Almost 30 years after the attractive young legal secretary's bludgeoned body was discovered northeast of Phoenix, Rose Weite still doesn't have a clue who murdered her friend--and that explains why the fledgling true-crime author has just written a book using that question as its title.
But at this late stage of the game, an equally valid question might be "Carmen who?"
Although True Detective magazine hyperbolically dubbed the 1967 slaying "Arizona's No. 1 Murder Mystery," the brutal homicide of 26-year-old Carmen Goll was never a high-profile case--with no strong leads or any real physical evidence, the media simply had little to report. Today, the homicide is practically forgotten by all except those who had some personal stake in the case.
"It has been a long time," concedes Rose Weite, a retired Moon Valley realtor who spent two years writing Who Killed Carmen?, a self-published true-crime memoir exploring the unsolved murder of Goll, who had been a former co-worker. "That's why I think that it was so important that I write this book--I've come to realize that closure in life is very important. Carmen was killed, and someone is responsible. Somebody has to know more about Carmen's death than has been told."
Weite (then known as Rose Edwards) became friends with Goll in the mid-Sixties, while both women were working as secretaries for a downtown Phoenix law firm. Goll, a striking brunette who occasionally moonlighted as a wig model, had dramatic aspirations, and was involved in several productions at Phoenix Little Theatre.
"We were both in the same boat," says Weite, who also dabbled in modeling. "We were young mothers, divorced, living from paycheck to paycheck. I had a swimming pool at the time, so we'd get together so our kids could swim."
When they could arrange for baby sitters, the popular pair frequently joined a clique of young attorneys, stockbrokers and secretaries on the happy-hour fast track, a circuit that included such bygone hot spots as the Islands, the Clown's Den, Kelly's, the Ivanhoe Lounge, the Colony Steak House and the Phone Booth.
"Phoenix was a smaller town back then," recalls Weite. "Everybody knew everybody. It didn't take much to get a party going."
But sometime after midnight on July 19, 1967, the party was over for Carmen Goll.
After spending the evening with a 35-year-old E.F. Hutton stockbroker whom she was dating, Goll prepared to drive the eight miles from her boyfriend's apartment at Central and Northern to her own home at 28th Street and Osborn. The following morning, the 1963 Dodge she'd been driving was found parked about a block away from her apartment--but Goll was never seen alive again.
Three weeks later, in an area just west of what is now Scottsdale's Mayo Clinic, a family of rock hounds followed a 100-foot trail of blood from the road to a paloverde tree. Under the tree, the family made the startling discovery that would later prompt Weite to write, "It would be a very long time before I could reconcile myself to the fact that the decomposed and mummified body in a pink flowered two-pieced dress was that of my friend, Carmen Goll." Goll's face and head had been repeatedly smashed with a 25-pound boulder.
In a lengthy investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, detectives questioned dozens of Goll's acquaintances (including Sherri Chessen Finkbine, a local television personality of the era, as well as an unknown Nick Nolte, then a Phoenix Little Theatre actor). Yet no suspect was ever charged with the crime.
While Rose Weite may not know who killed Carmen, she's convinced she knows who didn't. "I have a very hard time believing this is the work of a stranger," she says pointedly. "Carmen was simply not the sort of person to pick up someone she didn't know or to get herself in a situation like this. I'm convinced that whoever did this was someone she knew--or someone she thought she knew."
Weite's emotional take on the Goll murder is not the first time she's committed personal heartbreak to the printed page. As co-founder of a local support group for families who'd lost loved ones in the 1987 Northwest Airlines disaster that killed her husband and 154 others in Detroit, Weite penned After the Crash, a 1993 account of her efforts to come to grips with the tragedy. A minor sleeper in the self-help genre (she says more than 5,000 copies have been sold), Weite's inaugural vanity-press effort paved the way for a number of appearances on regional and cable television shows to discuss bereavement and airline safety.
Whether she'll be warming any talk-show couches with tales of the Goll homicide remains to be seen.
Written in a style that careens uneasily between the "just the facts, Ma'am" terseness of a police report and the overheated prose of a confession magazine ("Outwardly calm, [Carmen] was actually in a state of agony over the Baked Alaska, wanting it to be perfect in every way when she finally brought it to the table."), Weite's true-crime curio probably will be best appreciated by readers already familiar with the case, and, perhaps, by fans of the "unschooled" school of writing.
But if Who Killed Carmen? isn't exactly In Cold Blood, Weite is seemingly unconcerned--she's far more interested in ferreting out her friend's murderer than in inheriting the literary mantle of true-crime doyenne Ann Rule.
"I don't attempt to solve the crime by any means," says Weite, explaining that she made no effort to interview any key principals in the case, relying instead almost entirely on old files made available to her by the Sheriff's Office. "And I don't point any fingers, either. That's not why I wrote this book."
Instead, Weite hopes that Who Killed Carmen? will jog some reader's memory, dredging up some seemingly unimportant fact--a license-plate number, an overheard conversation, anything--that will help crack the case almost three decades after the fact. (Never mind that just last week, Weite herself had difficulty remembering the name and location of the cemetery where her friend is buried.)
In her best-case scenario, Weite fantasizes about laying a very heavy guilt trip on one not-so-gentle reader, convincing the killer to confess the horrible secret.
"It could happen," insists Weite. "I don't see how anyone could live with that kind of guilt, knowing they'd put an end to a very beautiful woman's life and left two small children without a mother." She shakes her head. "To just arbitrarily snuff out a life and then get by with it all these years? That's just not fair!"
With the possible exceptions of Rose Weite and surviving members of Goll's family (Goll's mother never recovered from the tragedy, and died within years of her daughter's murder), no one would be happier to see this case laid to rest than Sergeant Jordan Barber. A county detective who didn't even live in the Valley at the time of Carmen Goll's death, Barber was assigned to take a fresh look at the murder when the investigation was reopened in 1983, and has been working on the case intermittently ever since. And although Barber will officially sign off on the case when he retires at the end of the year, it seems unlikely that he's heard the last of Carmen Goll or of Rose Weite. "You've got to sympathize with what she's trying to do here," reports Barber, who first met Weite while requestioning Goll's acquaintances 11 years ago. "She is the kind of person who feels that an injustice has been done, and she's determined to do what she can to correct that. Looking back over the files, I saw that she was the only person to call [the Sheriff's Office] on a yearly basis to find out what the status of the case was. When I interviewed her back in 1983, she was very opinionated about who had committed the crime. This is a lady with some very strong ideas."
Like Weite, Barber strongly believes Goll was murdered by someone known to her. "I think we were close," says Barber, who claims he'd narrowed his search to five suspects, one of whom is now dead.
(Learning that Weite was writing a book about the case, one of the surviving suspects who is mentioned in the book sent word through his attorney that he'd sue if Weite tried to implicate him in the crime.)
"But unless something turns up as the result of Rose's book or a news article, I don't think there's anywhere else anyone can go with the case right now," Barber concludes. "At this point, it's going to take a stroke of luck."
Rose Weite, meanwhile, is leaving little to chance. The amateur crime-buster recently hired a publicist to pitch her story to the producers of TV's Unsolved Mysteries. And in an effort to infuse fresh blood into the case, she plans to distribute free copies of books to students at a Valley detective school.
Not even the state's recent miserable failure to convict the man it accused of the 1978 slaying of actor Bob Crane seems to dampen Weite's hopes of someday bringing Carmen Goll's killer to justice.
"Actually, I found the Crane court case very encouraging, even if I wasn't happy with the way it turned out," says Weite. "No one should be allowed to get away with murder--not even if the victim is a scuzzball.