Close

NYPD Adventure

nypd

“So when I get there, are you going to demand money for my phone?” Cooper stared off into space, negotiating with the man who had robbed him. I heard the man’s voice come back through my cell phone.

“That was the wrong question to ask me, son. Now you have thirty minutes to get here or I’ll just sell your phone. Meet me at the Bank of America.”

“At least tell me what you look like!”

“You don’t need to know that either.”

Cooper got off the phone quickly and looked at me, not knowing what to do.

We were sitting at a Starbucks in the heart of midtown New York City, just blocks away from the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the New York Public Library, all iconic and famous buildings.

My sister Sheri and I, there on vacation, had just left the United Nations after a wonderful tour through the massive and reverent facility, and Cooper had messaged me, saying his phone and wallet had been stolen at the coffee shop. He was in town auditioning, preparing for a big move to the city as an actor a few months down the line, and we had talked about meeting up while we were both in the same place. He and I had been on exactly one date a few years ago, and had stayed friends, but he had moved to Los Angeles now and was working as an actor, while I was still in Utah working and raising my sons. He had been working on his laptop, had bent down to get something out of his backpack, and had sat back up to find his phone missing, and with it the attached case that contained his cash, credit cards, and identification.

Before Sheri and I arrived at Starbucks, Cooper had opened his laptop and accessed an IPhone tracker app. By entering his number and password, he was able to see the location of the phone through the city, and it was several miles away. Cooper had entered a phone number of a friend into the phone, which would then allow the robber to call that number only. Cooper could also push a button that would make the phone ‘ding’ loudly, even if it was on silent mode. The only way to quiet it would be to shut it off, and so far the man hadn’t done that. So once we arrived at Starbucks, Cooper changed the number in the tracker to my number, and the robber had called it.

“What did he sound like? Do you know what he might look like?”

Cooper grimaced. “I don’t want to sound racist, but he sounded like an older black man. I know that type of voice. And I think I remember a guy like that here. He was an older guy, blue shirt, with a cap on his head.”

I laughed, lightening the moment a bit. “You aren’t racist. If I said it, it might sound racist, I’m the white Utah kid. But you’re the black Utah kid, so saying another man sounds black is less racist.” We both chuckled a bit.

“Okay, listen,” I told him, leaning in over the table. “This is clearly some kind of scam. When I was 21, I was in Philadelphia, and a guy tried engaging me in conversation on the street. When I slowed down, he signaled his buddies and suddenly I was surrounded by men who mugged me. I ended up unconscious as they ran off. So this guy clearly has some sort of plan. This is something he has done before. You can’t go up there, and even if we had a car, there is no way you could make it in thirty minutes. Maybe you call 911 instead.”

And so Cooper called 911. “What’s my emergency?”  he said when they answered, and he explained the whole situation, how he could track the man with the phone, and how the man wanted him to show up by himself to a bank. The unsympathetic operator told Cooper to head up there to the bank on his own and see if the man was there, and then to call the police and they would arrive. Except it would likely take the police over an hour to arrive. The call ended abruptly.

We strategized briefly. Cooper had a plane to catch the next morning. He absolutely couldn’t go meet a criminal with a credit card at his bank. A call to the airlines confirmed he could still board his plane if he had a police report that showed his ID was missing, so he could cancel his credit cards, get a new phone, and get the police report.

On our walk to the police station, the man called back and I found myself laughing out loud as Cooper channeled his inner black girl in his responses, his walk more confident, his gestures more dramatic.

“Okay, listen, nigger, there is no way on God’s green Earth that I am coming up to you in a place I don’t know when you won’t describe yourself. No! Just leave my cell phone with a bank teller then! What’s that? Oh, you want me there in person so that you can see the look on my face when you hand it to me! No! I’m not a fool! What do you take me for! Fine, then sell my phone! The screen is cracked and the battery is almost dead, and I have the charger, but I bet you can get 20 bucks for it! Go ahead! Go right ahead!”

The man hung up, and although we tried calling several more times, he didn’t answer again. But he didn’t turn the phone off either. Cooper, strangely, was a bit elated. He talked about having the best time with this, and how this was an epic New York adventure. We kept laughing as we walked into the local police station precinct of the NYPD, an older tomb-like building with poor lighting inside and a set of chairs in front of the reporting desk. We saw several policemen walking around, all men, a multi-ethnic team of professionals of all ages.

Cooper explained the story to the dispatch officer, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor. We showed them Sheri’s phone, which now had the IPhone tracker downloaded on it, and we could see the man had moved several miles again to Central Park. We tried calling him again with the police there, but he wasn’t answering. And suddenly, one of the men spoke up.

“Well, let’s get an undercover car, and let’s go get him.”

And before I could blink, Sheri, Cooper, and I were piled into the back of an unmarked police car. In the front sat Sergeant Morales, a thin, handsome Hispanic cop with a no-nonsense attitude, and Officer Francis, a linebacker-sized Caucasian man with a tremendous sense of humor. Both men had huge hearts and were clearly very passionate about their jobs.

The car began whizzing in and out of traffic down Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, and I had to crack a window to keep from getting nauseous. I was fatigued, and hungry, and dehydrated. The officers triggered the siren to clear traffic when necessary and ran several red lights.

As we drove, Sheri, ever the comedian, quipped, “Cooper, what if the guy just thought you were hot? What if he stole your phone to get your attention?”

Cooper, all smiles, laughed back. “That would be the most twisted and elaborate story of all time. Maybe I’ll meet my future husband now!”

Sheri kept going. “What if the cops are in on it? Are you guys just actors leading Cooper to an epic date?”

Officer Francis looked back seriously. “Yup. Surprise!”

And Sergeant Morales, more serious, still chuckled. “Right. Cause we could get an unmarked cop car and break traffic laws for that.”

Cooper and I exchanged an ‘is-this-really-happening’ look and soon we were near Central Park on a busy intersection, right on top of the blipping dot on the tracker.

“Okay,” Officer Francis explained. “Chad and Cooper get out and walk down the road. Push the little button that makes the phone ding. I’ll hang out behind you and as soon as you point him out, I’ll grab the guy.”

We walked up and down the block, watching for a man that met Cooper’s description. He pushed the button, but we heard no pings. My heart was pounding and my senses on hyper-alert. At the end of the city block, the tracker suddenly showed the man another 8 blocks away. We all piled back in the car, wondering if he was on the subway or a bike or a city bus. Two more times, we walked the busy streets filled with pedestrians, and each time he would be blocks farther away. We kept calling and pinging the phone, but the man never answered.

Finally, we identified the bus he was on. And so the NYPD activated their siren and pulled the bus over. On Fifth Avenue. In New York City. Blocking traffic. And my friend, my sister, two cops, and me walked on to the semi-crowded bus. To catch a criminal. Who had stolen a cell phone. My head was spinning.

As we got on the bus, an older woman rushed off. “I want nothing to do with the cops!” she exclaimed, basically fleeing.

Sitting right there at the front of the bus was an elderly black man with a walker. He was wearing thick black glasses, a blue ballcap, a grey sweater over a plaid shirt, and blue pants. Cooper was off the bus pushing the ‘ping’ button and I heard it going off in his pocket. The man’s walker was draped in clothing and bags.

“Is there something going on, officers?” the man asked. They explained they were looking for a stolen cell phone and the man reached into his sweater pocket and pulled it out. “You mean this one? I was at a Starbucks a few hours ago and I found it sitting in a bathroom. I have been trying to talk to the kid to give it back, but he didn’t want to, so I kept it here in my pocket. I’m just on the bus, headed down to K-Mart to buy me some socks.”

The police pulled the man off the bus and he took a seat on his walker on the sidewalk as the officers got his identification. His name was George and he was 72. He had no criminal record except for a speeding ticket back in the 1970s.

George kept talking, professing pure innocence at what he had done. He seemed to mostly be dialoguing for himself, and now, days later, I’m not sure if he was a master criminal with a very convincing cover story that he has used over and over, or a slightly senile old man who was purely innocent. I found myself questioning him as he spoke, as did Cooper, as did the officers, but his story didn’t change.

“Look, I found the cell phone in the bathroom. I didn’t realize it had your ID and credit cards in it. Look, nothing is missing, see? I had no idea the police could track a phone like that! Wow, how did you guys even find me? And on a bus! Anyway, I didn’t steal it. I didn’t give the phone to someone at Starbucks or see if anyone there had lost it because I didn’t want anyone to steal it. You say you left it on a table? No way, I found it in the bathroom. So I just put it in my pocket. I was trying to give it back to you, wasn’t I? I didn’t ask for no reward. Why didn’t I describe myself? Because I wanted you to be surprised! Why didn’t I just leave the phone with a bank teller? Well, because, I wanted to see the smile on your face when you got it back! That would have been my reward! Why did I threaten to sell the phone? Well, what else was I going to do with it! Why was I miles away at a bank? Well, because I had to go up that way for some glasses! That was just a good place to meet you!”

And in the most telling moment of the entire conversation, the man turned to Cooper and said, “Look, did I ask you for any money for your phone?”

And Cooper quipped back, “No. But I had to get the cops to chase your bus downtown to grab it.”

Officer Francis explained that they definitely had enough evidence to arrest the man, but that he rather believed the man was a bit senile and didn’t mean to steal it. He said it would be the weirdest arrest he had ever made, taking the man in his walker back to the station for booking. He explained that since there were credit cards with the phone, that George would be charged with a felony. And Cooper, magnanimously, decided not to press charges.

Before the police gave us a ride back to the station, before we firmly shook their hands and sincerely thanked them for their amazing service, before we all went about our days with giant smiles and spinning heads, before I could ruminate on what an insane adventure that had been, before George got back on the next bus to go on and buy his socks (and maybe to steal another phone)… before all that, I made one suggestion.

“Hey, Cooper, you and George want to get your photo taken?”

And so Cooper held up his phone and stood next to George, who stood up off his walker and put his arm around Cooper. They both smiled and held up their thumbs as I snapped the shot. People passed behind them, texting, oblivious.

cooper

 

 

Advertisements

Surviving Trauma: learning from Elizabeth Smart

When Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old, an evil man who called himself the prophet Emmanuel found an open window in her home, sliced open the screen, climbed inside her bedroom, and took her away from her family whispering threats in her ears. He marched her up to a high hilltop in the mountains above Salt Lake City where he raped her, as his wife watched. Over the next nine months, he systematically raped her, abused her, starved her, forced her to drink alcohol, kept her in isolation, and threatened her and her family again and again and again. At times, he and his wife paraded her in public in a white veil, threatening her if she spoke up or ran away. After months on the mountain in Utah, he took her to southern California, and on their journey back months later she was finally rescued by the police and returned to her family, the man and his wife going to jail (I simply refuse to use the kidnappers names in this entry).

elizabeth1elizabeth2

Before her kidnapping, Elizabeth was an innocent and spiritual Mormon teenager, who played the harp and loved her family. And after her rescue, Elizabeth took a bath, hugged her family, slept in her own bed, and woke the next morning ready to live. Using horseback riding as her therapy, as well as her belief in God and family, she has gone on to be an advocate for girls and women rescued from captivity, and she is speaking out against the “rape culture”, where systems are set in place that increase sexual assaults against women by doing things like teaching abstinence only in schools or teaching children to follow spiritual leaders at all costs. Now a wife and a mother, Elizabeth has written a about her kidnapping, and she details how she never gave up hope, how she healed, and how she has moved forward.

Toward the end of her book, Elizabeth discusses how she has much to be grateful for. She survived and returned to her family after only months; her kidnapper was a stranger and not someone in her family, someone whose photo hangs on the wall of her home to be looked at every day; her kidnapper was apprehended and locked away; her family surrounded her with love and hope and support and optimism.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, roughly 800,000 American children are reported every year; that is about 2000 per day. The majority of these are runaways or family abductions, with nonfamily or stranger abductions happening far less frequently. While I can’t personally verify these statistics, it is safe to estimate that hundreds of thousands of people go missing every year, and most of them we never hear about. That means there are hundreds of thousands of families every year who sit there in pain, wondering, hoping, going on with their lives feeling broken and empty with no answers. It is hard to sit back and realize the vast extent of things like child pornography, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking, but all of these are alive and well in our country and the numbers are much more vast than we can simply comprehend.

Many of my clients come in to therapy because they have undergone a trauma. Trauma is a difficult thing to describe or quantify. Three women may get into a minor car accident: one may walk away completely fine and never think of it again, one may walk away and have nightmares for a few weeks, and the last may walk away feeling fine only to realize later she has panic attacks when she tries to get into the car again. We can understand each of these reactions, and we recognize that trauma impacts each person differently at different times in their lives.

In my therapy office, I see so many examples of trauma, all of them sad and devastating. A woman who saw her mother murdered by her father, a man who had a gun put in his mouth in a bank robbery, a teenager disowned by her parents for being transgender and kicked out into the streets, a woman who was hit in the eye by her husband when she found out he had been cheating on her, a woman whose husband and only child were killed by a drunk driver while they walked to the park, a young child whose parents were both killed in a car accident, a college girl who was sexually assaulted by her best friend. On and on and on.

We all have some traumas in our lives. Sometimes we rebound quickly, and sometimes it takes a much longer time. And at times, traumas change us forever, alter us into a different person. Yet traumas don’t have to ruin us or break us, even when they change us. A man who loses both his legs in combat can have a happy healthy life with full relationships, but he is altered and changed from who he was before. A woman whose 16 year old son takes his own life can heal and embrace life even as she forever aches for her lost son. A woman who experiences a double mastectomy in order to survive breast cancer can go on to be healthy and happy with healthy relationships and confidence and sex appeal though she is forever different.

Some traumas completely heal in a brief time. When I was 20, I was pretty violently mugged and knocked unconscious (I’ll have to tell that story here sometime). For a few months, I was scared and in pain. But in time, I was completely healed, both physically and emotionally. Growing up in a religion that promised a cure for my homosexuality has taken me much longer to overcome; it tainted my self-esteem for decades and impacted all of my relationships through childhood, adolescence, and college, and through my early adult life. That trauma changed me, yet I still have a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted life.

Elizabeth Smart is a hero of mine. It takes a special person to tell her trauma to others, to stand up and fight back, to raise awareness, to save lives. I can think of other heroes, Judy Shephard and Dave Pelzer come to mind. But Elizabeth tops that list for me. She is a courageous and powerful force for good in this world.

People sometimes tell me that they believe things happen for a reason, that God allowed a trauma to happen to them so that they might learn. Personally, I can’t line myself up with this premise, that a God allows rape, kidnappings, murders, wars, and suicides in order to teach small personal lessons. I think sometimes things just happen, sometimes as a result of our life choices and sometimes as a result of the choices of others, but they happen nonetheless. I do believe in resilience, however. I believe that no matter what a person goes through, they can rebound and learn and grow and come out stronger.

Elizabeth Smart assuredly has.

elizabeth3.jpg

Cold Case

normal

DAY 1

It’s Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it is unseasonably hot, over 100 degrees. I’m grumpy and a little bit mopey today, and the heat just makes me not want to be outside.

I turn on some music and find some projects to keep me busy around the house. Eventually I turn on a few old cold case files online, listening to solved missing persons and murder cases years after the fact due to dedicated detectives, new information, or DNA results. I’ve always been fascinated by these stories, and I love a good mystery, so long as it has a good resolution.

My mind wanders a bit. I’ve been in Utah for four years now, and I find myself fascinated by its rich and complex history, the clash of community with religious culture. I begin wondering about unsolved cases here, and what they might be. I’ve grown familiar with some of the terrible murders that have taken place here over the years. There are some truly horrific stories that come out of this place: Mark Hofmann, Frances Schreuder, Gary Gilmore, the execution of Joe Hill, and, worst of all, the horrific Hi-Fi Murders. Ted Bundy even made some stops here. But what about the unsolved?

I find an attachment to the Utah police department’s website, a section of ‘cold case’ files, unsolved murders and missing persons. Brief photos and paragraphs about unsolved crimes with a number to call with tips. I spend a few hours reading through these sad stories, feeling intrigued, sad, and maybe a little tired at these tragic endings to human lives. Fontella Galloway, age 63, found raped and murdered in her home in 1969. Jan Marie Stavros, age 43, who went missing from her home mysteriously in 2001. Marty James Shook, age 21, who was murdered while hitchhiking in 1982. Rachael Marie Runyon, age 3, who was kidnapped from a playground and murdered in 1982. Carla Maxwell, age 20, who was brutally murdered while working a shift at a 7-11 in 1986. Othea Duncan Wamsley, age 43, who was kidnapped from the grocery store where she worked, killed, and dumped near a canal in 1976.

As I scroll through these cases, I find myself pondering the human condition, how we hurt each other, how we lie and cover things up. How easily we forget those who are lost. How fascinated we are by the salacious and the cruel.

I close my computer and run some errands, but my mind keeps wandering back to one case among the dozens I read. Maybe it’s the wording that intrigues me. Wallace Thornton. Age 25 at the time of his murder from multiple gunshot wounds. Body discovered in a field, frozen. No mention of family or loved ones, but a line that states “was known to have been involved in a lifestyle that brought concerns to him for his safety.” What kind of lifestyle? That word haunts me a bit, and I’m not sure why.

There are three photos linked. One is a face shot of Wallace, looking pleasant, content, blonde hair parted, eyes wide, a small smile on his face. Then two shots of the field where he was found.

As I fall asleep, I find myself wanting to learn more about Mr. Thornton.

(The following from website: https://secure.utah.gov/coldcase/casedetail.html?id=63

Wallace Thornton

MISSING SINCE: 27-01-1975

CASE #: 75-4826

AGE: 25 (DOB: )

HEIGHT: 6′ 0″

WEIGHT: lbs

HAIR: Blond/Strawberry

EYES:

RACE: Caucasian

ABOUT THIS CASE

This is a Unified Police Department cold case homicide. If you have information regarding this case please contact the Unified Police Department, 801-743-5900 or tips@saltlakeupd.org. Case Synopsis: Wallace, age 25, was last seen or heard from on or around January 23, 1975. Wallace was known to have been involved in a lifestyle that brought concerns to him for his safety. Wallace’s body was found on the afternoon of January 27th by county highway workers at approximately 7800 South and 5200 West next to the road in a dry-farm field. Wallace died as the result of multiple gunshot wounds. The specific time of death was indeterminable due to freezing conditions but it is estimated he died several days prior to the discovery of his body.

DAY 2

“Hi, ma’am. How are you today?”

I stand in a back corner of the Salt Lake City library that I’ve never been to before. It’s over 100 degrees outside and it feels great to be in an air-conditioned room. A man who looks like he hasn’t showered or washed his clothes in weeks sits at a computer behind me, singing the lyrics to a Tina Turner song out loud, ear phones in his ears.

The woman behind the records desk is five feet tall and likely in her mid-sixties. Her hair is disheveled and she looks tired and a little grumpy. “I’m just okay. How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for issues of the Salt Lake Tribune from the first two months of 1975.”

“Please fill out that form and I’ll get you the microfiche.”

As I fill out my name and request information, I make small talk. “It sure is hot outside.”

“I hate it!” Her response is sharp and startles me. “It’s June, for God’s sake. I can’t take heat like this all summer.”

I give her an appeasing glance as I hand over the paper. She brings back the microfiche for the two months requested and shows me how to load them into the viewing machine, how to print, and how to sharpen the image.

I think I’ve used microfiche before, back in high school perhaps, but now here I am scanning old newspapers for information on an unsolved murder. I feel like some kind of investigative reporter. Truly, I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I can be innately curious. I have a writer’s brain that won’t let go of ideas sometimes.

The information on Wallace Thornton’s murder in 1975 was scant and full of curious holes. It says he was last heard from on January 23, 1975, and that his body was found in a frozen field by county highway workers on January 27; he may have been dead, from multiple gun shot wounds, for several days, but it was cold so they weren’t sure how long at the time. It also mentioned him being involved in a potentially dangerous “lifestyle.”

I begin searching through the newspaper one page at a time, scanning headlines and articles. I begin on January 23 and go all the way through about February 5. There is no mention of Thornton as a missing person the first several days, and no mention of his body being found on the 27th, which seems strange, as it seems a noteworthy discovery, a 25 year old male dead in a field, murdered.

The paper is comprehensive. Sports, lots of ads, reports on stocks and weather and politics. Fashion tips (“Springy curls, big look in hairstyles”), recipes, reports about the Relief Society being concerned about the pending Equal Rights Amendment.

And the paper isn’t afraid of salacious or violent stories. I read about 18 year old Mark Chandler Austin in Provo who killed his 16 year old wife, Catherine Lorraine Duke, her 7 month old “fetus” in her arms, both stabbed. I read about the brutal killing of 2 Mormon missionaries, Gary Darley and Mark Fischer, killed in Austin, TX by taxidermest Robert Kleasen, age 42, who cut up the bodies with a band saw. I read about the Los Angeles Slasher’s ninth victim, a man with his throat cut, and how they had no suspects.

But no mention of Thornton, not until the 29th, where his name flashes in the funeral announcements.

“Sandy. Funeral services for Wallace Mayo Thornton, 25… who was found dead in West Jordan Jan 27, 1975 of causes pending medical examination… Born April 4, 1949 Salt Lake City to Mayo and Florence Nielson Thornton.” It goes on to mention that he had been married and divorced twice. That he was a truck driver. That he was LDS. It mentions two daughters as well as his brothers, sisters and grandparents.

Dead of causes pending medical examination? Multiple gunshot wounds seems somehow mentionable. I’m baffled by this omission.

I keep searching the paper. Only one more mention, on the day of the actual funeral, simply stating where the funeral and burial were to take place. No more mentions of this in the two weeks after his death.

As I wind the microfiche back up, I feel more curious than ever. What happened to Thornton? Why wasn’t it reported on?

I decide maybe my next stop will be the police station.

DAY 3

I feel funny pulling up to the police building in western Salt Lake City. I run it through in my mind: I’m sure I have been to police stations in the past, yet I can’t recall when. With my work as a social worker, surely, to request a record of an arrest on a foster parent or biological parent. But this is definitely among my first times in one of the buildings.

This is a big one, it feels a bit like a distribution center. It’s enormous and full of rooms. I walk in the main door, and thank goodness for air-conditioning because this week in Utah continues to be unbearably hot.

A good-looking cop in his forties greets me, in uniform, his sleeves rolled up to show tattoos of Chinese characters on both his forearms. He instructs me to set my things down on a belt, empty my pockets, and walk through the metal detector. I ask him about his day and he mumbles something back, hands me my things, and sends me down the hall.

I pass a wall of pictures of fallen officers, men killed in the line of duty over the past 100 years. I see plaques for men who have won awards, photos of community leaders. There are a few officers in the hallways having quiet conversations. I have always had a lot of respect for the police. I know a few personally, both in my family and friend circles, and know how hard they have to work, even in the smallest of towns. Few people are happy to see a policeman–they are either interfering with a crime or arriving after something terrible has happened, and they are rarely thanked for their hard work.

I make my way down to the records room, where a man with a red-headed girl stand in line in front of me, waiting for a file they have requested. The girl looks back at me, then away quickly, then back again. I finally wave and she ducks her head, shy, her face turning bright red. She’s unkempt in a dress she has probably worn for several days in a row. The man she is with, presumably her father, has grease-stained arms and clothing, likely working as a mechanic by day, I think.

After a few minutes, I step up to the window. A beautiful brunette woman asks how she can help me. I explain that I’m seeking information, if it is available to the public, on a 40 year old unsolved murder. She looks baffled. I’m guessing she gets a lot of strange requests for various records, but not many like this. She instructs me to fill out a request form, that requires my name and address, the case, and a few other basics.

The woman then takes the form and asks me to wait for a moment. She gets on the phone behind her desk and stays there for several minutes in an animated conversation. I can’t hear her, but suddenly I wonder what I’m doing here, getting involved in something that has nothing to do with me. Is she calling the homicide detective about me? The case is forty years old, but surely there is a homicide detective still assigned, with a room full of cases in cardboard boxes.

The woman finally returns to the window. “Thank you for waiting. This was an unusual request, so I had to call the assigned homicide detective.”

Oh, crap, I think.

“Even though this case is decades old, there is no statute of limitations on homicides, so it remains an unsolved murder. Records requests are usually for basic police reports or minor crimes. We don’t allow copies of higher status cases out there for several reasons. If you were a family member, you might be entitled to some basic information. As it is, we wouldn’t want to put you in any danger or get you involved.”

I think through everything she has said and it all makes sense. She asks if I want to pay ten dollars to get an official statement from the detective basically saying he can’t give me anything, and I decline. She tells me to have a nice day, and as I walk to my car, I realize my name and request will now be filed in Wallace Thornton’s unsolved homicide file.

A few days later, I realize I’m not done yet. I don’t know why my thoughts are on this case, but I feel drawn to it, like I’m supposed to help somehow. Or maybe I just can’t let go of an idea once I’ve latched on.

I call the local newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, and ask if there is a way to do an online database search for Thornton in the past four decades. They give me access to an online search database, and I punch in his name. I see, again, the death announcement and the funeral announcement that I had seen a few days ago when I did my microfiche search in the library. Then I come across one additional article, on the same day as his death announcement, that actually mentions his murder. How had I missed this my first time through?

The very short article showed up on January 30, 1975, next to a one panel cartoon with a father and son driving, and seeing a billboard that reads “Double up, America!” In the cartoon, the father explains, “That refers to carpooling! It’s got nothing to do with co-ed dormitories at school!”

The article reads, spelling mistakes included: “Death Study Continues. Sheriff’s detectives in Salt Lake County continued their investigation Wednesday, following up numerous leads in the death of a man, whose frozen body was found Monday. Wallace Maya Thornton, 25, 5400 S. 3rd West, had been dead about two weeks when Salt Lake County Highway Department employes spotted his body near 7800 South at 6000 West. The victim had been shot three times and lawmen said several suspects are due to be questioned.”

The search of decades worth of newspaper never mentions Thornton again. He’s forgotten, and it makes me sad.

As I go to bed, I turn on Solved, a television show that discusses the closing of cases and details the detective work involved. It randomly shows a story based in Wood’s Cross, Utah, and tells how Lt. Brad Benson opened a 25 year old case that had laid dormant for decades. Karin Strom had been violently murdered, and decades later Brad used DNA from under the fingernails to tie the crime to Edward Owens, who was arrested and convicted. It is possible, it does happen.

Where is justice for Wallace Thornton?

I’m not done yet.

Back to top