Investigations Into Thomas Abbott's Brutal Death Were Botched by Phoenix Police; His Family's Convinced It's Because He Was Gay

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Buchanan's phone records show he called Abbott three times that day without leaving a message, including one call when Abbott should have been airborne.

Tom Kelly was going to pick up Buchanan's boyfriend, Patrick Roland, at Sky Harbor about 7 p.m., and Buchanan asked to come along. But Kelly tells New Times that, at the last second, Buchanan said he wanted to stop by Abbott's apartment before heading to the airport.

"He was real vague, something about going to pick up a few things," Kelly says. "There was no sense of urgency at all, nothing about going to check up on Tom. I thought Tom was gone to Dallas by then. It was all a little confusing."

Kelly drove over to the apartment. Buchanan knocked on the front door — Kelly says he thought that was odd because Abbott was supposed to be gone — and then walked around the back to the sliding-glass door.

It was unlocked, and Buchanan let himself in.

Tom Abbott's naked and battered body awaited him.

The police spoke to Kelly before allowing him to leave for the airport. Skip Buchanan stayed at the scene.

Back at home, Roland saw a hooked-up flat-screen TV, which Buchanan later told him had been a gift from Abbott.

Exactly when Buchanan collected the TV is a critical part of this case's timeline.

Buchanan told police that he never returned to the apartment after leaving on Thursday night with Tom Kelly. But Kelly insists that the TV was in the bedroom when they left.

So when and how did Buchanan get it over to Roland's?

Patrick Roland went to his car to pick up Buchanan at Abbott's apartment. But the vehicle wouldn't start.

Roland says it occurred to him later that Buchanan probably had used the car to get the TV and hadn't closed the hatchback properly, leaving on the backlight and draining the battery.

This had to have been after the Thursday-evening visit with Kelly, allegedly the last time Buchanan saw Abbott.

And that means Skip Buchanan was lying.

On July 15, 2009, Detective Sikes interviewed Buchanan at Phoenix police headquarters downtown.

"I can speak with you," he told Sikes. "I'm not a suspect in any foul play."

Perhaps not technically: But he definitely was what the police like to call a "person of interest."

Buchanan made these claims over the next two hours:

• The uncharged May 2 incident at the apartment had been all Abbott's fault, and no one had gotten hurt.

• He and Abbott had engaged in mutual combat in the past, but not since Buchanan moved to Arizona in 2008.

• The last time he'd seen Abbott was at the apartment on Thursday night, when he went there with Tom Kelly.

On the last point, Buchanan said Abbott had invited him to take the flat-screen TV.

"I said, 'No, I'll get that after you leave,'" Buchanan told the detective. "He said, 'No, take it now.'"

Sikes didn't ask any of the obvious follow-up questions about the TV.

About halfway through the interview, Sikes turned things over to Detective Troy Jacklin.

Buchanan kept insisting to Jacklin that he hadn't gone over to Tom Abbott's place on May 29, the day before he found the body.

He said he had left work early, and "I was probably angry that he was ignoring my phone calls" but thought it best not to visit.

Jacklin told Buchanan that he had listened to the May 29 messages on Abbott's cell phone — those heated voicemails Martha Novorr says she later sent to the police.

(Apparently, the detective was bluffing, or Detective Sikes' statement to a colleague about no voicemails being on Abbott's phone is incorrect. Clearly, Jacklin knew something about the 4:32 p.m. call.)

"How did I sound?" Buchanan asked the detective.

"You [sounded] very angry to me. The voicemail said you were coming over."

Buchanan said, "I never went over to Tom's house on Friday . . . I might not have felt like walking over there."

Buchanan repeatedly asked the detectives whether the medical examiner had determined an exact time of death. It was a weird question, but neither investigator asked him why he cared.

Near the end of the interview, Buchanan asked whether he was under arrest.

No, the detective replied.

In fall 2009, Skip Buchanan's attorney sent a demand letter to MetLife for the money from Tom Abbott's insurance policy.

The firm still balked at paying Buchanan anything because of ongoing questions about Abbott's death.

Buchanan sued MetLife for breach of contract in October 2009. That month, Detective Sikes transferred to the homicide unit, taking the Abbott case with her.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin