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The best unsolved case ever Tom Basinski | Sat, Mar 19 2011 12:00 PM

It was a Sunday afternoon in the mid-1980s. Mrs. Basinski and I were hosting a small dinner party when the station phoned to tell me of a homicide in the 600 block of Fig Street. Strangely enough, no one objected when I left the party.

My partner Alan Smith and I met at the scene about 45 minutes later. For those of you who don't know Smith, if there was ever a contest for "Grumpiest Man in the World," they would have to close the competition and give Smith the prize when he submitted his entry. Smitty worried, complained, griped and moaned about the progress of every case we had. His attention to detail saved my bacon many times. He was a great partner though.

The patrol sergeant briefed us that the killer was already under arrest in San Francisco, having confessed to the crime that we just started investigating. Are you confused yet? We were too.

It happened like this: On the day before, the killer took a garden shovel to the victim inside the victim's house. Then he stole the victim's car, driving to Fresno where he abandoned it. He hopped a Greyhound to San Francisco.

The entire time after the homicide he was looking over his shoulder, waiting to be arrested. The drive to Fresno was frantic. Every police and Highway Patrol car the killer saw produced sweaty palms and a dry mouth. He thought it was only a matter of time before it was over.

He was surprised when he arrived in the city and no one put handcuffs on him.

He walked around San Francisco most of the night and part of Sunday.

Finally, the killer could take it no more. He walked into San Francisco police headquarters and surrendered. The desk officer took his initial statement. Convinced this guy was not a kook, the officer notified the duty homicide detective.

The detective obtained more details about the killing. Then he phoned Chula Vista police to inform us he had our killer in custody. "What killer?" asked the CVPD dispatcher.

"The one from the 600 block of Fig."

The dispatcher said there hadn't been any homicides in Chula Vista in over a month. The detective convinced the dispatcher that the guy confessing to the killing had many good details. The dispatcher sent a patrol car to the address. The officer peered through the window and saw a body on the floor. He entered through the unlocked back door and confirmed the death.

The evidence technicians processed the scene while Smith and I gathered information. The dining room resembled the set of a horror movie. The wall looked like someone had dipped a rag mop in a bucket of blood and swung it around. A shovel lay on the floor. The victim had defense wounds on his forearms that cut to the bone. It's better left unsaid what his head looked like.

Here's how it happened: The victim was a homosexual who would go to San Diego's skid row area. He would find an able-bodied looking guy and offer him money, a meal and possibly a place to stay in exchange for some yard work.

The suspect accepted and accompanied the victim to Chula Vista. After working in the yard, they sat down to eat dinner. The man made some improper advances toward the transient. He ran outside, grabbing the first thing he could find, the shovel. He came in, swinging it like Mickey Mantle, and the rest was history.

These events didn't stop Alan Smith from worrying and fussing about details we might have missed. "Look Smitty," I said. "We've got his prints on the shovel and prints in the victim's car in Fresno. Oh, don't forget the confession. We just might get a conviction." A jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and he is in prison.

Even though we didn't do anything to solve the case except bring everything together, it was the best case I never solved. The victim's family was very appreciative.

Basinski was a member of the homicide team that solved many homicides on their own.

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