AS SEEN ON TV,A FAMOUS PHOENIX MURDER
I have finally figured out the Redmond murder case. Since I am not extremely quick on the draw, this has only taken me ten years and a few months.
I sat in front of the television set Sunday night watching a show based on the Redmond killings called False Arrest, starring a suddenly pudgy Robert Wagner and the vacuous Donna Mills.
With those two great names of the TV screen in the heavy roles, the most frightening urban crime in this town's history has been made into a singularly unpleasant four-hour miniseries by the ABC network. The final two hours is scheduled to run Wednesday night.
It is based on the cold-blooded shootings of Pat Redmond, his wife, Marilyn, and her mother, Helen Phelps, on New Year's Eve, 1980.
Pat and Marilyn Redmond were busy preparing for a party for a few close friends when the killers arrived at their home.
The three men knocked on a garage door, displayed a police badge and asked for information.
Suddenly, they drew guns and entered the house. They hustled Pat and Marilyn and her mother, who was visiting them, into a bedroom and shot each in the back of the head.
It is a horrible story. In its own way, it is as frightening as Truman Capote's 30-year-old tale In Cold Blood, his classic story about the gruesome murders of the Clutter family in Kansas.
False Arrest is Joyce Lukezic's highly colored view of her own experience in the Redmond case. Charged with being one of the masterminds behind the murder, she went to trial twice.
She was found guilty the first time. Finally, after spending two years in county jail, she was acquitted.
Lukezic claims she had some very frightening experiences at the hands of other female inmates while held in county jail.
There are people, however, who profess to know what really went on inside the jail. They claim that if the truth came out, we might learn that Lukezic gave people as many scary moments as she received.
Lukezic would now like us to think of her as a modern reincarnation of Joan of Arc. My own feeling, based on observing her in court, is that she is closer in history to Madame DeFarge of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. From the beginning, you had to know the motive was greed. So it figured that the people involved in the plot were vicious. The results show they were both overconfident and incompetent.
The men who hired on as killers made a fundamental error. They failed to kill Marilyn Redmond. The bullet entered the back of her head but, miraculously, it missed her brain.
If anyone comes out of this case as a real heroine, it is Marilyn Redmond. A gutsy and gracious woman, she displayed the courage of a lioness as she testified under heavy pressure and at great length in six tumultuous trials stemming from the case.
Each time, she was forced to relive those final moments with her husband, Pat, and 70-year-old mother, Helen Phelps.
I watched her tell this story four times myself. Each time I heard it, I found myself amazed that she still had the strength to rise from the witness chair by herself and walk down the center aisle and out of the courtroom.
"How can she go on?" I asked myself. "This is a scene that will always be in the back of her mind, waiting to play itself out again." Here is her story of the killings:
Marilyn Redmond is busily preparing a New Year's Eve ham and roast beef with scalloped potatoes. Her mother is preparing a relish dish and worrying about the rolls. She remembers how good everything smelled.
Her husband is sitting in the living room watching television with the family's springer spaniel. The dog is afraid of strangers and will be locked in the bathroom when the company arrives.
There is a knock at the carport door. Pat goes to answer.
"Marilyn," Pat calls, "come here a minute." She walks to the door without thinking. Standing there are a white man and two black men. They all have pistols in their hands. The grim looks on their faces tell her something at once.
They are not wearing masks. They don't intend to leave witnesses.
Marilyn and her husband do not resist. It is already too late for that. They are brought into the master bedroom. Marilyn's mother is brought along, too.
Their only hope is to stall until the guests arrive. Perhaps they will arrive early and frighten the men away.
"I have about $1,200 in my billfold in my back pocket," Pat Redmond tells the men.
"I have $200 in my purse," Marilyn says.
The men place them face down on the bed. They are side by side. Someone ties their hands and feet.
Marilyn Redmond sees one of the black men tossing things out of her purse, looking for the $100 bills.
She hears someone ask about gagging them. Marilyn tells them there are woolen socks in the dresser drawer. Seconds later, someone shoves what appears to be a pair of socks into her mouth.
Then Marilyn spoke from the witness stand as if in a trance. She remembers the final words she was to hear:
"We don't need them anymore." Then she hears shots. Instinctively, she knows that one of them enters the head of her husband, Pat. The next one kills her mother.
The third shot goes into her own head and exits through her jaw.
There is something else.
Marilyn doesn't learn until later that one of the three intruders also slashed her husband's throat with a butcher knife to make sure the job was done correctly.
Then it was time for her to come off the witness stand and point out the killers.
It's hard to imagine where she got the strength and courage. Maybe it was the anger she felt at what the intruders had done to her mother and husband that gave her the strength.
"That's them!" she said, in a loud and clear voice, pointing at the defendants.
"That's them . . . right there." More than ten years later, not one of the four men convicted of first-degree murder has been executed. All are on death row. All still are appealing their sentences.
Marilyn Redmond still lives in the same house. I went out there and knocked on her door Sunday afternoon.
There was no one home. I telephoned later in the afternoon. A woman answered and said she would give Marilyn a message that I had called.
A little more than an hour before False Arrest started, I telephoned again. I heard a recorded message that I recognized as being Marilyn's voice saying:
"I may be home and I may not. If you are a friend, leave a message. I may or may not return the call." I left a message but she didn't call me back. I don't blame her. What more is there to say? How much can we keep demanding from her?
The television people probably wanted to talk to Marilyn. Maybe they received the same kind of reaction. In the news portion after the show Sunday night, all they ran about her was a photograph of the front of her house.
Pat Redmond and Ron Lukezic, Joyce's husband, were partners in a west-side printing firm. Business was good. They were prospering.
Ron made friends with Robert Cruz, a big talker and a shirttail member of a Chicago mob family who had recently moved to Arizona.
Cruz took the partners on a trip to Las Vegas, where he introduced them to a lot of mob figures and promised to get them lucrative printing contracts with the casinos.
Ron excitedly told Joyce about their sudden prospects to make big money with the possible Las Vegas clients.
But then a complication occurred. Pat Redmond didn't want anything to do with the Las Vegas deal. He didn't like dealing with that kind of people and felt they were already making enough money.
Pat Redmond had to be removed.
The police theory stems from the prosecution's star witness, Arnie Merrill. He was a Cruz confidant and small-time thief who overheard Joyce and Cruz talking about hiring the hit men who would dispatch Pat Redmond.
"Why hasn't the job been done?" Merrill testified he heard Joyce ask Cruz.
"Don't worry," Cruz answered. "He'll be gone by Christmas."
Although he was only a small-time crook who ran a burglary ring, Merrill was the most interesting personality in the case.
During one trial, his own brother, Ray, described Arnie as a habitual liar who made a living selling dope and trying to make a score with a burglary or two.
Arnie is a Damon Runyon-type character who grew up in New York City in the same neighborhood as Joyce Lukezic. He had dated her as a teenager.
She was one of Merrill's cocaine customers and knew of his involvement in the murders.
Merrill took himself to the hospital to avoid suspicion, but Bindy found him there. There is a supposition that he fakes illness whenever it will help him avoid the police.
During Joyce Lukezic's second trial, a tape of Bindy's conversation with the hospitalized Merrill was played by defense attorney Thomas Thinnes.
Here's how it went:
"Arnie." "Hello." "It's Bindy. What you doin' in there?"
"Heart attack." "That's bullshit. I know you." "Really," Merrill says, "I'm in an oxygen tent." "Look, Arnie, I've got to get in touch with a special man right away. You have his phone number." "No, I don't," Merrill says.
"I want to talk to that man real bad, Arnie." "I don't know how to reach him. Please stop trying to drive me crazy." "Arnie, if I don't get that number, I'll sing like a canary." "I don't know what you're talkin' about." The fright in Merrill's voice is clear.
"Arnie, I have all these tapes, and I can implicate you in everything." "I'm laying here in an oxygen tent. Are you trying to drive me crazy?" "I don't want to hear that BS," Bindy says. "I just want that telephone number. You see that I get it." "I'll try," Merrill says.
"Arnie, if you don't, I'll tell the cops that you brought them out here and set up the whole thing." The taped telephone conversation ends.
Cruz reached out to Chicago for his hit men and came up with two experienced killers, Murray Hooper and William Bracey. The third member of the hit team was Merrill's contribution. This was Robert McCall, a former Phoenix cop, who Merrill hired to do burglaries.
Judging from his own testimony and from Bindy's taped telephone call, Merrill himself was so deeply involved he could have been sentenced to the gas chamber.
It was Merrill who picked the Chicagoans up at the airport and brought them to his brother's gun shop, where he supplied all three with weapons. Merrill drove them out to the desert to try out the weapons.
He escorted them on a tour of the city. He drove them past the printing plant that Pat Redmond and Ron Lukezic operated. He pointed out the bar where Redmond stopped after work each night, and he drove them to Redmond's home.
"Look, Arnie," the police said, "we can put you in the Redmond murder. We also have you for burglary, selling dope, arson, fencing stolen property and home invasion. Why don't you act like a bright fella and turn state's witness? We'll give you a new identity. No one will ever find you." Merrill proved to be capable of providing his own cover. The first time he took the witness stand to testify against Cruz and McCall, neither defendant recognized him.
During the preparations for the murder, Merrill had been balding, paunchy and middle-aged. The Merrill who took the stand was 40 pounds lighter with a jet-black wig, a full mustache and a pair of tinted aviator glasses.
Dan Ryan, formerly an FBI agent and a member of the Chicago Police Department, was the investigator on the case. Although independently wealthy, Ryan loved police work. His full role was never explained, but he was one of the most colorful figures in the case. He was also the most valuable.
While working for the Chicago Police Department, Ryan had become impressed by the aggressive investigative tactics employed by its toughest and most successful detectives.
Ryan used some elements of that style to break this case. He tracked Merrill down in New York City. He found Cruz in Illinois.
At one point, Ryan left a dead canary in a cage in Merrill's hotel room to point out how necessary it was for a stool pigeon to continue to cooperate. At another point, Ryan drove his car through a show-room window to impress upon the store owner his serious intent.
He was a Fordham University graduate in accounting and a marathon runner who had competed in both the Boston and New York City marathons.
The film and Lukezic's book indicate that Ryan was so amoral he was willing to frame Joyce Lukezic for a crime she had nothing to do with.
In one of those puffball television interviews after the movie's first portion, Lukezic said she wrote the book to get a fresh start in life.
Anyone who read the book would get a different impression. She wrote it to even the score with the attorney who represented her in the first case. This was Larry Debus, one of the leading defense attorneys in town.
Reportedly, she paid Debus $350,000 for a defense she wasn't happy with. She hired Tom Thinnes to represent her after that.
Lukezic claims she spent $750,000 in all to get herself out of jail.
Even Thinnes, who earned the not-guilty verdict, doesn't come off totally unscathed.
"Thinnes was more aggressive," she writes, "but he also hated Debus. I don't know whether he wanted to do something Debus hadn't done or believed in my innocence. I think his beating Debus was a little more important than I was." It took a while. But with this television miniseries, Joyce Lukezic has finally had the last word. She got even with everyone.
Nice going, Joyce.
The most frightening urban crime in this town's history has been made into a singularly unpleasant four-hour miniseries by ABC.
Then she hears shots. Instinctively, she knows that one of them enters the head of her husband, Pat. The next one kills her mother.
At one point, Ryan left a dead canary in a cage in Merrill's hotel room to point out how necessary it was for a stool pigeon to continue to cooperate.
With this TV miniseries, Joyce Lukezic has finally had the last word. She got even with everyone.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.