In the late 1990s an East Indian couple purchased a rundown truck stop/ café on Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Kingman, Arizona. They planned to modernize and improve the establishment and hoped to turn it into a successful business. At the time of the purchase the business had three employees: a diesel mechanic, a cook, and a waitress who was the cook's longtime girlfriend.
It soon became apparent to the new owners that the cook and the waitress were not a good match with their new business. Both were obviously resentful of the changes the new owners had announced. Furthermore, the owners suspected the waitress of theft and prostitution. They informed the cook and the waitress that their services would no longer be needed after the end of the month, 10 days away. The diesel mechanic, who lived behind the café in a trailer, seemed reliable and trustworthy, and the new owners proposed to keep him on in this capacity.
The day before the cook and waitress were supposed to leave, the 911 dispatcher at the Coconino County Sheriff's Office received a call reporting an apparent robbery and double homicide at the truck stop. The call was made by the cook. When officers arrived, the cook told them that he had been out back emptying the trash when he heard "two loud bangs" from inside the truck stop. As he rushed in through the side door, he said he discovered the owner lying on the floor bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds to the head. The owner's wife was slumped over in a nearby booth, also bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound to the left cheek. There was blood on the floor and on a partition wall between the dining area and the kitchen. The cash drawer was open, and all the money was gone. The cook stated that as he looked out the front window of the café, he saw two white males speeding away to the west in a red compact pickup.
Police dispatched the highway patrol, which spotted a red Toyota pickup with two white males headed west on I-40. A police helicopter caught up with the vehicle and by loudspeaker ordered the driver to pull over, but instead the truck pulled onto a side road. This action, of course, convinced the officer's that they had the murderers in their sight. Actually, the driver and passenger in the pickup were on their way from Texas to California in search of employment and sharing a marijuana cigarette to pass the time. Not wishing to be caught with the marijuana—and in their dulled state of awareness—the two decided to attempt to evade the helicopter by taking a side road off the interstate.
After several menacing dives from the helicopter, the young men decided to stop and give up, having long since tossed out the contraband. To their surprise they soon learned they had far greater problems than driving while under the influence of a controlled substance. After hours of interrogation and the pair's steadfast denial of any involvement in the murders, a break came back at the crime scene.
An investigator searching the area behind the truck stop noticed a pile of rocks. Exposed areas of fresh dirt and debris suggested that several rocks had been recently replaced. Upon removing the rocks the officer discovered a small semiautomatic pistol. Officers delivered the pistol to the crime laboratory and asked the lab to process it for latent prints. Once autopsies were complete, the pistol was to be compared to bullets recovered from the victims.
At the crime laboratory latent print unit, a visual inspection turned up no fingerprints, so the examiner used superglue fuming in an effort to develop any latent prints. Unexpectedly, a very good quality fingerprint was found on the pistol. The examiner applied charcoal powder over the superglue to enhance the fingerprint, scanned the fingerprint, and put it into an AFIS. To everyone's surprise a "hit" was made. The latent fingerprint matched a file fingerprint for the cook, who had a previous arrest record for petty theft and aggravated assault.
At this point the police released the two young men, somewhat the worse for wear, and they headed on to California vowing never to smoke marijuana again. The focus of the investigation turned to the cook. The cook acknowledged that he was dismissed at the end of the month but insisted that it did not bother him. He had simply planned to take his girlfriend and move on. Even when confronted with the fact that his fingerprint had been found on what had been confirmed as the murder weapon, he refused to admit any involvement.
The pistol, it turned out, belonged to the diesel mechanic. When first interviewed, the mechanic readily admitted that he owned a pistol. He said that he kept the pistol in a drawer in the shop, but when he took officers out there to retrieve it, it was missing. He said that he and the cook had occasionally shot the pistol while in the back of the truck stop. He also said that the cook knew about the drawer where the pistol was kept.
At this point investigators decided to reconstruct the shooting in an attempt to shed some light on exactly how the shooting took place. A review of the autopsy report provided some important information. According to the autopsy report,
• The man was shot once in the right side of the neck (a bullet was recovered from the left side of his neck) with the bullet traveling at a downward angle of approximately 30 degrees.
• The man was also shot in the top of the head with the bullet exiting under his chin (a bullet was recovered on the floor in the pool of blood the man was lying in).
• The woman was shot once in the left cheek, the bullet striking her brain stem causing her to collapse where she sat in the booth and killing her instantly (a bullet was recovered from her neck).
• The bullet that struck her was traveling at a downward angle of approximately 20 degrees.
• No gunshot residue or powder stippling was found around the wounds in either victim.
Additional information useful for reconstructing the shooting was obtained from the crime scene report. According to the crime scene report,
• The cash register drawer was open, and all the money was gone.
• All the fired cartridge cases were in the immediate area of the two victims.
• There was a trail of blood drops leading from the booth where the female was found to the location of the male victim's body.
• There were no footwear impressions in the blood trail.
• There was a V-shaped bloodstain pattern on top of the partial wall next to the booth the female victim was in.
• No other similar V patterns were observed.
• No blood was found on the table in the booth.
• A bullet was found embedded in the floor close to the male victim's right hand.
• There was a pattern of projected blood from the pool the male victim's head was lying in.
• A crime scene diagram was prepared to show the locations of the victims and some of the bloodstains.
According to the crime laboratory results,
• The pistol found behind the truck stop fired all the bullets and cartridge cases found.
• The pistol and ammunition failed to deposit gunshot residue on targets 30 inches (76.2 cm) or more from the muzzle of the gun.
• The V-shaped bloodstain was from the man.
• Only the man's blood was found in the floor stains.
The cook had said that after hearing "two loud bangs" he came in through the back door and ran to the front counter. But how did he get past the male victim's body (V2) that was partially blocking the way, and how did he get across the bloodstains on the floor without stepping in them? The answer was obvious: He was lying about his movements. When the cook was confronted with this finding, he refused to talk any further.
According to the crime scene diagram, there were two chairs at the table directly across from the female victim (V1). The one closest to the partial wall is pushed in, while the other one is out from the table. In reconstructing the shooting all these bits of information are important.
The easy part of this reconstruction is determining the position of the female victim when she was shot. Since her brain stem was struck by the bullet that entered her left cheek, there would have been no way for her to move from her original position. Clearly she was seated in the booth when she was shot. The downward trajectory of the bullet that struck her indicated that the shooter was holding the gun above her (that is, probably standing upright).
The V-shaped bloodstain was indicative of an arterial spurt. The blood was identified as coming from the male. The shot to the man's right neck had severed an artery. Once that happened, blood would have spurted with each beat of his heart until pressure was lost. But the man was shot in the right side of the neck, and there were no more similar patterns present.
The man presented a greater threat than the woman, and on that basis alone it is reasonable to expect that he was shot first. Since he could not have been seated, gotten shot in the neck, and gotten up all before his heart beat and produced the V pattern arterial spurt, he had to have been standing. The location of the blood indicated that he was standing behind the pushed in chair.
Once a person is shot, the individual frequently presses his or her hands against the wound(s) to stop or slow the flow of blood. That is doubtless why no additional arterial spurts were present in the crime scene. With his right hand pressed against the wound in his right neck, blood probably began to run down his arm and drip off his right elbow as he slowly moved toward the back room. He stopped briefly in the doorway, slipped in his own blood before turning back toward the front room, and fell forward where he was found.
The fact that the bullet to the back of the man's head exited under his chin and was found in the pool of blood his head was lying in meant that he had to have been shot in that position. The bullet found in the floor next to the man's right hand indicated that a shot was fired that had missed. The question that needed to be answered here was which of these two shots was fired first? By determining the angle at which the bullet struck the floor, it was possible to establish the approximate distance the cook would have been when this shot was fired. That turned out to be about 12 feet (3.7 m). Doing the same kind of analysis for the shot to the top of the man's head resulted in a distance of approximately four feet (1.2 m) away for the cook.
Common sense would suggest that if a shot was fired from 12 feet (3.7 m) and missed, the next shot would be fired from a closer range. Hence, the shot to the back of the head was likely the last shot fired and the shot into the floor the next to last.
Pursuant to summarizing all of this information following is the probable sequence of events:
1. The woman was seated in the booth talking to her husband, who was standing across from her at the north side of the booth table.
2. The cook came to the south side of the booth, drew a pistol, and shot the man in the right side of the neck.
3. As the man staggered away toward the back room, the cook turned the gun on the man's wife, shooting her in the left side of the face and killing her instantly.
4. The cook then went to the cash register, opened it, and took the money to make it appear that a robbery had been committed,
5. He then looked out the front window, saw a red pickup driving by with two white males in it, called 911, and reported a robbery-murder, describing the red truck as "leaving the scene."
6. At some point, either before or after the 911 call, the male victim must have attempted to get up off the floor.
7. Seeing the man was still alive, the cook shot at him and missed.
8. The cook then moved within a few feet of the man and shot him in the top of the head execution style.
9. The cook then went out back, hid the gun, and waited for officers to arrive.
Whenever a reconstruction such as this is done, one must always let the facts direct the course of actions while relying on experience and training that relates to the event. The reconstruction that results is nothing more than a probable or likely sequence of events based on all these things. The individuals involved in the reconstruction or otherwise impacted by the outcome always must wonder how close to the actual event the reconstruction comes.
In this particular case a rare glimpse at the actual event was provided to investigators after the reconstruction had been completed. This was because the cook's common-law wife, who was working as a waitress in the truck stop, finally agreed to tell the truth about the shootings in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Initially she had claimed to have been in the kitchen when the shots were fired and "didn't see a thing." When prosecutors informed her that she was going to be charged with being an accessory to murder if she did not tell the truth, she changed her tune. She could not, however, be compelled to testify in court against her common-law husband, and she elected not to do so.
The story she ultimately told paralleled the reconstruction with remarkable accuracy. She stated that she had been seated in the chair at the south end of the table at the booth directly across from the female. She said the male was standing to her left, leaning over the table talking, when her husband walked up, pulled a gun, and shot the male and then the female.
The cook then went to the cash register, removed the money, and gave it to her to put in her purse. The cook saw the red truck driving by and called 911, reported the shooting, and described the truck and its occupants to the police. Once he got off the phone, the cook saw the male victim trying to get up off the floor. The cook walked over next to the booth where the female was collapsed and fired at the man but missed. He then walked up closer and shot the man in the top of the head. The cook then went outside and said he was getting rid of the gun.
The end result here was that the reconstruction of the shooting had been right on the money. Certainly some of the events could have differed in sequence, but by taking a logical approach to the significance of the evidence and being conservative with opinions related to it, it is usually possible for the investigator to be on pretty safe ground, as was the case here.
Was this article helpful?