I'm standing in the grocery store check-out line. Suddenly I sense something strange about the covers of the supermarket tabloids that shout to me from the metal racks near the cash register.
The usual photographs of Roseanne Arnold, Oprah Winfrey and Jack Nicholson are missing. They've been replaced, for at least this one week, by a piece of nostalgia, a smiling face from the past.
I recognize him at once. It's Bob Crane, wearing that crushed World War II aviator's hat. The star of the 1960s Hogan's Heroes television series smiles out from the covers of three different supermarket publications.
Then my eye catches one of the headlines.
"HOGAN'S HEROES MURDER: SHOCKING INSIDE STORY," screams a paper called the Star.
I shake my head. I recognize what's happened. Once again, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley has scored another of his sleazy publicity coups. It's now clear that self-promotion is his only clear goal in life.
Romley continues to amaze me. By dredging up this tawdry unsolved murder, he has topped even himself. What we have here is yet another disgraceful act by a pitifully ambitious prosecutor. But I give Romley credit for one thing. He's shrewd enough to realize the Bob Crane murder case is a hot button. By hitting it, he has revved up the engines of publicity he can use to win a second term as county attorney.
Romley basked in two days of front-page coverage from every daily newspaper in Maricopa County, as well as full coverage on TV and radio. National coverage was certain to follow.
From Romley's point of view, there was no downside. Announce an arrest in the case. By the time it came to trial, the election would be over. The Crane case would once again be in limbo.
But when you disregard the heroics at Romley's press conference announcing the arrest, you are left with a set of certain facts. Notice, for example, that I still haven't mentioned the name of the man arrested for the murder. I haven't for a specific reason. He is not important. Only Romley is important.
Besides, there is not one more shred of admissible evidence today than there was 14 years ago, when Crane's head was bashed in during the middle of the night over in Scottsdale. Here is your bottom line.
Romley plunged forward recklessly, because doing so makes him appear to be the public's idea of a hard-hitting prosecutor. What Romley's action is about is politics, not enforcing justice.
He is running for reelection and he means to get every vote he can.
These are the word combinations to remember: Romley and Bob Crane. Romley and AzScam. Romley and national television. Romley and the race for his next office. You would assume that a man who appears so often in public with his hair perfectly blow-dried is efficient at his job. And this is what Romley hopes the voters will believe, too.
Some pols cross the line and make schlemiels of themselves because they are emotionally needy. But Romley crossed for a darker reason.
And by doing so, he has demonstrated that he has a character flaw. He is a man beset by a touch of evil who is willing to use the powers of office to advance his own ambition.
The very fact that Romley has attained the office of county attorney emphasizes a serious problem. In an ideal world, you would suppose that only the most talented lawyers would seek this office because of its power to create change for the good.
But the job doesn't pay enough money for men who become lawyers. The county attorney's salary is smaller even than that of the lawyers who work under him as assistants. So for as long as anyone can remember, the job of Maricopa County Attorney has been held by men of modest legal gifts. I will go even further. In some instances, they were men of such overwhelming ignorance that it was a wondrous thing to contemplate how they passed the local bar exam. And of all of these hacks who have supped at the public trough, Romley surely ranks at the bottom.
We all wonder and worry about the future of Arizona. Why can't things ever get better? You need look no further than the County Attorney's Office for at least the start of your answer. Put a first-rate lawyer who is also a compassionate and honest man in this job for two terms and he could turn things around. The very sight of such a man in action would create a climate for change. But I am dreaming. It is only in the cinema that talented lawyers work for low pay because it will contribute to the betterment of society.
Romley doesn't know enough about the law to actually try a case in court. What he does know, however, is how to get his name in the supermarket tabloids and his carefully powdered face on nightly television news shows. He has an eerie genius for self-promotion.
Here's how a tabloid called the Globe led off:
"Startling evidence used to arrest the salesman charged with the 1978 murder of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane was right under the cops' noses for 14 long years.
"But only Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley was shrewd enough to piece together the missing pieces--and officially link Crane's buddy, John Henry Carpenter, to the bloody killings."
Three tabloids--the National Enquirer, the Star and the Globe--all carried ringing endorsements of Romley's actions in bringing about the arrest.
To begin with, this is a low-rent, pornographic case with appeal only to the prurient-minded. Crane's big enthusiasm in life was bedding down as many women as possible and taking films of them during their bedroom frolics.
To do this he had to carry along cameras, tripods and fresh film wherever he went. Bob Crane was a man with a pleasing personality who was in reality a one-man pornographic-film company.
When his body was found with its head beaten to a pulp, the Scottsdale police found film in which many different women friends appeared as co-stars.
This is what gives the case its impact with the general public. And this, of course, is why it becomes automatic front-page news for the supermarket tabloids. What our county attorney is doing by going ahead with the case is to titillate thousands of potential voters.
So let us admit that Romley is a shrewd fellow who understands what interests the customers in cheap barrooms. His persistence in thrusting his persona before the media isn't admirable, but it is certainly effective. Who can remember a public figure so shameless?
Romley must feel his career as county prosecutor hangs by a thread. So he uses the Crane case to help him maneuver around the rocky shoals that the AzScam case has become for him.
Remember, it was AzScam that was going to be Romley's ticket to Congress or the U.S. Attorney General's Office. Now AzScam has become a millstone. For one thing, Romley has created serious enemies in all areas of the political arena. Joe Stedino, his star witness in AzScam, has become an embarrassment and a danger. He is an unpredictable time bomb. Romley has been forced to fire George Mount, his chief investigator in the case. This came about after it was learned Mount ordered Stedino to lie under questioning. Romley himself was hauled before Judge Michael Ryan after he blurted to an open meeting of Republican party members remarks about a plea-bargain offer made by defendant Senator Carolyn Walker. Romley was called to the witness stand and dressed down publicly by Judge Ryan. The judge warned Romley he'd be sent to jail if he opened his mouth in public again about the AzScam case before the trial concluded.
Said Judge Ryan: "If I have to bring you in here again, make sure you bring your toothbrush."
And it still remains undetermined who leaked secret grand jury information to Stedino. Was it Romley in another runaway spate of braggadocio?
So, desperate for some favorable publicity, Romley reaches back to the ancient Crane case.
Romley now claims the evidence they have been holding all these years has now been restudied and that a legitimate case has been put together.
This is amazing. It is also highly unlikely. Cops always think they have an excellent case. County attorneys are supposed to hold them in check and protect the innocent.
This case was in shambles because of sloppy investigation by the Scottsdale police. Two previous county attorneys wisely refused to prosecute for lack of evidence.
Former county coroner Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig remembers the case well. When asked about the new evidence Romley claims to have, Karnitschnig snorted.
"I know what he's talking about," Dr. K said. "I never thought there was anything to it." It is terribly significant that when Romley sought expert scientific opinion, he by-passed Dr. Karnitschnig and went to men in Texas and New Mexico for help. Let's look back for a moment. Think about the time Crane met his death. At the end of a 49-year life span, Crane was reduced to traveling about the country in his own comedy show. It was an uninspired laugher that played to audiences curious to see what Crane looked like in real life.
Often it drew only small audiences. Crane had been told his run in Scottsdale was going to be shortened by a full week. People just weren't showing up. Crane's career had hit its peak during the six seasons, ending in 1971, that Hogan's Heroes ran on television.
Crane's blood-splattered body was found in bed. He had been killed by a blow from a blunt instrument. The murder weapon has never been found.
At Romley's orders, police in Los Angeles have now arrested one of Crane's longtime hangers-on, John Carpenter, 64. Crane and Carpenter had dinner together hours before Crane was killed.
Police claim that bloodstains containing Crane's blood type were found on the door of the rental car Carpenter drove the morning after the murder.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
They have arrested Carpenter, who will be brought here for a preliminary hearing.
Years ago, Carpenter offered to take a lie-detector test in the case and was turned down. County attorneys Chuck Hyder and Tom Collins were adamant in refusing to go to trial against Carpenter for lack of evidence. They had excellent reasons. There is nothing to link Carpenter to the room where the crime was committed. There is nothing to link his actions to the time it happened. Even Romley must understand he has no case. But the horror of it all would be that an aggressive prosecutor might somehow be able to convince a jury that Carpenter is guilty.
How does one begin to defend oneself in a case like this after all that time?
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE LOBBY "THE DEAL" ... v6-17-92