Longform

Shot At Redemption

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Murphy said he'd last spoken with MacDonald at 6:30 p.m. on December 18, 1993, about a half-hour before Patton borrowed the coat. MacDonald had been excited about a date the two had made for later that evening. But when Murphy called back two hours later and said her name, the person on the other end of the phone hung up. That was about an hour after Patton left the house.

Gordon, by all appearances, was the last person seen with MacDonald before she disappeared.

Police soon figured out that Gordon's full name was Gordon Lee Lederer. He'd gone to prison for armed robbery in 1984. His estranged wife had been MacDonald's roommate, but had moved out about four months before she disappeared. Patton told police that Murphy told her that Lederer had beaten his wife, who kept a .22-caliber pistol for protection. And, according to Murphy, Lederer had supplied MacDonald with meth and given her at least $1,000 to finance a drug deal shortly before she disappeared. She had to either come up with the drugs or give the money back. Lederer had left a few brief messages on her answering machine before she disappeared, typically saying he'd call back, never with a hint of anything amiss.

Detectives interviewed Lederer, but found Murphy especially suspicious.

He'd called MacDonald at all hours and sometimes several times a day, even before she vanished. He sounded like a jealous, obsessed boyfriend. He suspected she was sleeping around. A woman who owned an escort service told detectives that Murphy had called shortly after MacDonald's disappearance, saying she was missing. He said he would pick up a VCR and a coat that MacDonald had left with the escort-service owner, as if he knew she was dead even before her body was found. The owner also said MacDonald had told her that Murphy had assaulted her three times.

Murphy showed up for his interview with detectives wearing a necklace that belonged to MacDonald. He was also carrying her pager. The necklace, he explained, was collateral for a loan. He said she'd given him the pager on December 16, then changed his story and said it was actually two days later -- the day MacDonald disappeared. Murphy interrupted the interview to call a friend, who told him that MacDonald's body had been found.

Police were not impressed by Murphy's reaction. "After hanging up, Ken was trying to show some type of emotional expression on his face, but wasn't very convincing," a detective wrote. "He had no look of surprise nor of grief at any time after learning that Monique was dead."

He became the prime suspect.

"He was kind of the machismo kind of guy and pretty much controlled her," recalls Phoenix police detective Eleuterio Fragoso, the primary investigator. "A lot of stuff didn't add up, so that's why I suspected him more than anyone else. One of the things was that the house was in such a clean state at the time we entered. It was just too neat and well-organized. It was hard to find the drops of blood we did find. That's what threw us off completely. It had to be somebody that she knew. And because the boyfriend was so controlling, she wouldn't have had any visitors or suitors."

Besides Murphy and Lederer, detectives questioned Homer Townsend, a disabled veteran whom Murphy and Patton identified as one of MacDonald's clients. Townsend insists that's not true: "I did not know she was an escort," he says today. He says he was playing pool in a wheelchair-only league when he met MacDonald in a bar about two months before her death. When he asked her how she ended up there, she answered, "This is as far as I could get a ride." She was a gorgeous woman but a tragic figure, a shade over five feet tall and about 100 pounds, drinking alone and writing in a notebook. It didn't take long to figure out she was deeply troubled.

"She was sitting up there talking to herself -- not a soul around," Townsend says. "She would be talking about something and she'd say 'Hold on for a second,' and she'd write in this journal -- she'd say 'I'm sorry, I just thought of something.' After about an hour, you realized the rubber band inside her head had been stretched too many times. You could tell that she had either a drinking problem or a drug problem. She said a lot of things -- just threw them right out there. She said, 'I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but can I trust you?' I said, 'What do you mean by that?' She said, 'You're in a wheelchair. I could get away from you very easily if I needed to.'"

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Bruce Rushton