It is 1969, the year of Woodstock, a man on the moon, the miracle Mets and Chappaquiddick. Two middle-aged buddies turn on a tape recorder and discuss their favorite subject--women and how to snag them.

The conversation is ostensibly an "interview" for a Los Angeles singles magazine. John Carpenter is asking questions of Bob Crane, star of the hit television show Hogan's Heroes.

"Are there many single people in show business?" Carpenter asks Crane, tongue firmly in cheek.

"You never really think of the person's home life," Crane replies, in the quasi-earnest manner that made Hogan's Heroes a winner. "As for dating, I've always been the kind of guy that goes with one girl at a time. I'm not the kind to go to single bars. I find someone who I'm happy with and I stay with them. I'm a marriedlike person.

"I'm the type of guy who's married even when I'm not married. I enjoy one person and I go steady. I go steady."
The singles scene has certain pitfalls, Crane confides.
"Eventually, you'll find out there's a husband of theirs that's lurking out there. . . . I think all single people should have a card verified by the pope that they're single, so you don't wake up someday and find a gun to your head because you didn't hear footsteps."
@body:It is Christmas Eve, 1992, at Maricopa County Jail, almost a quarter-century after Bob Crane eerily mentioned "footsteps." John Carpenter is here because authorities accuse him of murdering his friend Crane in a Scottsdale apartment in June 1978.

The longtime electronics-industry manager looks younger than his 64 years, despite a haggard appearance under the stark fluorescent lights. Carpenter's dark eyes are clear and piercing, but his blue jail uniform hangs loosely on him, the result of a 25-pound weight loss during six months of incarceration.

In 1978, Carpenter's most memorable feature was his jet-black, Beatlelike haircut. These days, he still has a full head of hair, but it's trimmed much shorter and is almost more salt than pepper.

A few days earlier, California authorities had shipped Carpenter to Maricopa County to face the murder charge. It marked his first time in this state since a few days after the Crane killing. Since that time, Carpenter says, he had refused even to fly over Arizona.

"It just means a lot of bad things to me," Carpenter explains. "Not only did I lose one of my best friends here, those idiots accused me of doing it."
Carpenter's arrest was a bombshell in a case that has generated more headlines worldwide than any other Arizona case. Bob Crane's murder has remained one of the nation's enduring whodunits, a mystery involving a celebrity who is more popular now than he was when he died.

Hogan's Heroes is in heavy rotation on cable TV these days, and a whole new generation is watching Colonel Robert Hogan's machinations and the avowals of Sergeant Schultz that he knows nothing.

The man accused of murdering Crane had been his good friend for more than a decade. Crane and Carpenter had much in common. Neither man was an intellectual, but each had risen in his respective field by a combination of hard work, guile and good fortune. More important, Crane and Carpenter were alley cats who tried their luck with almost anything female that came their way. Hanging out with Crane provided Carpenter with a ready supply of willing women that surely wouldn't have been otherwise available to him.

With his up-to-the-moment knowledge of video, Carpenter could offer Crane something of value: the technology to churn out homemade pornographic videos of Crane's encounters with women.

As a story, the Crane case was made in heaven: It has sex, sex and more sex. It has a Hollywood star. It has allegations of bisexuality and other unorthodox behavior. It has everything but a motive. Authorities have insinuated that Carpenter's unrequited love for Crane somehow caused him to kill his friend. But prosecutors do not have substantial evidence of homosexual behavior on the part of either man. Even if they did, it remains unclear why that would have led to murder.

Since 1978, police have also tried to prove that Crane was tiring of his friendship with Carpenter. The theory seems to be that Crane told his buddy to take a hike, which angered Carpenter enough to commit murder. But proof of that is wafer-thin, as well.

The most compelling evidence against Carpenter is a small amount of blood Scottsdale police found in his rental car shortly after the murder. The blood matched Crane's type, found in only about one out of seven people.

The presence of the blood, however, wasn't enough for the two Maricopa County attorneys who preceded present County Attorney Rick Romley to authorize a murder warrant. But last June, police arrested Carpenter after authorities claimed to have uncovered startling "new" evidence in the long-dormant case.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin