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Authors: Fred Rosen

Tags: #True Crime, #Murder, #General, #Family & Relationships, #Dysfunctional families, #Social Science, #Criminology

Needle Work: Battery Acid, Heroin, and Double Murder

BOOK: Needle Work: Battery Acid, Heroin, and Double Murder
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Needle Work

Battery Acid, Heroin, and Double Murder

Fred Rosen

For my loving uncle, Irving Alper

“Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.”

—Voltaire

Prologue

November 14, 1997

The sun rose slowly. It was 6:45
A.M.
In two cities in Michigan, the players were ready.

In West Bloomfield Township, just blocks from police headquarters, the beautiful housewife was getting her kids ready for school. Her boyfriend lounged in the living room, a loaded revolver in his waistband.

Down the block at the police station, one of the cops reported in for work. Another, who was on the night shift, was still sleeping.

A third cop reported to work thirty miles north in Flint. He was unaware at that moment of the body in the park.

The body was not a bullet-riddled corpse. Nothing so dramatic. She was merely a middle-aged woman long past caring about her appearance, her family, and her life—because it was over.

She lay huddled in a blanket in the snow that drifted over her. It would be hours before she would be discovered, but when she was, all the players would be brought together in a murder case that would become one of the most twisted and sordid in Michigan history.

PART ONE

One

November 14, 1997

At approximately 1:48
P.M.
, Deputy Darrin Zudel of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department (GCSD), while working district E-2 in the town of Genesee, Michigan, was dispatched to Fisherman’s Park at the northeast corner of Bray and Carpenter Roads. The dispatcher said it was a possible DOA (dead on arrival).

When Zudel got to the park, he found three men and one woman, all in their early twenties. They were the ones who had called in the “911”. It seemed that they had gone fishing in the park. On their way to the river, they had discovered a body.

“Stay back,” Zudel told them.

Along with two EMTs who had just arrived on the scene, Zudel set out along the path the fishermen had been on only moments before when they made their discovery.

It didn’t really look like much, sort of like a package all bundled up in a blanket. Zudel pulled the blanket down from the face and noted that the subject was a woman with blood around the head and also bruising to the face and eyes. He reached down, pulled the blanket aside from her right arm, and put his hand on her right wrist. The body was very, very cold. He was not surprised when he didn’t feel any pulse.

Leaving the body with the two EMTs, Zudel went back to his car. By that time, Lieutenant Michael Becker of the Genessee County Sheriff’s Department had arrived. Becker had been on uniformed duty when he heard Zudel being summoned and had raced to the scene as fast as he could.

Zudel took Becker back along the trail; Zudel showed him the body. From Becker’s preliminary examination, it was clear the woman had been murdered. It was time to bring in a specialist.

Kevin Shanlian was in his office at the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department when he, too, heard Central Communication dispatch Zudel’s unit to the fishing site located at Bray and Carpenter Roads.

While the park was technically in the township of Genesee, it was located right next to Flint. Flint, Michigan, has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country. Murders, though, didn’t just stop at the city line. They leached over. Unfortunately, homicides were anything but rare in Genesee. Commonplace was a more apt description.

Immediately a question of jurisdiction came up. While the park was in Genesee Township, the township was within the county of the same name. Therefore, who had jurisdiction? Actually, the answer was both, but the township’s police force had two detectives on leave and was understaffed. As a result, they made the practical decision to shift responsibility to the sheriff.

The next call Shanlian heard was from his lieutenant, Michael Becker, summoning him to the scene. The body dump job would be his case. Shanlian reached into his desk.

When he had first started as a rookie, he probably had eight guns on him and a knife in his boot. But the more experience he got, the more he realized how much you used your head on the job. He got to putting the gun in a drawer or in a glove compartment, having to remind himself to take it out when he went into the field.

Now he reached into his desk and took out his 45mm Sig Sauer automatic and snapped it in place in the shoulder holster under his jacket. It was a lot of firepower, but Flint was a high crime area and cops were always one step behind the bad guys when it came to firepower.

He drove quickly to the scene. By the time he got there, the temperature had risen to all of thirty-three degrees, a veritable heat wave in the late Michigan fall.

“She’s along that path there,” Lieutenant Becker told Shanlian, pointing behind him.

Becker was busy answering half a dozen questions from support personnel. Alone, Shanlian walked along the path and into the park.

The warmer air had mixed with the colder ground producing a fog that hung low to the earth, swirling around the body of the woman, who looked so warm and comfy wrapped in the flowered blanket that had become her death shroud.

Who was she? How had she gotten there?

Shanlian, a veteran detective at thirty-five, spotted Deputy Zudel, the cop who had first called the homicide in.

“Have the fishermen who discovered the body transported to headquarters, where we’ll take their statements. Then go check the trash containers around here and the roadway west of here,” Shanlian requested. “Let’s see if we can find any evidence that might help us.”

Turning to another cop, Officer Pilon, Shanlian asked him to check the trash containers and roadways east of the murder scene. Then he asked Detective Dwayne Cherry to work the death scene as a liaison between the investigating detectives and the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory out of Bridgeport, Michigan. The latter had been summoned to collect physical evidence at the death scene. It was specifically labeled “death scene,” as opposed to “crime scene,” because while the body had been discovered there, they didn’t know yet where she had been murdered.

He sent a fourth officer back to headquarters to retrieve footwear and a tire impression collection kit. Maybe they’d get lucky and find that the killer or killers had left footprints around the body.

Cops hated body dump jobs. It was like someone just dropped the damn corpse from a plane and then it was the cop’s turn to figure out who it was and how it got there. It was a good thing Shanlian had a sense of humor. Otherwise, the body dumps he’d investigated over his sixteen years as a cop would have gotten to him. There were so many, he couldn’t count them up even if he had four sets of hands and feet.

Trying to deduce how the killer or killers had dumped the body, Shanlian immediately noted its location in a clearing and the two paths that cut through. Shanlian saw a narrow, maybe two-inch path of what appeared to be burned leaves leading from the parking lot, through the woods, stopping at the asphalt footpath. He went over to view the body and immediately smelled the gasoline on her. He looked back at the burned leaves. Shanlian figured they were trying to burn the body by setting a fuse made out of leaves.

If the flames had actually hit the body, they would have consumed it, throwing the identification process into a more difficult mode than it already was in. The problem for the killer or killers was that the flame went out when the fire hit the asphalt path. This left the body intact, along with hopes of a quick identification.

The cop came back to the death scene with the vehicle impression kit. Assisted by his partner, Chuck Melki, Shanlian made plaster impressions of an unknown vehicle tire impression in the parking lot. The two detectives photographed all the witnesses’ and officers’ shoe prints that had entered the crime scene. Shanlian also shot all the vehicle tires that had entered the adjacent parking lot. These photographs would later serve to eliminate police and civilian personnel as offering no significance to the commission of the crime.

Up to that point, the victim had remained where she was, no more than an insignificant part of the landscape. Now she became an active participant in her own murder investigation.

Taking care to pull on rubber gloves, so as not to “infect” the evidence, Shanlian carefully pulled the blanket down to examine her.

Her face was bloody and bruised. Over her left eye in particular, extending back to her ear and down to her cheek, was one reddish and bluish bruise, like a giant discolored birthmark. There were also multiple lacerations. The eye had received so much trauma, it appeared to have swelled shut as a result.

Around her neck was a necklace with a small cocaine spoon attached. Now that was interesting. Maybe this was a drug-related murder. Continuing his examination, Shanlian saw that the victim was wrapped in a bedspread, which was black in color with a green and pink flower design imprinted on it.

The woman wore black Chic brand pants pulled down and around her left ankle. Her socks were black in color. She wore only one left shoe, black Guess brand. The victim’s red underpants had been pulled down, wrapped around her left thigh near the vagina. They had certainly been pulled down for a reason; it was too early in the investigation to tell why.

Her stomach had two small brownish and blackish wounds, about three inches in diameter. Farther down, there was a small bruise on her right thigh, then another circular wound up near the vagina. Finally, on the inner side of the right ankle, Shanlian discovered a fifth wound, again about three inches in diameter, brownish and blackish in color.

The victim was wearing a maroon-colored, short-sleeved polo shirt with
SOUTH BOULEVARD STATION
emblazoned over the left breast. Neither shirt nor bra appeared to have been disturbed. If she’d been raped, the killer had not touched her breasts.

On her arms, right on top of the right biceps, was what appeared to be a burn mark. Had the woman been tortured before she died? Underneath the arm, in the arm joint, was a second burn mark, though this appeared more like a brownish or blackish wound. There was frayed skin and discoloration around her right wrist consistent with a ligature wound. That is, someone had bound her wrist before she died.

Shanlian picked up her right hand and noticed a gold-colored ring with a large sapphire on her ring finger. Underneath her fingernail was blood and something else. Forensics would take those scrapings; hopefully, they’d lead to something.

Shanlian didn’t see any injuries on her left arm, though her left fingernails had blood underneath them. Her left thumbnail and part of the tip of the thumb had a large cut on it. This was consistent with defensive wounds. But the cut appeared to have teeth marks on it. Had someone bitten her to get her to stop defending herself?

As with the right wrist, the left had a ligature wound, too. Unless forensics could offer another explanation, that meant she had been bound before she died.

“Let’s turn her,” Shanlian said.

He and Melki reached down and turned her onto her stomach.

There was no clue under her, no weapon, no anything except blanket and earth. They pulled up her shirt to examine her back.

Shanlian saw that it was a speckled shade of red indicating lividity; that is, a settling of the blood into that region. Since lividity had already set in, and rigor mortis, the stiffness that immediately accompanies death, had receded, it was safe to assume that she had been dead for over thirty hours. Unless, of course, someone had thrown her into a freezer to slow the whole “decomp” process down, which would completely foul things up.

Shanlian surmised that the victim’s attire was consistent with that of a waitress, someone who probably worked for a business called South Boulevard Station. If the killer was trying to make sure that identification was difficult, he never should have left the shirt on. Then again, he probably figured quite rightly that if the body burned, there would be no shirt left.

Searching through her pockets, Shanlian came up empty. No identification whatsoever. She also had no purse, no backpack, no nothing. Considering that she still had her ring on, they could eliminate robbery as a motive.

Today was Friday, casual day, and Shanlian had dressed in an open-necked sport shirt with jeans. When he had gotten the call, he had thrown on his sweater and overcoat and had raced to the scene. Now, he pulled his overcoat tighter around himself, but it did nothing to keep the chill out. Maybe he was getting too old for this work. Or maybe it was just the viciousness of the murder he was trying to keep out.

Shanlian stopped his musings. That was a luxury for another time. He reached inside his jacket to his belt, reminding himself that he had brought his gun.

He pulled out his cell phone; he always carried it with him now. It was de rigueur police equipment, a Nextel phone, broadcasting over digital lines so slaphappy hackers couldn’t listen in on the scrambled channels like they did on scanners. Most surveillance these days was done the same way and for the same reasons.

BOOK: Needle Work: Battery Acid, Heroin, and Double Murder
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