by Gary Clifton
“Okay, guys, I’ve read your preliminary reports on the Crowder brothers murders and need some clarification.” Dallas Homicide Lieutenant Jack Clemmons tossed a folder on McCoy’s desk.
Homicide Detective Davis McCoy, a twenty-year veteran, looked to the next desk at his partner of one year, Detective Margaret “Maggs” Williams and said, “Well, lieutenant, it’s sorta complicated, and we’re still trying to sort out...”
“Dammit, McCoy, you got one dead bang-solid murder here and another which might hold up in court even though the witnesses are low-lifes. Two daylight killings in the same sleazy beer joint in three days? I wanna know why somebody isn’t in jail.”
“Here’s the deal. Last Saturday, the first victim, Joe Crowder — partner in the Palms, a rival joint down the street — was at the Roam Inn bar, having a beer, talking with the bartender.”
The lieutenant interrupted. “Yeah, the bartender and owner of the Roam Inn, the scene of both murders, Charlie Shank, a three-time loser. That part I understand, but how the hell did he get a liquor license with his record?”
Maggs said, “License is in his daughter’s name. Dunno why he gets by with working behind the bar, Boss. We’re workin’ on that, too. I agree with you. Charlie Shank is a slime ball.”
“Like it says in Shank’s statement there” — McCoy pointed — “Crowder was the only customer. A guy, who we’ve ID’d as Kermit Boyer, a... uh, auto parts salesman, walked in, stopped behind Crowder, blew his head all over the bar, dropped the .38, and ran back out the front door. Collided with the beer truck guy who had just wheeled in a dolly of cased beer. Both the driver and Shank said the shooter was wearing gloves. CSI’s found no prints, no DNA.”
Maggs said, “Funny thing about the beer truck guy. We got his statement Saturday night, but I’ve tried to call him several times since. No answer. Among other loose ends, we gotta make sure we stay in contact with that guy.”
Lieutenant Clemmons shrugged. “The trauma probably scared hell outta him. That happens. He’ll turn up.”
Maggs continued. “Like you said, that first case is pretty sound because even though Charlie Shank is a shaky witness with some bad history, the beer truck guy has no record. He picked Boyer out of a photo lineup with no hesitation.
“Shank swears the murder he witnessed was totally unprovoked. Probably some kinda hit. He’s a poor witness, but nonetheless, we can use him to back up the beer guy. But we also have another solid witness.”
The lieutenant pulled an arrest warrant for Boyer from the pile. “I follow that part. I also understand we haven’t got this Boyer in custody. So despite no prints, you traced the weapon and found an original owner?”
McCoy nodded. “ATF traced the gun to a lady out in Lake Highlands. She’d bought it new, then sold it at a garage sale a few days before the murders. She also picked Boyer out of the lineup. She said Boyer offered her a low-ball price for another pistol she had for sale. She declined, telling him she’d have to think it over before she could sell the gun so cheap. Boyer gave her a phone number to call if she’d sell. That’s how we ID’d him.”
“Home phone number?” the lieutenant asked.
“Yes, sir,” Maggs replied. “Phone company expedited the subscriber info, and we had Boyer’s name and address by late Saturday afternoon.”
“Doesn’t show in here Boyer has any record.” The lieutenant shuffled papers on McCoy’s desk.
“Clean,” McCoy said. “We got his driver’s license picture, made up a photo spread, showed it to Charlie Shank and the beer truck guy and bingo. Sunday, we drove out and presented the spread to the lady who sold him the gun, and she also fingered Boyer.”
“And y’all still haven’t arrested the guy.”
McCoy shrugged. “Neighbors reported he lived alone and hadn’t been seen in over a week. His employer said he didn’t show up the entire week before the first shooting. We searched his apartment: nothing. He’s in the wind, Lieutenant. We put out an APB. We’ll find him.”
“Well, folks,” the lieutenant sighed, “he’s damned sure out of that wind enough to be good for a second murder in the same place, although your witness statements are a little vague.”
McCoy slid some of the papers closer. “Boss, that’s a little different deal. We probably got enough to charge him with the second murder but, unfortunately, the beer truck guy wasn’t around.
“The bartender, Shank, says there in his statement, two customers were sitting at the bar on the following Monday afternoon. He claims he stepped into the back room, heard a single gunshot and, when he ran back into the bar, he saw Boyer running out the front door with a smoking pistol in hand. Only saw him from the side and behind, but is pretty certain it was the same guy who’d shot Joe Crowder on Saturday. Wilbur Crowder was killed instantly.”
The lieutenant studied a report form. “The second witness at the bar, Herman — some kinda drifter who sounds like he’s got a screw loose — has also got a record as long as your arm.”
“Yeah,” Maggs said, “and we showed him Boyer’s photo spread. He claimed he was so busy ducking he was fairly certain the shooter was Boyer and would testify to it, but frankly he’s such a flake, we need more evidence.”
The lieutenant said, “Well, one good place to start would be victim association. The second vic is Wilbur Crowder, the first guy’s brother. What do y’all make of that?”
McCoy said, “Herman — the second guy at the bar — said the dead man, Wilbur Crowder, was asking about the death of his brother when Boyer, or so he thinks, walked in and put a round in the back of his head, then fled out the front, this time taking the gun with him. Ballistics says it was a .38, but it couldn’t be the gun that killed the first brother, Joe, because we have it.”
The lieutenant said, “Get Boyer in custody as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stop by the DA’s office and file double homicide charges.” He stood and walked away.
* * *
McCoy plopped his boots on his cluttered desk. With hands clasped behind his neck, he studied the dingy ceiling. “Maggs, anything bother you about this whole Roam Inn, Boyer, Crowder conglomeration?”
”Like what? We can easily convict Boyer on the first murder, when we find him. If the second fizzles, we still get credit for a clearance.”
“No, I mean, some things don’t quite square. Both dead men were owners of a rival bar in the same neighborhood, and the bartender, Shank, is the kinda creep who universally refuses to testify, except now. He picked Boyer out of a spread in one second and then ID’d him — sort of — in the second shooting.
“A creep like Shanks was in the back room, heard gunfire and rushed toward it when he normally would been out the back door running like hell?”
“Yeah, I suppose...”
“The garage sale lady, Mrs... uh... Smith, saw Boyer once among a crowd of garage-sale lookers and picked him without hesitation.”
Maggs thumbed her notebook. “Look, I never noticed this. She said her garage sale was on the 22nd. That was a Tuesday. Ever see a garage sale any days except Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?”
“Nope. And motive. We haven’t made a connection of any kind between Boyer and the Crowders. Why the hell did an auto parts salesman — with no record of any sort — suddenly murder a pair of brothers in a strange place? Why not walk into the bar they owned... the uh, Palms, and shoot both at once?”
“Yeah, we devour county records, look up who owns what and who owes what, who is related to what, and then reinterview Mrs. Smith, garage-sale queen.”
* * *
Two hours of poring over voluminous County public records disclosed several facts. The residence where Mrs. Smith lived and had held her garage sale was titled in the name Crowder. Then they saw Mrs. Smith was married to Joe Crowder, the first murder victim, but they were currently in the middle of a divorce.
“Look, Maggs, record shows he owned both the house and business before they were married. Both are in his name only. She would inherit his assets only if he died with no will.”
Both knew Texas law did not require wills to be filed as public information, for privacy reasons although, on occasion, a will minus actual financial figures might be filed with the County Clerk for other reasons.
Under the rather complex Texas community property laws, in the absence of a will, half of everything owned by Joe Crowder would go to his wife, and half to his children — there were none — or his next of kin relatives, in this case, his brother. The issue had been a factor in numerous homicides both had investigated. But a will could override that under certain circumstances.
Maggs meticulously thumbed through a large bound ledger. “Gotcha,” she finger-stabbed the page. “Joe Crowder damned sure made a will.”
They found the computerized copy. Maggs said, “Although dollar amounts are not in file, Joe Crowder willed everything he owned to his brother, Wilbur.” She chuckled.
“Which, as sole owner, he certainly could do,” McCoy said. “Joe suspected trouble brewing and was trying to deny her any property.”
Maggs said, “Most people are murdered for no reason at all, and with this situation, reasons jump off the chart.”
“Good God, Maggs, look at this. Kermit Boyer and the Crowders grew up in the same foster home. We’ve got Boyer accused of killing two lifelong companions.”
Maggs tapped her pen on the tabletop. “This doesn’t pass the smell test, McCoy.”
“We need to sit on Mrs. Smith’s happy home a day or so. See what comes and goes.”
McCoy looked up the number and called the beer distributor whom the delivery man had identified as supplying beer to the Roam Inn.
In minutes the manager said into the telephone, “We don’t deliver beer to the Roam Inn. They’re on our blacklist. Their credit is so poor they have to come in and pay cash for beer. We certainly did not have a delivery there last Saturday. And, Officer, we don’t have an employee by the name you just gave me.”
On route to Mrs. Smith’s, Maggs swung past the Palms, just two blocks from the Roam Inn. They were only mildly surprised to see that the place was open for business days after both owners had been murdered.
The plump lady bartender explained she’d tended bar for the Crowders for ten years and that she’d simply continued to operate the place until somebody told her not to.
“Anybody approached you or told you not to remain open?” McCoy asked.
“Lawyer called. Said he’d represented the Crowders. Asked me if the place was making any money.”
“When?” Maggs asked.
“Tuesday, after Wilbur was murdered. Wouldn’t leave a number and didn’t ask any other questions. Damned lawyers.”
McCoy asked, “You have caller ID or any sort of record-keeping gadget on that phone?” he pointed to the back bar.
“Yeah, it’s keeps calls for about a month.”
In ten minutes, Maggs had matched the time with a number the bartender thought was the lawyer’s call. She smiled. “We’ll run this through records and find out who Mister Lawyer is.”
McCoy turned to the lady. “Any idea why Joe Crowder would be in the Roam Inn on Saturday afternoon?”
“Somebody — I figured the owner — called him. Dunno why.”
* * *
While Maggs drove them to Mrs. Smith’s neighborhood, McCoy queried the “lawyer” number with telephone company security and jotted down the name of the subscriber.
Maggs parked a block down and evening fell. An old pickup pulled into Mrs. Smith’s driveway. Maggs made a pass behind the truck, McCoy jotted down the license number, and they returned to their surveillance spot.
McCoy called in the license number. The name of the registrant spoke volumes.
“Maggs, I think we’ve rung the bell. Let’s do a little neighborhood canvass under cover of dark.”
By the time the fourth neighbor informed them that Mrs. Smith had not had a garage sale at any time they could recall in recent months, both saw bad news forming.
McCoy said, “Let’s call for backup and pay the Smith household a visit.”
In minutes, two marked squad cars pulled in behind their unmarked car and cut their lights. McCoy sent one officer to the alley and instructed the second to accompany them to the front door.
Mrs. Smith answered the door and instantly recognized the pair of detectives. When she tried to slam the door, McCoy quick-stepped inside. The sound of someone crashing out the rear door was plain, but the greasy man sitting, beer in hand, watching the TV had not had the time or ability to spring to his feet and run.
“Charlie Shank, as I live and breathe,” McCoy grinned. “Please remain seated, or Maggs will have to kick your fat ass. You shoulda parked your pickup down the block. But, Charlie, I guess you prove the old saw that common sense is never common.”
Maggs added, “Mrs. Smith — or is it still Mrs. Crowder? — you take a seat, too.”
In minutes, the uniformed officer, whom McCoy had detailed to alley duty, banged on the front door. He held the shoulder of a disheveled man in handcuffs. Maggs and McCoy immediately recognized the man as Herman, the patron who was allegedly sitting at the Roam Inn bar when Wilbur Crowder was murdered on Monday afternoon.
“Came running out the back,” the officer said. “Too fat to climb the fence.”
“Well, by golly, looks like we have a whole gaggle of screw-ups circling the drain here.” McCoy smiled. He pulled out his notes with the “lawyer’s” number and the results of the inquiry to telephone security. “Damnation, Charlie, you were dumb enough to call the Palms and try to pass yourself off as a lawyer. The call came from the Roam Inn. Nice work.”
Maggs said, “Mrs. Smith, if you’re gonna lie about having a garage sale, you need a calendar. You two love birds — the Charlie and Mrs. Smith team — were going to inherit your husband’s beer joint and who knows what else, no matter how many killings it took. If you’d checked, your husband had already willed his assets to his brother. But if y’all were still married, community property laws would have canceled that. So you killed both brothers before the divorce was final.”
McCoy said, “If we could locate Joe’s will, leaving his possessions to Wilbur, you could have found out the same way. You just decided to kill Wilbur and cut Joe Crowder’s inheritance issues off at the knees. Wilbur couldn’t inherit squat, dead. Then you’d frame Kermit Boyer for both murders.
McCoy turned to the man the officer had caught in the alley - Herman, the alleged witness to the second murder. “Herman, I might could work out some kinda break for you if you have enough sense to spill and do it right now.”
From his chair, Charlie Shank spat, “Herman, keep it shut.”
Herman, terrified, stammered, “Charlie, brother or not, I ain’t gonna take the needle over some of your dumb crap.” He wagged his scraggly head like a tired mule. McCoy half-expected him to start braying.
He turned to McCoy. “Didn’t see no murder. Ain’t kilt nobody. Charlie and that woman” — he pointed — “done it all.”
“Did Charlie shoot them both?” McCoy asked.
“Who was the beer delivery guy?”
“Herman!” Mrs. Smith gasped. “No.”
“It’s her son, but he went to California right after he talked to y’all. Stayin’ with her sister, Rose,” he nodded toward Mrs. Smith. “In Fresno.”
“Where is Kermit Boyer?”
Herman’s flittering eyes fixated on the back door. “I didn’t have nothin’ to do with...”
McCoy stepped to the back patio, returned and said, “Charlie Shank, Mrs. Smith, and Herman, you are under arrest for the murders of Joe Crowder and Wilbur Crowder and — I’d bet a quarter eventually — for the murder of Kermit Boyer.” He pulled a Miranda card from his pocket and began to read, although he knew the text by heart.
* * *
In half an hour, a dozen cops, including Lieutenant Clemmons, were on the scene. “Damned good work, guys,” the lieutenant flashed a toothy grin. “Tell me you have not yet filed the murder cases against Boyer with the DA?”
McCoy shook his head. “Lieutenant, if you’ll get a crew to do a little digging in that flower garden just off the back porch, I’ll bet my badge you can execute that arrest warrant for Boyer under about four feet of dirt. Although he’s innocent, I believe he’s planted there. There’s another .38 on a nightstand in the back bedroom. Five will get you ten, ballistics will match it to the bullet that blew off Wilbur Crowder’s head.”
“It was all his idea,” Mrs. Smith shrieked from her chair, pointing at Charlie Shank.
“Damned sure was,” echoed Herman.
“Damnation,” spat Charlie Shank from his chair, “nothin’ ever works out for me.”
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton