Fear Factor

Two serial murderers loom among us. Inside the case of the Baseline Killer's first Phoenix victim

"This poor lady," Femenia says, leaning down and taking a hard look at the victim's body for the first time.

The woman is wearing black Capri pants, a blue tee shirt under a jacket, and white sneakers.

Her greenish-hazel eyes are half-open in death.

Tina Washington's temporary grave marker in south Phoenix.
Tina Washington's temporary grave marker in south Phoenix.
Tina walked from Cactus Childcare and Preschool (above) to her death on December 12.
Tina walked from Cactus Childcare and Preschool (above) to her death on December 12.

Femenia asks himself several questions as he crouches next to the body:

"How did [the assailant and the victim] get to this spot? Did he walk her here at gunpoint? He have a car? They know each other? Was she a prostitute and things went bad? Here we go."

Among other observations, the detective sees a "Happy Holiday" gift bag near the victim. Inside it is a card made out to "Tina."

Femenia also notes that her tee shirt is silk-screened with the words "Cactus Preschool." He soon learns that the school is on Southern Avenue, about a quarter of a mile away.

"This is gonna be bad," the detective predicts.

The 28-year police veteran's intuition is that the victim will turn out to be a true innocent, as compared with, say, a drug dealer killing another druggie over an economic misunderstanding.

Sergeant Pat Kotecki, who supervises Femenia and five other murder detectives, has noticed possible similarities with the Baseline Rapist's apparent modus operandi.

The sergeant and the other seasoned cops present are not ones to jump to conclusions. But possible parallels with the Baseline Rapist cases pique everyone's interest.

The victim is not carrying identification, though fingerprints Lanie Finlay has lifted from the body hopefully will reveal who she is within a few hours.

Next-of-kin notification is a top priority for the murder cops, because of the investigative leads that often arise and because it is the right thing for concerned loved ones.

Femenia wants to ask the owners of the Cactus Child Care and Preschool if they know a Tina. But he first needs to hear Pete's harrowing story.

Femenia introduces himself to the trembling caterer at 10 p.m. Pete, in his mid-40s, leads the detective into a cluttered office that features a Pittsburgh Steelers banner and a photograph of his young daughter on the wall behind his desk. At that time, Pete was living part-time inside the building that houses his catering business. He has since moved.

"I'm a one-man show," he tells the detective, gesturing to a pile of paperwork.

Relaxing a bit as the minutes pass, Pete repeats what he had earlier told the street officers.

He was washing dishes when he heard a scream and the two loud bangs.

At first, he suspected it was local kids slamming a football against a nearby Dumpster — "I was gonna tell them enough is enough" — so he opened the door intending to shoo them away.

Instead, Pete saw a slightly built man in a hooded sweatshirt standing over a prostrate woman and holding a gun. He says he did not get a good look at the man's face because of the hood and because he naturally focused on the weapon.

"He pointed the gun at me," Pete says.

The hooded man said nothing, but just "looked up and came at me."

Pete darted back inside and quickly locked his door behind him. He stood horrified as he saw the handle turn once. The gunman could not get in.

Pete hid behind a large ice machine, called 911, and awaited the blessed arrival of Phoenix police.

Femenia asks Pete if a woman ever joined him after hours inside the warehouse.

"No, sir, never," Pete replies politely. "That's not me."

As the interview ends at 11:17 p.m., Femenia says, "Tonight, you should think about going to a hotel. You got to get away from this right now."

A white van from the county Medical Examiner's Office arrives just before midnight. The victim's body is put into a black plastic bag and delivered to the morgue in downtown Phoenix.

Femenia drives the short distance to Cactus Child Care and Preschool, a tidy brick structure tucked between a Circle K convenience store and an empty lot.

A sign outside the facility lists a phone number, which Femenia calls to no avail.

Sometime after midnight, the victim's fingerprints come back. They belong to 39-year-old Tina Marie Washington.

Tina's last known address goes back years. Disregarding their fatigue and the late hour, Femenia and Sergeant Kotecki meet at that address, a humble apartment complex in south Phoenix.

There is quite a street scene at the complex. Folks are milling outside despite the hour and the chill in the air.

"Anybody seen a Tina Washington?" Femenia asks repeatedly.

No luck.

About 2 a.m., Femenia returns to the police station to start the preliminary paperwork. He finally goes home to Gilbert, sleeps fitfully for a few hours and is back at his desk by 7.

After his obligatory smokes and hot coffee, the detective returns to Cactus Preschool for what he knows will be a rough morning for everyone concerned.


School director Maria Rodriguez is working the phone in search of Tina Washington as Detective Alex Femenia is driving over.

Tina is a beloved employee at the school/day-care center, which has about 125 attendees, including 17 toddlers for whom she has been responsible every weekday.

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4 comments
Alisha Coleman
Alisha Coleman

hi tina was a wonderful women. my fiance kenneth washington the third misses her alot she will always be in our hearts. rest in paradise mother in law. to his uncle and his bother call me at 602 507 1756

Newdirectionsclubhouse
Newdirectionsclubhouse

this was my niece....a wonderful person who did not deserve to leave this world in the manner she did. i too share the "PAIN AND ANIMOSITY " Although it's been five years there is not a day that I don't think of her. We recently had to bury Tina's Grandmother and now the family has to grieve again.I'm not one who wishes to seek revenge on any individual,but as my nephew stated...I sincerely wish whoever is responsible for this crime gets "ALL" they deserve and more Albert Jackson The uncle of Tina Marie Washington

Ricky Cunningham
Ricky Cunningham

I was reading this article about my mom being killed on her way home and I wanted to say that things are as they said. It was one of the most painful things in life to have to lay your own mother to rest on Christmas eve let alone at all! I felt so much anger towards the person that did this to her and I still do. There were a few things in your story that were wrong however. My brother got his nickname from my aunt not his friends. Also my brothers are not named Kenny! Their name is Kenneth Washington the third and the fourth after their father. It may not mean much to you but it is important to my family. I want everyone out there to know that while my mom was a good woman she also said that when people wrong you you have to stand up for yourself. I plan on making sure the person that did this to her gets everything that is coming to them. If you know anything about this murder send me a message at biggdaddy202003@yahoo.com and I will make sure you are heard. Thank you all for your love and support and to the killer watch out because here I come!!!!!!!

Allishacoleman20
Allishacoleman20

to my fiance's brother let god deal with it. but i hear you. hope all is well.

 
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