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A good memory is a criminal's worst nightmare Tom Basinski | Sat, Feb 19 2011 12:00 PM

Whenever I speak to writers' groups or a service club, someone invariably asks about my most memorable moments as a police officer. Because most of those moments involved getting in trouble or being embarrassed in front of my peers, I was reluctant to share those events. But, there is one case I shall never forget.

In 1980 I was assigned to sex crimes and child abuse. For the record, I have never worked so hard in my life. When a school principal or hospital reported a molested or abused child, you dropped what you were doing and rolled.

And, it seemed that people were never raped during the day. Most rapes happened in the dark of night.

The phone for my memorable incident rang around 3:00 a.m. A woman had been sexually assaulted in her apartment by a stranger about an hour after she had gone to bed. The intruder had somehow gained entry to her first-floor apartment.

The naked guy climbed into bed, threatened her, and assaulted her. Remember, this was before DNA. The only description was that he was of medium height and had dirty blond hair.

When the assailant was done, he told the victim to lie still for 20 minutes or he would return and kill her. She believed him.

Supervising lab technician Bill Johnson responded from home to process the apartment for evidence. He dusted the door frame leading into her bedroom from the living room. Johnson theorized the guy put his hand on the frame to steady himself while he leaned and looked into the darkened bedroom before entering.

Johnson lifted a large partial palm print that gave credence to his theory. We hoped the print was the rapist's. Back then there was no computerized print system, and palms were not included even when the system came into play years later.

Although I tried, I developed no additional leads. The victim had been to a bar, but returned home alone and didn't believe she was followed.

Two years went by and I transferred to homicide. I'm not one of these cops who say I remember every case I ever worked. But, I did remember this one.

One day I was having a cup of coffee with expert fingerprint analyst Sergeant Richard Quick. He told me patrol officers arrested a window peeper over the weekend. A neighbor had seen the peeper remove his clothing and leave it on the ground. She called the police. They arrived and arrested him before he entered the house. Quick mentioned the guy had dirty blond hair. A light went on in my usually empty head.

I believed the guy wasn't just a window peeper. He was taking his clothes off because he was getting ready to enter the house.

I pulled the prints Johnson had lifted from the door frame and had Sgt. Quick compare them to those of the window peeper. With his usual stoicism, Quick said, "This is your guy."

He was out on bail on the window peeping charge because it was only a misdemeanor. I called the victim, told her the guy's name, and asked if she knew him. She did not. I phoned the crook and asked him to come to the station because I had to get some minor details squared away.

Once we were in the interview room I told him I knew about the rape he committed a few years before. He denied it.

I told him he left his palm print on her door frame. I asked him to tell me how and why he did it. After more denials he looked into my sincere, priestly eyes and confessed. I may not have been a very smart or aggressive cop. But, I was a good listener and projected empathy.

After the preliminary hearing, at the suggestion of his attorney, he pleaded guilty and received a hefty prison sentence.

The brave rape victim, Bill Johnson, and Dick Quick were the heroes. I only provided a good memory.

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