Sin of a Preacher Man

New evidence in unsolved Phoenix murder leads to a Tacoma man of God

Then, a few moments later, Daisy was jolted fully awake by the sound of gunshots. A lot of them.

She got her pistol from the nightstand and rushed from their bedroom into the office.

Dale was standing by the door, holding his own five-shot .38 snub-nose. He said to her, "They went down by the pool, honey, go kill them."

Daisy ran out the door, gun in hand, saw no one by the pool. She went back inside and saw her husband dying in a cruel reenactment of a Wild West scene. Dale was still on his feet, bleeding from a chest wound. He staggered into the living room. He said to her, "I think I'm going," and fell to the floor.

Daisy called the police, who were already answering the silent alarm Dale had triggered a minute before.

Two patrolmen, Officer Donald Amenson and Officer E.B. Paulson, arrived first. The front door was locked, and they went around to the side. Daisy scrambled to let them in. Dale was face down on the floor, a small amount of vomit trailing from his mouth. Paulson picked up a faint pulse. Five minutes later, Dale's breathing stopped. He was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke's Hospital at 3 a.m. The fatal .22 caliber bullet struck him one inch above the sternum and one inch to the left.

He had turned 66 just 10 days before.
Detectives Robert Calleo and Jon Sellers got the call to go to the TraveLodge about 4 a.m. Officers Ameson and Paulson stood guard out front while the detectives worked.

The first thing Calleo and Sellers noticed was the blood. A spot the size of a TV screen had soaked into the motel carpet just inside the door of the office.

Drops of blood marked the door and door handle. Outside, more blood was smeared on a pole supporting the motel's canopy.

Sechrist had never gotten that far. Most of his blood had pooled beneath him as he lay dying in the living room, leaving a stain about as big as a dinner plate. The detectives figured this other bloodstain belonged to one of the bandits.

Money--$110 in bills--was stacked neatly on the counter. The motel's owner, Patrick Smith, said the amount was what ordinarily would've been in the register. And, Smith told the detectives, no money was missing from the bank bag under the counter, either.

Bullets had ricocheted all over the scene, almost all from Sechrist's five-shot .38. Slugs were pulled out of the wall, a chair, and the front of the counter. The only one that wasn't from Sechrist's gun was the .22 caliber bullet lodged in the counter; it matched the .22 bullet the medical examiner would pull from Sechrist's chest.

Calleo and Sellers decided that Sechrist had opened the door to the robbers--there was probably more than one guy, since Daisy Sechrist said her husband told her to get "them." When they demanded the cash, he'd gotten the bills out and tripped the silent alarm. Then he'd come up with his gun and started firing.

One robber was hit, his blood staining the walls. The other fired back and took off, leaving one bullet in the counter, one bullet in Dale Sechrist and the money just sitting there.

The Sechrist murder remained unsolved. In the papers, the story died almost as quickly as Sechrist. The killing held the interest of the Phoenix PD longer; detectives pursued leads until March of 1975, but came up empty. The case was finally put on a shelf.

Daisy Sechrist died a few years ago in a nursing home. One of Dale's only surviving relatives, his sister Marion Douglas, is 92 now. She cannot remember many details about the days after her brother's death. She remembers that it was hot. She remembers the funeral parlor was close enough to walk. And she remembers her brother as a gentle man.

"He had written me that he was tired of being held up and he had bought a gun," she says. She wrote a letter back, asking him to get rid of the weapon. "I remember saying, 'You wouldn't want to shoot anybody, and besides, you'll probably get shot yourself.'"

The Phoenix detectives told Douglas that they found her letter to her brother in the apartment, unopened.

As it turned out, Dale Sechrist had been right. No son of a bitch took any money off him.

The Sechrist murder gathered dust for 20 years, until Detective Ed Reynolds picked it up again.

There's a rule of thumb in homicide: If a case isn't solved in the first 48 hours, generally it won't be solved at all. Reynolds spends his working life beating his head against that rule. He's on the Phoenix Police Department's cold-case squad--a group of detectives who do nothing but follow up on unsolved homicides, some 20 to 30 years old.

Reynolds is a big man, with a gruff voice and the standard cop-issue haircut and mustache. In 1974, he was a year out of high school, working in the Midwest. He never expected to be a homicide detective in Phoenix. But despite his lack of a college education, the PPD gave him a chance. He made homicide after 12 years on the force. And in 1992, he was one of the first cops to join the PPD's new experiment in cold cases.

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