Sat, Oct 01 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski
I don't want to tread too far in the area of our columnist Susan Walters but today I'm writing about history. Granted, 1983 isn't ancient history, but 28 years is close enough to qualify.
I was contacted by a producer from the Investigation Discovery Channel about a 1983 murder I worked. The message had to do with a segment of a series they are filming called "Unusual Suspects."
Chula Vista came into play because of a case involving the murder of San Diego Police Officer Kirk Johnson, killed in his patrol car in Kate Sessions Park Feb. 20, 1983. At that time I was working the six-week old murder of Debbie Hadley, found strangled and wrapped in a blanket in rugged territory west of Southwestern College.
This was back when "H" St. ended at I-805. Hadley's was my very first whodunit murder and I was acting as caddy for my senior mentor, Mark Croshier. He let me hold the end of the steel tape at the crime scene and take notes while the technicians measured, photographed, and collected. He let me attend the autopsy and write reports on insignificant things.
Mark was an experienced homicide detective with an ego as big as all outdoors. He knew a lot and I planned to learn from him. So, about four times a day I'd tell him how good he was. After agreeing with me he didn't mind sharing his expertise.
The Hadley case was difficult because it took five days to even identify the native of Vancouver, Canada. Once we learned who she was we tried to reconstruct the final days of her life. And a difficult life it was. She was the "prodigal daughter" of a wealthy Canadian businessman.
She came to the states in search of who knows what, probably fun. Unfortunately the tall, attractive blonde with a knockout figure sought what she was looking for in the company of a bunch of outlaw motorcycle guys in the Clairemont Mesa area. We heard unconfirmed reports the bikers killed her.
When I worked narcotics in the early 70s, crystal methamphetamine was just making a foothold in the drug biz. By 1983, meth was everywhere and this group used meth all the time. There was none in her system and we never heard she used it, but she hung almost exclusively with those who did.
Progress in the case was painfully slow. While we believed the bikers killed her, we had no proof. They didn't belong to any of the usual gangs. The Hell's Angels and Mongols wouldn't have anything to do with them because they were too wild and stupid. On top of that, Mark Croshier became ill and had to retire, leaving the brunt of the investigation to a veritable rookie.
In spite of excellent forensic work by Supervising Lab Technician Bill Johnson, physical evidence was nearly non-existent. DNA wasn't in use back then.
We were contacted by San Diego police who heard whoever had killed officer Johnson also killed Hadley. Johnson's case was bizarre. He was found shot in the head, seated behind the wheel of his patrol car. His revolver was in his holster, car in gear, foot still on the brake.
We began putting pressure on the bikers, a messy lot to be sure.
We'd wake them at 11 a.m. and they'd answer the door with last week's dirt caked on their faces. We served search warrants and interviewed them repeatedly. We got nowhere.
One of their attorneys called and forbade me to contact his client. I said, "I'll talk to whomever I want. If he doesn't want to talk, he can tell me, not you."
San Diego's case was going nowhere fast. Because a cop was killed, SDPD assigned several detectives to investigate. San Diego helped us put pressure on the cruds from Clairemont too. It was an awful time. Rumors were rampant, with bogus information coming from everywhere. Everyone was convinced the bikers did both murders.
Read my next column and you'll find out how it all ended. You might think the title of the program, "Unusual Suspects," is a correct one.
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