THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART TWO
Victoria Berry had been touring for months with Bob Crane in Beginner's Luck when the play landed in Scottsdale in June 1978. The Australia-born actress--then 28--had been seeking stardom for years, to no avail.
As always, Hollywood had more than enough busty blondes, and Berry's efforts largely failed, despite some close brushes with success. She auditioned for a plum role on Charlie's Angels after Farrah Fawcett-Majors quit, but Cheryl Ladd won out. She was set to play Marilyn Monroe in a movie to be called Saint Marilyn, but the deal fell through.
Her biggest break in show business probably came when she was cast as the go-go dancer in the credits of Starsky and Hutch.
In the late 1970s, Berry hit the dinner-theatre circuit to pay the bills and to work on her acting skills. The gig with Crane was easy enough, and unlike some of his other colleagues, she got along fine with him.
Berry says her manager and future husband, Alan Wells, had introduced her to the star of Hogan's Heroes years earlier. A former actor himself--he had a bit part in the original Cape Fear--Wells had at one time owned a Los Angeles strip club, the Classic Cat, a favored Crane haunt.
On the evening of June 28, 1978, Berry sat in the Windmill Dinner Theatre audience with John Carpenter during the long stretches of Beginner's Luck that she wasn't onstage. She knew the black-haired man as Bob Crane's best friend, a pleasant guy from California. After the show, Berry saw the two friends walking together to Crane's car. Crane hollered at her not to forget their appointment the following day.
Berry arrived at the Winfield Apartments, 7430 East Chaparral in Scottsdale, at about 2 the next afternoon to meet with Crane. A police report about her presence there includes the line, "Her business there was to videotape an act of hers in order to observe the act and get some pointers from the victim."
Right after Crane's murder, Berry told police her relationship with the actor had been "brother-sister," but it had been somewhat more than that: She later volunteered to detectives that she'd slept with Crane twice.
Bob Crane's propensity for making pornographic videos of his sexual exploits might lead one to assume what "act" the police report was referring to (see last week's story). But a Scottsdale police transcript shows Berry told detectives she had gone to Crane's apartment not for sex, but to dub a new voice track over a scene from the play.
June 29, 1978, was a steamy, early summer day in the Valley, 106 degrees at its hottest. Berry was wearing short-shorts and a tee shirt. She knocked on the door of Apartment 132-A, but Crane didn't answer. She tried the door and found it unlocked. She stepped into the two-bedroom apartment and called out Crane's name. No answer. The place was dark.
Thinking Crane might be by the swimming pool, Berry pulled back a closed curtain to look through a sliding-glass door. Still no luck. She walked slowly into Crane's bedroom. In interviews with police and New Times, Berry described what she saw in the bed:
"At first, I thought it was a girl with long, dark hair, because all the blood had turned real dark. I thought, 'Oh, Bob's got a girl here. Now, where's Bob?' . . . I thought, 'Well, she's done something to herself. Bob has gone to get help.' At that time, I recognized blood . . . it was like a strange feeling."
Berry decided to take a closer look at what was in the bed--she had started to realize it was a man.
"My first instincts were, I don't know why, but I thought it was John Carpenter. And the whole wall was covered from one end to the other with blood. And I just sort of stood there and I was numb. He was curled up in a fetus position, on his side, and he had a cord tied around his neck in a bow."
Berry ran out of the apartment for help. Paulette Kasieta was the first Scottsdale police officer to arrive and secure the crime scene. (Oddly, Kasieta is now an investigator for the Public Defender's Office and is working on behalf of murder defendant John Carpenter.)
Scottsdale police lieutenant Ron Dean arrived at about 3 p.m. and took over. No one was yet certain whose body was in the bed.
Victoria Berry was in the kitchen writing out a statement for police at 3:15 p.m. when the telephone in the apartment rang. Dean instructed her to answer it, but not to say a word about the murder victim in the other room.
The caller was John Carpenter, who told Berry he was back in Los Angeles. In a November 1990 interview with police, Berry said Carpenter had sounded "strange" during their short conversation. But more recently, she put a less sinister spin on it.
"It was pleasant, and there was nothing really predominant," she testified at a hearing to determine if Carpenter should stand trial for murdering Crane.
"Do you recall describing John Carpenter's phone call as being strange?" prodded Maricopa County prosecutor Myrna Parker.
"Vaguely, vaguely," Berry replied.
Lieutenant Ron Dean took the telephone from Berry and, he says, identified himself as a police officer investigating "an incident at the Crane apartment." Carpenter told him he'd been out with the actor until about 1 a.m., a time he would revise the next morning to 2:45 a.m. He said he'd found his own way to the airport later that morning for his flight home.
The telephone rang again soon after Carpenter hung up. It was one of Crane's many female friends from Phoenix. Then Bob Crane Jr., worried after hearing from Carpenter a few minutes earlier, telephoned his father's apartment for information, but was told little. At about 3:30 p.m., Carpenter called again. This time Lieutenant Dean answered the telephone.
Dean says it troubled him that Carpenter didn't ask him what kind of crime had been committed or where Bob Crane was.
"The reason he didn't ask me was that he already knew what had happened," Dean tells New Times. "The killer himself had returned to the scene of the crime--by phone."
Carpenter's version, of course, is different than Dean's. "I asked him what was going on," Carpenter tells New Times. "He said, 'We have a situation here.' I said, 'What? A robbery?' He wouldn't tell me. That's why I called Bob Crane Jr. . . . I was very worried."
@body:Word of Bob Crane's murder swept across the Valley, the nation, the world. It was easily the biggest crime in the history of Scottsdale, years away from becoming today's booming tourist mecca of 140,000.
The Scottsdale Police Department in 1978 was a typical small-city agency. It didn't have a homicide unit--there weren't enough murders to merit one--and its officers did a little of everything. That lack of specialization shaped how the department mobilized for its highest-profile case ever.
Led by chief case officer Dennis Borkenhagen and his superior, Lieutenant Ron Dean, Scottsdale began its investigation by the book: a search of the crime scene and an effort to learn how and why a killer had struck.
What the motive wasn't was far easier for investigators to determine. Nothing of financial value seemed to be missing from Crane's apartment. That eliminated robbery.
There were no signs of a struggle, and a postmortem examination indicated Crane had been asleep when someone bludgeoned him in the left temple with a blunt instrument.
The detectives found bloodstains on the inside of the front door and surmised that the killer had fled in that direction. There were no signs of forced entry, and the sliding-glass door that led to the swimming pool was unlocked. Victoria Berry said she hadn't touched the door, and detectives suspected the killer had known Crane and intentionally left it unlocked during an earlier visit.
The Crane murder weapon remained missing; police only knew it was a blunt object, such as a golf club or a tire iron, capable of inflicting a swift and fatal blow.
Investigators quickly interviewed many of Crane's friends and colleagues. They learned that amiable, popular, 49-year-old Bob Crane had left behind many people who detested him.
A partial list included:
His estranged second wife, Patty, with whom Crane had feuded in a loud and bitter telephone conversation overheard by his neighbors and by John Carpenter hours before Crane's death.
A fellow actor who had sworn vengeance after a violent argument with Crane in Texas a few months before the murder.
The many husbands and boyfriends of women Crane had sexually seduced. An example: The ex-boyfriend of a woman Crane had slept with in Scottsdale taped a mutilated newspaper photograph of Crane to her back door after the man learned of their relationship.
Some of those women were among the literally hundreds who had posed nude for Crane and his ever-present Polaroid camera. Many others consented to having their lovemaking with Crane videotaped. Some, however, had no idea Crane had recorded his sex sessions with them until after he died and the Scottsdale police informed them.
The detectives confiscated Crane's videotapes during their first search of his apartment. In the rear bathroom, they also found a minidarkroom with negatives of nude women awaiting development in a tray. A photo enlarger sat on the back of the toilet.
Some of the videotapes were as quirky as they were kinky: Crane would spend hour upon hour editing footage of himself in sexual union with one or more women. Often, he would painstakingly splice in strangely innocuous scenes from sitcoms and talk shows of the day.
One tape starts with Crane having sex with a woman. The scene then suddenly shifts to an interview of the actor on Open House--a Phoenix talk show--then returns to the homemade porn. Crane again cuts in toward the end with a scene from The Andy Griffith Show.
The tapes fascinated the Scottsdale cops. But the lead investigators were more interested in learning about the relationship between Crane and his friend John Carpenter. Many people they interviewed said the two buddies seemed to get along famously, even during Carpenter's trip to Arizona.
But a waitress at a Bobby McGee's restaurant said the two men had seemed "tense" with each other two nights before the murder. Another woman told police Carpenter had "pouted" when Crane didn't pay attention to him. Yet a third woman said Crane told her he and Carpenter weren't getting along as well as they had in the past.
The latter was corroborated by Bob Crane Jr., who told police, "There was an indication before Phoenix, just in a passing conversation with my father, that Carpenter coming into town . . . was getting to be just a bit of a pain in the ass. . . . My dad expressed that he just didn't need Carpenter kind of hanging around him anymore."
Crane Jr. also raised a possible bisexual-gone-mad scenario. He said his dad had told him several years earlier that Carpenter had admitted to at least one homosexual experience. (Carpenter denies this.)
"For all I know, he could have been in love with my father," Crane Jr. said.
But evidence of true animosity between Carpenter and Crane was scarce. A transcript of the police interview with the Bobby McGee's waitress, for example, reveals that Scottsdale detectives fed the word "tense" to her.
Carpenter "looked like he was kind of upset," waitress Linda Robertson told them.
"How would you describe it, tense toward each other?" an investigator asked her.
"Yes, tense is a good word," she replied. "Cause it wasn't a loud fight, it was nothing other people noticed."
That was true enough. A bartender at the restaurant told detectives Crane had "acted very nice toward [Carpenter] and did not seem upset." Nor did the bartender have anything negative to say about Carpenter's behavior.
Physical evidence against Carpenter also was hard to come by. Investigators became excited when a maid at the Sunburst hotel, where he had been staying, said she'd found a bloody washcloth and pillowcase in Carpenter's room. But the maid hadn't preserved the bloody items and, more important, she was sure the same tenant had occupied the room at least one more day after she'd found them. If true, that eliminated Carpenter.
(A few months after the murder, a sheriff's deputy hypnotized the maid. Under hypnosis, she again repeated the information about the bloody washcloth and pillowcase. But she came up with the date June 24, four days before the Crane killing.)
Though Carpenter's motive remained elusive, investigators soon found solid proof of his opportunity to commit the murder. Their interest in Carpenter turned to obsession on the afternoon of June 30, a little more than a day after Carpenter returned home to Los Angeles.
That afternoon, Scottsdale police located the car Carpenter had rented for part of his four-day stay in Phoenix. Carpenter had checked in the car, a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, at an Avis counter inside the Sunburst hotel.
Avis had sent the car to a Phoenix dealership, Lanker Chrysler-Plymouth, for repairs after Carpenter complained about its faulty electrical system. The car had broken down on its way to the shop and had to be towed in.
At Lanker, Scottsdale detective Darwin Barrie noticed what appeared to be a small amount of dried blood on the car's interior passenger side. He called his supervisor, Lieutenant Ron Dean. Dean arranged for a tow truck to take the car to the state Department of Public Safety compound in Phoenix for a scientific examination.
What happened at the DPS compound will be devastating to the chances for a successful prosecution of John Carpenter. Much of what occurred there remains the subject of buck-passing and finger-pointing, and may help acquit Carpenter at his trial later this year (see next week's story).
Even in 1978, the best evidence against Carpenter was weak. DPS criminologist Bruce Bergstrom determined the blood on Carpenter's passenger door was Type B--the same type as Crane's, found in only about one out of seven people. No one else whom police knew to have been in the car, including Carpenter, tested for that type.
DPS, however, couldn't prove the blood in the car was Crane's--just his type. Though they weren't at all sure why he would have killed his friend, the Scottsdale police had found their No. 1 suspect: John Carpenter.
@body:If John Carpenter killed Bob Crane, his behavior in the days after the murder proves he's a gutsy son of a gun.
He voluntarily returned from California to Arizona with police after they had told him he was their chief suspect. He volunteered to take a lie-detector test, to take sodium pentothal--better known as "truth serum"--to be hypnotized, anything, he told Scottsdale investigators, to help them find his friend's killer. He didn't contact an attorney.
Carpenter's story has remained essentially the same from the first time he spoke to police until his exclusive series of interviews with New Times. Together with police reports and interviews with other key players, Carpenter's account goes like this:
He flew to Phoenix on June 25 to spend four days with Crane and to conduct a little business for the Akai Corporation. Carpenter would often visit his friend of more than a decade on the road. Women were drawn to the still-popular Crane like fish to a worm, and Carpenter didn't seem to mind dallying with the leftovers.
Crane picked up Carpenter that day at Sky Harbor airport. On their way to Scottsdale, Carpenter says, the actor showed him a personal photo album of numerous naked women, including some he had met during his stint at the Windmill Dinner Theatre.
Carpenter checked in at the Sunburst, a few blocks from Crane's apartment. The new additions to the photo album portended a wild time in the Valley, just what Carpenter was seeking. The two cohorts did their usual bar- and disco-hopping after Crane finished with his evening performances of Beginner's Luck. Though Carpenter didn't drink and Crane drank only rarely, the Valley's nightspots were the best places to meet potential new scores.
Though Carpenter failed on the trip, Crane scored big. Police reports indicate he had sex on the afternoon of his murder with a 29-year-old woman he'd met a few weeks earlier.
After the show on the evening of June 28--Carpenter's last scheduled night in town--the two men left the Windmill. Crane's car had a flat tire and the men drove it to a nearby gas station.
The attendant later noted that someone had apparently tampered with the valve stem on the tire. That led detectives to speculate Carpenter had planned to whack Crane with a tire iron while the actor was changing it. How Carpenter had planned to create an alibi under that scenario is uncertain.
The two men returned to Crane's apartment, where Crane had a loud argument on the telephone with his estranged second wife, Patty. Crane fell into a funk after the ugly call and he wanted to hit the streets running.
It was before midnight, early for the two incurable night owls. They drove together in Crane's car to Bogarts, a bustling Phoenix disco.
The pair met two sisters at the disco, Carole and Christi Newell. Crane introduced Carpenter as his "manager," a typical ploy to impress possible scores. But Crane wasn't much interested in the Newell sisters. From Bogarts, he telephoned Carolyn Baare, a restaurant hostess supervisor he had met during his stay in the Valley.
Crane asked Baare to join the men for an early morning breakfast at the Safari coffee shop in Scottsdale. She said she'd meet them there. Carole Newell's sister was out of the picture by now, but Carole agreed to come along.
The three drove to Scottsdale in Crane's car. On the way to the restaurant, Carpenter grabbed the keys to his rental car from his hotel room. Carpenter and Newell then drove in his car to the Safari, followed shortly by Crane. Carolyn Baare showed up right after Crane.
By all accounts, the conversation at the Safari was friendly but uneventful. The quartet broke up at about 2 a.m. Newell walked out with Carpenter as some fans of Crane chatted with him and Baare for a few moments.
Baare says Crane shouted ahead to Carpenter, "Where are you going?" She says Carpenter replied either, "I will see you later" or "I will see you tomorrow." Carpenter then drove off with Carole Newell.
Carolyn Baare declined Crane's offer to come over to his apartment. She drove herself home after making plans to meet him for lunch the next day.
Carpenter was hoping he had finally hit the jackpot on his last night in the Valley. In Newell's first interview with police, she said Carpenter had simply dropped her off at her home, about five minutes from the restaurant.
From the start, Carpenter has recalled it quite differently. He says he convinced Newell to come into his hotel room at the Sunburst. There, Carpenter says, "I put some moves on her, but she didn't go for it, so I stopped and drove her home."
That's more in line with Newell's later statements to police and her recent testimony at Carpenter's preliminary hearing.
"He tried to encourage me to stay," she told investigators in 1990. "He laid down on top of me while my back was on the bed and kissed me. I remember thinking, 'How am I going to get out of this?' I kept saying, 'I got to go, I got to go.'"
Carpenter took Newell home about 3 a.m. That put him in the five-hour window of opportunity to kill Crane, who died between 3 and 8 a.m., according to a coroner's report, probably closer to 3.
Carpenter drove Newell home after eliciting a promise from her that she'd awaken Crane the next morning, sometime between 8 and 11 a.m. Though she never did go to Crane's, authorities have intimated Carpenter wanted Newell to find the body of the man he planned to kill. But Carpenter says he had a reason for the request: If she doesn't want me, he says he thought to himself, maybe she'll want Bob.
Prosecutors allege that sometime after he dropped Newell off, Carpenter entered Crane's apartment and bashed the sleeping actor to death.
But Carpenter insists he returned to his hotel and called Crane to see how things had fared with Carolyn Baare. Crane, he says, told him he also had struck out. The actor said he was standing in his undershorts editing the swear words out of Saturday Night Fever so his 6-year-old son could watch it.
Carpenter says he told Crane he'd find his own transportation to the airport later that morning. The two exchanged pleasantries, Carpenter says, and soon said good night to each other.
Records show Carpenter checked out of the Sunburst at 8:24 that morning and turned in the Cordoba at the Avis counter in the hotel, complaining to a clerk that the car had electrical problems.
The hotel check-in clerk says Carpenter was "pleasant but strange," which is how some describe the man to this day. Carpenter, a nervous type, says he mistakenly believed his flight home was at 11 a.m., but then discovered it was an hour earlier. If he was edgy, he says, it was about his flight.
Carpenter briefly tracks his next movements like this: He says he took a cab to Sky Harbor, hopped on his Continental Airlines flight to Los Angeles, picked up his car at a repair shop there and drove to work.
He says he called Bob Crane's apartment from work and heard Scottsdale police lieutenant Ron Dean's voice for the first time. Carpenter would get to know Dean very well in the next two weeks.
@body:John Carpenter in 1978 was separated from his wife, Diana, and was living with 20-year-old Rita Cloutier in Inglewood, California. Rita answered the door at the couple's apartment early on the evening of July 1, the day after police discovered the blood in Carpenter's rental car.
The two men at the door introduced themselves as Ron Dean and Dennis Borkenhagen from the Scottsdale Police Department. They wanted to talk to John. Rita said she didn't know where he was. She said she had expected to be away for the weekend, but had just returned home. She said she thought Carpenter might be at the home of his longtime friend, actor Richard Dawson of Hogan's Heroes and Family Feud fame.
A spooked Carpenter had spent time at Dawson's after the murder. Dawson's son, Mark Dawson, then in his late teens, recalls the visits.
"As far as I can remember," Mark Dawson tells New Times, "he was concerned with helping the cops find out who had killed his friend. He wasn't fleeing--just the opposite. My dad had no great love for Bob Crane, but he and John were shocked more than anything else. We really tried not to talk about it much."
Before the cops could contact Richard Dawson, Carpenter called home. Dean got on the line and Carpenter told him he was at his mother's house, about 70 miles away. He agreed to drive back right away and meet with them.
He told the investigators he had kept the Cordoba locked at all times, and that the only people who had been in the car during his stay were Bob Crane and Carole Newell. They broke the news to him about finding the blood in the car. Carpenter had no explanation for it.
After the interview, Carpenter went with the Scottsdale cops voluntarily to a Los Angeles County sheriff's substation. He made plans there to fly back to Phoenix the next morning for further questioning.
"I know now this was a stupid thing to do, because I knew they had me in their sights," Carpenter says. "They even told me they thought I was the bad guy. I was nervous. But I didn't have anything to hide."
On July 2, Carpenter flew back to Arizona with Dean and Borkenhagen. Though he didn't know it at the time, he had a one-way ticket. That spoke volumes about the cops' intentions.
That afternoon, Carpenter met at the Scottsdale Police Department with Dean, Borkenhagen and deputy county attorney Larry Turoff. Carpenter expressed apprehension at the start of the interview, "since you [have] implied and directly told me that I had direct contact with Bob Crane's death."
But Carpenter again waived his rights to confer with an attorney and agreed to answer any questions.
"You shook me with the blood on my car," he told them. "I don't know where that came from; I don't know how much there was. Then you said to me, 'Why did I kill Bob Crane?' I told you right off I didn't, and I would never do that. . . . I'm just not that type of person."
Dean again asked him about Crane's album of nude photos he had mentioned in their California interview. Carpenter said he had seen it the day of the murder in Crane's bedroom.
This would become important to the investigators: Others they had interviewed had also mentioned the photo album, but the search of Crane's apartment hadn't turned it up. The cops concluded Carpenter had taken the photo album from the murder scene and then volunteered the information as a clever diversionary tactic to prove his good faith.
Near the end of the July 2 interview, Carpenter blurted something out of the blue:
"Yesterday, you said something about a polygraph. I could go, voluntary, [for] either a polygraph or sodium pentothal. And you can ask me whatever you want, under doctors' conditions or however . . . either one that you people feel you might get more information out of me."
The Scottsdale cops remained noncommittal.
The interview ended with Carpenter asking the million-dollar question: "Well, what happens to me?"
Dean and Borkenhagen wanted to arrest Carpenter on the spot for first-degree murder. But Maricopa County Attorney Chuck Hyder wouldn't authorize it.
"In my opinion, they weren't even close to having enough for us to make a case," recalls Hyder, now an assistant United States Attorney. "As far as I knew, you had a little blood in a car--they didn't know whose for sure. Motive was lacking, and so was physical evidence."
The Scottsdale investigators ignored Carpenter's request for a polygraph or other "truth" test. Almost 15 years later, Ron Dean has a curious explanation for why he didn't call Carpenter's bluff in 1978.
"I believe you have to know two or three things more than the bad guy does," Dean claims. "Otherwise, he'll beat you. We wanted to know a few more things before we put John on the machine. There wasn't enough out there yet to play truth or consequences."
Carpenter flew back to California by himself. But Scottsdale was hot on his trail and he knew it.
In a tape-recorded telephone conversation with Bob Crane Jr., possibly on July 10, Carpenter said: "They say that there was blood on my car . . . a very uncommon type. This is bullshit. Boy, they're scratching my back hard, and I'm the one that's trying to help. If your dad had any best friend or whatever you want to call it. . . ."
"It was you," Crane Jr. interrupted. "I guess they're waiting for you to just break down or something."
To this day, Ron Dean says, he is sure Carpenter was ready to confess.
"He was trying to tell me he did it," Dean says, "but he was playing games. It was, 'Catch me if you can.' It was almost like he was in a play or something. He puts himself in the third person. He's watched those guys like Dawson and Crane and he wants to be them. He's a real case."
On July 12, Dean and Borkenhagen popped up unannounced again at Carpenter's Inglewood apartment. He agreed to meet yet again with them a few days later at an Inglewood police substation.
The investigators had their last shot at John Carpenter on the evening of July 14, 1978. By now, the thin wall of civility that had marked most of their meetings had cracked.
Carpenter finally brought the mutual animus out into the open.
"When you sit across from me and accuse me of killing my best friend, one of my best friends. . . ." he said.
"Well, I'm still thinking that you did," Dean spit back at him.
"Then, fine, I'm not going to say another word. I'm sorry."
"What do you mean, you're sorry? You're sorry you killed him, are you? Or do you think he deserved it? Why don't you tell me about that? What happened in Scottsdale, Arizona, to cause you to kill Bob Crane? Let's hear about it."
Carpenter said nothing.
Borkenhagen tried a slightly different tack: "You know that at this time, we don't have enough to arrest you or we'd arrest you. . . . But it's getting close and it's going to happen."
Carpenter nodded. "Thank you," he said. "Can I leave now?"
"Certainly," the detective replied.
Carpenter stepped out of the police station into the cool, California night. His home was about three miles away. He walked there, he says, in a daze.
Almost 14 years later, police arrested him for murder.
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.