The catalysts for Mullins included a tabloid television show — where he learned enough about the Thompson case to conjure up a yarn.
As nutty as it sounds, his apparent motivation was to get out of Kentucky and be housed in a prison facility where he might be allowed to smoke cigarettes.
If all this seems too strange, consider that a Maricopa County grand jury indicted Mullins on second-degree murder charges and that former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods personally led the prosecution.
But in mid-2006, Phoenix police forensically linked the Thompson murder to crimes committed by the serial Baseline Killer. After several tense weeks that played out in the media, the case against Mullins was dismissed and he was shipped back to Kentucky ("I Dunnit," September 21, 2006).
As the Baseline Killer's body count mounted in early 2006, Phoenix police created a task force, assigning several seasoned detectives and more than 100 street officers to the case full time.
Also, in early 2006, the cops decided to go public with a composite sketch that combined the independent recollections of two victims from November 3, 2005.
That night, a man with a dreadlock wig and wearing a fisherman's hat had held up a lingerie store on 32nd Street just south of Indian School Road.
Immediately afterward, he forced a young woman at gunpoint to drive him out of the area. He nabbed her as she was dropping off clothes into a donation bin.
The woman went along with his sexual demands and probably lived as a result. Mark Goudeau's DNA later was identified on swabs taken from her body that night, among other evidence.
The composite sketch depicted a round-faced black man with a thin mustache, the dreadlocks, and a floppy hat.
It appeared all over the media and, later, on billboards, including one at 24th Street and Indian School, five minutes by car from Mark Goudeau's home.
Behind the scenes, though, Phoenix police seemed stalled on the all-important forensic fronts.
The Baseline Task Force detectives became increasingly vocal, as the summer approached, in their insistence that any DNA evidence had to get processed with greater urgency. (A pending lawsuit in Superior Court alleges that the department's failure to timely test critical swabs for DNA or to send the swabs to the superior state lab cost several Baseline Killer victims their lives.)
Crime-scene techs had found DNA on the right breast of one of the South Phoenix sisters from the September 2005 assaults. But the Phoenix lab scientists concluded it wasn't a sufficient sample to identify a suspect through the national or state DNA-linked databases.
The Phoenix lab also chose not to test the swab from the woman's left breast, which had been covered with dirt after the rapist made the older sister (six months pregnant) spit in his hand before he wiped it on the breast in an apparent effort to get rid of his own DNA.
That untested swab sat in a refrigerator at the crime lab for months.
Things were getting more positive on the ballistics front. In early June 2006, Phoenix police gunfire expert Danny Hamilton linked shell casings at the Tina Washington crime scene to those found at other Baseline Killer scenes.
Based on the firing mechanism, every weapon leaves distinctive markings on expended shells. Experts actually can tell whether casings come from the same gun, not just the same type of gun.
Phoenix PD is part of a nationwide network with access to data about shell casings recovered at crime scenes and elsewhere. The network, called NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network), enables ballistics experts to compare spent casings by computer and to possibly link crime scenes.
Which is exactly what happened in early June 2006 when Danny Hamilton discovered that the shell casings from the Washington murder matched those found at the scene of Georgia Thompson's September 2005 death in Tempe.
That stunning information not only got goofball James Mullins off the hook for the murder, it also told Phoenix police that the killer they were hunting had killed at least once before Tina Washington.
(Tempe detective John Thompson much earlier had tracked down the location of a cell phone tower where Thompson's missing phone had "pinged" an hour after her murder. The tower was in Central Phoenix, about 200 yards from Mark Goudeau's home. But like his police colleagues, Thompson — no relation to Georgia — wouldn't hear the name Mark Goudeau for many months after her murder.)
By summer 2006, the task force had compiled a list of more than 100 convicted sex offenders who lived in the general vicinity of where the Baseline Killer was striking. (In the end, nine Baseline crimes occurred within three miles of Goudeau's home.) Lots of tips, but little of substance was coming their way, and the thinking was to look hard at each of the ex-cons as at least a longshot potential investigative lead.