"DAD, I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS CASE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?" A TRUE
STORY Breathless, a woman's call to 911 interrupted a quiet night
in the horse country suburbs: "I'm stabbed to death. Please " Did
somebody stab you? asked the operator. "Yes And my husband, my baby
" Within minutes, officers arrived at her remote ranch house but
didn't know whether an assailant was still present. Announcing
themselves, they got no response, then entered anyway, guns drawn,
and began a dangerous, tense search, room by room. Then they heard
a baby's scream. Although the house wasn't yet fully cleared, they
followed the wailing to the master bedroom where they found, tied
and gagged, her husband and elderly father-in-law. They and their
18-month-old all had been shot point-blank in the head-but were
still alive. Shocked, the officers called out to bring in
paramedics, who had to crawl through the living room because the
house still had not been completely cleared. Hurrying, and contrary
to usual procedures, the officers spread out. One found a locked
closet door; four officers gathered, and with guns ready, one of
them kicked it in. Behind it they found their 911 caller-still
holding the phone. "Oh, shit," said the kicker. In the history of
Davie, Florida, there had never been such a savage and sociopathic
crime, and police and homicide prosecutor Brian Cavanagh were
determined to resolve it. For three years, they had two suspects
under surveillance, then arrest. Both faced the death penalty. But
as the legal case progressed, Cavanagh began to doubt that the
defendants were partners. Possibly one had been a victim of the
other, as well. In 1963, Cavanagh's dad, Tom, a Manhattan
lieutenant of detectives, had a famous case called the "Career
Girls Murder," two women in their twenties found horribly mutilated
in their Upper East Side apartment. The newspapers played the story
big, a random killer on the loose, meanwhile Tom and his precinct
detectives had been unable to solve it. Months after the murder,
Brooklyn detectives declared the case solved; they'd taken a signed
confession from a man with a low IQ. Their additional proof was a
photo in his wallet; it was of one of the girls he killed, he said.
The man quickly recanted, although that didn't much matter to the
Brooklyn detectives. As soon as he heard some of the details of the
confession, Tom disbelieved it; the man didn't fit the profile.
Needing to work quietly under the most difficult of circumstances,
Tom sent out his own detectives to do the impossible: identify the
girl in the picture. It had been taken in some sort of park
setting. They first showed it to botanists, who recognized the type
of trees in the background and where they grew. From that they
could guess at where the park was. Targeting nearby high schools,
the detectives then showed the photo to teachers to see if any
could recognize the girl. One did. When they found the girl, she
asked, "Where did you get that?" After all that impossibly good
work, Tom and his detectives caught a break and found the real
killer of the Career Girls. Until then, Tom said, he hadn't
believed that police could make such mistakes. Afterward, as a
result, New York State outlawed the death penalty. As well, this
remarkable story inspired a TV movie and series starring a
character playing Cavanagh's role. His name was Lt. Theo Kojak. As
a child, Brian Cavanagh had watched his dad's anguish throughout
that situation. Now, he had a case that was remarkably
similar-except that he was potentially on the wrong side. Once his
confidence level in the guilt of one of his defendants dropped to a
level of precarious uncertainty, Brian showed the same courage as
did his dad so many years earlier-proving that the son was the
equal of his father. Arthur Jay Harris is the Miami author of the
investigative true crime books Jeffrey Dahmer's Dirty Secret: The
Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh, Speed Kills, and Flowers for Mrs.
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