Longform

THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART TWO

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Some of the videotapes were as quirky as they were kinky: Crane would spend hour upon hour editing footage of himself in sexual union with one or more women. Often, he would painstakingly splice in strangely innocuous scenes from sitcoms and talk shows of the day.

One tape starts with Crane having sex with a woman. The scene then suddenly shifts to an interview of the actor on Open House--a Phoenix talk show--then returns to the homemade porn. Crane again cuts in toward the end with a scene from The Andy Griffith Show.

The tapes fascinated the Scottsdale cops. But the lead investigators were more interested in learning about the relationship between Crane and his friend John Carpenter. Many people they interviewed said the two buddies seemed to get along famously, even during Carpenter's trip to Arizona.

But a waitress at a Bobby McGee's restaurant said the two men had seemed "tense" with each other two nights before the murder. Another woman told police Carpenter had "pouted" when Crane didn't pay attention to him. Yet a third woman said Crane told her he and Carpenter weren't getting along as well as they had in the past.

The latter was corroborated by Bob Crane Jr., who told police, "There was an indication before Phoenix, just in a passing conversation with my father, that Carpenter coming into town . . . was getting to be just a bit of a pain in the ass. . . . My dad expressed that he just didn't need Carpenter kind of hanging around him anymore."

Crane Jr. also raised a possible bisexual-gone-mad scenario. He said his dad had told him several years earlier that Carpenter had admitted to at least one homosexual experience. (Carpenter denies this.)

"For all I know, he could have been in love with my father," Crane Jr. said.
But evidence of true animosity between Carpenter and Crane was scarce. A transcript of the police interview with the Bobby McGee's waitress, for example, reveals that Scottsdale detectives fed the word "tense" to her.

Carpenter "looked like he was kind of upset," waitress Linda Robertson told them.

"How would you describe it, tense toward each other?" an investigator asked her.

"Yes, tense is a good word," she replied. "Cause it wasn't a loud fight, it was nothing other people noticed."
That was true enough. A bartender at the restaurant told detectives Crane had "acted very nice toward [Carpenter] and did not seem upset." Nor did the bartender have anything negative to say about Carpenter's behavior.

Physical evidence against Carpenter also was hard to come by. Investigators became excited when a maid at the Sunburst hotel, where he had been staying, said she'd found a bloody washcloth and pillowcase in Carpenter's room. But the maid hadn't preserved the bloody items and, more important, she was sure the same tenant had occupied the room at least one more day after she'd found them. If true, that eliminated Carpenter.

(A few months after the murder, a sheriff's deputy hypnotized the maid. Under hypnosis, she again repeated the information about the bloody washcloth and pillowcase. But she came up with the date June 24, four days before the Crane killing.)

Though Carpenter's motive remained elusive, investigators soon found solid proof of his opportunity to commit the murder. Their interest in Carpenter turned to obsession on the afternoon of June 30, a little more than a day after Carpenter returned home to Los Angeles.

That afternoon, Scottsdale police located the car Carpenter had rented for part of his four-day stay in Phoenix. Carpenter had checked in the car, a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, at an Avis counter inside the Sunburst hotel.

Avis had sent the car to a Phoenix dealership, Lanker Chrysler-Plymouth, for repairs after Carpenter complained about its faulty electrical system. The car had broken down on its way to the shop and had to be towed in.

At Lanker, Scottsdale detective Darwin Barrie noticed what appeared to be a small amount of dried blood on the car's interior passenger side. He called his supervisor, Lieutenant Ron Dean. Dean arranged for a tow truck to take the car to the state Department of Public Safety compound in Phoenix for a scientific examination.

What happened at the DPS compound will be devastating to the chances for a successful prosecution of John Carpenter. Much of what occurred there remains the subject of buck-passing and finger-pointing, and may help acquit Carpenter at his trial later this year (see next week's story).

Even in 1978, the best evidence against Carpenter was weak. DPS criminologist Bruce Bergstrom determined the blood on Carpenter's passenger door was Type B--the same type as Crane's, found in only about one out of seven people. No one else whom police knew to have been in the car, including Carpenter, tested for that type.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin