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By Alan Scherstuhl
"It sounded like someone had fired a double-barrel shotgun," Ritter says. "It woke up the entire neighborhood; people were starting to come out of their houses."
The rear wheels of his 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity company car were blown off, the windshield imploded and a gaping hole torn through the trunk. Smoke billowed from the vehicle. The force of the explosion drove a hunk of metal into the front door of his house, some 25 feet away. Another piece of shrapnel lodged in a neighbor's bedroom wall. The homemade pipe bomb also blew out a window in the house across the street and drove a baseball-size piece of shrapnel into a post 100 feet away.
Investigators believe the bomb was a simple device, consisting of gunpowder packed in a steel pipe with matching cap ends. It apparently had been detonated by a slow-burning "cannon fuse."
When Tempe police detective Jeff Kendall asked Ritter who might have bombed his car, Ritter named three possible suspects: his ex-wife, Ginger Lyle; Ginger's husband, Don Lyle; and James Vosecky, Ginger's 17-year-old son from a previous marriage. Ritter said there was considerable animosity between the households; in 1988, after five years of legal wrangling, Ritter won from his ex-wife the custody of their daughter, Rebekah.
And Ginger Lyle wanted 8-year-old Rebekah back. Ritter suspected that either Ginger's husband or her son had planted the bomb to intimidate or kill him. Rebekah was safely out of harm's way that night, spending the night with her maternal grandparents.
Mary Morissey, a neighbor of Ritter's, told police she heard a loud "pop" and looked out to see flames shooting from beneath Ritter's car. She told her roommate to call the police and walked outside. As she got halfway down her driveway, she told investigators, she noticed a thin boy with straight, blond hair in what she described as an "anteater" cut--close-cropped on the top and sides, but longer in the back.
Ritter says James Vosecky wore his hair in an "anteater."
"He just stood there for about 15 seconds, then he loped off," Morissey says. "He looked like he was about 16. I'd never seen him before, and I thought it was strange that he'd just stand there for a moment."
The day after the bombing, Linda Fish, a receptionist at Ritter's office (he's a regional manager for a restaurant chain), received a threatening telephone call. Fish told Glendale police the caller--a man with a Southern accent--said, "Tell Carl Ritter to give us the drugs or the money or we'll blow up the restaurants."
Four days after the bombing, Ritter's ex-wife asked a Maricopa County court for an emergency change of custody. Without mentioning the telephone threat, Ginger alleged that Ritter was "addicted to drugs" and that he had abused the girl. Alluding to the bombing, she wrote, "Rebekah's physical and mental well-being are being threatened in the current environment. Rebekah desires, strongly, to live with her mother."
That same day, Detective Kendall interviewed Don and Ginger Lyle. Don said he was at an office party until after midnight on the night of the bombing; his story was verified by co-workers. Ginger claimed she was at her son James' apartment that evening. At around 11:15 p.m., James had left the apartment to meet a friend. She said both boys returned to the apartment at about 12:45 a.m.
Kendall's report states that Ginger told him she knew nothing about the bombing and that Carl Ritter was "mentally unstable" and "had been diagnosed as a sociopath" during their marriage. She suggested that Ritter may have made some enemies through his work and that a disgruntled former employee may have placed the bomb.
When, on January 19, 1990, Kendall contacted James Vosecky over the telephone, he told the detective he had gone to a movie with a friend at about 10 p.m. and that they had gone back to his apartment at about 12:45 a.m.
That was the last time anyone from the Tempe Police Department would talk to James Vosecky. The next time Kendall called, Ginger told the detective that James would speak to him only in the presence of their attorney, Alan Kyman. And Kyman told Kendall that Vosecky was not interested in answering any questions.
Since the bombing, Ginger has divorced Don Lyle and married her sixth husband.
When Ginger married Carl Ritter in 1981, she was 30 years old and had been previously married three times. Her first husband, whom she married when they were both 19, was killed in a car accident that almost killed Ginger, as well. She lost her left eye, and in the nearly two decades since the accident, she had more than 40 operations--mostly reconstructive surgeries.
She married her second husband--the natural father of her sons, James and Joshua--two years later. That marriage lasted two and a half years. Then she remarried at the age of 26. Her third husband adopted James and Joshua and the boys assumed his last name--Vosecky. After three years, that marriage was also done.
Then came Carl. He was 20 years old and a Christian. In court documents related to the custody case, Ginger says she was attracted to Ritter because he "presented himself as a Christian and somebody who was serious about having a long-term relationship." Ginger says she was raped at knife point in early 1981 and that a few hours after the attack, Ritter dropped by her apartment. When she told him the story, he suggested she move in with him. They were married within weeks, and Rebekah was born in January 1982.
Ritter now says Ginger shaved five years off her age and only told him about one of her previous marriages. She claims he quit his job the day after they were married and "laid in bed for 48 hours without moving, a ghostly pallor on his face."
Two weeks after the bombing, Ginger told Wayne R. General--a psychologist evaluating the Lyle and Ritter households for the child-custody case--that within a week of her wedding, Ritter had driven her into the desert and threatened to kill her.
"He stated that I had to call my parents 'if you want to eat, have clothes or a place to live,'" she told the psychologist. "They have money, they can support us.' . . . [He] explained in very clear detail that . . . if I would not get the money, he would dismember me and scatter parts of my body in the desert."
Within ten months, the marriage had fallen apart. Then there was a brief reconciliation, but Carl and Ginger were divorced before Rebekah was 2.
It was five years before Ginger would marry again. She married Don Lyle in September 1988. Though Ginger told General they were "getting along beautifully," the psychologist noted that at the time, the Lyle household was split into two separate residences. Don Lyle occupied a house, while James and Joshua lived in an apartment three doors down. Not long after the examination, Ginger moved to an apartment across the street.
In his report, General called Ginger's allegations "incredible" and--despite the girl's request to live with her mother--recommended that Ritter and his second wife retain custody. In the summer of 1990, the Lyles--all of them--moved to Chino Valley, ostensibly to get James and Joshua away from bad influences in Phoenix.
Police never turned up any evidence that Carl Ritter was a drug dealer, nor were Ginger's allegations that Ritter had physically abused Rebekah substantiated. And police made no progress in uncovering who had bombed Ritter's car.
Until Ginger and Don Lyle broke up in September 1990. On October 9, 1990, Ginger obtained an order of protection to keep Don away from the house in Chino Valley. In November 1990, Ritter received a strange message in the mail, a block-lettered note that, in part, read: "If you are still looking for your car bomber--turn over a few more leaves and you may have J.V."
On December 18, 1990, Don Lyle called Detective Kendall and confessed that he had been "less than truthful" in his previous statements. This time he said when he got home from the office party at about 1:30 a.m., he noticed James Vosecky around the woodpile behind his home. He said he didn't think much of it, because he knew James used the woodpile as a "stash."
But the next morning, when he went out to the woodpile, Don found a piece of green cannon fuse--similar to the fuse used in the pipe bomb that exploded beneath Ritter's car. He also told Kendall that a couple of months before the bombing, he had discovered lengths of pipe, gunpowder and fuses in Vosecky's room. He said Vosecky had made statements to the effect that he was going to "blow up" Ritter's car and that, on one occasion, Lyle had taken a shotgun away from Vosecky after the youth had said he was going to "kill Carl."
Lyle told Kendall he believed that four friends of Vosecky's were also involved in the bombing. He gave the detective names. Two months later, Kendall interviewed Vosecky's former girlfriend. She told him Vosecky often talked about his hatred for Ritter and expressed a desire to "blow him away." She also remembered seeing gunpowder and pipe in Vosecky's bedroom, and she told police he told her he sometimes experimented with making bombs from PVC pipe and gunpowder and detonated them in the desert. Kendall also talked to several of Vosecky's friends, who indicated that Vosecky knew how to make bombs and hated Carl Ritter.
But when Kendall approached Ginger and asked her where Vosecky was, she "indicated that she was concerned for his safety and would not divulge his whereabouts." She told Kendall that her former husband, Don Lyle, was capable of committing this type of crime, and she said she had evidence he was a very violent man, but she said her attorney had advised her not to turn it over to the police.
"I subsequently contacted deputy county attorney Michele O'Hair," Kendall wrote in his final report on the case, "and advised her of the details contained in this investigation. . . . [O'Hair] indicated that the case had serious credibility problems from the various parties involved and that it was purely circumstantial at this point and therefore her office would not issue a complaint in this matter.
"In view of this information, I will request that this case be considered inactivated until such time that additional information is obtained which would further help this investigation.
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