Eddie "Junior" Lovejoy's short life and violent death are the stuff country and western songs are made of. Big dreams, cheating hearts, cold blue steel, long-suffering widows--just the type of material Lovejoy himself liked to sing while strumming his mandolin. With his pretty-boy looks, lush voice, and aim-to-please manner, Lovejoy hoped to become a country and western star in the style of Hank Williams, the hillbilly singer whom Lovejoy frequently was told he resembled. After a messy affair with one of his fans, followed by a veiled threat from the woman's convict boyfriend, Lovejoy decided it would be best to hightail it out of his native West Virginia. He joined his two older brothers in Dallas, and was soon joined by his ever-loyal, understanding wife, Virginia, and their six young children.
In the late 1950s, Lovejoy was a favorite, especially among the dewy-eyed ladies who crowded around him in the honky-tonks he played regularly along Maple Avenue, Harry Hines Boulevard, and Highway 114. Places with names redolent of a less sophisticated time--the River's Inn, the Top Rail, the Pow-Wow Inn. It was at the Pow-Wow Inn that Junior Lovejoy played his last set.
Shortly before closing time on November 30, 1958, a stout, balding man whom no one at the Pow Wow recalled ever seeing before walked into the club and whispered something in Lovejoy's ear. Lovejoy handed his mandolin to the innkeeper, followed the stranger out the door, then stopped short to tell the club owner, "I'll be back soon. I have a date."
Little did he know it was a date with death.
Thirty minutes later, a fisherman heard a shot coming from a stand of trees near California Crossing and Luna Road, close to a spot where young couples liked to park their cars and neck in the secluded area of the Trinity River bottoms. After a 1958 Chrysler sedan with its lights turned down sped away, the fisherman picked up a trail of blood that led him to the lifeless body of Eddie Lovejoy, who had tried to crawl his way to help. The coroner determined a single bullet from a .38-caliber pistol shot at close range had pierced his heart.
At the beginning, police detectives tracked a multitude of leads. They hunted down jealous boyfriends of Lovejoy's "fans." They interrogated two bad-ass brothers from West Dallas who were involved in a barroom brawl hours before Lovejoy's death. They also checked out the story Lovejoy shared with his wife and brother weeks earlier that his life might be in danger because he had been working undercover drug deals for the police. He had even given his wife what he claimed was his police badge to prove his involvement.
The tips led nowhere, and the police eventually turned their attention to more fruitful cases. But the Lovejoy clan vowed never to give up. In the early '60s, they told their story to a writer for True Police Cases, one of those cheesy true-crime magazines so popular at the time, which sensationalized the tale under the screaming headline "Texas Troubadour's Fatal Rendezvous."
Virginia Lovejoy, who never remarried, and her brothers-in-law tried to keep interest in the case alive by performing at Eddie's old haunts and dedicating each show to his memory. His oldest brother, Jim, wrote a ballad about their mission, titled "Separation"--a mournful plea from the victim's children to the mysterious murderer. One melancholy verse that Virginia sang goes like this:
The one who killed our daddy dear
These plaintive words we hope he'll hear...
And someday in the great beyond
He'll hear our daddy sing his song
For more than three decades, the murder of Eddie Lovejoy remained unsolved, the sheaves in the police file growing brittle and yellow in a dusty basement archive under Dallas City Hall. But the Lovejoy children rekindled the memory of their father with an annual pilgrimage to his West Virginia grave. Each year, they resolved to avenge their father's murder. In the early 1990s, they made good on that pledge. Lovejoy's daughter Carol Gonzalez, the owner of a Dallas secretarial service who was nine when her father died, got the nationally syndicated TV show Unsolved Mysteries interested in the 34-year-old case. But before the Dallas police would release the file, veteran homicide detective Sgt. Jerry King reviewed the case.
Within 15 minutes, King thought he knew who had killed Eddie Lovejoy. Weeks later, he accomplished something the many officers who had come before him could not: He tracked down and arrested the man responsible for Eddie's death. A year later, a jury convicted a sickly, 62-year-old East Texas man of murder.
King's stunning and unlikely success laid the foundation for what has become a permanent unit within the Dallas Police Department, a cold case squad devoted to solving murder cases long forgotten by almost everyone except the loved ones left behind.
The case of the missing slasher
Pictures of John Wayne, the demigod of True Grit, adorn the walls of Sgt. Jerry King's office on the third floor of police headquarters in downtown Dallas. King will be the first to tell you it takes a helluva lot of grit and determination, and maybe even a dose of insanity, to spend your waking hours rummaging through old case files, scaring up fresh leads on stale trails, jogging memories of witnesses who would rather forget--all in the hope of bringing a killer to justice years after the crime.
As any homicide rookie knows: If you can't nab the killer within 48 to 72 hours of the crime, chances are slim you ever will. In that short amount of time, most murder investigations become as cold and unyielding as the corpses themselves.
Police departments never actually close the books on unsolved murders, but traditionally have never committed much manpower to them either. Of course, whenever a new tip comes in, a detective is assigned to follow it up. But unearthing new information on a stone-cold case has never been a high priority in big-city police departments--not when they never seem to run out of fresh mysteries to unravel. Permanently committing that kind of personnel would have been unthinkable, especially at the start of this decade, with the murder rate spiraling out of control. In 1991, when the number of Dallas homicides hit a high of 500, detectives barely had time to work their new cases, much less rework the old ones.
Assigning your most experienced detectives to such an enterprise would seem counterproductive. But that is precisely what the Dallas Police Department did when it officially christened its cold case unit three years ago. "We needed seasoned detectives," says King. "This is not a glamorous job. You're looking at days of monotony, weeks and months of work that wind up in dead ends. You need people who are willing to sacrifice and work hard."
But there is nothing, says King, like the satisfaction of showing up at the door of a person who thinks he's gotten away with murder. When the idea of forming the cold case squad was in its formative stages, King randomly selected the 1977 murder case of John Ayres to check out what might be possible. Ayres was a 55-year-old man who was last seen leaving a pool hall in Grand Prairie with two couples he had just met. Thinking he was going back to their place for a party, he was found the next day in a field on the southwestern edge of Dallas--his throat slashed. King believed that one of the women Ayres had met at the pool hall was the best witness, but she had left town in a hurry and could never be located. With her Social Security number and the aid of modern technology, King tracked her down in Arizona; she eventually led him to the murderer, Jimmy Ray Price, of the same pool hall encounter. Almost 20 years later, Price had created a new life for himself, living in Abilene with his wife and two kids.
Price was shocked, to say the least, when King knocked on his door. "You have nothing on me," Price said as King arrested him. On the way back to Dallas, where he would be jailed pending trial, Price bragged to King that he would be out by sundown, in time to return to Abilene, where he was expected to address the local PTA on the dangers of substance abuse. Price never made it. He is instead serving a life sentence in Huntsville.
Cold case squads like the Dallas unit are springing up around the country--a trend that has proved successful beyond anyone's wildest expectations. With a yearly clearance rate on all murder cases running about 75 percent, police departments have no shortage of unsolved mysteries each year. But recently, the homicide rate has dropped precipitously. Why there were only 200 murders in Dallas last year, police can only speculate. Some officers, such as Lt. Ron Waldrop, commander of DPD's homicide unit, cite a number of factors, principally the department's efforts to crack down on street-level drug-dealing and the development of a specialized unit to combat family violence.
Whatever the reasons, the falling murder rate has afforded the police department the luxury of committing time and energy to re-investigating old cases. "When we started, we figured if we cleared four or five cases a year, it would be considered a good return on our investment of manpower," says King, who supervises the four-member squad and regularly scrutinizes old files looking for cases to assign. "The first year, we solved eight, and have averaged 12 cases a year the last two years."
Clearing a case doesn't always mean bringing someone to justice. For the cold case squad, success is also measured by answering questions, resolving issues, clearing up motives--"anything that helps put a family at ease."
In one case, King's detectives discovered that a murder victim, long suspected of being involved in drugs, was not--a fact that gave the family great relief. In another case, Detective Linda Erwin was investigating a 20-year-old murder at the behest of the victim's children. Her quest took her to a small town in Arkansas where she confronted a 50-year-old suspect, who finally admitted he had killed the deceased in self-defense. No charges were filed.
"The children learned some unflattering things about their dad," says Erwin, "but at least they got the truth."
The cold case squad relies on an arsenal of new technologies to assist them. A few years ago, they hooked up to a statewide computer network that allows them to access more than 4 million fingerprints. Comprehensive computer databases often culled from the public record make it harder for suspects or witnesses to disappear completely. DNA testing also has helped--at least on cases that have occurred in the last decade when police began to use high-tech methods to preserve physical evidence. But many of these cases have turned on plain old gumshoe detective work--interviewing a witness, squeezing an accomplice, finessing a confession out of a suspect.
The work can be tedious, requiring detectives to put in as much as two years on a case before they get a break. But what the four detectives who make up the cold case squad have found is that time, remarkably, can be on their side.
The case of the reluctant witnesses
With an enviable track record for closing cases and more than 25 years on the force, Linda Erwin is the undisputed queen of the cold case squad, the detective to whom others turn for advice. She is known for being detail-oriented, for quickly sizing up a case and implementing a unique plan of attack.
"Everyone admires her," says Detective Maria Espinoza, a bilingual polygraph examiner who joined the squad just a few months ago. "Her advice is always on the money."
Erwin joined the department in the '60s as a secretary--at the time, the only way a woman could work for the DPD. Eventually, she rose through ranks to become the first female homicide detective on the force. In 1996, the department voted her police officer of the year, and Parade Magazine selected her as one of the nation's outstanding law-enforcement officers. She earned the honors, in part, for having cleared 95 percent of her cases between 1991 and 1995; and she's managed to maintain a respectable closure rate even since turning her attention to unsolved murders.
You won't learn about her accomplishments from Erwin herself, a laconic, no-nonsense woman of 52. With her close-cropped white hair, flinty-eyed gaze and stony facade, she is notorious for revealing nothing--never tipping her hand so that a long lost murderer might fade into obscurity once again. She appears as impenetrable as the cases she works, cases that seem as tough to solve as a Rubik's cube.
Take, for instance, the case of nine-year-old Cory Weems. In the twilight hours of May 24, 1994, he sat innocently on the front porch of his great-grandmother's house, eating ice cream. Suddenly, gunshots rang out. One caught Cory in the forehead, killing him instantly. For leaders across the city and beyond, the case became a symbol of random inner-city violence. Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the Weems family to pay his respects.
Although the police department dispatched a team of detectives and patrol officers to investigate the murder, they were stymied. The cops had a good idea of what happened and who did it. Witnesses told them a car had careened down the street and run a stop sign, cutting off a carload of young men who grew irritated and doubled back in pursuit of the driver. Unfortunately, when they passed the house where Cory was sitting, someone fired gunshots from a car parked on a dark side street. It all happened so fast, and Cory was down.
The police interviewed plenty of witnesses--many who said they thought a local drug dealer named Kevin McFail, the driver of the first car, had done the shooting. But no one was willing to make a positive identification. For reasons that remain unclear, McFail was never brought in for questioning.
The case landed on Erwin's desk two years later, in the spring of 1996. She started the investigation from scratch, knocking on doors all over the neighborhood. "I found a lot of people who hadn't been found the first time," Erwin says. "One witness, who was on the street corner where McFail had turned, had refused to identify him then. I talked to him again, and he was willing to identify him for me. But he was a dope fiend, and you couldn't put a lot of stock in what he said."
Erwin had no luck finding McFail. A few months later, police arrested McFail for assaulting his sister. Coincidentally, the arresting officer remembered McFail's name from work she had done on the original Weems investigation, and she contacted homicide on a hunch. McFail was brought to police headquarters, where he confessed to Erwin that he was, in fact, the driver of the parked car, but he had shot Cory accidentally, while trying to protect himself from the men who were pursuing him. He only fired at them, he said, after they shot at him.
Erwin set out to prove that no shots had hit McFail's car--an important fact negating McFail's contention that he was acting in self-defense. "There were at least 10 adults on the street, and not one person ever said any shots were fired from the other car," Erwin says. She needed to find McFail's vehicle, but he said he didn't own the car; he had only borrowed it. After several false leads, she learned that it was a rental car that was now in Atlanta. Her investigation finally confirmed that no bullets ever struck the car.
Last summer, a Dallas County jury sentenced Kevin McFail to life in prison.
"When things start clicking, it's pretty gratifying," says Erwin. "When it comes down to it, a lot people think they can do anything they want to and get away with it."
In the 14-year-old double homicide of an elderly East Dallas couple, Erwin thought she was being handed the evidence she needed on a silver platter. But where murder is concerned, nothing is as simple as it appears.
In 1982, a man murdered Valeria and Arthur Knappertz, stabbing the bedridden Valeria and bludgeoning Arthur in the East Dallas boarding house they operated. The killer fled with a television, jewelry, and a Cadillac. All the police had to go on was a fingerprint and the alias used by a transient who was an acquaintance of some men who lived there. But the cop working the investigation could never find the man's real name. For the next 14 years, the case languished, despite the best efforts of the woman's son, Paul Workman, who took to the streets himself in attempt to hunt down the killer.
In 1996, shortly after Erwin was assigned to the cold case squad, America's Most Wanted called the department. An Arizona inmate had contacted them, claiming to have information on the double murder. The man was serving a 21-year sentence for kidnapping and burglary and wanted to swap information in exchange for a prison transfer. The Arizona prison was just too tough for him.
Erwin flew to Arizona to meet with the inmate, a 34-year-old Mexican citizen named Jose Luis Battalla. He knew a lot about the Knappertz slaying; in fact, he knew details only the killer could know. Erwin wanted some additional ammunition to force Battalla's hand. She tracked down an eyewitness who put Battalla near the scene at the time of the murder, found the suspect's alias on an early arrest record, and matched his prints to those recovered from the boarding house.
Two months later, police charged Battalla with two counts of capital murder, which meant he might receive the death penalty. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty to two life sentences, much to the dismay of Paul Workman, who was livid that Battalla would be eligible for parole in 10 years. But when a crime gets old and cold, the public outrage over its commission fades like the memory of many of its witnesses, and the police sometimes have to settle for less punishment than the case might have merited in the first instance. There is some justice to the story: Battalla never got the prison transfer he was seeking.
Erwin's had her share of disappointments on the cold case beat, none more so than with the case of Tina Noah.
At 8 p.m., on the cold winter night of February 24, 1983, Tina Noah--27, seven months pregnant, and home alone--received a call from her husband, Ray, a mechanic. He was stranded with a flat tire and no jack while on a service call in Grapevine. He said he was with his brother-in-law on their way to repossess a car whose owner had never paid his repair bill. Ray wanted Tina to go to the West Dallas garage owned by his father where he worked, retrieve a jack, and bring it to him. Her sister, Gayla Mattoon, offered to accompany her, but Tina told her Ray had insisted she come right away.
Tina never made it to Grapevine. The instant she entered the shop, someone ambushed her, beat her savagely, then finished the job by shooting her repeatedly at point-blank range. When Tina didn't arrive to rescue her husband, Ray called his father, who dispatched the security company to check out the garage.
At first, the police thought Tina had surprised an intruder. But they began to suspect Ray after they learned that he stood to inherit a $35,000 insurance policy on his wife.
"The whole story didn't look right or smell right," says Erwin, who worked on the original investigation. "Nothing jibed about the whole thing. It felt like a setup." She clicks off a list of inconsistencies one by one. Why call your pregnant wife to come out at night, why not contact his father, or call a wrecker service? Why didn't a mechanic have a jack with him? Why couldn't he provide accurate information about the guy whose car he was supposedly going to repossess?
The police arrested Ray Noah and asked him a slew of questions that he could not answer to anyone's satisfaction. He also failed a polygraph examination. But Ray was released, and no charges filed; the police didn't have enough concrete evidence to make the case stick. And being a prime suspect in the slaying of his wife did not prevent him from collecting the insurance money.
Despite her boot-tough demeanor, Erwin allowed the Tina Noah case to get to her, and she refused to let it go. Through the years, she remained in contact with Tina's sister, Gina, calling her occasionally, just to let her know she hadn't forgotten about Tina. Over time, allegiances sometimes change--people have trouble living with themselves or the dark secrets they have kept buried for so long. Someday, hoped Erwin, something would break.
More than a decade after Tina's murder, Ray Noah's father let the police know through an intermediary that he had overheard Ray and his brother, Clyde, talking about killing Tina. In the ensuing years, the brothers had been in and out of the pen for burglary and robbery. When Erwin and Ray's father finally met, the father admitted he was only coming forward now because he had become his sons' most recent victim. He claimed they had cheated him out of his business.
He was adamant about his sons' involvement in the murder and was willing to say so in court. His story seemed more plausible because he knew significant details about the murder that had never been made public. Worried that the father's motive for coming forward now would undermine his testimony, Erwin spent the next year reinvestigating the case from top to bottom. She located a witness who had overheard Ray on the phone trying to find someone to kill his wife. She interviewed Ray's brother-in-law, who had accompanied him on the service call and had always felt he had been used as Ray's alibi. The brother-in-law told Erwin that Ray had been paged several times on their way to Grapevine. He stopped at several pay phones to return the calls--any one of these stops giving him ample opportunity to sabotage his own tire.
Erwin felt she had secured enough evidence to prove the case. The police issued arrest warrants for Ray and Clyde Noah who, within days, turned themselves in. A flurry of newspapers and TV stories about the case appeared, with the victim's relatives expressing their gratitude to the police for a job well done.
But as the case proceeded to trial, it began to unravel at the seams. "A father accusing his sons of murder is a bad situation," Erwin says. "It tore the family apart. The mother sided with the sons."
On the first day of the trial, the brothers' defense attorney appeared in court brandishing an affidavit from the father, who was now recanting everything he had said. The district attorney decided to dismiss the charges.
"My last conversation with Mr. Noah Sr. was not very pleasant," says Erwin. "He's just as bad as they are, as far as I am concerned."
The myth of fingerprints
The only evidence detectives had to go on in the 1991 rape and murder of Felicia Prechtl was a fingerprint left behind on a roll of gray duct tape the killer had used to bind the victim's hands to her feet. But back then, the police couldn't identify fingerprints unless the suspect previously had been arrested in Dallas County.
Prechtl was one of 500 murder victims that year--and one of almost 200 that went unsolved. But the gruesome details of the case made it a hard one for even the crustiest police officer to forget.
A single mother of a 5-year-old son, Prechtl had recently moved into an apartment she shared with her son and brother in East Dallas, near LBJ and Ferguson Road. Felicia had a date that night, and her brother and his girlfriend offered to baby-sit. While Felicia readied herself for the evening, the trio ran out to do some errands. When they returned less than an hour later, Felicia's little boy found his mother in the bathroom lying in a pool of her own blood. She had been stripped, raped anally, and shot in the head with a rifle.
Patrick Genovese never forgot Felicia Prechtl. A civilian member of the Dallas police physical evidence unit, he believed the only chance of solving the crime was through the use of the Automated Fingerprint Information System, a computer that compares a suspect's known fingerprints against latent prints left at the crime scene. The system accesses a regional database with three quarters of a million prints; in 1994, Dallas gained the use of a much larger system managed by the Texas Department of Public Safety with more than 4 million fingerprints collected from police departments around the state.
Genovese and other members of the physical evidence unit are required to systematically check fingerprints from both current cases and unsolved crimes dating back decades. They manage between 600 and 900 searches a month. One of the first latent prints he fed into the machine was the fingerprint obtained at Prechtl's apartment. He struck out several times, but every few months he re-entered the print to see if he could find a match.
Working one night, two years later, Genovese was stunned when he got a hit. He pulled up the two prints on the computer and carefully traced them to make sure they did indeed match. There was no mistake. He phoned homicide with the news.
The print belonged to a man named Karl Chamberlain who had been arrested in Houston several months after Prechtl's murder. (It took that long for the prints to be loaded into the AFIS system). Chamberlain had accosted a woman in a shopping center parking garage, shooting her twice with a stun gun. Somehow the woman managed to fight him off and still have the presence of mind to get Chamberlain's license-plate number. The police apprehended him within days.
"Knowing Karl Chamberlain like I do now, I'm sure he was trying to get her into the trunk of her car and abduct her," says Detective Ken Penrod, a recent member of the cold case squad who was assigned to the Prechtl murder.
Chamberlain had been a neighbor of Prechtl's and had been interviewed by the police at the time of the murder, although they had no reason to suspect him. He told the police he had been walking his dogs and didn't see anything. Acting the part of the concerned neighbor, he said he would do anything he could to help.
Penrod believed he had the killer, but knew he needed more. "It's difficult to make a case based on a fingerprint, unless it is on something critical," Penrod says. "A crime scene is usually full of prints, but knowing which one is linked to the criminal isn't so easy. In this case, we had to eliminate any other reason for the print being on the tape. We talked to the family, and they knew she had never had any other contact with Chamberlain. The brother was sure the tape had never been in the apartment before."
Penrod tracked Chamberlain to an apartment building in Euless, not far from where he was working as a computer operator. Penrod went to his apartment, but Chamberlain wasn't home. He left his card and had the Euless police keep the apartment under surveillance. The Euless police also left a card, and the following day Chamberlain contacted them. A few minutes later, the Euless police arrested Chamberlain at his apartment and transferred him to Dallas police headquarters.
"This guy was more unusual than most," says Penrod. "He was totally relaxed. At first he said he didn't do it, but he offered to help in any way he could. Finally, he admitted it. He blamed it on his parents, who were alcoholics, and the way he was raised. He said he was an alcoholic too. Everything was the alcohol or his parents' fault. He even blamed [the victim]. He said she was looking real good, so he went over to borrow some sugar. He said she was rude to him."
Faced with a voluntary confession, the fingerprint, and DNA testing, a jury convicted Karl Chamberlain of capital murder in just seven minutes. They sentenced him to death.
"There was no doubt in my mind that he did other rapes, but I was never able to find any other cases," Penrod says. "At least he won't be able to have the opportunity ever again."
Around the Dallas police department, where he's worked for 25 years, Detective Don Watts is known as a master interrogator. With his penetrating blue eyes and soft voice, the 54-year-old detective is so good at gaining people's trust and breaking down their defenses, he teaches the art of interrogation at the Police Academy.
But building trust with a criminal or a reluctant witness can take months. In the unsolved murder case of Kewo Gove, it took almost a year. A 54-year-old woman, Gove had been stabbed repeatedly while walking on the campus of Spruce High School--another victim of the city's deadliest crime wave in the summer of 1991. Police detectives, who were facing double the number of cases, were never able to get a good bead on a suspect. They couldn't even pinpoint a motive. She had not been robbed or sexually assaulted, although the killer might have been trying to abduct her.
Gove's husband refused to give up. He put up posters offering a reward for information leading to the killer. He handed out fliers and even put information on the side of his car.
Watts picked up the investigation a few years later and started from scratch. "A lot of effort went into this case, but at the time our caseloads were such that we had to move on," he says, sitting in a small, windowless interrogation room. "One of the advantages of the cold case squad is, you have time to investigate these cases."
Watts got his first breakthrough when a woman called to say that a friend of hers thought her son, Jesse Eldridge, had killed Gove. Eldridge had been living with his brother, Troy, in an apartment across from Spruce High. She said Jesse had been a bully his whole life. He had threatened his parents with a gun, had run over his girlfriend with a truck, and had been in and out of jail for years.
Watts learned that Jesse's mother also believed that her other son, Troy, knew something about the murder. Watts went to talk to him. Troy claimed that he had intended to go jogging with Jesse that morning, but they never got the chance. Jesse came to the apartment with blood splattered on his sweatshirt and told him to call their mother because he had just killed someone.
But Troy didn't want to sign an affidavit. He was scared to death of his brother, and for good reason. Jesse had once raped, beaten, and stabbed Troy's girlfriend. Watts wanted to get Troy to take a polygraph, but he refused. Watts believed Troy was hiding something. Over the following months, he visited with Troy several times.
"He and I got to where we knew each other," Watts says. "Finally, he just broke down one day and told me the whole story. He had been with Jesse when he grabbed Mrs. Gove. He was afraid to tell the truth for fear he, too, would get in trouble."
In his career, Watts figures, he's come across three psychopaths. Jesse Eldridge was definitely one of them. He came to that conclusion after spending only a few minutes with him in the interrogation room. "There was no flinch to him," Watts says. "He was in complete control. It's chilling."
Eldridge's mother and brother eventually testified against him. "He got a life sentence," says Watts. "He's where he belongs."
Seeing a cold-blooded killer put behind bars has its rewards. But the real satisfaction comes in telling the victim's family you're making progress on their case after so much time. "When we told Mr. Gove that we were making some headway on the case, you could see relief all over the man's face," says Watts. "To find out we were still concerned gave him great comfort. Naturally, after we went to him again and told him we had made an arrest, he was real relieved."
At times, cold case detectives have found it is easier to solve the cases than to prosecute them. Sometimes, the law itself is their biggest obstacle, and they have no choice but to let a known killer go free.
On Christmas night of 1982, Charlene Harvey, a divorced mother of three, was driving home to Midlothian after fulfilling her young nephew's Christmas wish. She had taken him to Reunion Arena to watch the famous Von Erich brothers wrestle the forces of evil. Heading south on Interstate 35, she was approaching a bridge just south of Laurel Land Cemetery when a large slab of concrete crashed through the windshield and crushed her skull and neck. The force of the impact killed her instantly. Her nephew reached over and steered the car safely off the road. The boy spent years in therapy dealing with the aftermath of the horrific episode. The killer, meanwhile, went unapprehended.
Watts remembers the case vividly; he assisted the primary detective assigned to find the culprit. He and the detective went door-to-door, looking for a likely suspect. They narrowed it down to a group of neighborhood toughs who liked to hang out on the overpass. But no one would give up the name of the kid who pushed the concrete off the bridge.
A few years ago, prodded by a call from the woman's ex-husband, who had read about the newly formed cold case squad, Watts decided to reopen the investigation. "It had a positive slant to it," Watts recalls. "Everyone was grown now, and adults are usually more truthful. I found out differently. It was an uphill battle all the way. Some of the witnesses went on to lead decent lives. But I found some of the others in prison. I had to go to the pen three times to get information out of some of the people who knew what happened that night. I was surprised I didn't get the cooperation I was expecting."
After 16 months, Watts collected enough evidence to determine who was on the bridge that night and who wasn't. He leaned on one of the men, who finally broke and told him who was responsible for Charlene Harvey's death.
Watts wasn't surprised to learn that the man had been in and out of trouble his entire life. He had nine convictions for crimes ranging from drug possession and auto theft to burglary. But Watts was shocked to learn that he couldn't touch him. The man, now 29, was 14 at the time; state law prevents authorities from charging and prosecuting adults for crimes they committed while they were juveniles. Recent changes in the state penal code now allow youths as young as 14 to be certified as adults in certain first-degree felony cases. But those changes came too late for the relatives of Charlene Harvey.
"It left me numb," Watts says. "The hardest part was telling the family, 'We know who killed your loved one, but there is nothing we can do to him.' They didn't know what to say, they were so taken aback."
Watts decided to pay the suspect a little visit. He found him sitting in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center on a parole violation. "He had a horrible attitude," Watts says. "When I told him we knew what he had done, but there was nothing we could do to him, he said, 'That's good for me and bad for you.' There is some comfort in knowing he was on his way back to the pen. And with his track record, he'll be in it more often than not."
By most measures, the Lovejoy family should have been deeply grateful to the Dallas police when they found the man who murdered Eddie Lovejoy, a father, husband, and wannabe country and western star. But in the end, the resolution of the 34-year-old case raised more questions for the Lovejoys than it answered.
When Sgt. King cracked open the musty file several years ago, he found the names of two suspects that had been given to the police two weeks after Eddie's murder. The men's boss at the salvage yard where they worked had overheard them talking about the Lovejoy murder and reported it to the police. Two detectives paid a visit to the men, Wilbern Beard and Leroy David. The men admitted they had been fishing near where Lovejoy had been shot, but claimed they didn't know anything about his murder. The police made a notation to question Beard again, but there is no indication they ever did.
Two years later, a woman who claimed to be Beard's girlfriend signed an affidavit alleging she had heard Beard brag about killing Lovejoy--as well as a gas station attendant in a separate incident. He even took her to the places where the murders occurred--yet the police did nothing with this information. In fact, none of this ever appeared in the lengthy story of the "Texas Troubadour's Fatal Rendezvous" in True Police Cases magazine, although the police were fairly forthcoming about certain aspects of the investigation.
Virginia Lovejoy, Eddie's wife, was puzzled by these and other police lapses. Cooperating with the authorities, she had given them the police badge and a list of phone numbers that Eddie had entrusted to her after he claimed he had been working undercover with the narcotics squad. He said he was scared, and began locking the doors and looking over his shoulder, Virginia recalls.
In an offense report, the police made the following notation: "Enclosed is the badge and numbers Eddie used when doing undercover work for Special Services." The police later told a reporter that the badge was a fake and that the phone numbers led nowhere. (The badge and numbers have since disappeared from the file.) Furthermore, they could find no one in the department who had any knowledge of Eddie's alleged undercover work.
Carol Lovejoy Gonzalez, Eddie's daughter, doesn't believe it. Several months before his murder, she says, he had been laid off at his day job working for a steel company. He didn't pick up any more singing gigs, yet they never got behind in rent, and their lifestyle never changed, she says. "He must have been working for somebody."
The tips on Beard and David languished in the police file. They would have remained buried there, if it had not been for Unsolved Mysteries' interest in the case. The family can't help being suspicious that after 34 years, it took King just 15 minutes to figure out the whodunit and less than a month to make an arrest.
"I think someone was doing a favor for Beard back then," says Gonzalez. "The police knew they had to jump on it before Unsolved Mysteries did."
With the aid of a computer database, King tracked Leroy David to a small town in Tennessee. He had no phone, so King, with the assistance of the local police, located his home in a trailer park. He admitted he was there the night Eddie was killed, and confirmed that Beard was the triggerman. In a prosecution report David signed, he quoted Beard as saying: "'I just shot the bastard who beat me out of my money and dope.'" Several times after the murder, Beard told David: "'I got rid of the snitching bastard.' He threatened to kill David if he told."
King found Beard living with his wife in a mobile home in Lone Oak, about 60 miles east of Dallas. In a four-page confession he wrote for King, Beard said he had loaned $100 to Lovejoy, because he said "he needed a fix." Beard alleged that he tried to collect the money from Lovejoy two or three times over the course of a year, but that he never paid up. Finally, in late November 1958, Beard stopped by the Pow-Wow Inn and asked him to go for a drive. Beard claimed he wanted Lovejoy to sign some papers admitting he owed Beard money and agreeing to repay him in weekly installments.
Accompanied by Leroy David and a man whose name he couldn't remember, Beard and Lovejoy drove to the Trinity River bottoms. Once there, Lovejoy refused to sign any papers. Beard says Eddie slugged him with his fist and knocked him to the ground. "Somebody handed me a gun, and he was on top of me as I shot him," Beard wrote.
Gonzalez doesn't believe her father ever took drugs--or dealt them, for that matter. Despite his roving eye, her father was a committed family man, she says.
Her brother Curtis agrees. "There never was no drugs," says Curtis, a musician who plays in Hank Thompson's band. "I hung out a lot with his brothers and his close friends--that was a way for me to stay close to him--and none of them ever said he did drugs." Curtis points to the autopsy, which found no trace of drugs in Eddie's body. And if he needed money, says Curtis, he could have borrowed it from his three brothers or his many friends. "It just don't add up. "
Although Beard recanted his confession, the judge still found him guilty of murder without malice and sentenced him to five years in prison. But the sentence was reduced to the time he spent in jail awaiting trial--less than a year--and little more than a slap on the wrist for the family who had waited so patiently to see justice done.
"I was 13 when my daddy died, and I had to grow up fast," says Curtis. "I went through a period of suspecting everyone, people who knew him, even my kin. Then we learn that the police could have made the case two weeks after his murder. This case just slipped through the cracks--because someone wanted it to."
Sgt. King admits that the case, though closed, is still shrouded in mystery. He may have fingered the man who felled the Texas troubadour, but he doubts he'll ever know for sure the real motive for the crime.
About the only thing he can be certain of is that there are plenty more murders out there waiting to be solved by the hardboiled detectives of the cold case squad.
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