By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
"Michael told the police that he was awakened, probably by the sun shining through his uncovered window. He looked out, seeing me working on the car. He thought I was changing a tire. He also heard me taking a shower before I left for work."
Curiously, neither the prosecution nor the defense has listed Michael Ortloff as a witness at his brother's trial.
Robert Ortloff says he cut and scraped himself after Robin Schibler rushed over from the Subway shop about 12:30 p.m. with the terrible news of a fire and a body at Kathleen's condo.
He says he had retreated, in a daze, to the back of the flower shop and stepped up on a ladder to get something. But he slipped and grabbed a shelf for support as he fell. It disengaged and cut his neck.
As for the broken toe, Ortloff says he kicked a wall or cabinet in anger and frustration at learning that Kathleen might be dead.
Kevin Corrado later told police that he went outside for a moment after word came of the tragedy.
According to a Tempe police report, "when Mr. Corrado returned, Robert told him that a shelf had fallen on him, scratching his neck. Mr. Corrado stated at that point he observed the scratches and bruises on Mr. Ortloff's neck. Mr. Ortloff also kicked a wooden partition while Mr. Corrado was in the flower shop, injuring his foot."
Interestingly, Subway's Rick Schibler — whose own morning activities would raise still-nagging questions — later told a detective, "I heard [Ortloff] kick the wall [from the Subway next door]. I don't know if that's how he injured his foot, but I heard him kick the wall."
Schibler also told detectives in his first, unrecorded interview after the murder that he'd arrived at his Mill Avenue Subway store between 9:30 and 10 a.m. An employee of his showed up about 10.
"Between 10, 10:30, I cut my finger," he repeated in a taped follow-up interview on October 17, 1984. "Went to the emergency room. I guess I got there maybe between 10:30 and 11. It was bleeding pretty bad, the cut."
In her interview, the employee concurred that Schibler had come out of the back of the restaurant with his hand wrapped in a towel between 10 and 10:15 a.m. and later drove himself to nearby Tempe St. Luke's Hospital.
Hospital officials said later that Schibler checked himself in at 11:15 a.m., was stitched up, and was discharged around 12:30 p.m.
Detectives never did search that Subway for signs of blood, and it's unclear in the police reports whether the employee actually saw blood or Schibler's cut.
They also didn't ask Schibler what he had done for about an hour with a badly cut hand before driving himself to the hospital.
(Ortloff's defense team interviewed the former Subway employee a few months ago. She claimed no recollection of that seemingly memorable day.)
Schibler told police that he learned about the situation at Kathleen's early that afternoon, and drove to the condos after leaving the hospital with his stitched-up finger.
There, he saw Ortloff's mother. Robert Ortloff had stayed back at the flower shop, which is curious in itself.
Schibler drove Claire Ortloff back to Fiesta Flowers. He spoke briefly with Ortloff, whom he described as "pretty upset."
About 4 p.m. that day, two police detectives spoke briefly with Ortloff at the flower shop. They noted the deep marks on his neck in their reports, which suggested to them "that [he] was possibly in an accident or a fight."
Ortloff agreed to come down to the police station for an extensive interview, which he did a few hours later.
Detectives there advised Ortloff of his Miranda right against self-incrimination, after which he told them (according to a police report) he had written a check on the ROKS account (he said it was $6,800, not $7,000) to repay money he'd "borrowed" from his father (not stolen from his grandfather).
He also noted that Kathleen apparently had lost her ROKS checkbook a few days earlier.
The police took photos of Ortloff, including shots of his scratched neck and badly swollen right big toe — which turned out to be broken — and then let him leave.
Kathleen Smith's autopsy took place the following morning, October 6.
Dr. Thomas Jarvis, the county's medical examiner, determined that she died of thermal burns, which meant she had been alive when her killer torched her.
But assistant county medical examiner Dan Davis looked into the case in 2006 and came to a profoundly different conclusion.
Davis said the lack of soot or carbon monoxide in Kathleen's lungs indicated to him that she wasn't breathing when the fire started. He also said the blow to Kathleen's head probably didn't kill her, but he couldn't say for sure how she died.
"She could have been unconscious, then suffocated, and then there was an effort to disguise this with a fire," Davis told defense attorney Patterson. "She could have been strangled. There's any number of ways she could have been killed without the fire killing her, but I don't think the fire killed her."
Davis made things even more topsy-turvy by suggesting that Kathleen may have died more than an hour before her body was set afire about 10:40 a.m.
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