The Phoenix homicide detective reaches the crime scene just after 8 p.m. on December 12.
A woman has been shot to death behind a warehouse at 40th Street and Southern Avenue, about five minutes by foot from the busy intersection.
Her body is splayed on the concrete driveway between the building and a retaining wall. A pool of the victim's blood already is coagulating.
Homicides in Phoenix
It is quiet back here, and the amber-colored lighting from the building's security lamps is dim.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Dallas Mavericks
TicketsFri., Oct. 14, 7:00pm
Alex Femenia, who has been assigned this case as lead investigator, finishes a Marlboro in his blue Ford pickup, and then walks to a police car, around which a street sergeant will conduct an incident briefing.
Among those on hand on this chilly evening is Benny Pina, the savvy lieutenant who heads the department's homicide unit, and deputy county attorney Bill Clayton, a well-regarded prosecutor.
Veteran homicide detective Steve Orona will assist Femenia.
Certainly, no one here yet knows what will take authorities weeks to figure out that the dead woman is the first known Phoenix murder victim of the serial criminal then dubbed the Baseline Rapist.
The fear that grips a population when not one but two serial killers are said by police to be separately roaming Phoenix (and elsewhere in the Valley) is hard to quantify.
Phoenix police suspect that the serials have been responsible for attacks on 41 Phoenix-area residents since the middle of last year. Of that number, 11 have been murdered, six by the man renamed the Baseline Killer, and five by the so-called Serial Shooter.
Residents in and around the Washington, D.C., area experienced something in October 2002 akin to what Phoenicians are going through now, when the Beltway snipers murdered 10 people and injured three during a monstrous three-week stretch.
Even then, according to accounts of the Beltway case, many in the D.C. area held on to an it-can't-happen-to-me mentality during the siege, even though John Muhammad and Lee Malvo were randomly targeting their victims in all manner of locales.
But here in Phoenix, feelings of invincibility (or at least the belief that the odds of something bad happening are long) seems to have vanished, especially in the sections of town where the killers have struck most often.
It is surely no consolation to anyone that, statistically speaking, the crimes attributed to the serials are but a drop in the bucket in this increasingly violent Valley. The murder at 40th Street and Southern last December 12 was the 219th of 2005 within the Phoenix city limits. The vast majority were related to domestic discord, drug trafficking or gang-related issues.
In other words, most murderers and their victims knew each other somehow.
As of yet, according to Phoenix police, no evidence suggests that the Phoenix serial killers have known any of their victims.
It is the randomness, the unpredictability of the sudden and vicious strikes, that has so many people especially women accustomed to being out alone at night on a razor's edge.
The cases of the two serial killers have gone national. In the past few weeks, media from all over have swooped in looking for scoops, though developments have been so fleeting that a street interview with a concerned citizen seems to qualify as a scoop at this point.
Neighborhood gatherings to discuss the serials have been filled to overflowing.
What seems to have citizens in such a tizzy is that Phoenix police do not appear close to finding either guy, the Baseline Killer or the Serial Shooter.
That is not for lack of diligence.
More than 120 Phoenix officers have been assigned to work the cases pretty much full-time.
Several topflight homicide detectives including the lead investigator in the Baseline cases, Alex Femenia also are working literally around the clock.
Nerves are fraying. Channel 12 recently reamed Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris for attending a law enforcement conference in Toronto for a couple of days in the midst of the manhunt. It was as if the chief had Femenia's job of running down leads, instead of overseeing the entire department.
Until a few months ago, the media had been calling the Baseline Killer the Baseline Rapist, so named because of sexual assaults and robberies he had allegedly committed on or near Baseline Road dating back to August 2005.
A police chart of the Baseline Killer's crime spree suggests he has committed 11 rapes, has robbed 20 people (including some of the rape victims) and has murdered six people, most recently shooting 37-year-old Carmen Miranda to death on June 29 at a car wash on East Thomas Road near 29th Street.
He committed these crimes as far north as the 4500 block of North 40th Street (a rape), as far south as the 7200 block of Central Avenue (a robbery and a rape), as far east as the 3100 block of East Indian School Road (rape), and as far west as the 3100 block of West Vineyard Road, just north of Baseline Road (rape).
If Phoenix police are correct, the Baseline Killer's first known homicide was the September 2005 gunshot murder of 19-year-old Georgia Thompson in the parking lot of her Tempe apartment complex near U.S. 60 and Mill Avenue.
Complicating matters in that case is that Kentucky resident James Mullins confessed to Tempe cops last January that he had killed Thompson. A grand jury subsequently indicted the 33-year-old on one count of second-degree murder, a charge he is still facing.
But that all occurred before Phoenix police uncovered what a department commander has called "irrefutable evidence" that Georgia Thompson's death was the work of the Baseline Killer. Mullins subsequently recanted, though he is still facing the murder charge as Maricopa County prosecutors try to sort it out.
All of the descriptions of the Baseline Killer have been frustratingly vague. Some victims have described a bald black male. One thought he was Hispanic. Others have recalled dreadlocks (police suspect it was a wig) topped with a kind of fisherman's cap hence that unsatisfying composite sketch that most Valley residents have seen time and again.
Another point: Five of the Baseline Killer's six murder victims have been women.
The one male victim, George Chou, 23, was shot to death sometime after he left his job at a Yoshi's at 24th Street and Indian School Road on the evening of last March 15. Chou's body was found the next morning in an alley near 33rd Street and Indian School.
A few hours earlier, employees of a Burger King at 22nd Street and Indian School had discovered the body of Liliana Sanchez-Cabrera, 20, inside a car. She, too, had died of a gunshot wound.
Sanchez-Cabrera had just finished her first day of work at Yoshi's, and co-worker Chou apparently offered to give her a lift home.
Then there is the Valley's other ubiquitous random killer, the so-called Serial Shooter.
He (authorities assume it is a "he," though they had no eyewitnesses and no description of the shooter) is said to be responsible for five murders and the shootings of 16 other people since May 24, 2005. In addition, police suspect the Serial Shooter of killing five dogs and three horses.
The Shooter isn't suspected of committing rapes or robbing his victims as is the Baseline Killer in many instances.
He just shoots, and splits.
In stark contrast to the Baseline Killer, all but one of the Serial Shooter's murder victims have been male. The killer mostly has been targeting pedestrians and bicyclists, shooting them from behind, usually late at night.
For example, just before midnight last December 30, a U.S. Postal Service worker was walking home from a bus stop near 34th Street and Van Buren after work when, out of nowhere, someone shot him in the neck.
Miraculously, he survived without permanent injury.
The man later told detectives that he had never seen or heard anything before the bullet struck him.
Minutes after that shooting, in a residential area about a mile to the north, someone shot two family dogs (one of them died) outside one home and also fatally shot a next-door neighbor's dog.
Phoenix police say they have linked the shootings of the postal worker and the canines to the Serial Shooter.
The two most recent incidents police attribute to the Serial Shooter occurred within half an hour of each other during the wee hours of Sunday, July 9.
One victim was a 27-year-old woman and the other a 31-year-old man. Neither victim knew each other.
The first shooting, of the woman, took place near 44th Street and Indian School. The second was near 50th Street and Van Buren. Both victims were hospitalized, but also survived.
What makes investigating the Serial Shooter even thornier than investigating the Baseline Killer is the geographic breadth of his crimes.
Phoenix police say the Serial Shooter has shot people as far west and north as 101st Avenue and Camelback Road (a woman riding a bike was shot in the hip), as far east as the 6100 block of East Thomas Road in Scottsdale (the murder of 20-year-old Claudia Gutierrez-Cruz, who happened to be walking down the street about 10:30 p.m.), and as far south as the 100 block of South 10th Avenue (another homicide).
Sergeant Dennis Orender starts his December 12 briefing with a reference to the Christmas holidays, noting wryly what all seasoned cops know: the Yuletide season means a spike in violence and dysfunction.
Then it is down to business.
Orender says the victim is an unidentified black or Latina woman who looks to be in her 30s.
Paramedics pronounced her dead at 7:10 p.m.
"The only story we have is from one witness, one male," the sergeant says.
That man, who will be referred to only as Pete in this story, runs a wholesale catering business in a back corner of the warehouse. He is inside with an officer, waiting to be interviewed.
Pete claims to have heard two bangs, the sergeant says, and had opened his back door to see what was up. From a distance of about 25 feet, he saw a man standing over the victim, gun in hand.
The man pointed the weapon at Pete, who retreated inside and called 911 at 6:54 p.m.
Unfortunately, the sergeant says, Pete couldn't provide any description of the gunman's face.
Detective Femenia steps over to chat with crime-scene technician Lanie Finlay. She is taking scene measurements, photographing everything, collecting evidence.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
When Tina fails to show up for work on the morning of December 13, her co-workers immediately are worried. One of her nicknames is "Old Faithful," in reference to her reliability and punctuality.
Tina does not carry a cell phone and does not have a car.
Her colleagues wonder aloud if she somehow could have missed the city bus she takes from her Tempe apartment every day.
Tina lives with two teenage sons, both of whom, oddly enough, are named Kenny (Kenny Washington III and Kenny Washington IV). She also has an older son from another relationship, Ricky Cunningham.
Tina's best friend is Kathy Watson, a Tempe widow who also works at Cactus Preschool. Tina is about to become godmother to Kathy's first grandchild, and she also has been organizing a 50th birthday party for her pal.
Kathy and Tina had made plans to go to a Wal-Mart after work the previous evening to buy Christmas presents.
But, surprisingly, Kathy had never heard from her friend that night.
The moment that Kathy gets to work at 8 a.m., Maria Rodriguez asks her if she knows Tina's whereabouts.
She does not.
Tina's sister, Teresa Cunningham, is an aide at Cactus Preschool. She also has not spoken to Tina since yesterday afternoon at school.
Maria Rodriguez finally is able to contact Kenny Washington IV, who lives with his mother. He soon reports nervously that it does not look as if his mom slept at home the previous night.
Kenny whose friends call him "Red" immediately calls Tempe police to report that his mother is missing. He also calls local hospitals. No luck.
"My mom wouldn't just go missing," he later tells New Times in an interview. "She was very responsible. [She was all about] doing what you say you're gonna do, showing up for work on time, being straight with people."
The Cactus staffers compare notes: Tina had punched out at work the previous evening at 6:13. She had left work with a small gift bag from an employee holiday gift exchange.
Normally, Tina would have crossed two thoroughfares (40th Street and Southern Avenue) to the bus stop at the southeast corner of the intersection.
It would have been only a minute or two by foot with favorable traffic signals.
Inside the reception area at Cactus Preschool, Alex Femenia asks to see the school's director.
Maria Rodriguez's face is etched with fear as she greets the detective.
Not one to pull punches, Femenia immediately informs her that Tina is dead, murdered by an unknown party.
Rodriguez starts to sob.
"Is this certain?" she asks the cop after gathering herself.
"You suspect someone she knew?" Rodriguez asks.
"We're looking at all angles," Femenia replies. "We're not pointing fingers at anyone. Right now, it's a mystery."
Minutes later, Femenia tells Teresa Cunningham that her sister's been killed. She falls into a chair, shaking uncontrollably, and starts to hyperventilate.
Femenia puts his arm around Teresa and tries to calm her. Maria Rodriguez gives her a brown paper bag to breathe into, which seems to help some.
Teresa is able to tell the detective that Tina never carried much cash, had no credit cards, her estranged boyfriend is in jail, and an ex-husband lives in Texas.
"I called her at home last night, but she didn't call back," Tina's sister says. "I don't know why someone would do that to her, because she never did nothing to anybody. She was a humble, sweet girl."
Alex Femenia calls Red Washington at 11 a.m. and asks him to come by the school as soon as possible.
"We just want to talk with you," the detective says.
By now, the school's co-owners, James and Mike Emch, also have showed up. The brothers, who own eight other preschools and day-care centers around the Valley, are stunned by the tragic events and are trying to calm everybody down.
Within 20 minutes, Red drives up to the school in a car with some pals, and Femenia gives him the awful news.
Red, a strapping young man, gets in the detective's face, literally.
"You better find out who did this!" he bellows at Femenia. "Or you're gonna be coming after me!"
The silver-haired cop defuses the potentially explosive situation:
"Hang in there, babe for your mom."
That one hits Red hard.
"[Somebody] killed my mama," he says to no one in particular, before returning to the car and speeding off for parts unknown.
Red recalled the dreadful moment in the later interview with New Times:
"I'm expecting them to tell me that my mom's inside the school, that she's fine. I thought she would be here forever, and then in the blink of an eye. . . . She was my mother and my father, and to hear that I lost the most important person in my life."
Before Femenia leaves the school grounds, he learns a few more things:
Tina had complained of being harassed at the bus stop by two black men. Or maybe it had been one black man and one Hispanic man. One of the men may have worn a hooded sweatshirt.
The detective returns to Cactus Preschool the next morning.
Already, the school's students and teachers have created pieces of art that include handmade drawings, photo collages of Tina and written remembrances.
"In Loving Memory of Tina Washington," one collage says. "You touched so many hearts. We will always hold you in our hearts. You will be missed."
It is signed, "Your family at Cactus."
Femenia walks next door to the Circle K, where the guy on duty gladly hands over videotapes from the day and night of Tina Washington's murder.
He checks out the covered bus stop from which Tina likely had been abducted at gunpoint, and then enters the Shell food mart at the southeast corner.
It is just a few minutes' walk from the store to behind the warehouse, and the detective says that just maybe the killer stopped inside before, during or after he murdered Tina.
But Femenia gets unexpected resistance at the Shell store to his request for its videotapes.
"I can't give you anything without my district manager's permission," an assistant manager there tells the cop. "I can't help you, and I don't want to give you my name. If there's a murderer around here, I ain't trying to get killed."
Coldly, Femenia tells the manager that he will shut down the bustling business as a potential crime scene until the district manager sorts it all out.
"That'll take, what, a few hours or half a day?" the detective says, pulling out his cell phone as if to call for backup. "I'm not trying to be a tough guy or make a scene. But if you witnessed something or your tape shows something, you have an obligation to come forward and help us out."
The manager turns over the tapes, which, unfortunately, reveal nothing that would constitute evidence.
"A good person gets killed, almost spitting distance from here, and that son of a bitch won't lift a finger to help," he says. "This is why homicides aren't solved sometimes."
James and Mike Emch the owners of Cactus Preschool pay for Tina Washington's memorial service and funeral on Christmas Eve at the Resthaven Park Mortuary, a few blocks east of the school (and the murder site) on Southern Avenue.
Red Washington speaks eloquently at the service, calling Tina "an angel who happened to be my mom and who is living with God now."
The young man has purchased 40 doves, which he and Tina's other loved ones release at the end of the proceedings.
"Thirty-nine are for her age and the last one is for her homecoming with God," Red says.
Detective Femenia inevitably moves on to other, "fresher" murder cases in the weeks and months that follow Tina Washington's murder.
But Femenia stays in touch with Red Washington, who essentially has been orphaned (he has no relationship with his father) and has moved in with his Aunt Teresa.
The cop has come to admire the young man.
A few weeks into the new year, Femenia takes some time to review his list of unsolved homicide cases.
Tina Washington's name stops him short.
It is about a month since the teacher's slaying, and the detective is discouraged by the lack of leads.
Again, Femenia engages in that wondering-aloud thing of his, tossing out a rat-a-tat-tat string of questions:
Had the killer planned to rape Tina, but she refused to give in? What was their precise route to the rear of the warehouse? Did he know the neighborhood, or was he winging it? Where did the guy go after Pete caught him red-handed? What am I missing?
Shortly after his self-critical review, Femenia learns of the solid evidence connecting the Tina Washington murder and that of the Baseline Killer's other alleged victims.
Phoenix police are keeping the links to themselves.
But in a twist that sounds almost fictional, the connection between the Baseline Killer and one of his alleged victims Georgia Thompson, the September 8, 2005, shooting victim in Tempe may yet serve to save the hide of an innocent man (innocent at least of this murder).
After a series of events that have yet to be revealed publicly, James Mullins confessed to Tempe police last January that he had shot the 19-year-old to death after meeting her at a Scottsdale strip club, where she worked.
He told those detectives that he had killed Thompson in self-defense after she had pulled a gun on him.
Mullins' confession came at a Kentucky jail, where he was being held on unrelated burglary charges. During it, Mullins at first suggested he had been with two other men on the night of the murder a friend from Kentucky and a new acquaintance whose name he did not know.
Mullins was extradited to await trial on a second-degree murder charge after a Maricopa County grand jury indicted him.
Curiously, County Attorney Andrew Thomas appointed former state attorney general Grant Woods as a special prosecutor (apparently working for free) in the Thompson case.
The case received little publicity until a few weeks ago, when Phoenix police announced they had linked it to the Baseline Killer.
In any event, that unexpected connection may turn out to be quite a break for Mullins, who surely was on a conveyor belt to state prison on the murder rap had the alleged connection to the Baseline Killer not been made.
After analyzing evidence and interviewing Mullins themselves on July 13, Phoenix cops expressed certainty that he had nothing to do with Thompson's murder, or with the Baseline cases.
Phoenix police seem just as sure that the killings of Georgia Thompson and Tina Washington (as well as many other crimes) are linked by strong forensic evidence.
But is there any possibility that the unnamed associate of James Mullins could be the Baseline Killer?
No way, according to Phoenix police.
Tempe police defended themselves (and the Mullins confession) for a few days after the Baseline Killer's alleged connection to the Thompson case went public.
But that agency's been hedging ever since.
"It's frustrating," police sergeant Dan Masters said on July 14. "We now don't know what, if anything, he's been telling us for the last seven months if any of it's true."
The County Attorney's Office still has not dismissed the murder charge against Mullins.
In August 1991, nine people, including six Thai monks, were shot execution-style at a Buddhist monastery in the desert west of Phoenix. It was the largest mass murder in Arizona history.
Four young Tucson men linked to the murders by a patient then living in a mental hospital confessed separately to the murders after mind-numbing hours of interrogation by Maricopa County sheriff's detectives.
The detectives and certain high-ranking county prosecutors pooh-poohed the later recantations of the Tucson Four, as they came to be known.
But it turned out that the confessors had nothing to do with the massacre had not even known about it. Much later, the Four split about $3 million in public money awarded them in an out-of-court civil settlement.
In truth, two west Phoenix teens, Jonathan Doody and Alex Garcia, had done the killings during a robbery gone bad, and are serving life sentences.
The monumental legal mess led to the 1992 election defeat of Sheriff Tom Agnos by a retired DEA agent who promised to clean up the office. His name: Joe Arpaio.
Tina Washington's best friend, Kathy Watson, leaves work at the Cactus Preschool just after 1:30 p.m. on a recent day. She walks over to the bus stop to await the short trip home to Tempe.
Kathy does not drive, and has to use public transportation unless a friend or family member comes by to give her a ride.
It is a little more than seven months since Tina probably took this same route by foot to the bus stop for the last time.
Kathy is wearing a blue tee shirt with the school emblem on it, similar to the shirt Tina was wearing on the day she died.
Though it is in the middle of the day, being at this bus stop gives Kathy the creeps. She has taken to carrying a bottle of Mace on a chain outside her purse, and has become hyper-vigilant about her surroundings.
She is alert and jumpy while awaiting her bus.
"Every day is a struggle for me," Kathy says. "Me and Tina planned to do a lot of things together, go on a trip to Delaware, where I'm from. Just have fun together like we always did."
She touches the haunting crime-scene photo of Tina on the cover of this issue, and speaks to her late friend:
"I know you fought this guy, Miss Tina, and I know he got mad at you, and I know you didn't suffer any before God took you. I'll be all right, and you'll always be with me."
Later, Tina Washington's youngest boy, Red, says he feels his mother's presence around him at all times.
"I know she's still here in spirit, 24/7," he says. "She's in my heart. All of us have a purpose on this Earth, and her purpose must have been done or God would have saved her. I'm not perfect, but she taught me the fundamentals, and the rest is up to me. I got to make her proud."
A few months ago, Red purchased 17 easels at IKEA, where he works on the floor full-time. He distributed them in his mother's memory at one of her favorite places in life, Cactus Preschool.
New Times staff writer Paul Rubin spent a year reporting on the Phoenix Police Department's C-32 homicide squad. It was during this time that Tina Washington was murdered.
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.