Finding Lena Lucas' killer: search and interrogation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WARNING NOTICE: THIS 3-PART SERIES IS FOR IN-HOUSE USE ONLY DUE TO COPYRIGHT

In an excerpt in the Sun Magazine yesterday, Baltimore homicide detective Rich Garvey was working on the murder of Lena Lucas, a 40-year-old woman found shot and stabbed in her westside rowhouse. Ballistics matched the crime to the similar slaying of Purnell Booker, an older man found dead the same evening in his home blocks away.

Two possible suspects emerge: Robert Frazier, the victim's cocaine-dealing boyfriend, and Vincent Booker, who has been selling drugs for Frazier and is Purnell Booker's son. In an interview with detectives, Frazier has offered his alibi for the night of Lucas' murder and suggested that Vincent Booker is the guilty man.

Now, more than a week later, Garvey prepares to confront the younger Booker.

THURSDAY, MARCH 10

Perhaps it's the job, perhaps it's the metallic squawk of the broadcast itself, but the speaking voice of the average police dispatcher falls somewhere between tedium and slow death. In Baltimore, at least, the world will not end with a bang, but with the weary, distracted droning of a 47-year-old civil servant, who will ask a patrol unit for the 10-20 on that mushroom cloud, then assign the incident a seven-digit complaint number.

Rich Garvey keys the mike again.

"Yeah, we're in your district, and we're gonna need two uniform for a paper," says Garvey, "and also a D.E.U. at Calhoun and . . . ah . . . Lexington."

"10-4. When do you need them?"

Unbelievable. Garvey suppresses an impulse to ask if th weekend after Labor Day is convenient for everyone involved.

"We need them as soon as possible."

"10-4. What's your 10-20 again?"

"Calhoun and Lexington."

"10-4."

Garvey returns the radio mike to its metal retainer and settle back into the driver's seat. He slips a pair of wide-framed eyeglasses down the bridge of his nose, then begins rubbing his dark brown eyes withthumb and forefinger. The glasses are an incongruous accessory. Without them, Garvey looks like a Baltimore cop; wearing them, he looks for all the world like the proper businessman his father wanted him to be. Except for the small lump that a .38 revolver produces on the back of one hip, the man fairly reeks of sales manager or, on a day when his blue pinstripe suit has been deployed, vice president for marketing. This image would shatter, of course, at the same moment Mr. Clean opens his mouth and emits the usual station house effluence. For Garvey, as for nearly all of the detectives in the unit, obscenities roll off the tongue in that practiced cadence that becomes, against a backdrop of violence and despair, a kind of strange poetry.

"Where are these m- - - - - - - - - - - - uniforms," Garvey says replacing his glasses and looking in both directions on Calhoun. "I don't want to spend all f- - - - - - day hitting this house."

"Sounded like you f- - - - - - had to wake that goddamn dispatche up," Donald Kincaid says from the passenger seat. "Now he's trying to wake up some other poor m- - - - - - - - - - -."

"Well," says Garvey, "a good police officer is never cold, tired hungry or wet."

The Patrolman's Creed. Kincaid laughs, then jerks open th passenger door and pushes himself up and out to stretch his legs on the sidewalk. Two more minutes pass before one radio car, then another, then a third, pull behind the Cavalier. Three uniforms gather on the corner, conferring briefly with the detectives.

"Anybody here know where your D.E.U. is today?" asks Garvey. It would help to have the district drug enforcement unit around in the event the raid produces dope, for the simple, selfish reason that submitting narcotics to evidence control, even in small quantities, is a pain-in-the-ass process.

"Dispatch said they won't be available," says one officer, the firs to arrive at the intersection. "Not for an hour or so."

"F- - - it then," says Garvey. "But that means somebody here is going to have to submit whatever drugs we find in there."

"So let's not find any," says the first officer's side partner.

"Well, I wanna take it if it's there, just to have something on the guy," says Garvey. "Normally, I wouldn't care. . . ."

"I'll take the dope," says the second patrolman. "I gotta run by headquarters anyway."

"You're a gentleman and a scholar," says a third uniform, smiling. don't care what them other guys say about you."

"Which house is it?" asks the first officer.

"Fifth house in. North side of the street."

"Three-seven?"

"Yeah . . . one family in there. Mother, daughter and a young boy named Vincent. He's the only one we might have to worry about."

"Is he getting locked up?"

"No, but if he's there, he's going downtown. We're here for search and seizure."

"Gotcha."

"Which one of you is taking the back of the house?" Garvey asks.

"I got the back."

"OK, then you two go in the front with us."

"Uh-huh."

"Let's do it."

And then the district men are back in their cars, wheeling aroun the corner and onto Fayette. The first car rolls around the block and into the back alley that leads to the rear of the rowhouse, the other two screech to a halt in front of the stoop, with the Cavalier in between. Garvey and Kincaid race the younger patrolmen up to the marble stoop.

If this were an arrest warrant, if Vincent Booker were no charged with the murders of his father and Lena Lucas, the detectives would be wearing their vests, their guns would be drawn, and the front door to Vincent's home would be answered on the first knock or it would come down hard under a steel maul or patrolman's boot. So, too, would the raid be an act of controlled violence if the warrant had been written by a narcotics detective. But at this moment, there is no reason to think Vincent Booker will play the role of desperado. Nor is the evidence sought in this warrant likely to be swallowed or flushed down a toilet.

Loud knocking brings a young girl to the door.

"Police. Open up."

"Who there?"

"Police officers. Open this door now."

"What you want here?" asks the girl angrily, opening the doo halfway. The first uniform pushes the door full open, and a crowd rushes past the girl.

"Where's Vincent?"

"Upstairs."

The uniforms race up the center steps to meet a lanky wide-eyed young man at the second-floor landing. Vincent Booker says nothing and takes the handcuffs without protest, as if he long ago readied himself for this moment.

"What you want to arrest him for?" shouts the girl. "Yo supposed to be arresting the man done killed his father."

"Calm down," says Garvey.

"Why you lockin' him up?"

"Just take it easy. Where's your mother?"

AKincaid gestures to the first-floor middle room. The matriarch of the Booker clan is a fragile, diminutive woman lodged in one corner of a worn, flower-print sofa. She is watching beautiful people coupling and uncoupling on a black-and-white television. Against the background noise of a network soap opera, Garvey introduces himself, shows the warrant and explains that Vincent is going downtown.

"I don't know nothing about all that," she says, waving the pape away.

"This just says that we can search the house."

"Why you want to search my house?"

"It's here in the warrant."

The woman shrugs. "I don't see why you got to search my hous for anything."

Garvey gives up, leaving a copy on an end table. Upstairs i Vincent Booker's room, drawers are jerked opened and mattresses upended. By now, Dave Brown, the primary detective on the Booker murder, has arrived, and the three detectives move slowly, methodically through the room. Brown guts the boy's dresser as Garvey begins pushing each ceiling tile upward, probing for any objects hidden above. Kincaid takes apart the closet, pausing only to leaf through a skin magazine hidden on the top shelf.

"This thing didn't get much use," says Kincaid, laughing, "ain' but a couple pages stuck together."

They strike gold after a little less than 15 minutes, lifting th box-spring of the double bed and shoving it against the long wall to reveal a key-locked metal tackle box beneath the bed. Garvey and Dave Brown begin scanning every key ring discovered in the search, looking for anything that might match the small padlock.

"This one here."

"No, that's too big."

"How 'bout the brown one next to it?"

"S- - - on this," says Dave Brown. "I'm about to open this b- - - - u with a .38 bullet."

Kincaid and Garvey laugh.

"Did he have any keys on him?"

"Those are them right here."

"How 'bout this one?"

"No, try the silver one."

The padlock slips open and the tackle box comes apart to revea several banded packages of glassine bags, a portable weighing scale, some cash, a small amount of marijuana, a healthy collection of jack knives, and a plastic soap dish. Pried open carefully, the knives show not a sign of red-brown residue, but the soap dish opens to reveal a dozen or more .38-caliber rounds, most of them ass-backward wadcutters.

When the detectives are nearly ready to leave, Garvey takes the knives and the soap dish down to Mother Booker, who remains bathed in the blue-gray glow from the television.

"I just want you to see what we're taking with us. So there's no problem later."

"What is that you got?"

"These knives," says Garvey, "and these here in the dish are bullets."

The woman briefly contemplates the contents of the plastic dish, glancing for a second or two at stubby lead lumps of the same sort used not a dozen blocks from here to murder her estranged husband, the father of her children. The same type of bullets that killed a mother of two in a rowhouse just around the corner.

"You takin' those with you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Why?"

"Evidence."

"Well," asks the woman, returning her attention to the television "He gonna get them back, ain't he?"

The warrant for the Booker home has brought Rich Garvey t within a step or two of turning two murders from red to black on his lieutenant's side of the board, but ironically, Vincent Booker -- if he plays his cards right -- is no longer the target of the last 17 days' pursuit. Instead, he is the weakest link in the jerry-rigged story that Robert Frazier, Lena Lucas' boyfriend, gave them in the large interrogation room 10 days ago.

Straight legwork has brought them half the distance over th past 10 days: Garvey and Kincaid have run down every element of Robert Frazier's statement and found, among other things, that the alibi of the dinner party isn't worth much. Frazier's second girlfriend, Denise, the party's hostess, was decidedly unwilling to go the distance for her man and readily recalled that Frazier had left the party before 11 p.m. that night after an argument. She also told the detectives that Vincent Booker had come by the projects not once, but twice; the second time Frazier left with the boy and didn't return until morning. Denise remembered this because she had slept alone that night, upset about the party. She had planned all week, buying lobster and Chesapeake blue crabs and corn on the cob. Frazier had ruined her evening.

Denise even volunteered the fact that Frazier kept his .38 revolver at her Amity Street row house and further appalled the detectives by mentioning that she hid the loaded weapon in her children's toy box in the back bedroom. The gun wasn't there now, she assured them; Frazier had come by and taken it a week ago, telling her that he was afraid she would be weak and give it to the police.

The detectives also learned that Frazier hadn't shown up fo work at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel plant on the morning after the murder, although he had claimed that he didn't bother entering Lena's open apartment door because he was already late for work. Nor had Frazier carried through on his promise to bring in his .38. Garvey wonders why Frazier would even mention that he owned such a gun or, for that matter, why he would offer the police any story at all. Pop quiz: you've just killed two people and there is no physical evidence or witness that can link you directly to either crime. Do you: (A) Shut your mouth or (B) Visit the homicide unit and lie your ass off?

"The only answer," muses Garvey as he types the warrant fo Vincent Booker's house, "is that crime makes you stupid."

Frazier's story was further shattered by the arrival of on additional piece of evidence, a break that owed as much to luck as to legwork.

On the Sunday night of the murder, a 16-year-old high schoo student living in the rowhouse next door to Lena Lucas had been staring out her third-floor window, watching the traffic on Gilmor Street slow to a trickle in the late evening hours. She saw them about 11:15 -- she was sure because she had been watching the local news for several minutes. The girl saw Lena and a tall, dark-skinned man wearing a brimmed cap, walking from a red sports car parked on the other side of Gilmor Street. The couple walked toward her, toward Lena's rowhouse, in fact, though the young girl couldn't see much more than that because of the angle from her window. But she heard Lena's front door close, and an hour later, through the common rowhouse wall, she heard what sounded like a brief argument between a man and woman in Lena's rowhouse. The noise sounded like it was coming from below, perhaps from one of the apartments on the second floor of the adjacent house.

For a time, the girl told no one about what she saw. And whe she did finally speak, it was not to the police but to an employee at her school's cafeteria who the young girlhappened to know was related to Lena. Upon hearing the story, the woman urged the young girl to call the police. But the witness was reluctant, and so the following day, the woman herself called the homicide unit. The young girl was named Romaine Jackson, and for all her lTC fear, she needed only a little prodding to do the right thing.

When the detectives showed her the array of six photographs, she hesitated for no more than a moment or two before picking out Robert Frazier. Then, after the young girl read and signed her statement, Rich Garvey drove her back to West Baltimore, letting her out of the Cavalier a block or two from Gilmor Street so that no one would see her in the company of a detective. The following day, Garvey and Kincaid cruised the streets near Frazier's Fayette Street home and located a red sports car similar to the one described by Romaine. The auto was registered to Frazier's mother.

Yet even with the arrival of a living witness, Vincent Booke remained an open door, an escape hatch for Robert Frazier. As much as he was now convinced of Frazier's guilt, Garvey had to admit that any good defense lawyer could take Vincent's connections to the case and run wild in front of a city jury. Vincent was somehow involved -- the .38 wadcutters in the soap dish made that clear -- but as the killer, he simply didn't add up.

For one thing, there were the nested clothes and the blad marks on the headboard above the bed in Lena's room; the woman would not have undressed casually and stretched out on the bed for anyone but a lover. That played not to Vincent, but to Frazier. On the other hand, the same gun used to shoot Lena also killed Purnell Booker. What possible connection was there between Robert Frazier and the father of a boy who sold Frazier's cocaine? Why would anyone want to kill old man Booker? The man who killed Lena took cocaine from that bag of rice hidden in the bureau, but for what did he ransack Purnell Booker's apartment?

Vincent is the key, and Garvey, looking at the boy beneath th barren white light of the large interrogation room, doesn't see someone capable of the act. No way did this kid do what was done to his father. Murder, maybe. But not the dozen or more superficial blade wounds to the old man's face. Even if Vincent could manage something like that with Lena, Garvey is certain that the kid doesn't have ice enough in his veins to conduct a prolonged torture of his father. Few people do.

Vincent has been stewing in the cubicle for more than an hour when Garvey and Kincaid finally walk into the room and begin the long rant. Wadcutters in the soap dish, drug paraphernalia, jack knives, and your man Frazier's putting you in for both these murders. Deep s- - -, Vincent, deep s- - -.

The fraud that claims it is somehow in a suspect's interest to talk with police will forever be the catalyst in any criminal interrogation. It is a fiction propped up against the greater weight of logic itself, sustained for hours on end through nothing more or less than a detective's ability to control the interrogation room.

A good interrogator controls the physical environment from the moment a suspect or reluctant witness is dumped in the small cubicle, left alone to stew in sound-proof isolation. The law says that a man can't be held against his will unless he's to be charged with a crime, yet the men and women tossed into the interrogation room rarely ponder their legal status. They light cigarettes and wait, staring abstractedly at four yellow cinder-block walls, a dirty tin ashtray on a plain table, a small mirrored window and a series of stained acoustic tiles on the ceiling. Those few with heart enough to ask whether they are under arrest are often answered with a question:

"Why? Do you want to be?"

"No."

"Then sit the f- - - down."

Control is the reason a suspect is seated farthest from the interrogation room door and the reason the room's light switch can only be operated with a key that remains in possession of the detectives. Every time a suspect has to ask for or be offered a cigarette, water, coffee or a trip to the bathroom, he's being reminded that he's lost control.

When the detective arrives with pen and note paper and begins the initial monologue to which a potential suspect or witness is invariably subjected, he has two goals in mind: First, to emphasize his complete control of the process; second, to stop the suspect from opening his mouth. Because if a suspect or witness manages to blurt out his desire for a lawyer -- if he asks for counsel definitively and declines to answer questions until he gets one -- it's over. To prevent that, a detective allows no interruption of his soliloquy. Typically, the speech begins with the detective identifying himself and confiding that this is some serious s- - - that the two of you have to sort out. In your favor, however, is the fact the he, the detective, is a fair and reasonable man. A great guy, in fact -- just ask anyone he works with.

If, at this moment, you try to speak, the detective will cut you off, saying your chance will come in a little while. Right now, he will invariably say, you need to know where I'm coming from. Then he'll inform you that he happens to be very good at what he does, that he's had very few open cases in his long, storied career, and a whole bus load of people who lied to him in this very room are now on Death Row.

Five minutes of such talk produce the desired level of fear in

Vincent Booker, 10 minutes produce a completed rights form, signed and witnessed.

The detectives carry the form out of the room and confer briefly in the hallway.

"Hey, Rich."

"Hmm?"

"That boy don't stand a chance," says Kincaid in a stag whisper. "You're wearing your power suit."

"That's right. I am."

Kincaid laughs.

"The dark-blue pinstripe," says Garvey, lifting one lapel. "H won't know what the f- - - hit him."

From the book "Homicide" by David Simon, published by Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, copyright 1991 by David Simon. Reprinted by permission.

Tomorrow in The Sun: The interrogation leads to an arrest.

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