New York Daily News, Tuesday, May 1, 2001: “Bronx detectives solved a five-year-old murder case yesterday, arresting a man who allegedly shot a 13-year-old girl after she rebuffed his advances in the laundry room of their apartment building.”
As a detective, you have a wide variety of criminal cases to investigate. When a homicide occurs, the detective is taken out of the usual case-catching rotation for a two-week period, actually an eight-day period.
When I was with the NYPD, the detective work schedule was a four-day work week, consisting of two tours from 4pm to 1am, then a turnaround shift, starting at 8am and going to 4pm, for the remaining two days. The precinct detective squad was broken down by teams, A, B, C, D, Each team consisted of 4 to 8 detectives.
As cases were assigned to each team, the cases were then assigned in rotation to each individual detective. When a homicide came in, the “catching detective” was pulled from that rotation to work on that particular case. After the two-week special assignment, he would go back to catching all types of cases. This did not leave much time to pick up and continue on a homicide case. Each detective was catching anywhere from 20 to 40 cases per month. A lot of these cases involved domestic violence and violations of orders of protection, which required immediate attention in arresting the violator.
I was assigned as the homicide investigator for my squad, and I would pick up on these homicide cases and work on them for the catching detective. As new leads and developments came forth, and when an arrest was imminent, the information was then provided to the case detective for closure.
Between cases, I would go to the squad file room, where all the old cold cases were stored. I would pick up and review the case files of all the unsolved, open, homicides. All homicides would stay active, because you don’t close out a homicide unless it was a physical arrest or an arrest by “exceptional clearance.”
An “exceptional clearance” arrest meant that you knew the identity of the perpetrator and his location, but for some reason you were unable to prosecute. An example is when the perpetrator is known to be deceased. Another example is when the perp is incarcerated. I would pick up these files and read them. I was looking for something that jumped out at me or gave me a certain feel of the case.
There was one case in particular, in which a 13-year-old girl was murdered, shot in the head in the basement laundry room of the tenement building where she lived with her mom. The shooting happened just a week shy of her 14th birthday. This incident had occurred five years prior. I just knew I had to solve this one. As with all cases, after you have read the file, you read it again, go to every inch, every note, and try to formulate a plan.
I would always go back to the crime scene, even if it were several years later. I used to get a certain sense, a certain feeling. All crime scenes seemed to talk to me, maybe it’s creepy, but I felt I was the one who was talking with the deceased victim. My next step was to make contact with the family, to introduce myself to the case.
I would usually make contact in person on these cases. I remember that it was a Sunday morning, and my partner and I went to the parents’ residence. (They have moved since the incident.) We knocked on the door and were welcomed in. The strange thing is that when they opened the door, the parents were both crying before we even had a chance to say why we were there.
I introduced myself as the new lead investigator on their daughter’s case. They both broke down. As I started to say that I knew how very difficult this was for them, I was interrupted. The girl’s mother told us, “You know, today is her birthday, and we just returned from the cemetery, and my husband and I were praying ‘dear Lord, please show us a sign that the police didn’t forget our beautiful daughter,’ and you came knocking on our door moments after we returned home.”
I was at a loss for words. I didn’t even realize it was the girl’s birthday. From that point on, I knew I was going to solve this case.
It had been November 5, 1995, and a 13-year-old girl was helping her mom to do the laundry. “I’ll take the clothes downstairs for you,” she offered. She put on roller skates and took her basket of clothes, rode the elevator to the basement, and that was the last her mother saw her, until someone came banging on her door and told her that her daughter had been shot.
There were apparently no witnesses, certainly no explanation. Her mom lived with this mystery for five years. My job was to trace her daughter’s footsteps, not easy when you’re talking about a five-year delay.
By that point, people had moved; her friends had grown up, and not many people in the building remembered the details of the incident. How can you forget such a tragic thing?
Slowly, I began to track the close friends. There were, in fact, witnesses present, at least five or six. I found the witnesses. They were all friends of hers, a few girls and a couple of boys. They had been hanging out in the basement, rollerblading, waiting for their own laundry to be done. Our poor victim was kind of a tomboy. One of the boys had a crush on her, making sexual innuendos and backing her into a corner. She pushed him back away from her and embarrassed this young boy in front of everyone. She also berated him openly. He then left and returned a few minutes later. He started backing her into a corner again, but this time pulled out a loaded .38 caliber handgun from under his shirt. She replied, “what’s he going to do, shoot me?” Those were her last words.
From those interviews, we learned the identity of the shooter.
He was already incarcerated for drug and robbery convictions. It was time to pay him a visit in prison. Interviews with inmates in correctional facilities were rarely productive. There is the sense among the inmates that if one of them speaks to the “Po-Po” (police) for any length of time, he must be ratting someone out to save himself.
He had no idea we were coming, no chance to get a story together. We had to be careful in this interview because we didn’t want him to say, “I want to speak to a lawyer.” Once those words are spoken, our conversations must cease. We needed him to confess, to come clean.
Many years had passed; and he was now all grown up. He did have a crush on her. I believe that he had a very heavy heart over what happened. I also believed that he really didn’t intend to kill her. It was my job now to get it out of him.
At first, he denied even knowing her. Slowly and with patience, we continued to talk, at times showing him a crime scene photo or two to bring it back to that tragic day. His emotions began coming out. Eventually, he confessed, even to details about how he had disposed of the gun. He gave it to an older guy in the building he trusted. That individual broke down the gun and threw it, piece by piece, into the Hudson River.
By the end of the interview, this hardened criminal had broken down in tears and even said, “Thank you, detective, I’ve been carrying this for too many years.”
During the period of my investigation, I decided not to give too many details of the developments in the case to the parents, to keep from giving them false hopes.
Once again, we went unannounced to the parents residence. This time they opened the door and greeted us with great joy, perhaps guessing what I was about to tell them. They were relieved to know that this sad case had been solved.
In the same article with which I opened this chapter, the girl’s father was quoted as saying, “I think these guys did a fantastic job. This is certainly the beginning of giving us some closure.”
Cracking such cold cases gave me tremendous satisfaction. Sometimes, we win.
Excerpted from memoir, THE SHIELD OF GOLD, by former NYPD detective Lenny Golino and Douglas Winslow Cooper, published by Outskirts Press in 2012, available from OP or amazon.com, bn.com and others in paperback or ebook formats..