tell them he would arrive in about two hours. He finished his reading fifty minutes later. Lincoln took copious notes, folded them, and placed the papers in his inside jacket pocket. As he sat there, a knock on the door got his attention. He soon stared into the warm brown eyes of an attractive female wearing a detective’s shield on her leather jacket lapel.
“Hello, I’m Detective Nakita Cruz, O’Brien’s partner. I was just informed that you were here. It’s nice to finally meet you, Detective Lincoln. I’ve heard a lot about you.” And with that she held out her hand.
“Please, call me Bill.” He raised his hand and shook hers.
“And I’m Nakita.”
“That’s an interesting name, Detective.”
“Which one?” she smiled.
“Nakita. It sounds Russian.”
“My father is a Hungarian Jew and my mother is Hispanic. He took her name because his was too much to handle. Since my father is very liberal and didn’t have a problem shedding his last name, and my mother is a fireball who thinks all men should change their last names to that of their wife, it worked out perfectly.”
“And so did you do the same thing with your husband?”
She paused for a few seconds and looked at him curiously.
“How do you know I’m married, Detective?”
“No ring,” he said as he turned and sat back down in his chair, “but the ring mark is evident on your finger. You recently removed your ring, to conceal it. I assume you did it before you introduced yourself to me. Engaged women usually don’t conceal that information, but broadcast it. Therefore, by simple deduction, I assume you’re married.”
“Very good, Detective, I mean, Bill. You have a sharp eye. I get a better measure of a man when he thinks I’m single.”
“I understand. Tell me about the case, Nikita. I’ve got about twenty minutes before I have to go. What’s your gut feeling about these young men?”
“I think they’re guilty. Their story is too bizarre, in my opinion, for them to be anything else. How often do you go home and ‘discover’ a body in your closet, which just happens to be your recently murdered girlfriend?”
“Rumor has it there’re politics afoot.”
“I suggest you wear your boots, Detective.”
“When are you going to arrest the young men?”
“With the way things are going, we may have to wait for the President of the United States to give us the nod first.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Where have you been living, Detective?”
“Oh, I was beginning to wonder if you read the papers.”
“Could the young men be not guilty?”
She studied Bill closely, wondering where he was going with this. She remembered Lincoln had solved the infamous Oakland Hills voodoo murders. In that case, the real murderers had gone unsuspected until the man standing before her had rooted them out. She took another hard look at Detective Lincoln and chose her words most carefully.
“In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that anyone other than those three students is guilty.”
“Thank you for your observations, Detective. I must be going. O’Brien gave me his telephone number. I’d like yours as well.”
Both detectives exchanged information. Bill shook hands with the lady cop and a few minutes later was in his car driving toward the Valencia family home.
The struggling for knowledge has a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman.
George Savile, Lord Halifax (1633-1695)
English statesman, author
Detective Lincoln pulled into the Valencia’s gated driveway at 5:35 P.M. As he opened the car door and stepped out, the main entrance door opened and a middle-aged couple walked toward him. The man, approximately six feet tall, was dressed in an open collared, short-sleeved designer shirt and casual slacks. The woman, much shorter than the man, wore black slacks with a light sweater.
“Detective Lincoln?” the man asked while approaching him.
“Yes, but please call me Bill.”
“I’m Richard and this is my wife, Carla.”
“It’s nice to meet you both. I’m sorry we have to meet under these circumstances.”
“We understand. Please come in. My son will bring your bags in.”
The three of them walked inside. The detective was introduced to the son, Richard Jr. At twenty-five, Richard Jr. was their eldest child. He greeted the lawman and then retrieved the bags. Another woman was sitting in the living room. She stood as they came closer. Carla introduced her to the detective.
“This is my youngest sister, Offie.”
“I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Bill Lincoln.”
“It’s my pleasure. Thank you for coming, Detective.”
The resemblance was uncanny. The deceased looked more like her aunt than her own mother! Lincoln had received a package regarding the case from Franklin Dillard Sr.; it was waiting for him when he arrived at the airport. The deceased daughter’s picture was in that package.
“I apologize for staring, but you and your niece looked so very much alike.”
“Why, thank you Mr. Lincoln. My niece was a lovely young lady.”
“It’s true. As Carlita aged, she started looking more like my sister than me,” Carla reflected. “It was amazing. Everyone noticed.”
“I never cared much for her friend Roger,” the father remarked.
“Why is that?” Bill asked.
“Because, he has a low-class mentality, he’s a hooligan. I didn’t mind that he was poor, that means nothing to me. I was more concerned about his lifestyle than his wallet. He simply didn’t share the same value system that we instilled our daughter with.”
“We raised our little girl to respect everyone. But, he was trash, Mr. Lincoln,” the mother stated. “I never said those words to her, but that’s exactly how I felt!”
“So, tell me, why did she go out with him?” the detective inquired.
“He was a basketball star who took an interest in a pretty girl, our pretty girl. Surely you know how it is for young girls. She was receiving attention from someone everyone knew and admired. During the basketball season, these young men were like demi-gods.”
“Did she like the young man as a person?”
“Well, I think she liked the attention more so than the boy. So many of the girls wanted to date Roger and there she was, his choice. They had little in common. He didn’t care anything about school beyond playing basketball.”
Lincoln knew the story. He felt sorry for this beleaguered couple. They were obviously hardworking and middle-class. Now, suddenly, their simple family life had been sucked down into a nightmarish vortex.
“Can you tell me when you last heard from Carlita?”
“I spoke with her around 2:00 P.M. She had just called to say ‘hello’,” the mother answered.
“Did she say what she planned that evening?” the detective asked.
“No, nothing specific; she mentioned a basketball game, but she wasn’t sure if she was going due to homework. There was an after game party she said she’d probably attend.”
“Did she say whether she would go with Roger or planned to meet him there?”
Mrs. Valencia thought for a few seconds and responded.
“For the life of me, I can’t remember if she said anything about how she was going to get there.”
“Did any of you talk to her that day?” the detective inquired. The others shook their heads.
“Now think about this before answering, is there anything I should know about your daughter that would be considered, well, negative?”
Once again, the family collectively shook their heads.
“Had she ever become pregnant?”
“Heavens, no!” exclaimed her mother.
“Definitely not!” the father echoed.
“How could you be sure?” the detective asked. The parent’s response had been too quick and too intense. Their daughter was dating out of her social class so what else might she be doing? Too many parents put on blinders regarding their offspring.
“Well, because she would’ve told me,” Carla responded. “After all, we were very, very close.”
“Was she sexually active with Roger?”
There was silence. The father and mother exchanged glances. They had both been asked this question before. Carla’s sister also had nothing to contribute to this issue.
“Who would know if she had been sexually active with Roger?” the detective inquired.
“Well then, who were her closest girlfriends?”
This was a better way to get an answer. The family seemed most uncomfortable discussing the potential sex life of their dead daughter. A few moments later, the mother offered the names of three young ladies.
“Now, how do you feel about the politics being played out here?”
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Richard asserted boldly. “You’d think everyone would want to solve this heinous crime, but that’s not the case. We’ve got political grandstanding that would make your stomach turn. Thank God Dr. Crockett has stepped forward with a different point of view.”
“Then it’s safe to assume that you’re not a fan of Rev. Deek Johnson.”
“No, I hate him,” Carla interjected. “I used to respect him, but not anymore.”
“And what about you, Offie, how do you feel about Rev. Johnson?”
Offie hadn’t said much during the conversation. There weren’t many questions she could answer better than her sister and brother-in-law. This was the first question the detective had asked her directly.
“I have mixed feelings. I don’t think I can give a truly unbiased opinion. I loved my niece and anyone hindering finding her murderer does not sit well with me. I don’t think that’s a fair question, Detective Lincoln.”
“I can understand your feelings.” The detective turned and looked directly at the husband. “And you Richard, what are your feelings about Rev. Johnson?”
“As an attorney, I can understand his comments. But as the father of a murdered child, I want justice. I want to find my daughter’s killer. Anyone stopping that from happening is no friend of mine!”
They talked for twenty minutes more until Carla fixed dinner. The detective learned nothing else of relevance that evening.
The following morning, Detective Lincoln had breakfast with the Valencia family and then met with detectives O’Brien and Cruz. Detective Lincoln was taken to the crime scene. The dorm room was still taped off by the police department.
The Officers flashed their badges before the sentry guarding the room and the detectives entered Suite 303, Roger Brown Jr.’s place. Detective Cruz, taking control, escorted Detective Lincoln throughout the crime scene. She showed him where the body had been found and presented the list of the room items found that night. The small room could not accommodate more than two students as living quarters.
“Let’s go to the parking lot. I want to see where that security guard stopped them,” Lincoln stated.
They took a modern elevator down and walked fifty steps to the parking lot. Detective Cruz identified the spot where the students were confronted that night. There was nothing unusual about the location. It was Roger’s designated parking place. Detective O’Brien opened his case file and read the statement made by the arresting security guard.
“The guard wrote, ‘When completing my rounds, I noticed three students in the parking lot, acting strangely. I went to investigate and noticed a rolled rug in their possession. Their behavior was noticeably suspicious. I started asking questions. The students dropped the rug and ran. I immediately grabbed the one closest to me; he had stumbled and fallen. I fell on top and subdued him’.”
“Have the police interviewed the students?” Lincoln inquired. There had been no mention of any interviews in the file that Detective Lincoln had reviewed.
“No. Unfortunately the lawyers have effectively cut off all communication. The students haven’t even been charged. Damn I hate this lawyer crap. It seems like the only people who have rights any more are the damn criminals,” O’Brien gruffly spit out as if he had discovered a nasty-tasting object in his mouth.
“Well now, just who are the boys’ lawyers?”
“Those two Harvard Law professors who are always on television complaining ad nausea about how this one’s or that one’s rights have been violated. Apparently they’ve never met a guilty person in their lives. Nor have they ever seen a piece of evidence that wasn’t either planted or corrupted by the police,” Detective O’Brien spewed.
“You mean Ribinovitz and Stone, the dynamic duo? They’re a pair, alright,”
Detective Lincoln reflected. Ordinary defense lawyers were an obstacle and top defense lawyers were just another layer delaying and sidetracking the slow turning wheels of justice.
“You get them on camera and it’s a show. They quote the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Bible, the Koran, sing songs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and then they tag-team it over to the Rev. Deek Johnson. And you know he’s never met any student from Douglass University who has ever done anything wrong. I’m surprised they’ve even acknowledged the girl’s death. If you leave it up to them, they’d probably try to convince us that some alien invaders did it,” O’Brien continued to rail.
“Please, spare me the details,” Bill whipped. “However, I’d like to talk to the boys.”
“Now that’s a novel idea, Detective. Why didn’t we think of that?” O’Brien responded sarcastically.
Bill ignored the comment and decided there was nothing more to see.
“I’d also like to talk to some of the boys’ friends. Can we do that today?” Detective Lincoln asked.
O’Brien opened his file again and looked for the telephone list of the people they had interviewed. Two of the non-suspect basketball players lived on campus. He called the on- campus players first, since they were the closest. The phone was answered by one of the students… a Phillip ‘Squeaky’ Banks. Quickly, it was determined the young man had no interest in speaking with the police. Lincoln, after listening to O’Brien’s unsuccessful efforts, signaled for the phone.
“Hello, Mr. Banks?”
“My name is Bill Lincoln and while I’m here with the Atlanta Police, I don’t actually work for them. I’m a private investigator. Right now the police are showing me the place where the young lady died. By the way, I’m the guy who solved that Oakland Hills voodoo murder case a couple of years back.”
“Yeah. I remember that one. So, you’re the dude who cracked it?”
“That’s correct. The police are describing what they think happened, but you and I both know that what they suspect and what really occurred could be very different.”
“You got that right, bro! The only evidence they can find is the stuff they’ve planted!”
“I’m feelin’ you. That’s why I’m here. Franklin Dillard hired me. He’s the same brother who lost his daughter back in Oakland two years ago. And, he’s one of Rev. Deek’s old friends. He wants a fresh pair of eyes looking into this thing. I’d like to come over and conversate with you, privately if I might, one brother to another. In other words, I’d much rather speak with you, my brother, without the Atlanta police sitting on our doorstep, ‘if ya know what I’m sayin’.”
“Sure, that’s very cool! Drop by tomorrow, say, around 4:30 P.M. I’ve got to run a few errands before tonight’s game. My roommate will be here too.”
“I’ll be there tomorrow at 4:30 P.M. Thanks.”
The other detectives overheard the conversation. They were all impressed. It now occurred to them that he would indeed interview the three student suspects before the police could.
“Hopefully I’ll meet with each of our three suspects soon,” Lincoln said to no one in particular.
“They’re staying with friends of Deek Johnson. They attend classes, but were instructed not to talk with anyone. Here’s the number of their local attorney,” O’Brien responded.
Lincoln dialed the number. After the second ring, the law firm’s secretary answered.
“Cody, Henderson, Goldstein and Meyers; May I help you?”
“This is Detective William Monroe Lincoln with the Oakland Police Department…who solved the Oakland Hills voodoo murders. I’m in Atlanta investigating the recent Valencia murder case. I want to talk with the attorneys of the three young men your firm is representing.”
“Just a minute Detective Lincoln. Please hold.”
Lincoln waited patiently, receiver to ear. Bill pulled out the telephone number of the Valencia home. He could use Carlita’s telephone number. He was not staying in the same room, but they had moved the phone line over. Detective Lincoln did not want to give out the telephone number of the Atlanta Police Department to any of the attorneys. That could give them the wrong impression of being pro-police. A few moments later, the secretary was back on the line.
“Can you hold for another moment, Detective? Mr. Cody will speak with you.”
“Yes. I’ll hold.”
After a few minutes, the lawman heard Mr. Cody’s voice.
“This is Wyatt Cody. Our firm is currently assisting Ribinovitz and Stone, the attorneys representing the young men in the Valencia case. Since their main offices are located in the Boston area, they’ve retained us for the local legal work. Now, what may I do for you today, Detective?”
“That’s simple. I’d like to talk to the boys.”
“Whom do you represent, Detective?”
“I’m being paid by an outside party.”
“I’ll have to know who that party is.”
“Franklin Dillard from Oakland, CA.”
“I see. I’ll have to get back to you. Where can I reach you?”
Detective Lincoln gave him the telephone number and hung up.
“I’ll need a pager,” Bill mentioned to the other two detectives.
“We’ll get you one by this afternoon.”
“Thanks. I’d like to talk with Carlita Valencia’s friends. Have you spoken with any of them yet?”
Both O’Brien and Cruz read the list and compared the names with those in their report. All the girls had been interviewed and had fully cooperated with the police. Their friend had been brutally taken from them and they wanted the person or persons found and severely punished.
“So, which young lady knew her best?”
“I’d say Linda Robinson was her closest friend. That’s her roommate.”
“What’s her phone number?”
Lincoln, armed with this new information, called but got no answer. He recorded the number.
“Squeaky Banks said there was a game tonight. Are those three playing?”
“Probably…they haven’t been charged with anything. The school is going out of its way to tell everyone that those boys are innocent, until proven guilty. Since innocent people should not have to behave like they’re guilty, school officials insist that they play.”
“And, is anyone opposing this decision?”
“Yes. Dr. Crockett. She’ll be sending protesters to the game. They’ll be marching outside with signs and banners. It could get ugly. We’ll post security to make sure nothing gets out of control.”
“Listen, I want to attend that game tonight. Can I get tickets?”
“Home games are always sold out.”
“What’s the President of Douglass University’s phone number?”
Detective O’Brien opened his file again and found the number. Lincoln dialed.
“President’s office; this is Julie.”
Detective Lincoln gave Julie his name and background, then made his request. She put him on hold for a few minutes. When she came back, she had a pair of tickets for him. Mr. Edwards would hold them for him at the campus security office. She was surprised when he said he’d walk over and pick them up. She didn’t realize he was already on campus.
“If you have the time, our Vice President of Student Affairs, Mr. Oscar Peterson, would like to meet you. He’s available now, that is, if you have time.”
“Yes, thank you, Julie.”
“I’m about to meet Oscar Peterson,” Lincoln indicated to O’Brien and Cruz.
“Right now. I’ve got two tickets to tonight’s game. Are either of you interested in going?”
“I’m available,” Detective Cruz replied. O’Brien looked at her and nodded.
“I’ve got another commitment,” O’Brien said.
“What time is the game?”
“It starts at 7:00 P.M.”
“I’ll meet you at the station at 6:15 P.M. Now I’m going to walk over to meet Oscar Peterson and pick up the tickets. I’ll see you guys later.”
Five minutes later, Lincoln was talking with Mr. Peterson and twenty minutes later, he was handed two courtside tickets to that night’s basketball game.
Detective Lincoln tried to reach Carlita’s roommate again, but no luck. He spent the next two hours talking with various students on campus, soliciting their opinions. He received a wide range of answers as he had expected. Eventually, he drove back out to the Valencia home, rested, and around 6:15 P.M. returned to meet Detective Cruz at police headquarters.
Nakita Cruz wore jeans, a sweater and a black beret, giving her a completely different look. They took his car and walked into the gym at 6:45 P.M. The place was packed. Outside, there were about two hundred protestors carrying signs and shouting slogans.
The detectives had excellent seats and during the start of the warm-ups, Detective Cruz pointed out the three young men who were suspected. Detective Lincoln watched the young men closely. They were indeed excellent athletes. Considering the predicament they were in, it did not inhibit their basketball abilities.
They lost the game that evening by three points to the league’s second place team. Now, both teams shared the top spot. The pressure to hold onto first place would build. The starting five must remain the starting five.
After the game, the detectives sat in a restaurant and talked. An hour later, Lincoln drove Ms. Cruz back to the station to get her car.
At 9:00 A.M. the next morning, Detective Lincoln received a call from Wyatt Cody, the attorney he had spoken with the day before. Mr. Cody invited him to meet at his law office that afternoon. Of course Detective Lincoln accepted.
Bill’s first meeting that day was with Linda Robinson, Carlita’s roommate. He had finally reached her last night and she had agreed to meet him at 11:00 A.M. Lincoln stopped at police headquarters first and checked out a pager from the supply room. He then drove to the campus.
Detective Lincoln found the dorm, an older, stately building completely covered by ivy. He took the elevator to Linda’s floor, knocked, and Carlita’s roommate opened the door. Linda Robinson was a pretty girl, who stood five-foot-four and was studying nursing. She was fairly religious and had seriously disapproved of her roommate dating the basketball star. She felt Roger was a bad influence. She was, however, envious of the attention that Carlita received by dating him. Linda had even attended a few parties given by the basketball players. Everyone wanted invitations to attend their parties, but it was her roommate, Carlita, that gained her entry.
“Please, come in.”
He sat in a comfortable overstuffed chair and she pulled the seat from her desk and sat in it. Several books on the desk were open. A picture with Greek Mythology characters hung on the wall. She was doing homework.
“Miss Robinson, I read the report of your interview with the police. It was very informative.”
“Thank you. I liked Carlita a lot. She was my friend.”
“Linda, many times we remember things that we wished we would have said to the police once the interview is over. Can you think of anything now that you wanted to say, but didn’t?”
“No, not really. And if I did, I would call them. I want the murderer found.”
“Tell me, do you think those three young men are guilty?”
She turned her head away for a moment and thought about the question. That’s all she had been thinking about for a week now.
“Yes. I think they’re responsible.”
“Did they seem capable of such a crime?”
“No, I didn’t think so. Not at first anyway. But I don’t really like them as people. They smoke dope and aren’t really interested in school, except for playing basketball.”
“Was she involved sexually with Roger?”
“I don’t know. I think so, or at least she was thinking about it. He was pressing her hard for sex. She was starting to say things like ‘its no big deal’, but I don’t know for sure.”
“So, if you had to testify on the witness stand as to whether she had sex, what would you say?”
“I would have to say, no, because, I can’t be sure.”
She shook her head, ‘no’. Lincoln was certain that if she knew anything more she would have told the police.
“Thank you, Linda. I hope I don’t have to talk to you again.”
The detective looked at his files and found the telephone number for Carla Valencia’s sister, Offie. He called her work number first and was told that she was out on leave. He then called her home number.
“Ms. Martine, this is Detective Lincoln.”
“I have some time before my next appointment and I was wondering if I could drop by to talk with you for a few minutes.”
“That would be fine. Where are you?”
She gave him directions to her house. He arrived fifteen minutes later. As he walked up to the house, she was standing there with the door open.
She escorted him to the kitchen where she was preparing coffee. The room was warm and well designed. He had the feeling that the lady enjoyed cooking and entertaining in her kitchen. It was very comfortable.
“What can I do for you, Detective Lincoln?”
“Please, it’s Bill.”
“You were relatively quiet yesterday…most of the questions I asked at your sister’s house were answered by her and her husband. Yet, I got the feeling you knew your niece very well. It’s nothing in particular that you said, mind you, but rather a feeling.”
“I loved my niece. We were close.”
“I usually interview people alone, but I was not told that you’d be there. I’ve discovered that interviewing people alone, especially a relative, is a more effective method of gathering pertinent information. There may be things that one person knows, but feels, well, uncomfortable saying in the presence of another.”
“Yes, I see your point, Bill.”
“Ms. Martine, is there anything you think I should know regarding your niece that you couldn’t say yesterday?”
“Please, call me Offie. I’m ten years younger than Carla, and sometimes I think that was why I was closer to Carlita than Carla. My sister was fairly strict with her daughter. She had set up all these overly protective rules and regulations. Now, I wonder.”
“Could you give me an example, Offie?”
“She was telling her daughter she shouldn’t have sex until she was married.”
“I see. Is Carla religious?”
“Not particularly…just a hypocrite.”
“Carla was having sex before she got married. I’m her sister and I know. So when she started saying that stuff to Carlita, I found it amusing. Carlita believed some of it because, after all, it came from her mother. However, she was hearing a different tune when she got to college. Some of her friends were traveling down, umm…let’s just say, a different path.”
Bill could understand why Offie had remained quiet the previous day. She and her niece had talked about life and some of its contradictions. Do you tell your niece what her mother was like when she was your age?
“What would you like to tell me, Offie?”
“Well, I don’t know what I should do. I’d prefer to continue to remain silent for now. You see I love my sister and my brother-in-law.”
“What you tell me could help in the investigation.”
“I don’t see how. My niece is dead and buried.”
“That’s certainly true, but her killer is not.”
“Her killers are playing basketball!”
He could feel the emotional weight on this woman’s shoulders. She wanted to hold onto her memories and be supportive of her sister and her family. At this point, bringing up scandal did not appear to serve any purpose.
“Let me tell you a story. In the real world of police work, many cases never get solved. The ones that do are usually open and shut. However, some of the more difficult ones require a great deal of investigative work. Sometimes the ability to solve a case turns on one piece of hearsay. When I became involved in that case two years ago, we all thought the Chancellor of the University was guilty. Certain pieces of the puzzle just didn’t fit. I’m not saying anything about who might be guilty in this case. My only point is that little pieces of information may be important. If you tell me your niece was sexually active with Roger and he tells me something else, then we know he’s lying. But if you don’t help me, then I won’t know whether he’s telling the truth or not.”
The lady sat there contemplating the detective’s words. What he said made good sense. She took a deep breath and drank some of her coffee.
“This must stay between you and me, Bill. You must promise.”
“I went with her to the doctor’s office to get birth control pills. She said Roger was pressuring her to have sex with him. She didn’t want to, but she also liked the attention that she received by being his lady-friend.”
“Was she sexually active?”
She automatically glanced at a picture of her sister and her husband that was on the wall in her kitchen.
“Yes. She had just become active. We talked about it. He was her first man. We had long conversations about what it meant. She should’ve had those conversations with her mother, but she chose instead to tell me. She knew I was not going to condemn her. I was more like a big sister to her than an aunt.”
“Did she experiment with drugs?”
Offie looked solemnly at him again. She had just disclosed information her own sister didn’t even know and now this man she had just met was trying to drag her down another step. She had told the police her niece did not do drugs. She had felt bad when she had said the words, but she was thinking of her sister and her family. She had never physically seen her niece do drugs so, technically, she was telling the truth. She felt differently with the man sitting next to her.
Lincoln waited patiently. He knew the answer, because of the silence. If Carlita had not done drugs, her aunt would have said so immediately. He also knew what was in the police report.
“Please, this must also remain between us.”
She took a deep breath and sighed.
“She told me that she had smoked ‘trees’ with Roger a few times. She would go to these parties and everyone was doing it. She said it was fun, with the music and the large crowds. She only did it at the parties.”
“Was it only marijuana?”
Again, there was silence. Offie wanted to stop, but Bill was acting like a priest, and Lord knows she needed one. Every time she thought about what she told the police, it made her sick. She had read those stories about Carlita’s friends at those parties telling the investigators they had seen her smoking dope. She knew they were true, but she wasn’t going to drag Carlita’s reputation down. It was her niece and she had her family to protect. Why did the media have to pursue this case?
“She said she had tried acid once. She didn’t like it. It made her sick and she vowed never to do it again. And she had sniffed cocaine once. It was sitting on a table and everyone was taking a little bit. She just went along with the crowd. She did it once and that was enough for her.”
Bill remained quiet. He felt she was telling him most of the truth. The kids she was hanging out with were saying one thing and the family was saying something else. At least he now knew that her friends and associates were being truthful.
“Thank you for being forthright. I know it was hard. Hopefully, this information will help us.”
“When is your next meeting, Bill?”
“At 1:00 P.M.”
They talked and ate, until the detective’s next appointment. He was scheduled to meet Wyatt Cody, the attorney, at Cody’s office. Lincoln arrived on time and was escorted to Mr. Cody’s office. The office, quite large, was filled with volumes of books. The wood paneling was of high quality and native plants and flowers decorated the office nicely.
“Hello Detective Lincoln, good to meet you.”
The attorney was middle aged and looked the part of a good defense lawyer. He wore the standard dark blue suit with a conservative tie. If there were a national law magazine, he could be the poster boy for its cover.
“The pleasure is mine.”
“Please have a seat. I understand you’d like to talk with the young men… and may I ask why?”
Talking to lawyers was always…interesting. They seemed to live in a different world with a language of their own. Most people hated lawyers, until they actually needed one.
“I was hired by Franklin Dillard to research this case. The deceased was the daughter of one of his closest associates. I was able to help Mr. Dillard a few years ago when his own daughter was found brutally murdered.”
“Yes, we all followed that case with great interest. I commend you on your efforts. If I remember correctly, you were even falsely imprisoned for a time.”
“Detective Lincoln, from what you’ve heard about the case so far, what is your opinion?”
“I don’t have an opinion. I don’t know enough. All I’ve heard is one point of view mainly from the dead girl’s family and friends. I don’t draw conclusions from only one side of the equation.”
“Thank you for your insights. I was hoping to hear that. We feel it’s important for people to keep an open mind. I’ve spoken with both Ribinovitz and Stone, the lead attorneys, and they have agreed to let you speak with Roger Brown Jr. They are familiar with your work, Detective.”
“I appreciate that. Will there be any constraints regarding our visit?”
“The only constraint is I’ll be there. We don’t want our client interviewed without representation.”
“I can ask any question?”
“When can we get started?”
“In two days. I have meetings all day tomorrow. Is that agreeable with you, Detective?”
“That’s fine. I assume you’ll make the arrangements and contact me?”
“Thanks. I’ll wait for your call.”
Lincoln stood and shook hands with the attorney. He was thankful that he was going to be allowed to talk with one of the young men. However, he was quite curious why it was only the one student.
Detective Lincoln received a message on the home recorder that his appointment with Phillip ‘Squeaky’ Banks had been postponed until the next day. Squeaky didn’t say why, only that the same time the following day would work for him.
Buy Now From Publisher Buy Now From Amazon