After 38 Years Behind Bars, Bill Macumber Joins Those Freed by the Arizona Justice Project

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Only three prints could've been the suspect's: one on the hood, a thumbprint from the driver's-side door handle, and one on the chrome strip along the driver's door below the window. When deputies forwarded the prints to the FBI, investigators excluded the last set because it couldn't be determined whether the prints came from a finger or a palm.

Sheriff's investigators chased leads, but nothing developed. Until they heard about Linda Primrose.

At the time, Primrose was an 18-year-old high school dropout and chronic drug abuser. She slept on a cot in a dormitory at the Good Shepherd Home for Girls and mentioned to someone there that she'd witnessed the killings on lovers' lane. Three months after the murders, she sat down with detectives.

Primrose said she was riding around the night of the killings with three "Chicano[s]," but she was fuzzy on some details. She related to investigators that she sat in a blue car with a woman named Terry, with hair that "was kind of curly but messy," a man with short, brown hair styled "like a waterfall," and another brown-skinned guy whose name she recalled as "Ernie." Primrose recalled Ernie to be about 5-feet-8, 140 pounds with dark hair and brown eyes. But when investigators asked if he had tattoos or scars, Primrose's memory failed her. "Like I said, I was high," she told them.

She later led authorities to almost exactly where the Impala had been found. She demonstrated how Ernie had steered his car next to the couple's car, and she showed officers a fence post where she remembered drugs they'd come to recover were stashed.

Primrose said a '56 Chevy full of other friends followed Ernie's car to where he'd parked next to the Impala. When Ernie saw the couple, he got out of his vehicle, and Primrose said she heard him swearing and yelling, upset that the couple wouldn't leave so he could fetch the stash. Ernie returned to the car Primrose was in, she said, and grabbed something from beneath the front seat.

Primrose remembered the man getting shot at close range. She remembered the stringy-haired woman, Terry, jumping out of Ernie's car and, when he shot the man's fiancée, screaming frantically and ripping at her hair.

The Chevy left first, she said. Ernie returned to the blue car, hit the gas pedal, and the its tires tore at the ground beneath.

Primrose said she spent the next two days stoned.

Primrose submitted to a polygraph examination, which found she'd indeed been at the crime scene, but investigators never were able to track down the characters in her story.

They scoured a canal near Luke Air Force Base, where she said the gun Ernie used was discarded. Officers never found the weapon. They didn't have much to go on, but they did look for who in the Phoenix area owned a .45-caliber Ithaca handgun.

Bill Macumber was born in Davenport, Iowa. The family moved to Phoenix after he graduated high school, and Macumber enlisted in the Army. When he returned, he and his father opened a gas station complete with a small mechanic's shop.

Macumber met Carol because she'd dated Macumber's brother and afterward stayed close to the family. His brother expressed hard feelings about her, but the relationship went forward. Carol, 18, and Bill, 26, married in 1961.

It was a year later that an MCSO deputy, whom Macumber was friendly with, came into the father-son gas station near 12th Street and Missouri Avenue, looking for a .45-caliber handgun as part of a murder investigation. From past discussions, the deputy knew Macumber owned a .45, and the officer asked to see it. Macumber obligingly handed it over, and the deputy took it away for a forensics check.

Soon the pistol was returned, and that seemed to be that.

The gas station folded, so Macumber found a job at a factory that made computer parts, enrolled in classes at ASU, and eventually fathered three sons.

The Macumbers owned a home near 33rd Avenue and Cactus Road, and Bill loved to attend one son's tee-ball games and take the kids on BMX rides in the desert and on fishing and camping trips. During this period, Macumber worked his way into a management position at the factory.

Carol also was improving herself. She enrolled in evening classes at Glendale Community College, studying criminal investigation and fingerprinting. In February 1973, she found a job at the Sheriff's Office, where she worked in the identification department.

The position granted her access to evidence, case histories, and criminal records — not that she needed the post to view such material; employees described the whole department as unorganized. A deputy later testified that prints in the lovers' lane case were kept where anyone could have had access. The bullets recovered from the scene were stored in an unlocked desk drawer.

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Weston Phippen
Contact: Weston Phippen