The sound of the little battery powered Big Foot truck Robbin and I bought Paxton for his third birthday woke me as he made laps around our small farmhouse in the country. Our bedroom was dark on purpose. I worked graveyard shift in S.P.D.’s major crimes division and slept during daylight hours. At times, I felt like Dracula. I was out every night under the moonlight and back in my lair when the sun rose the next morning. It was kinda trailer trash to tape foil over the old, single pane windows but it certainly blocked the sunlight. I glanced at the windup alarm clock, 11:00 AM. My eyes burned and my left hip joint ached constantly from the 38 slug still embedded deep next to the bone. A forever reminder of the day I was shot while on duty on a loaded city bus at the corner of Linwood and Hollywood. To this day, I call this corner my favorite intersection.
The first event I experienced at Linwood and Hollywood happened late one night. I had been a cop only a few months and was sitting beneath the canopy of an abandoned gas station writing a theft report. Headquarters hit the alert tone followed by the details of the call. Three suspicious men had parked their car on Kathy Lane, walked down the street and disappeared between two houses carrying a big, dark handbag. The call was outside my beat; I volunteered to respond. Gary Alderman, my beat partner, advised he would back me up. We caught the men, professional jewelry and silver burglars from Chicago. By the time I got off duty the next day around noon, the men were arrested, a search warrant run on their car and motel room, and over $80,000 in jewelry and silver were recovered.
My next experience at this intersection was a year or so later when I was flagged down by a man in a car stopped at the red light. His wife was in the backseat having a baby. I delivered the little boy who they named after me, James Patrick Washington from Frierson, LA. The third major event was on December 7, 1983 when I was in a shootout with an armed suspect on city bus 224. We exchanged gunfire hitting one another. By the grace of God, the only people hit of the 23 on board were the suspect and me. So Linwood and Hollywood is my favorite intersection.
I sat up in bed, rubbed my sleepy eyes and smiled as I heard Paxton squealing with laughter in the backyard. I dressed in sweats and headed for the coffee pot in the kitchen. Looking through the window over the farm sink, I spotted him and Robbin. They were in our little garden picking fresh tomatoes, butterbeans and squash. Paxton was on his little, electric Big Foot toy truck following Robbin through the rows of vegetables. We called him our little truck farmer because we would pick things and place them in the bed of his truck. He liked hauling things.
I poured a cup, walked out to the back porch and took a seat on the rear steps to watch them. When the screen door slammed, they looked up and waved. I loved living in the country for many reasons. It was private as we had only one neighbor up the road. She was a widow and loved to babysit Paxton when we had enough money to go on a date night. We bought the old farm house from Mrs. Colvin, an elderly widow, without realizing I had slowly become anti-social. I was in my seventh year on the force and had already seen so much bloodshed and violence I did not want to be around anyone beyond my family.
Mrs. Colvin had lived on this land for over 50 years. She had a green thumb and it was one of the main reasons Robbin and I liked the place so much. She planted every flower, tree and bush on the two acres so something was in bloom year round. Giant ginger lilies were on both sides of the rear steps. In the back yard, were numerous plum, fig and peach trees. All around the house were roses, gladiolas, azaleas, gardenias and poinsettias. Across the road was a big cattle ranch pasture. To the rear and other side of our little house were thick woods filled with honeysuckle, red buds and dogwoods. The road ended at our property. It was rare to see someone drive up to our gate. They were either family, friends or lost. Cody was a big, black Chow dog weighing over 70 pounds. He was the dumbest dog I ever had. He loved Robbin, Paxton and me and was extremely protective. He roamed our entire fenced property and challenged every stranger at the front gate. Not once did a person unlatch the gate to come to our house. When friends or family visited, Robbin or I had to put Cody in the kennel before our guests could enter our yard.
I cherished the time I was home with them. I could let my guard down and forget about crime, cases and people in the city. In the back of my mind, I knew the clock was ticking and too soon I would dress in coat and tie and report for duty. I often rode to work with a guy I was teamed with, George Spriggs. He was one of the best detectives I had the privilege to work with. He saw things I did not. We complemented one another. We worked four 10 hour days. George would pick me up in time to make the drive to town and report for duty by 21:00 hours or 9:00 PM. Long before he was at the front gate, I heard the gravel pinging against the under carriage of his car as he approached our home. I kissed my wife and son goodbye and headed out.
The days of political correctness relating to smoking was nonexistent back then. George and I were both smokers. Even though we smoked, neither of us used the car ashtray or smoked inside our offices. Each night when we walked in the old division offices, the first thing we noticed was the cloud of stale cigarette smoke trapped against the nicotine stained ceiling tiles. We worked our way down the narrow hall to our tiny, windowless offices, called our caves. We could either smell a fresh pot of coffee on the counter or a pot of scorched coffee crystallizing because the duty detectives were swamped with calls. On slow nights, there was always fresh coffee in the air. On busy nights, the offices smelled like coffee burning. We did not need to talk to other detectives to know how their shift was going. We just needed to check the pot.
I poured a full cup of cheap, bitter coffee and headed to my cave to begin typing backlogged reports. George did the same. Each night when we reported to our caves, we knew a surprise was waiting. The evening shift detectives were all skilled investigators but also a bunch of clowns. When things were slow, they were like teenagers pranking someone. The big, thick commercial doors to our caves did not lock. Any day or evening shift detective could snoop around, steal our pens, staplers, paper clips whenever they wanted. Beyond pillaging our stuff, they also set booby traps and tricks for us to find when we reported for duty. I learned a few tricks myself along the way. At the end of my shift, I closed my door against a tiny piece of paper between the top of the door and the jam on the hinge side. If someone opened the door, the little sliver of paper fell unnoticed by the intruder. Each night I opened my door and watched for it to fall. When it did not, I knew someone had entered my cave. Usually when someone paid me a visit, I was in for a trick of some sort. I knew it was likely an evening shift guy hanging nearby to see my reaction. One time I opened the shallow top drawer of the military style desk I used to find a live garden snake asleep on top of my pens and pencils. I jumped back so fast in my rolling chair, my leg hit the bottom of the drawer. The impact caused the drawer to slam up an inch or so against the desktop.
The little snake ejected along with numerous pens. They flew in the air and came down in my lap. I jumped to my feet with the back of my legs hitting the old, rolling chair. It slammed against the plastered wall and ricocheted back to my legs. I was forced to the sitting position once again. The commotion was so loud a group of evening shift guys gathered outside my door to watch. Ralph Wilson was the first to arrive and burst out laughing. I knew he was the leader and promised him he would pay.
After Ralph left, I went to a convenience store and bought several small tubes of super glue. I glued Ralph’s desktop phone to the desk and the hand held receiver to the phone. I attached his paper clip holder, stapler, ink pen and business card holder to the top of his desk. Since he was left handed, I moved his phone from the left side of his desk to the right. Now he would need to answer and dial with his right hand. Days later the commander of investigations issued a memo ordering us to cut out the horse play. The next guy who pranked with super glue would get three days off without pay.
Two close friends of mine working evenings drifted into the offices and made a new pot of coffee. They had caught a robbery homicide earlier in their shift and were back to brief us. Everyone not tied up on a call was summoned to the large conference room. They were seated at the head of the long table. Late that afternoon someone entered the Pizza Hut on Hollywood near Hearne Avenue forcing the manager, the only employee present, into the walk-in cooler. The female manager, in her mid twenties, had sent the other employees home between lunch and dinner rush when business was slow. This was a daily procedure to save money. The manager was forced to lay on the floor and was shot several times with a handgun. Several empty 380 caliber shells were recovered by crime scene techs. Several hundred dollars were stolen from the cash register and there were no known witnesses.
Around 3:00 PM, a single customer entered the store and waited for service at the front counter. He called out in a loud voice for an employee but no one responded. He checked the men’s room and knocked on the ladies’ room door. No one answered. He opened the door and saw no one present. He returned to the front counter, picked up the business phone and dialed the operator for the police. When the first officer arrived, the customer was instructed to step outside while the officer searched the store. The officer found the victim and called for a fire rescue unit. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene so the fire personnel were asked to leave the crime scene. The two man team and patrol officers performed a door to door canvass within a block of the crime scene. The only suspect was a lone, white male transient who had been observed loitering at a gas station next door to the murder scene. He was early 30’s, six feet in height, weighed approximately 160 pounds with greasy, brown, shoulder length hair wearing jeans and an army type field jacket. The station clerk told detectives he had been hanging around her store for several hours begging for a ride to Mansfield, a small town about 30 miles south of Shreveport. The case detectives put him in the vicinity around the time of the murder and robbery and advised a nationwide broadcast was issued. The victim’s family had been notified of her death.
Just before midnight, George received a call from headquarters. Officers on Greenwood Road were working a shooting at a car wash and requesting detectives. George stuck his head in my cave and said, “Let’s roll partner. We have a shooting call to make.”
We loaded up in his plain wrapper detective unit and headed to the western area of town. The little Ford sedan had a powerful V-8 engine, black wall tires, small cheap hub caps, no pin stripes, pubic license tags identifying it as a government vehicle and two small police radio antennas mounted on the trunk. Street people could recognize it as fast as they could a marked patrol unit. We rolled up Murphy, headed south one block to I-20 and zoomed down the entrance ramp. Traffic was light so George left off the little dash, bubble red light. He was doing about 70 mph when we passed a state trooper unit. The trooper was traveling through our city heading for rural highways to work traffic. We zipped by him because he was doing the new 55 mph speed limit. I checked my side view mirror as we passed the marked unit. Soon we were 10 or so car lengths ahead. I saw his headlights rise as he accelerated to catch us. He lingered behind us. We knew he was calling in our license plate number to his dispatcher. He must have learned he was clocking a police detective unit for speeding. He swung around to my side of the car and took up a rolling position door to door with us. We saw him hold up his free hand and flash all five fingers twice, indicating he wanted us to slow down to 55. George waved back and continued. The trooper flashed 55 once again. George flicked on the Kojak dash light and flashed his gold detective shield back at the officer.
The trooper slowed down and fell in behind us as we continued to the shooting call. We exited I-20, went north to Greenwood then westbound. The Trooper followed. We had about 20 city blocks to travel before we reached the car wash. The speed limit on Greenwood was 35 but George drove 55. George picked up the police radio mic. He told headquarters to call state police to notify them we were being followed by one of their officers. We were responding to an emergency in our city and he should back off our bumper. Headquarters told us the message was conveyed. Still 10 blocks from the call, the trooper remained a few feet off our rear bumper. It was clear he would have a chat with us once we stopped. George was the one who needed to talk to the officer, not me. Since George was driving, I focused on the call we were about to investigate. I used my talkie and reached the officers at the scene. I learned the shooting victim was deceased. As we neared the shooting crime scene, we saw numerous police and ambulance flashing lights in a big cluster ahead.
George pulled up on the sidewalk next to the crime scene tape. I had to roll down my window to raise the tape so I could open my door to exit the unit. I saw George standing at the rear of our unit talking to the trooper. It was clear he was angry. His face was red. He was clinching his hands in tight fists as he demanded to see George’s driver license.
“Look officer, sorry this happened. I’m an on duty detective and I was responding to an emergency call inside our city. This is now a murder case and I need to get back to work. Sorry but I was in a hurry to make this call.”
“Give my your license!”
“OK, here’s the deal officer. I am in my city. I was speeding to a murder call and I am following our departmental regs and state law that allow me to speed safely to emergencies. I flashed my red lights to show you I was a cop. I showed you my shield. You ran my license plate and I had our department call yours to tell you to back off my bumper because I was rolling on a shooting call. I don’t have time to stand around here and visit with you over a speeding infraction, OK?”
“I want your name and badge number because I’m going to write this up and give my report to my troop commander. He will be in touch with your chief and you’re going to have to answer for this.”
George bent his 6’4″ frame low to slip beneath the crime scene tape as he walked away from the angry trooper. The trooper raised the tape and followed. George spun around and pointed at the young officer.
“Hold it there, sir! You are now standing inside my crime scene without legal authority or my permission. I’m going to ask you to go back to your car now and leave. If you don’t, I will order these officers to arrest you for interfering in a murder investigation.”
The officer spun around and went back to his unit. He got behind the wheel, flipped on his interior light and began to write his report on George. I felt bad for the trooper and thought George was too hard on him. This was about to get out of hand. If George had pulled over on the interstate and respectfully informed the trooper we were on a call, this would have ended. Now it would become a problem between our departments.
I slipped beneath the rope and walked to the officer. I tapped on his window. He rolled it down.
“Yes, can I help you?”
I showed him my creds and ID. I offered my hand and he quickly accepted it. We shook hands as I apologized for the incident. I told him George was a great investigator but tonight he must be in a foul mood. I gave him one of my cards. I promised he would soon receive a call and apology from George. He closed his folder. He understood and would not push the matter if George called.
George did call and extend a proper apology later that night.
The trooper drove away and I went back to the crime scene. We met the senior officer and learned the body beneath the yellow, plastic tarp was a white male in his mid thirties. He was pronounced deceased by EMT’s at the scene, a result of a single gun shot wound. We watched our crime scene techs work on identifying, marking and photographing the entire area. I spoke to the officer in charge and learned there were no witnesses to the shooting. A motorist drove by the car wash and saw the victim’s car in the wash bay with the body lying next to it. The car wash wand was spraying water in the air above him. He drove to a nearby Circle K store and asked the clerk to call the police. First officers on scene called for fire rescue. All of the nearby businesses were closed except the convenience store that placed the call for cops. The only possible witness lived in a two story, garage apartment directly behind the scene. The home faced a side street that ran east of the car wash property. The lights were on in the upstairs quarters. Officers advised they interviewed the single, middle age tenant who lived alone about the shooting. He told officers he had not seen or heard a gun shot.
I stepped away from the bay and radioed headquarters. I asked the operator to flip to a private channel. I asked her to search her data base call log for records of calls from the garage apartment tenant. She advised during the last 12 months, S.P.D. had responded to several loud music and disturbing the peace calls placed by this neighbor. All of the complaints were called in late at night.
George and I decided to visit with the neighbor before he returned to bed. He appeared sober and sane. I felt he had a quick temper and asked about the calls he made to our department about late night disturbances. He had lived there just over a year and was now planning to move since someone had been killed. He was tired of being awakened every night of the weekend by men washing their cars and playing their stereos loudly. His apartment was old with little sound insulation. Every time someone started spraying their car, he heard it. We asked if he had a firearm in his home. He had an old 22 caliber semi automatic rifle kept near the front door for protection. I asked to see his gun. He pointed to it and I picked it up. I checked the chamber and magazine. It was fully loaded with 22 long rifle rounds. I cleared the live ammo and locked back the bolt. I double checked the gun was empty before raising it to my nose for a quick sniff. I had been around guns all my life and knew by sniffing if it had just been fired. The gun had not been fired recently. I handed it to George without saying a word. I did not want to influence his opinion. He sniffed it, handed it back and shook his head no. I agreed.
The crime scene guys were finished and standing by for us to walk through the scene. The lead tech offered his opinion. The victim was shot just beneath his left clavicle. The round went down and through his heart region. He felt the victim was struck while leaning over as he sprayed his little VW Rabbit. The victim fell next to his car and released the spray wand. The sprayer had a button customers could activate that allowed the trigger to remain open. Once the victim was down the wand continued to spray. The force of the water pressure caused the wand to dance around the downed victim. The victim was completely soaked with water before the timer turned off the water supply.
George and I spent a couple of hours at the scene. On the console of his car, we found a room key to a nearby motel. The clerk knew him quite well. He was an engineer at a local refinery. His home was in Tyler, Texas. He was married with two small children. He drove to Shreveport every Monday morning for work where he checked into the same motel room each time. We accessed his room and searched it from top to bottom. There was a small framed picture of his wife with his little girl and boy on the nightstand next to the bed. His room was spotless and orderly. Beyond his personal clothing, bath essentials and some work files, it revealed nothing about him. We turned over the room to crime scene and tracked down several of his co-workers. We learned he was happy at home with his family and talked about them often. His car was driven to the station by a crime scene guy so we could return it to his wife when we visited to notify her of his death.
We returned to the station and spent an hour or so digging through files in central records for anything on our victim. Finding nothing, we headed back to the office to go over the case. The team working the Pizza Hut murder had run out of energy and leads so went home to bed. I went back to records to search once more to make sure I had not missed anything on our victim. When I walked through the side door, I spotted Sgt. John Sullivan seated behind his desk reading reports. Since Paxton had awakened me early that day, I was feeling exhausted and stressed because nothing was breaking on my murder case. I walked past John, we called him Jock “O”, and he looked up.
“Hey Pat. What you working?”
“I have a whodunit murder case. I’m on with zero leads.” I continued by him determined to find something useful.
“Hey Pat, you got a minute?”
I was not in the mood for a friendly chat but Jock O was a good guy. Everything I asked him to do on one of my cases, he accommodated me without hesitation.
“Yeah, Jock O. What’s going on with you?”
“Just a minute.” He reached beneath his desk and drug out his trash can. “I tossed it a few hours ago. I know it’s right here. Give me a minute.”
I sat across from his desk and watched him dig in the trash can. Every reach produced a wadded sheet of paper he had to untangle to read. Soon there was a large pile of crinkled paper on his desk. I was growing impatient but out of respect I waited for him to dig what he was searching for out of the trash can.
“Here it is!” He unraveled the tightly balled paper and placed it on top of his desk. He grabbed the ends and stretched it over the edge of his desk trying to smooth it so he could read it.
“Look Pat, I know you aren’t working this case but you’re the only one back in major crimes that will give me the time of day. I have been reading all the reports filed on the Pizza Hut murder robbery and I came across something that doesn’t seem to fit.”
My patience was quickly approaching their Irish limits as he continued.
“Now listen to this.” He reached across his desk to pull a report from another stack of reports on the Pizza Hut case. “It’s written by a street officer who was part of the neighborhood canvass. Behind the Pizza Hut is a row of small shops. One is Shoe Town. The officer questioned employees there. They reported seeing a burgundy colored Thunderbird with a white top parked near the Pizza Hut about the time of the murder. I ran a search on all Pizza Hut employees, former and present, and learned a young man named Solomon Birdsong worked there about three months ago. He was fired for showing up late. His father owns a burgundy Thunderbird with a white top. A few weeks ago, the father reported his car stolen by his son. The case was closed because the son returned the car. I just have a feeling about this, Pat. I tried to tell the two detectives about this lead but they wouldn’t talk to me. I tried a couple of times and they said they were busy but would call me in a minute. I waited an hour or so and called back to find out they had called it a night and clocked off duty without calling me.”
I asked Jock O to print a new hard copy of the report and headed back to my office. I called the lead detective on the case. He answered on the second ring. I could tell he was sound asleep.
“Hey man, sorry to wake you but I have a lead on your case. You need to call your partner and come to the station ASAP. Jock O found a car that matches one seen by a witness during your canvass. The former employee would know the best time to hit the place so I think it’s time for you guys to come on back in and run this down.” He seemed reluctant so I gave him a nudge. I told him I was busy working my murder but coming up empty handed. I would be happy to help on his case if he wanted to stay home in bed.
“No, but thanks! We’ll come back in but this better be worth it or I’ll be pissed at you, Pat!”
George and I were still in the offices going over every detail of our whodunit when they walked in holding the report on the T-bird. They sat down and went over the possible connection. One wanted to do a complete background on the ex-employee which would take days. The other was at a loss how to proceed.
I offered my opinion. “I would go to their house right now. Bang on the front door with uniforms standing behind you and make a major show. If this is your guy, have a chat with the Daddy. Ask if he or his son owns a little 380 automatic pistol. That’s what I’d do.”
George and I spent the next few hours going around in circles on our case. We agreed our victim was either shot by the neighbor in the garage apartment or someone driving by the car wash popped a round to scare him while he washed his car and it killed him.
George and I had run ourselves ragged to find anything that would give us clarity on our case. It was time to take our victim’s car to Tyler, Texas and meet his family. We were running on empty. We called our Pizza Hut detective buddies for breakfast at the Ramada Inn on Monkhouse before we hit the road west. We briefed them on every detail of our case. They too felt it was likely a random shot from a passing car and offered nothing more.
I could tell the lead detective was excited about something. They began telling us how things went at the Birdsong residence. I too became interested. They hit the house hard with several uniform officers present for shock purposes. The father was a well respected principal at a local junior high school. He invited them into his den. The house was nice and the father seemed nervous. His older son, Solomon, drove the T-bird that day as he went about town putting in job applications for other employment. The detectives asked the father outright if he owned a 380 pistol. He acknowledged he did. The detectives asked to see it so they could test it against the spent shells on the Pizza Hut murder.
The lead detective smiled, reached beneath the table and tapped his right front pants pocket.
“Guess what I have in my pocket, Pat?”
“A 380 pistol?”
“Man, I knew Jock O was onto something! I bet it matches. What’s your next move?”
“We have to wait for the crime lab to open to run it against the shells we recovered. We are heading back to the station to check out the shells from the evidence room and wait for the lab to open. But this is just too easy, Pat! Murder cases aren’t this easy to solve. Something is wrong man. I just know it. I’ve never had a case fall together this easy!”
“Don’t look this horse in the mouth, man. Just run it down. I bet you a beer this is your break on your murder.”
We parted company and drove to Texas. When the wife opened the front door and saw our gold badges and guns on our hips, she broke down crying. We spent a couple of hours with her and the entire family. It was clear they had been deeply in love. She and the rest of her family were devastated by the death of her husband. George and I repeatedly went over every detail of our case as we drove back to Shreveport. Each time we concluded it had to be a random shot or the neighbor. As we approached the state line, we were within radio communication with our headquarters. I called the Pizza Hut Detectives who were headed back to the station and would update us there.
Walking in from the parking lot, we ran into the other detectives in the hall.
“Told you this shit wasn’t this easy, Pat! I’ve never had a lucky break like this on another murder case. We took the gun to the lab. They tested it. It’s not our gun! Told you!”
“Well, they have another gun, man. Go back to the house and ask for the other gun.”
“No way, man. I told you this was just too easy to be real. No way do they have another 380 pistol.”
“I’d make sure if I were you. If you don’t feel like going, George and I will be happy to take your lead and run it down cause we don’t have jack on our case.”
“No man. We’ll work our case. You stick with yours.”
They spent a few hours chasing their tails in the office before they returned to the Birdsong residence. When they asked the father if he happened to have a second Lama 380 pistol, he said yes. He bought a matching pair. One to give each of his two sons one day.
The second ballistics test was conducted. The second gun matched the murder weapon. The detectives arrested the son, got him to confess and the case was closed. They gave interviews to TV and newspaper reporters and were commended by the division commander and the chief. They went home to sleep never mentioning to any of the command staff about Jock O or my call to them.
No, I did not let this slide if that is what you are thinking. I marched in the chief’s office and gave him the missing details that had led to solving the case. I wrote up a departmental commendation for Jock O and the chief signed off on it. It was the first and only departmental commendation Jock O would receive. I was disappointed by my two detective friends but I got a glimpse of who they really were. They were both good cops but were glory greedy. I was not going to let them steal all the credit from Sullivan.
When I retired, I had five unsolved murders on my record. The car wash murder was never solved. It haunts me to this day.