This is a true story. I've embellished and dramatized the plot line a little (I couldn't help myself). The basic facts are true and horrific. Mike Harmon is based on a friend who was the Special Investigator in the actual case described in the story. He and others do a difficult job with their own satisfaction for justice as their main reward. All names and locations are fictitious and have been changed to protect the innocent.
Any mistakes in the time line are mine.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. It's not often you get a chance to know and write about someone so dedicated.
"Good morning Special Investigator Harmon," Maria Reyes said as she entered Harmon's small office; he and another investigator shared the space. Seeing the look on his face she amended her greeting to, "I mean hello Mike." He had been working for her as an Investigator for six months.
"Hello Prosecuting Attorney Reyes," Mike replied and smiled at his boss then added, "Maria."
Maria Reyes was the recently elected Prosecuting Attorney of Maricopa County Arizona. In 2015 she had been elected in spite of being a woman in a male dominated field. Maria's predecessor, the incumbent, had become a little soft in his pursuit of the criminal element; preferring to hobnob with the political elite of Phoenix, which is the county seat of Maricopa County. This elite couldn't or wouldn't help him win the election.
Running on a law and order platform, Maria had handily bettered her opponent by almost 20 per cent. The fact that she was a stereotypical Hispanic beauty didn't hurt either. Maria Reyes was average height but the "average" stopped there. She wore her hair in a long dark, almost black, braid down her back. Her sharp dark brown eyes showed intelligence and at times a laugh. Built like an Aztec princess she rode through the political waters like a force of nature.
One of her campaign promises had been to investigate cold cases and bring the guilty parties to long overdue justice. To accomplish this she had recruited and hired two investigators who worked independently of each other. Mike Harmon with the most experience was senior and was usually handed the most difficult backlogged cold cases.
Harmon had done a stint in the Marine Corps when he finished high school. During the last two years of his tour he had served on the Presidential protection detail at San Clementi. Mike's father had served as the Fire Chief of Tempe, Arizona for 35 years.
Inspired by his father's public service and his own experience in the Corps, Mike joined the Phoenix Police Department after his discharge from the Marines. He made Detective First after only 4 years; one of the few men to accomplish that feat in the history of the Department.
He developed into a very accomplished investigator; sometimes his handling of a case was a combination of fact finding, correlation of the evidence and an innate intuition' or gut feelings as his partners said. During his 30 years as a lead detective, the Department offered him promotions and wanted him to head up the entire Detective division. Mike always said, "I'm a street cop. I don't want to sit behind a desk."
Maria Reyes dropped a file folder on Mike's desk. "You've done a good job on the three cases you closed out ... but this one is a little different."
Mike pulled the folder to him and opened it. "What makes this one any different than the others?"
"The case is over 25 years old, 27 to be exact."
"Not that it makes a difference, but why this case before the others"
"I was going through some of the older files and found this one from 1988. It was a horrible, heinous crime" Maria took a deep breath. "An elderly lady, Mrs. Helen Stoddard, was tortured, beaten and eventually killed for her money. She was 80 at the time and the thieves apparently got less than $1,000." Maria shook her head. "Someone killed that poor old woman for the money."
Leafing through the file, Mike said, "Looks like there were two suspects but nothing could be proven." Reading one of the police reports he looked up at Maria. "Okay, I'm on it. I'll let you know my progress."
"Get the bastards that did this Mike. Bring them to justice," Maria said with force, turned and left the office.
Mike pulled the file close and really read the details of the case. He planned where and when he would begin his investigation and then broke for lunch. His was not a normal lunch; he would go to the gym and work out with weight training and cardio for about 45 minutes. Mike spent the last 15 minutes of his lunch hour showering then eating a salad, or yogurt or some other healthy meal.
Three and sometimes four times during the week he would get up early and run 5 miles before he went into work. The summers in Phoenix could be brutal so he ran at daylight to avoid the heat as much as possible. Mike trained harder on the weekends in between, his wife Millie's, honey do list and spending time with the family. Almost every Sunday, their son and his wife, his daughter and her husband and the five grandchildren would visit. Sometimes when the kids stayed over the weekend the two oldest would run with him; at least part way before they returned to the house.
Mike had entered a couple of 5 K and 10 K runs and was planning to enter a full marathon in the fall. The result of this healthier life style was a man of 66 that could pass for 35 or 40; except for his hair. No amount of exercise could stop his hair being more salt than pepper for which he received a lot of good natured kidding from his children. Mike's waist was within an inch of when he joined the Phoenix Police. His weight, at 175 pounds, was actually less than back then; a result of healthier eating habits and more exercise. At 5 feet 10, he gave the impression of a steely blue eyed solid block of granite.
During the last 7 or 8 years as a Phoenix Detective there had been more than one young man who thought Mike's graying hair made him an old fart. They misread the look in his dark eyes and if they acted up, they soon learned their mistake. Mike would, if need be, educate them and teach them a lesson they didn't soon forget. The word got out in the building and on the "street" not to screw with Detective Harmon.
Back in his office Mike reread the details of the report in more depth. The two suspects were the 25 year old boyfriend of Mrs. Stoddard's granddaughter and his 24 year old brother. The granddaughter, Judy Swanson, had been 18 at the time of the murder.
Statements from neighbors and from Swanson said that her boyfriend, James Duncan and his brother William had done odd jobs and maintenance around Mrs. Stoddard's home several times. Apparently Mrs. Stoddard hired them because of James' connection with her granddaughter.
That Friday evening, after dinner with his wife, their son and his family, Mike went into his office/den and planned his investigation. Millie and Mike's son knew he was involved in a case and didn't push him about the details. She had learned early in his career that he would only discuss a case or the people involved when his investigations showed results. Millie also knew that if it was a hard case or one that was especially horrible or ghastly that he became very focused if not obsessed. The only thing she did ask when Mike was so totally involved on any case was that he be careful.
During his Saturday morning training run, with no company this time, Mike finalized in his mind how to proceed on the Stoddard case. He first planned to see if any of the people the original detectives talked to were still around. Finishing his run and after showering, Mike took care of a few "honey do" projects Millie had for him. That evening and Sunday would be his last normal days until he either solved the case or ran into a brick wall. He knew that the "wall" would have to be very wide and very tall to stop him.
On Monday morning, Mike did research using government files, tax files, auto registration files and found that only four people were still around or available from the time of the Stoddard murder. Those four were the granddaughter, Judy Swanson, a neighbor named Brodry and the two suspects, James and William Duncan.
He decided his first step would be to interview the only neighbor of Mrs. Stoddard's that was still living in the area; one Charles Brodry. Charles Brodry's parents had owned the house to the east of Mrs. Stoddard and left the house and an acre of ground to their son.
Brodry had grown up in that house and was living there in 1988. He was in his mid 30's when the murder took place and he moved away shortly afterwards. Brodry was living in Seligman Arizona when his parents died in 2010 and left him the house. Being recently divorced, Charles moved back to the house. He was now in his late 50's. It was amazing what Mike had been able to dig out of the files accessible to the police.
"Mr. Brodry?" Mike asked when the man opened his front door. When Brodry nodded Mike said "I'm Special Investigator Mike Harmon," showing his badge and I.D. "I'd like to talk to you about Mrs. Stoddard's murder. You know, the lady that lived next door."
Charles Brodry was shorter than average at 5' 4". He was rotund, with thinning hair and a kind jovial look about him.
Brodry looked at the credentials and said, "That was almost 30 years ago. Why are you askin about her now?"
"I'm reworking the case," Mike replied. "If I can I'm going to find out who killed Mrs. Stoddard and make them pay for it."
Charles motioned to Mike and they sat in two Adirondack chairs on the porch. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny and warm. Later in the summer the temperatures would climb over 100 degrees a day for two or three months. Mike had always said during that period that if he had a home in Hell and one in Phoenix, he'd rent out the one in Phoenix and live in Hell.
"You won't have far to look for those that killed that poor old woman," Charles said.
"That damn boyfriend of her granddaughters killed her. I guess his brother was in on it too." Mike knew that people sometimes said more or remembered better if he let them talk without questions so he didn't say anything waiting for Charles Brodry to continue.
"After the old lady was found, it was a little over two weeks later that those Duncan boys brought Judy to get some of her grandmother's things," Brodry stopped to see if Mike knew who he was talking about. Mike nodded and Brodry continued. "That James character was driving a new car instead of that beat up old clunker he usually drove."
"He could have gotten a job and bought the car," Mike suggested.
Shaking his head, Charles replied, "That boy, and his brother either, didn't have a job. Sometimes they worked for Mrs. Stoddard doing chores and things around her house. Those boys never had a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. No way they came up with the money to buy a new car."
Charles got a look on his face as if he was trying to remember something. "Now that I think about it, those boys were working at Mrs. Stoddard's the day before they found her dead. I think I saw that old clunker of theirs sitting in the driveway at the side of the house until about 9 PM.
By 11, it was gone and the next day Judy found her grandmother." Charles sort of shook himself. "As you know someone bashed in the old lady's skull and killed her and I bet it was those Duncan boys."
"You sure about Duncan's car being there?"
"No I can't be sure, couldn't swear to it; too many years have passed." Charles shook his head. "Maybe it's because I dislike those boys so much but I still think they are the ones that killed Mrs. Stoddard."
Mike stood to leave. "I may want to talk to you again Mr. Brodry, if I may."
"Come back any time Mr. Harmon. Hope you catch the ones who did this." Charles gave Mike a grim smile and pointed to a large Oak tree in his front yard. "I'll bring the rope and we can use my tree there."
Mike returned the smile. "I'm afraid we can't do that anymore."
"More's the pity. Let me know how your investigation goes Mr. Harmon." Having finished talking Charles Brodry went back into his house.
Next door Mrs. Stoddard's house was dilapidated and one step away from being condemned. It hadn't been lived in for 25 years. Apparently no one had wanted a house that was the scene of the gristly murder of an elderly woman. Mike walked around the tumbled down building and peeked into the interior. He studied the old house for several minutes and then walked back to his car.
Arriving back at his office, Mike called the granddaughter, Judy Swanson, and made an appointment to see her at her work place the next day. Judy was working as a loan officer for a local bank. After the call, he pulled the case file in front of him and went over it again.
He reread the report from the patrolmen who were first on scene and read the Medical Examiner's report for the first time. The old woman's body showed signs of her being hit in the face several times. Her jaw was broken as well as the bones of her left eye socket. According to the autopsy, it was a blunt force trauma to the nose section of her face that killed her.
The report from the detectives that had been called to the crime scene said that the doors or windows showed no sign of forced entry; which would indicate that Mrs. Stoddard let who ever had killed her into the house. That meant she knew him or them.
Mike's eyes turned hard as he looked at the pictures taken by the Medical Examiner. "I'm gonna catch this son of bitch", he softly vowed. "And when I do..." Mike sighed and shook his head before adding, "As much as I'd like to do something myself I'll have to let the law take care of them."
At 9 AM the next morning, Mike entered the First National Bank of Maricopa. The young lady at the information desk directed him to Judy Swanson's office. He rapped twice on the door jam and entered the office. "Miss Swanson? I'm Special Investigator Mike Harmon."
"Mr. Harmon," she responded and pointed to a client's chair in front of her desk. "Please have a seat."
Mike took the chair on the left. His choice of chairs seemed arbitrary; it wasn't. There was a large window behind him with the morning sun streaming in behind him. This placed Judy in a sort of spot light and hid Mike's face in the shadows. He had learned early on that people sometimes talked more freely when they couldn't see his reaction to what they said.
As a Marine and as a new detective, Mike had affected a poker face so most people couldn't tell his reactions to a situation or what he was thinking. The choice of seats was an additional tool to keep his thoughts private.
As Mike sat down he looked at Judy Swanson. Judy was wearing a dark, pin strip, straight line skirt with a matching jacket on a wooden hanger which hung from a tradition coat rack. Her blouse could have been man's white shirt; for women this was the answer to the suits that men wore in the business world.
Her very dark hair was in what was called a "French Roll". Mike knew this because his wife also wore one when she was at work. Judy was tall for a woman at 5' 10" and slender with a face that was a tiny bit long. She is more handsome than pretty, Mike thought.
"You said on the phone you wanted to talk to me about my grandmother's death Mr. Harmon. What is there to say? She was beaten to death and the police could never find her killers."
"Maria Reyes, the Maricopa County Prosecuting Attorney," Mike looked at Judy and received a nod indicating that she knew who Reyes was. "Wants to clear up some cold cases and she assigned me to investigate your grandmother's death."
Sadness flowed over Judy's face and a small tear showed in the corner of her eye. "After all this time," she murmured and stared out the window for several seconds. Coming back to the present Judy asked, "How can I help Inspector?"
"I'd like to ask you some questions if I may." She nodded and Mike continued.
"Did your grandmother have any enemies that you know of?"
Judy smiled. "Gram could be a crusty old witch at times but other than making some folks mad because she always said what she thought, there wasn't anyone that disliked or hated her enough to kill her."
"Was Mrs. Stoddard well to do and did she keep large sums of money around her house?"
"I guess for the times she was more than comfortable. Her house was paid for, she didn't need a car and she didn't go out or eat fancy at home."
Judy smiled again. "Gram didn't believe in banks much so she did keep money around the house. I don't know about large amounts. It would depend on when she received her annuity payment and her social security but she might have as much as ten or fifteen thousand dollars on hand. When the amount got too high, I always argued with her and tried to get her to make a deposit into a savings account."
The smile slipped off Judy's face. "Gram always told me that the money would be mine when she was gone."
"I'm sorry Miss Swanson; I know this must be hard on you." Mike paused for several seconds and in a very gentle voice said, "The report said that you found your grandmother the day after her err ... err..."
"Murder! You can say the word Mr. Harmon," Judy stated. "I've had a lot of years to get use to the fact that Gram was killed."
"It's a nasty word and a nastier deed Miss Swanson." Mike paused and said, "I've read your statement. Is there anything you can add to what you told the detectives?"
Judy looked at him, started to say something and then stopped. She shook her head.
"Miss Swanson, sometimes people remember things over time. A couple of months after a situation they may think of something or realize they made an incomplete or faulty report. Depending on their involvement they might be embarrassed to admit they made a mistake until later."
"You're right Inspector; there are a couple of things I didn't tell the detectives." She hesitated. "A couple of weeks after I found Gram, I noticed that James and William had a lot more money to spend."
"That would be James and William Duncan?"
"Yes. As you probably know James and I were going together at that time." Mike nodded and Judy continued. "Like I said the boys had a lot of money to toss around. James took me to places he could never afford before. Previously our dates were usually inexpensive and I actually paid for them a lot. I asked him about it a several times; he would just smile and say it was left to him by a distant relative. James changed after he got the money; he got more assertive and controlling."
"Anything else?" Mike asked.
"There was one other thing I didn't tell the police." Judy paused. "You have to understand; I was drinking too much and was sort of in shock at losing Gram. She was the only one I had left." She put her head down to her chest for several seconds and then continued.
"Gram kept money in the house. Not just the everyday amount, but a large "stash" in a hiding place. It was the overage from the smaller amount she kept for occasional expenses. I found out about it a month or so before she was killed. Once the police released the, crime scene as they called it, I looked around the house. Her everyday hiding place was empty; it usually had about $1000 in it. The other hiding place sometimes had as much as $40,000 in it." Judy smiled a little. "It was the money I thought I'd talked her into putting in a savings account. Gram didn't trust banks much you know. I didn't find that the special hiding place was empty until two weeks after she died."