Saturday, 18 August 2007

Death Was On Her Shopping List

The teenaged boy drove his car slowly down the dark road, his date snuggled against his side. In the back seat, the other couple was quietly necking. That’s exactly what the young driver had in mind, as soon as he found the right place to park. They’d been in the area before… it was just a matter of coolly stopping the car in such a manner that looked like the most casual thing in the world, even though the teenager was desperate to hold his girlfriend even closer.

The wind had really kicked up since they’d left on their double date earlier that evening. It had been a pretty pleasant afternoon, but now another cold front was blowing in, and that made snuggling conditions even better. Not to mention the location, which had an air of eerie loneliness. Nearby was Walnut Creek, where Indians were said to have camped back before Austin, Texas had even been settled. Indeed, there were holes dug between the pavement and the creek, where amateur arrowhead hunters were said to have made bountiful hauls.

A parked car came to view in the flare of the headlights. That was nothing unusual, since the road, which deadended in a clump of trees near the creek was a favourite place for roadside romance.

But that the driver and his date saw in front of the car would end their planned few hours of closeness and touch off a weekend of horror in Central Texas.

The pool of coagulating blood which spread out from the body sparkled in the headlights of the horrified teenager’s car. The couple in the back seat were startled back to reality by the screams of the girl in the front.

They didn’t stop. The driver wheeled his car around and sped back down Park Plaza toward the east frontage road of Interstate 35. He knew he had to get to a telephone and call police.

Officer Joel Thompson was on routine patrol in his North Austin beat. It was about 11:15pm March 3, 1978, and he was beginning to think about stopping for a cup of coffee. Things had been fairly quiet so far, especially for a Friday night. Of course, his district was not what the crime analysis people at headquarters labeled a “high call” area, though there were occasional problems.

On Rundberg Lane, near an all-night convenience store, the policeman saw someone trying to flag him down. Routinely, he picked up the radio microphone and notified the dispatcher he would be out talking to some one who had motioned for him to sop his car.

The youngster who had waved at him said he and his companions had found a body and would lead him to it. Thompson hopped back in his blue-and-white patrol car and called the dispatcher again. As he followed the teens and saw the direction the young driver turned, he realized he wouldn’t have the needed directions. He’d been there before, plenty of times. In fact, he or one of the fellow officers in his sector liked to make at least one circuit through the area a night. Places like that, he knew, attract a variety of people. He’d arrested people for smoking marijuana, drinking under age and, occasionally, even more serious offenses.

When officer Thompson pulled up next to the parked car, he reached for his radio a third time. One look made it obvious that this was not a one-office call. He told the dispatcher he needed a supervisor and someone from homicide.

After getting the names and addresses of the frightened teens, the officer told them to go home and expect to be contacted later to give statements. Then, for a few lonely moments, the officer stood guard over the bloody body of a young woman.

The lover’s lane area was at least a 20-minute drive from police headquarters, though other uniformed officers reached Thompson’s location faster. Still, the basic function of the patrol officers was to preserve any evidence at the scene and stand by pending the arrival of homicide detectives and some one from the Medical Examiner’s office.

The body in the pool of blood was that of a young woman, fully clothed, except for one knee boot, which lay nearby. Even in the harsh illumination of headlights and flashlights, the officers could tell the woman was attractive. And brutally slain.

Judging from the amount of blood which had spread onto the ground, the woman had been stabbed to death, not shot, though only an autopsy would determine that for a certainty. One thing was obvious her throat had been slashed. In fact, she had virtually been decapitated.

By now, the three homicide detectives Sergeants Bill Landis, Jack Moody and Bob Jasek were on the scene and had taken charge of the investigation.

As police photographed the scene, the officers stood quietly staring at the body, noting the position of it in relation to the parked car. A large, brown purse found near the body contained a billfold and identification in the name of Ann Tracy Drummond, 22, and a Austin address. There was money in the billfold.

The most puzzling item was also cause for alarm. Why had a car been left behind? I was registered to another Austin woman, not the victim. Could the two women have been out together and run into trouble? If so, there was the grim possibility another body might be in the area.

Or, if the victim had been at the lover’s lane with a date, where was he? And, again, why was the car registered to a different woman?

Officers scoured the area of the car, searching for another body or additional evidence. Within a short time, the officers were fairly certain no one else had been slain in the area, excluding the chance a body had been taken down to the creek or otherwise hidden.

The search for evidence brought to light a mountain of litter, but nothing that looked like it pertained to the case. But a daytime search, the officers knew, would still be necessary.

Dr. Robert Bucklin, the County’s Medical Examiner a highly trained and well known forensic specialist who had been a medical examiner in Los Angeles examined the body on the scene and theorized she had been dead only a few hours.

The wind was still howling from the north, and the chill factor was down in the north, and the chill factor was down in the teens. After the last measurements and photographs had been taken, Bucklin ordered the body removed to the morgue at Brackenridge Hospital. The car was driven to the police pound for more thorough examination by police laboratory specialists.

People in most professions enjoy the luxury of being able to work set hours from 8 to 5, or 9 to 6. Homicide detectives, however, have no such leisure, especially in a growing city like Austin. In the first two months of 1978 almost half the total number of killings recorded in Austin the year before had already occurred. The men of homicide are used to sleepless nights and another was under way.

Lt. Roger Napier, head of the 13-man detail, knew he had a difficult case before him. There were no ready witnesses to the girl’s death, no significant evidence left at the scene, no clear indication yet of where the girl lived, what she did, or who she knew. The only certainty was that she died violently, and even the “why” of that was unclear: There was still money in her purse, which would tend to rule out robbery, and she was fully clothed, which did not eliminate, but tended to, the possibility of a sex killing. Of course, the veteran officers knew, she could have been killed by someone who had been unsuccessful in his sexual advances.

By early Saturday morning, the detectives on the case had located Ann Drummond’s father, who lived in Houston. The stunned but cooperative parent said his daughter had attended the University of Texas in Austin and had only recently moved back to town from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she had gone after graduation the previous summer. She was living in Austin with another girl she’d known about three years, her father told police.

Sgt. Doyne Bailey, whose speciality is the investigation of sex crimes, finally reached Drummond’s roommate late Saturday morning. The detective asked if she minded coming down to police headquarters to fill officers in on Drummond’s background, and names of the dead woman’s other friends and acquaintances.

The roommate displayed admirable composure in talking with the detective sergeant. Drummond, her friend related, had told her Friday afternoon that she needed to go shopping, then planned to come home and go to bed early.

Her car had been leaking oil, the roommate continued, so Drummond borrowed her car for the shopping trip. En route to a mid-town shopping center, Drummond dropped the roommate off at a friend’s house.

It was the last time the roommate ever saw Ann Tracy Drummond.

The information explained the package and shopping list found in the abandoned car, but still shed no light on how the 22-year-old got to the lonely area in North Austin a little more that four miles from the shopping center that had been her destination. But it pointed to a likely possibility: Abduction.

Though Drummond was dating several persons, her roommate said she did not have any social plans for that Friday night. She would not have gone to the remote area alone, and would not have hidden the fact from her roommate had she planned to go there with a boyfriend.

By noon Saturday, Bailey and other detectives had taken statements from several other friends of Drummond, including those she had dated. All were almost immediately cleared of any suspicion in the case. None were even asked to take polygraph examinations.

Miss Drummond had a lot of friends in Austin, which was one of the reasons she had returned from her short stay in New Mexico, Bailey learned. She had traveled to Austin from Albuquerque late the previous fall to attend a wedding and stayed about a week. During that time, her roommate said, she decided to come back to Austin for good, and did so in December.

Her degree was in art and she had plans to be a freelance artist. But that is not the most lucrative of careers, especially for someone just starting out, so she had worked as a waitress on a part-time basis.

Only the previous Tuesday, her roommate told Bailey, Drummond had been hired full-time by an elegant, downtown café in a restored vintage building. This was in an older section of the city which was becoming increasingly popular with both tourists and locals. She was to have started the job Saturday.

Bailey and his colleagues were now fairly sure Drummond had not known the person or persons who killed her. Contrary to the glamourized, Hollywood version of murder, in the vast majority of all murders, the victim is found to have known the killer. Cases where the victim is killed by a stranger are the most difficult to solve, unless the killer gets in the habit of murdering repeatedly, when patterns begin to emerge.

This case, so far, did not match any existing patterns in Austin. There had been no recent rash of parking lot abduction-rapes.

However, there was one possibility. Posted on every bulletin board in the police station was a photocopy of a composite drawing of a black rapist who had been operating in the area just north of the sprawling U.T. campus, an area made up mostly of students. The suspect had been breaking into apartments and raping coeds. And he was believed potentially violent, though he had not yet inflicted any serious physical harm on anyone.

Drummond lived at 408 Eberhart, only a few blocks from the location of the last known attach by the suspect in the composite drawing. It could be, Bailey feared, that the man had seen Drummond and her roommate leave their small rent house and had followed them, waiting for a chance that finally came in the parking lot under cover of darkness.

The investigation of a murder is not always a matter of waiting for divine inspiration. A good detective will ask for help from public. A city has more eyes and ears than his squad, or the whole department.

Lt. Napier and Bailey issued a plea to the citizens of Austin, through the local news media, for anyone who might have seen something suspicious the night before at the shopping center. The lieutenant released a photograph of a smiling, long-haired brunette, her glasses pushed back over her head. Thousands would have seen the picture of the attractive woman on television and in the newspaper, but only a handful would know the horror of seeing what had become of the beautiful artist.

The autopsy showed Drummond had been stabbed 38 times, not including “defensive” wounds on her hands and fingers, caused by attempts to shield her chest and neck from someone who was savagely vicious with a knife. And the post mortem also indicated that victim had sexual relations a short time before her death, although that in no way proved rape.

Donning disposable rubber gloves, Bailey and another detective went over Drummond’s clothing in the homicide detail office. She had been clad in jeans and a pullover sweater with broad plum and white horizontal stripes. The sweater was now full of narrow slashes, each about a half-inch across, and stained a deep purple.

Medical examiner Bucklin, who had a hand in the investigation of the so-called “Skid Row Slasher” deaths in Los Angeles, remarked to one officer that Drummond’s body was one of the most brutally stabbed he’d ever seen.

Napier’s plea to the news media began to bring results, though no dramatic developments in the case. Numerous calls came to homicide, but the one thing the officers wanted most did not happen. They had yet to find a witness to the abduction, or come up with a satisfactory explanation of why Drummond’s car had been abandoned after the slaying. If she had been taken there by force in her roommate’s car, how could the killer have gotten away? Surely he could not have forced the young artist to drive her own car, while following her in his vehicle.

Early Saturday afternoon, a young uninformed officer walked into the homicide office. He looked almost physically sick, like a rookie patrolman who had just worked his first suicide where considerable time had elapsed between the moment of death and discovery of the body. Bailey and the other investigators knew the feeling.

Officer Daniel Pena had graduated from the police academy in 1975. He worked a North Austin patrol district and had been on duty the night before. It was 2pm, and he was just beginning his Saturday shift.

The young officer blurted out that he was afraid he’d made a terrible mistake. Bailey and Napier told him to fill them in.

Pena said he had been driving south on busy Highway 35 about 9:30pm Friday, heading to the police station, his shift about over. It had been a quiet night, and Drummond’s body would not be found for another two hours.

Like any other worker, Pena was tired and looking forward to getting home. He hoped he wouldn’t have to make any more calls.

But if one thing is drilled repeatedly in young officers it is this: Always be suspicious when you see someone in a setting that doesn’t seen quite right, like a beat-up old car parked in the driveway of a $150,000 house, or an open window on a cold night.

When Pena saw a man running down a grassy median near the expressway, the officer’s internal alarm went off. Considering a northern was blowing in, it was 9:30pm and the busy freeway was not a normal area for joggers. It just didn’t seen right.

Pena pulled his patrol car off the pavement ahead of the running man, hopped out and yelled for the man to stop. As he did, the man appeared to toss something away. Pena tensed. When someone makes a sudden movement when approached by a policeman, something is usually out of order. It could have been a baggie of marijuana, a weapon or nothing, Pena knew, the man probably wouldn’t have thrown it away.

Bailey and Napier didn’t interrupt the officer’s story. They’d ask questions later, if necessary. So far the patrolman was relaying his information thoroughly, just as if he was laying it out in a written report.

When Pena approached the man, he said, he appeared nervous. The officer asked him what he had discarded and told him to retrieve it. The man did, handing Pena a pocketknife.

Pena asked the man for some identification, which he readily proffered. Then he asked why the man had tried to get rid of the knife.

As Pena examined the knife, which appeared clean and no different that the type of knife many men routinely carry in their pocket, the man explained he had been in the military, was from out of state, and didn’t know for sure what Texas law had to say about a pocketknife.

Pena said the knife was a legal length, but continued to press the man on his nervousness. He had remained elusive when asked why he had been running on an expressway median, on a cold night.

The officer escorted the man to the warmth of his patrol car and made him a proposal: Either he came up with a satisfactory explanation for his unusual behavior, or he’d be arrested for suspicion and taken down for further questioning.

Finally, the man told Pena he had been visiting an acquaintance his wife would not approve of, and that he was on his way back to his parked car. He was nervous, he told Pena, because he didn’t want his wife to find out where he’d been.

The young officer then made a judgment call. The man was not intoxicated, a radio check showed he was not wanted for any outstanding traffic cases or other violations, and the weapon he had was not illegal. After writing down the man’s name and address on a “Field Observation” card, Pena released the fellow and headed back to turn in his car and get out of uniform. The man went on his way.

Earlier that Saturday afternoon, when Pena reported back to police headquarters for another night’s work, he heard about the discovery of the woman’s body in North Austin the night before. The sickness hit him when he realized he had questioned a suspicious man with a knife only about a mile from the scene of the slaying.

When the young officer went to homicide, he knew what to expect. For all he knew, he could lose his job for what he’d done. But Bailey and Napier did their best to assure the officer he had done more that many officers would have. “I probably wouldn’t have stopped to question that man”, Napier said.

The two detectives told Pena it wasn’t too late to pursue the information he had provided. And just because a man with a knife could now be placed in the area of the slaying, that still didn’t make a murder case. I could be, the veteran officers knew, that the man questioned by the officer had been telling the truth. A man seeing a woman other than his wife had a right to be nervous.

Still, it gave the officers something to work on. Bailey quickly made some preliminary checks. The man Pena had questioned had no previous record and was not wanted. He had never been photographed or fingerprinted by the Austin Police Department.

The investigator then discreetly began learning a little about the man. The officer went to the address provided by Pena and talked to a neighbor, who said the man and his wife were out of town for the weekend. A check of the man’s place of employment – a building supply firm – showed he had shown up for work as scheduled Saturday morning and had put in half a day.

Bailey viewed the fact that the man was out of town with concern, but not necessarily alarm. It didn’t look like sudden flight since the man had worked as usual on Saturday morning. The detective arranged to have the man’s address checked occasionally throughout the weekend. When the man returned, Bailey and Napier were to be notified. Both detectives then went home for some needed sleep.

When the two investigators got to headquarters Sunday morning, they learned the man who had been questioned by Officer Pena still had not returned. If the man didn’t show up for work Monday, Bailey knew, he would have a problem. But the officer had a feeling the man would be back.

Crime in Austin had not come to a halt after the slaying of Ann Drummond. Napier spent part of his Sunday typing up the loose ends of another homicide investigation, this one much more cut and dried. Two men had gotten in an argument over a small amount of money. A knife was pulled and one of the men fatally stabbed. A suspect was quickly jailed… the easy kind of case. There was still the paperwork, though. Even the routine cases take time.

Napier and Bailey, both normally off on Sundays, finished their reports and went home. The man they wanted to talk with still hadn’t shown, and the order that they be called if and when he did still stood.

The call from the police station came before Napier was ready for it. He had just begun to relax when the phone rang, the officer on the other end informing him that the man Napier had been looking for was back in Austin. Napier called Bailey and both officers were soon standing outside the man’s residence in Del Valle, a small community adjacent to Bergstrom Air Force Base just east of the Austin city limits.

Napier and Bailey identified themselves and told the man he was considered a suspect in a homicide. The man denied any knowledge of the slaying, but readily admitted having talked with Officer Pena the previous Friday night. The homicide lieutenant asked the man if he would mind voluntarily submitting to fingerprinting.

His prints, Napier told the man, could eliminate his as a suspect, assuming they did not match any latent prints found on the car belonging to Drummond’s roommate. The man agreed, and rode with the two officers to the police department.

He was taken to the police identification section, where a technician took a set of his prints. The two officers then escorted the man to the homicide detail offices on the third floor of police headquarters. He continued to deny any role in the slaying.

The man, who said he was originally from New York, told Napier and Bailey he had been in Austin about six months. Prior to that time, he had been in the Army, stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, about 65 miles north of Austin. At the sprawling fort, he met the woman he later married. She, too, had been in the army.

The interview was interrupted by a telephone call from ID technician John Williams. The fingerprints of the man stopped by Officer Pena matched a print lifted from the car driven by Drummond. The comparison, he said, had more than enough “points” required for use as evidence in the courtroom.

Napier calmly appraised the suspect of that latest development. It was 8pm, Sunday March 5, not quite 48 hours since Drummond’s slaying. The suspect, 22-year-old George Edward Clark, gave Napier a statement in connection with the case.

A short time later, Napier took Clark before Municipal Court Judge Harriet Murphy who advised him of his rights and accepted a complaint of capital murder sworn to by Napier. She denied bond.

On November 20, 1978, Judge M.B. Thurmond, Jr., sentenced Clark to death after the murder trial. Clark is on Death Row at Texas State Prison in Huntsville at this time.

Taken from a magazine entitled 'Detective Dragnet (February 1980)'. Reported by Mike Cox.

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