By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
About noon on June 18, 1985, Josh Burner pulled his truck into a parking space in front of the Tempe Police Department. He had come to report a murder. He knew exactly what he wanted to say. As it turned out, Sergeant Mike Palmer, a detective, did the listening.
"My name is Josh Burner," Burner said. "I live [on] East Vaughn in Tempe. And I have reason to believe that on November 22, 1981, Jason Deitz, the previous owner of the house, did, through his own hand or through his own negligence, allow his wife [Laine Deitz] to die in my home."
The detective asked Burner where he got his information. Burner looked him straight in the eye. "Laine Deitz."
Palmer rose. Wait right there, he told Burner, and left the room. Burner knew he'd screwed up. He should have left the ghost out of it. Before Palmer could return with a straitjacket, he thought, he'd better get out of there. He started for the door. And then he heard that voice again. "Don't you dare. Don't you dare. You ain't leaving me here for 300 years. You've gotta help."
And so he did. Palmer would return with another cop to hear Burner tell how the spirit of Laine Deitz was feeding him information about her own murder, and insisting that he do something about it.
Palmer says he didn't put any stock in the ghost story, but the remainder of Burner's claims convinced the detective to reopen the investigation. The case was closed again a few months later, with no action taken.
Dissatisfied with the outcome and determined to prove his credibility, Burner launched a crusade to convince the Tempe Police Department and Maricopa County Attorney's Office to investigate yet again. This time, however, he's kept his ghost out of it. Burner has spent months investigating the old-fashioned way, gathering documents and looking for evidence to convince authorities that Deitz's death was no accident. He's even hired a lawyer to help him.
The case is now in the hands of Tempe Detective Dave Hutchins, who is, he says, "actively investigating."
Born a Montana cowboy, B.L. "Josh" Burner is a salesman--land, airplanes, recreational vehicles--by profession, and a pain in the ass by nature. And damn proud of it. Even a dozen years after the death of a woman he claims to have never met, Burner gets so worked up when he talks about this investigation that his face turns red and his voice louder as he reaches over and grabs his listener's arm for emphasis.
Burner knows there are people who think he's gone off the deep end. But Laine Deitz's spirit won't let him rest. So he remains true to his mission, even though it is a prescription for exasperation.
He cocks his head to the side, grinning ruefully, and asks: "You know how many people you can tell you talked to ghosts? None."
@body:Bill Denny was heading home from a bowling alley at about midnight on November 22, 1981, when he saw flashing lights on a street in his normally quiet, south Tempe neighborhood. He turned the car around when he realized that the commotion might be coming from a house on Vaughn Street--the home of his friend and employee, Jason Deitz.
Indeed, police cars and an ambulance were parked in front of Deitz's home. The cops stopped Denny at the door, but Deitz beckoned to him from the living room. Denny walked in and found his friend distraught. Jason explained that his 23-year-old wife, Laine, was in the bedroom, being treated by paramedics. She had passed out earlier that night.
Denny and Deitz sat and waited. About 20 minutes later, the paramedics carried Laine out on a stretcher. The two men followed them onto the front lawn and watched as the medics wordlessly loaded Laine into the ambulance.
They watched as the ambulance pulled away. No lights, no sirens. No speed. Deitz turned to Denny. "He says, 'Look how slow they're driving,'" Denny recalls. "We both knew exactly what had happened then." Laine Deitz was pronounced dead at Desert Samaritan Hospital at 12:34 a.m. on November 23. The county's chief medical examiner determined the cause of death to be an accidental drug overdose, complicated by diabetes.
Her body was cremated. No one interviewed by New Times--including Bill Denny and the mortuary that made the arrangements--recalls whether there was a funeral. The Deitzes had moved to Tempe from San Diego only four months before; they didn't know many people.
Not much is known about Laine Deitz. She was born in Illinois. She had brown hair and eyes, tattoos on both hips and a husband 19 years her senior. The only other family member listed on police reports is Marilyn Beardsley, her adoptive mother, whose last known address was in Alpine, California.
One of Jason Deitz's two sisters, Marie Dreyfuss, remembers that Laine Deitz had a broad face, sad eyes and a lot of money. Dreyfuss, of Temple City, California, described her brother as "exceptionally good looking"--he had a fan club when he was a high school student in New York City--and she maintains that he uses his looks to con women.