Film Reviews

THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART THREE

The man in the Mazda RX-7 pulled over to the side of the road and waited. For almost 14 years, John Carpenter had prayed this day wouldn't come.

It was about 6 a.m. on June 1, 1992, in the south Los Angeles suburb of Carson. Carpenter, then 63, had been on his morning commute to his job as national service manager for Kenwood USA, an electronics firm. He suspected, correctly, who had been following him.

A small army of unmarked police cars swooped in and surrounded Carpenter. A Scottsdale police detective and an investigator from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office led the posse.

"You're under arrest for the murder of Bob Crane," the investigator, Jim Raines, told Carpenter.

Later, at the police station, Raines sifted through some color photographs until he found two he was looking for. One depicted what looked like a blood smear on a blue background. The second appeared to be a tiny speck of raw hamburger stuck to a similar background.

"You know what that is?" Raines asked Carpenter, pointing at the red speck.
Carpenter looked briefly at the photos.
"No, sir," he replied.
"You're a cool son of a bitch," Raines retorted.
"I've got nothing to be cool about."

Later that day, a horde of media swarmed around Maricopa County prosecutor Myrna Parker at the Los Angeles Municipal Courthouse. It came to hear about the breakthrough in one of the nation's most enduring mysteries, the 1978 Scottsdale murder of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane.

"We have medical experts who will testify to what was found in the car," Parker said confidently. "Human tissue."
Parker's boss, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, reveled in the moment on national news and tabloid shows. Then at the start of a successful campaign for reelection, Romley spoke of the "new" evidence that had led to John Carpenter's arrest.

"If there was perhaps one significant thing," Romley told Good Morning America, "it was the brain tissue in Carpenter's car."
@rule:
@body:"Brain tissue" sounded like a smoking gun, something investigators had been seeking for many years.

Although a Scottsdale police detective had found blood on the inside passenger door of Carpenter's rental car the day after Crane's murder, that evidence was not conclusive.

Testing showed only that the blood was the same type as Crane's--Type B. Since DNA testing wasn't available at the time, no one could say it was Crane's blood, just his type, found in about one in seven people.

Police long had speculated that Carpenter had taken his bloodied murder weapon with him after fleeing Crane's apartment in the wee hours of June 29, 1978. The weapon--investigators never found it, but now suspect it was one of Crane's camera tripods--bumped against the inside passenger door.

While the blood was inconclusive, if prosecutors had evidence of brain tissue in the car, they could convict Carpenter with little problem.

Police reports detail how, in July 1990, county investigator Jim Raines appeared to hit the jackpot in a storage room at the county courthouse. That's when he found the color photograph he would later wave in John Carpenter's face. The photo of the red speck had been taken in 1978 at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, but apparently had been overlooked by prosecutors and previous investigators.

When the photo surfaced, prosecutors were ready to reserve a cell for Carpenter at the Arizona State Prison. But the smoking gun on which authorities would pin their hopes may be filled with blanks.

@rule:
@body:The headlines faded after Carpenter's arrest as prosecutor Parker prepared for a preliminary hearing. "Prelims," as they are called, usually are formalities at which prosecutors quickly establish probable cause someone should stand trial for committing a crime.

Although Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin on March 11 did the expected and bound John Carpenter over for trial, there was little routine about this hearing. Instead, much of the often-riveting testimony exposed evidence of law enforcement misconduct that will do more to aid Carpenter's chances for acquittal than he could possibly do himself.

Late in the hearing, in fact, an exasperated Judge Martin warned that a jury may be hard-pressed to convict Carpenter because of what he called "sloppy work" by police: mishandling, misplacing and destroying evidence, including the crucial speck of tissue itself.

The police blunders have enabled Carpenter's attorney, assistant public defender Steve Avilla, to allege someone in law enforcement manufactured the photo of the speck. Testimony at Carpenter's prelim did nothing to dissuade Judge Martin that the saga of the tissue is anything but suspect:

Despite Rick Romley's comments about "brain" tissue, two pathologists who examined Bob Crane's body say the speck wasn't brain matter, but appears to be tissue or fat that could have come from various parts of a body.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin