Authors: Edna Buchanan
Tags: #"BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/Editors, Journalists, Publishers"
Robbery Detective Dan Blocker had also responded to the shooting call. He took cover as the gunman stepped away from his car, firing at him.
Blocker took careful aim and killed him.
Officer Cook was dead, hit under the arm, a quarter-inch above his bulletproof vest. Edgerton had not been wearing a vest. Shot in the chest and right arm, he survived his serious wounds and returned to work. DiGenova suffered permanent brain damage and will never wear a badge again.
The shooting provoked angry controversy among cops.
Maron Hayes, fifty-nine, a painter and plasterer, had seen the whole thing. “I don't see how the policemen let him shoot them,” he said. “The police were standing outside his car with their guns on him. There was one officer at each door, one pointing his gun at the windshield and one at the back. They said, âFreeze, drop your gun!' He shot one more time at the woman. Then he shot him three policemen. None of them policemen should have been shotânot one. I don't know why they didn't shoot him first.”
Police thought they knew why, and were mad as hell. With a chance to shoot the gunman, DiGenova had tried instead to disarm him. “He should have shot the son of a bitch,” Homicide Sergeant James Duckworth told me. “The logical policeman of a few years ago would have shot him through that open window. It's just a shame that policemen nowadays can't be policemen.”
He claimed the officers lost life-saving seconds because recent brutality charges had made them hesitate to use force. The charges stemmed from a wrong-house raid. White Metro cops were accused of beating a black schoolteacher and his family, whom they mistook for drug suspects.
Duckworth, now investigating the case of three white cops shot by a black man, believed that the officers all felt, “I don't want to be the next one sued.”
There is no way to know what the officers were thinking.
A number of other Metro cops had not hesitated or held their fire since the wrong-house raid: One had shot a pistol-waving man outside a bar. An off-duty officer had killed an unarmed college football star in a bar brawl, and a third, also off duty, did not hesitate to shoot dead a neighbor's pet pony that had wandered into his yard.
But Dade cops, angry and in mourning, charged that the tragedy illustrated a grim truth: “Shoot and you're brutal; don't shoot and you die.”
Nobody ever said police work was easy.
The only people not bitter were the bereaved family of William Cook. As a teenager he had come home from college classes and announced, “Mom, I'm gonna be a police officer.” He was so proud of the uniform, family members said, that you could slide down the crease in his pants. He had been a Boy Scout and a trumpet-playing member of a state-champion high school band. An avid amateur photographer, he had hoped to someday work in the crime lab. He was on a waiting list for the transfer when he died.
He had just switched to days from the night shift, eager for Saturdays and Sundays off. The upcoming weekend was to have been his first. He had planned to shoot nature photos in the Everglades. He and his young wife, Karen, had no children, but he played Santa Claus at Christmas for his little niece and nephew.
“When they needed somebody to handle a domestic disturbance, they would call Billy,” his mother told me. “He had such a wonderful way of talking and smoothing things over.”
Cook stopped by to see his widowed mother every day. When he did not that day, she was uneasy. She telephoned his wife at four
. Karen assured her that Billy was fine and must have had a late call. The worried mother put down the telephone and stepped out onto her front porch. Two policemen stood there.
“Is it my son Billy?” she asked. They nodded.
She had pinned on his silver badge at the police academy graduation six years earlier. He promised that day, “Mom, I'll always make you proud of me.”
And Billy would have been proud of his family. Through tears, Julia Cook, sixty-three, encouraged others to follow her only son's footsteps into the profession he loved.
“We're not bitter against police work,” his sister, Nancy Colamatteo, told me. Neither was the family bitter toward the man who killed her brother. “He had to be crazy,” she said. “If he had known Billy, he wouldn't have shot him.”
“If the man who shot him could have spent a day with him, he would have loved him,” said her husband, Jim Colamatteo.
The most gigantic manhunt in Miami history was launched for the tollgate killer of young Florida Highway Patrolman Bradley Glascock. Again my telephone rang in the middle of the night. A trooper had been cut down at 2:50
. by a motorist stopped for failing to pay a ten-cent expressway toll.
I knew Glascock. He had studied for the ministry before joining the highway patrol. He was twenty-four.
The killer was at the wheel of a borrowed car, a faded 1969 Cadillac Eldorado, when the well-built six-foot four-inch, 214-pound trooper stopped him just past the toll plaza. The motorist was armed with a stolen gun. He was wanted on a bench warrant for driving without a valid license, and he was also a muleâa low-level courier for narcotics traffickers.
To the trooper, the roadside stop seemed routine, but when he asked for a driver's license, the motorist opened fire. The trooper reached for his own gun, too late.
A .38-caliber slug shattered the trooper's heart. Another severed his spinal cord. Either would have been fatal.
A young man eager to learn about law enforcement was riding with the trooper that night, as an observer. He snatched the shotgun from its rack in the patrol car and fired four times, blasting out the back window of the Cadillac and slightly wounding the fleeing killer.
The bloodstained car was found abandoned a short time later. The killer was quickly identified as Felix Ramon Cardenas Casanova.
A short, muscular twenty-nine-year-old fisherman known for carrying guns and fighting in bars, Cardenas had a tough-guy reputation at Miami riverfront hangouts. An old enemy, wounded by him in a 1973 bar fight, evened the score by supplying his name to detectives.
Only five feet five inches tall and 146 pounds, Cardenas was a man with a past: drug charges in Tampa, a murder arrest in Nassau and the Miami barroom shooting.
Miami Homicide Sergeant Mike Gonzalez, Miami's SWAT team, motorcycle crews, a Metro helicopter, detectives, and police dogs searched for the wounded cop killer. Hospitals were on alert. So was every Florida fishing port. Boats along the Miami River and a twenty-one-block area near the airport were searched door to door by more than a hundred police officers.
Scores of cops volunteered free time to join the manhunt. One brother officer gave even more: Rookie Trooper John Rambach volunteered for twelve hours, then went home to his modest apartment, discussed it with his wife, Debbieâand wrote a check for most of the trooper's monthly take-home pay. The parents of two little girls, Debbie and John Rambach posted five hundred dollars as a reward for information leading to the killer's arrest. If the money went unclaimed, they said, they wanted it used to buy bulletproof vests for other troopers.
The Florida Legislature had twice considered and rejected the purchase of protective vests for troopers. At that time the vests cost $82 to $110 each.
“There are so many out there who don't have vestsâand have wives and kids,” Debbie Rambach said softly.
Her husband religiously wore his, a gift from his father, a Jacksonville police officer.
Their gesture touched readers. Money began to pour in from the public, to buy bulletproof vests and to increase the bounty on the killer's head.
Most manhunts wind down as the trail grows cold, but this one accelerated, leapfrogging all over the state. Roadblocks were set up in Naples, on Florida's west coast, after a hotel employee reported a guest who resembled Cardenas; a lookalike was snatched off a Little Havana street; Southern Bell employees chased a suspicious car; residents willingly permitted SWAT teams to search their homes. Three days after the killing, police seemed no closer to an arrest despite more than a thousand tips. Many had not slept since the shooting.
“You feel so helpless,” said one trooper, wearing the black-striped badge of mourning. “Everybody's on edge because of lack of sleepâand anticipation.”
“He's hiding,” a Miami detective sergeant said flatly, “and he won't come out of his hole until the heat's off.”
The detective who spotted the Little Havana lookalike was stunned by the resemblance. The man, carrying a newspaper under his arm, denied he was Cardenas. Told to look at the fugitive's picture in the paper, he paled. “It looks like me,” he acknowledged. He was photographed, fingerprinted, and warned he would probably be stopped again. Trooper Glascock went to his grave, with the reward fund growing, vest donations mounting and the killer still running.
The public defender's office opened a hotline for Cardenas to arrange a safe surrender. “We're hoping the police will allow us to get to him first,” said assistant public defender Michael Von Zamft. “We don't want anybody hurt. We're trying to help the police.”
Minutes after the hotline number was broadcast on Spanish-language radio, somebody used it.
“Come get me. Come get me. The McAllister Hotel,” the caller said and hung up. Two assistant public defenders and one of their investigators raced to the downtown hotel. They ran up and down corridors and hollered down stairwells: “We're here, Felix! We're here to help you!” No one answered, much less Felix Ramon Cardenas Casanova, simultaneously sought in Palm Beach by police who believed they were hot on his trail and detectives in Miami who had surrounded a motel.
The manhunt became hell for the Felix Ramon Cardenas Casanova lookalike, who was afraid to be seen in public. Raul Llerena, a mild-mannered carpet installer with a wife and child, suffered nightmares, waking up screaming, “I'm not him! I'm not him!” He drove down back streets, stayed out of crowds and tried to avoid police. A dead ringer, he was “captured” repeatedly, fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned, fingerprinted and photographed againâ”front, side, with a shirt and without a shirt”âand questioned some more. He feared being shot the most.
We met in a shadowy Little Havana parking lot. I brought a photographer. Nervously glancing over his shoulder, Llerena said urgently, “I want everybody to know it's not me.” He stared bleakly at a news photo of Felix. “It's my face,” he said, “but it's not me.”
Three years earlier, he said, people began telling him he had a double. The two frequented some of the same Little Havana establishments but had never met. Now his double was the most-wanted fugitive in the country, a man with a price on his head.
“He's in a spot,” said Eduardo Perez, a friend with him. “If I was a policeman I'd shoot him right in the head and collect the reward.” Llerena did not laugh.
Police had issued him a card stating that he was not Cardenas. But the Highway Patrol never gave him a chance to whip it out when they “captured” him again that night.
When police showed the fugitive's photo in Llerena's neighborhood, helpful residents sent them to his mother-in-law's home. They flashed the fugitive's picture. “It looks like my brother-in-law,” his wife's brother said truthfully.
“I can't afford plastic surgery,” he said desperately. “I'm afraid I'll get shot.”
“I guess you'll be relieved when Felix is captured,” I said.
“I don't want bad things to happen to anybody,” he quickly insisted, unwilling to offend even the fugitive. “All I want is for my life to be like beforeâquiet.” He had canceled two carpet-laying jobs that week, afraid to go out on the street. Wherever he went now, he said, people stared, acted strange and headed for telephones. Many tips to police had obviously been sightings of the terrified Llerena.
I told him not to worry, our story would make it clear he was not the wanted man.
“Look at him,” said his cheerful friend, Perez, who also knew Felix Cardenas. “The same nose, the same hair, the eyes â¦”
Sirens wailed in the distance, growing louder. “Please, tell them it isn't me,” Raul pleaded, then darted into the shadows.
Shortly after ten
. the next day, the fugitive called Miami homicide and offered to surrender quietly “with no uniformed police, no sirens, no publicity and no lawyers.”
Trooper Anthony Valdes and Miami Homicide Detective Luis Albueme asked the caller for Cardenas's birth date. His answer was correct: November 11. “I'm the one who shot the trooper,” he announced and promised to surrender shirtless, to show he was unarmed.
Cardenas had wandered into the tiny meter room at the rear of a friend's marine shop at three
. He slept on dirty newspapers until the man opened for business. Cardenas said he had expected the heat to fade, but it had not, and he realized he was going to be caught. They decided he should surrender and called homicide. Cheers rang out at headquarters when Albuerne radioed that he had Felix in his car.
He freely admitted shooting the trooper but said, “I don't know why I did it.”
During his eight days on the run, he had been sneaking around in the night, hiding in palmetto bushes and sleeping in cars and utility rooms. On the second or third night he had rented a Little Havana motel room and paid a man twenty-five dollars to buy bandages for his wounded trigger finger. He hid in the motel bathroom so the maid could not see his face. Fearing she was suspicious, he had fled. He had asked many people for help but got none.
“We want to thank the public,” Sergeant Mike Gonzalez said. “They helped us by not helping him.”
Tired, nervous and disheveled, his wounded left index finger swollen and infected, Cardenas appeared relieved that the manhunt was over. “I know what I did was wrong, and I'm willing to accept the consequence,” he said.