Sin of a Preacher Man

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

Picking up on an idea from the Metro-Dade Police Department in Florida, Phoenix decided to form its own homicide detail devoted to clearing unsolved murders from the department's files. Sergeant Jim Givens was placed in charge of the squad, and selected Reynolds and another detective to work as its investigators.

Reynolds discovered his calling on the cold-case squad. His biggest success came on one of Phoenix's most notorious mysteries, the Jeanne Tovrea case. Tovrea was the widow and heiress to the multimillion-dollar fortune of cattle baron Edward Tovrea. The case remained unsolved for years after Jeanne Tovrea's execution-style 1988 slaying. Reynolds took on the basically dormant case in 1992, and struck pay dirt two years later after an anonymous tip led him to identify James "Butch" Harrod as the hired hit man.

The biggest enemies in cold-case work are frustration and impatience.
"Homicide detectives like that good feeling they get when they arrest the bad guy in the case. For the most part, they like to do that once a month," Givens says. "If you expect to do that in cold cases, you're not going to last very long. The cases average a year, some go two to five years. You don't get that good feeling of putting somebody behind bars a month after you start the case. A lot of times, a month after you start the case, you've just gotten through all the documents . . . and you haven't even found everybody you need to talk to yet."

Reynolds arms himself against impatience with discipline and preparation. He organizes his cases in methodically neat three-ring binders. He simply doesn't quit.

"Ed's been able to get into this and just dig and dig and dig and never give up," Givens says.

On the Tovrea case, Reynolds once worked a lead for a year before he learned it was worthless. He was ready to give up at that point, to simply chuck it all and move on. Then Reynolds remembered a box of evidence the previous detective on the case had left behind. He'd always meant to look through that box, but had never gotten around to it. So he figured, before he gave up, what the hell, he might as well check it out.

The first thing he came across in the box were phone records which listed a series of calls right up to the day of the murder, and then abruptly stopped. Those calls led Reynolds to Butch Harrod, who was convicted of Tovrea's murder last year and is now awaiting sentencing.

"A lot of times, it just comes down to your last straw. It's always the thing you do last," Reynolds says. "Now I try to figure out what I'd do last and then do that first."

Since 1992, the cold-case squad has resolved some 40 of the 400 unsolved murders in the department's files.

But the cold-case squad isn't just about solving crimes. It's also about sending a message. Murder is the only crime for which there is no statute of limitations. The cold-case squad tells everyone that the Phoenix Police Department does not forgive and will not forget.

"For years, bad guys thought that they skated for a murder they did if, after so many years, they didn't get caught," Reynolds says. Reynolds recalls a murder he cracked where the accused told the judge at his sentencing, "Judge, it just isn't fair that they could go back and dig up stuff that you did 27 years ago and then charge you with it."

Reynolds still smiles at that; it makes him happy to think of a killer whining in front of the judge. "Now they know that there's a squad that, even if you've skated for 20 years, we're going to make sure you spend your last 20 years in prison," he says.

The Phoenix Police Department didn't forget the Sechrist murder, either. Reynolds took it on in 1994, but set it aside at first, partly because he was wrapped up in the Tovrea case.

Last year, though, as the Tovrea case was winding its way toward trial, Reynolds took another look at the Sechrist murder.

The police had picked up six usable fingerprints from the scene in 1974, all from various places on the motel door. At the time, comparing fingerprints was a time-consuming, tedious process. Every print taken from the scene would have to be viewed with the fingerprint cards already on file--one by one, by hand. Back then, for most cases, the common practice was to match fingerprints against a limited number of suspects. To compare a set of prints against every other set on file would be near impossible.

But in 1997, to run the Sechrist murder prints against every fingerprint in Arizona was only a matter of a few keystrokes. Reynolds sent the prints to Anne Wamsley, a PPD technician who plugged them into the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, a computer-stored record of every print on file in Arizona. In a matter of minutes, AFIS had a match.

The prints belonged to those of an inmate serving time for fraud at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. He also had a scar on his right cheek. Reynolds remembered that Sechrist had shot one of the robbers. He started doing a little digging.

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