Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Detective Kilcoyne Part 3 -- Cold Case of a Murdered L.A. Sheriff's Deputy

Here's the third installment of Detective Dennis Kilcoyne's, LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division, talk given at the California Crime Writer's Conference in June 2011. 

Kilcoyne described investigating in 1998 a then thirteen-year-old unsolved murder of L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy George Arthur. In 1985, Arthur was a sergeant assigned to the Men's Central Jail near East Los Angeles. One night, Arthur had completed his shift and was driving home in his 1979 Chevrolet van when, after a struggle, he was shot and killed by someone who had hidden in the van's back seat.  The murder was originally thought to have been a car accident until the autopsy revealed four .25 caliber slugs in Arthur's skull.  Some witnesses saw one man limping from the scene. Other witnesses saw two men leaving the scene.  Specks of DNA gathered from the van's windshield were believed to belong to the killer who was likely injured in the crash.

LAPD was in charge of the investigation as the murder occurred in the city. A joint task force was created with the L.A. Sheriff's Department.  Investigators focused on Arthur's work, believing he was targeted by gangs from his jail duties and prior years as a gang officer.  There were several suspects, but a case couldn't be made.  None of the suspects' DNA matched the samples from the windshield. The case went cold.

In 1998, Kilcoyne was assigned to lead a task force with both RHD detectives and Sheriff's investigators, all of whom were new to the case in order to look at the investigation with fresh eyes.

Kilcoyne spoke to our group about investigative tunnel vision, in this situation stemming from the fact that the victim was an off-duty cop.  "Cops throw up blinders.  It's white hat versus black hat, but we forget that cops have personal lives."  The task force began examining Arthur's private life, just like they would any other homicide victim.

At the time of his murder, Arthur was separated from his wife who was also a sheriff's deputy. The separation was amicable and they'd both been dating other people.  In 1985, Arthur's wife had expressed to investigators her suspicions about a sheriff's deputy she'd been dating named Ted Kirby.  She said that Kirby was possessive and had stalked her.  After Arthur's murder, she'd seen Kirby with a bandaged head and knee.  

Kilcoyne said that Arthur's wife was young and very attractive and the investigators had blown off her concerns.  As he put it, they told the grieving widow at the reception following the memorial service, "Very nice, sweetheart, now get me another beer."

Kilcoyne and the task force began gathering DNA samples from all the people Arthur and his wife had dated during their separation. Kirby wouldn't provide his without a warrant.  Kirby had moved to Spokane, Washington and the investigators travelled there, obtaining their warrant.  

Meanwhile, the focus on Kirby had led certain investigators to believe that Arthur's wife was somehow involved in his murder which Kilcoyne said made no sense.  But the talk had upset Arthur's wife to the point that she called Kilcoyne at home one Sunday morning to ask if he was going to arrest her. 

He asked, "Do I need to arrest you?"
"No."
"Then I won't arrest you.  Besides, it's Sunday and I don't like to arrest people on Sundays."

After Kirby's DNA was found to match the samples from the van's windshield, Kilcoyne and his team returned to Spokane to arrest him, only to learn from his wife that a week before, Kirby had put his wedding ring on the kitchen table, had walked out the door, and had disappeared.  Kirby's house backed up to a U.S. Park Service forest.  It was June, but there was still snow on the ground.  Kilcoyne wanted to walk around the forest and have a look, but the local cops said that he'd need to get a warrant to conduct a search on federal land, which would take weeks.  The LAPD detectives went home.

Over a month later, a couple of reporters from a local news station decided to enter the forest behind Kirby's house to have a look around.  They climbed over a wire fence and had walked about fifty feet when one guy said, "There he is."  His colleagues thought he was kidding.  "No, seriously.  He's right there."  Kirby's body was leaning against a boulder.  He'd shot himself in the head.

Here's a July 15, 1999 L.A. Times article about Ted Kirby's remains being found and the unanswered questions that still remain.

Solving the Arthur case gave the LAPD and the LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division a lift after the battering they'd endured resulting from the O.J. Simpson double homicide investigation. 

In the next installment, Kilcoyne reveals surprising details about the O.J. case.


5 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you're posting these stories. I'm absolutely enthralled.

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  2. Petrea, me too! Thanks for commenting.

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  3. I recently stumbled on to detective Kilcoyne when needing to choose someone within the field of study, that I may idolize in a way. I chose Detective Kilcoyne due to the many cases he has worked and thats how I found your blog. I enjoy reading the instalments and learning more about him and his work. Thank you

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this blog series, Tiffany. It was fascinating listening to Detective Kilcoyne's stories. Truly "stranger than fiction." Thanks for your comment!

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  4. The problem in this case was “investigative tunnel vision”. I believe that also occurred in the Danielle van Dam kidnapping and murder case in San Diego in 2002. Right from the start, the police believed that David Westerfield was the perpetrator. Because he wasn’t at home when they canvassed the neighborhood. But this was a weekend, and he had just gone away for the weekend - which is not an unusual thing for anyone to do, especially as he had a motor home. And he had returned home twice in the hours following the kidnapping.

    There is no evidence he kidnapped her, no evidence he killed her, and no evidence he dumped her body. So how were they able to convict him? Because there was some evidence of her in his house and motor home. But they were neighbors, and she and her family had recently visited him, so that evidence is easily innocently explained. So the prosecution used emotion. They claimed that his computer pornography included child porn. Experts declared that it wasn’t, but they weren’t allowed to testify. And the community was already angry at the crime.

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