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story.lead_photo.caption PHOTO SUBMITTED I was investigating a previous night's break-in of an elderly man's neighbor's house. At first, I thought that he, as the others on the block had done, would tell me that he knew nothing, and had seen nothing out of the ordinary. The mention that someone pried the window open with what was believed to be the use of a screwdriver set the wheels in motion. PHOTO SUBMITTED I was investigating a previous night's break-in of an elderly man's neighbor's house. At first, I thought that he, as the others on the block had done, would tell me that he knew nothing, and had seen nothing out of the ordinary. The mention that someone pried the window open with what was believed to be the use of a screwdriver set the wheels in motion.

I purposely haven't shared many stories about one part of my life. I don't really know why. I'm not ashamed of that portion of my existence. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that I did some good things and made a difference in the lives of some. However, for 15 years I saw how terribly evil humans can be and how they can, at times, be so cruel to one another. I spent 15 years as a police officer working for a metropolitan police department in the state of Missouri, leaving there with the rank of detective lieutenant.

I would like to share with you one, and only one story regarding a crime and the ensuing investigation. These series of events took place in the early 1980s, and the criminal act, although terrible in its nature, was not uncommon. For the sake of argument, and for this story, I will refer to the perpetrator as Joe.

Joe was in his late 20s when this series of events first began. He had been what most would refer to as a career criminal. He came from a broken home and, although his mother provided a house to live in, a bed to sleep in and food to eat, she looked forward to the day that Joe was old enough to venture out on his own.

Joe spent time in and out of jail for all sorts of minor discrepancies, but there came a night in the mid-1970s when he committed a much more serious offense. Joe, in a most hideous and vile attack, assaulted a young woman. He broke into the innocent and unsuspecting woman's home one night and changed her life forever. The terrible events of that darkened summer night would surely live in her mind for all time. After some time, Joe was identified as the suspect and, following a brief trial, he was convicted and sentenced to serve a term in the state penitentiary. Joe's only remorse was that he had been caught and would lose his freedom for several long years as he peered at the world through steel bars.

Joe presented himself before the parole board on several occasions. He told the men and women of the board how sorry he was for the crime. He lowered his head and said he wanted to apologize to his victim but knew she would not, and could not, accept his words of regret. Joe exclaimed that he was then a devout Christian and a reformed man who would never again commit such a heinous act. Each request for parole was swiftly followed by the board's decision: "denied."

Then, Joe once again appeared before the board and, quite unexpectedly, parole was unanimously approved. After all, Joe was a rehabilitated human being worthy of re-entering society and he would never again be the person that entered that prison.

I think it was sometime after midnight, a Monday, I believe, when I initiated the investigation, a sequence of events if you will, which would ultimately bring Joe and me together. Another detective and I were called to a home on a street that looked like any other. There were rows of houses and yards that looked much alike. In fact, someone unfamiliar with the area might drive down the block without turning his head since there was nothing extraordinary whatsoever about the street or the home where a young divorced woman lived alone.

The examination of the crime scene, the house and surrounding area, led me to discover that someone had pried open a bedroom window on the side of the house. There were no outside security lights and, after examining the window itself, I found that it was an older wooden framed window which just about anyone using any flat and pointed tool could have very easily pried open. However, something out of place lay on the bedroom floor's carpeting. It was an old wooden handled screwdriver. Upon closer examination, I discovered that two letters had been scratched into the handle; the initials "R.F."

The woman who lived there, the victim, had been taken to a local hospital for treatment. After spending several hours at the house, another detective who had been at that hospital arrived and gave me the details of the event, the crime. Someone had awoken the young woman as she slept in a bed located in the bedroom with the damaged window. A man who concealed his identity with the aid of a black knit ski mask put his gloved hand over the frightened woman's mouth and cautioned her against screaming lest he would kill her. The agony felt during the ensuing minutes would haunt the battered victim for the remainder of her life.

The following morning, I and two other detectives did what detectives do. We began the process of solving the crime. I was determined to find the masked intruder and looked forward to saying to him, "you're under arrest." I remember silently hoping that he would resist my attempt to arrest him, but I shared that feeling with no one.

Several doors were knocked on and neighbors spoken to, but little information was provided. Those in the neighborhood said the woman was a good neighbor. She led, at least to their knowledge, a quiet life and visitors were seldom seen. No one had been observed skulking near that house on the night of the crime. There was one thing though, everyone assumed that the woman must have been extremely proud of what God had done for her. It seemed that she was known to spend time in her yard wearing a very small and tight-fitting bikini.

Then there came a knock on one of those doors that would help bring the investigation to a successful conclusion. I recall that an older man answered the door. He looked as if he had been awoken and appeared somewhat annoyed as I produced my badge for his inspection. I told him that I was investigating the previous night's break-in of his neighbor's house. At first, I thought that he, as the others on the block had done, would tell me that he knew nothing and had seen nothing out of the ordinary.

"How did they get in," he asked.

"Through a bedroom window," I replied. Someone pried the window open; we believe with the use of a screwdriver."

I could tell that the man in pajamas had something to tell me.

"Did you find the screwdriver?" "Yeah, it's an old wooden handled one with the initials R.F. etched into the wooden handle."

"Please come in," the man said as he pulled the door open. "I think I might know something about the break-in."

I sat quietly and listened as the man spoke. I don't recall interrupting him, well maybe just once, as he told his story. The man said that several months ago his son, Joe, had come to live with him and his wife, Joe's mother. Joe had been in and out of trouble and had recently been released from prison. I do recall that there was one interruption as I asked, "Why was Joe in prison?" "Well, he assaulted a young woman." It seemed as though Joe had borrowed a wooden handled screwdriver from his father the day before; a screwdriver with the man's initials etched into the handle; the initials "R.F."

Joe was arrested without incident that afternoon and he freely and voluntarily confessed to the crime. The case had been solved, and I was certain that Joe would once again find his new home to be the state penitentiary.

But was Joe the only one responsible for the crime? Surely the parole board must share some of the blame. They granted his parole. I later learned that on two occasions, Joe had failed to report to his parole officer in a timely manner. What if he had reported the parole violation? It was learned that Joe told several friends about the neighbor, her bikini and how he fantasized about her. Shouldn't they have told someone?

Suppose Joe's father had not allowed him the use of that screwdriver. At the very least that showed poor judgment. How could the maker of that black knit cap that hid Joe's face not be somewhat at fault? And what about the victim, the woman herself, didn't she contribute in some ways? She walked in her yard wearing only a bikini; and, let's face it, she was very attractive. But, she was actually the loving and devoted mother who raised two children. She was someone who merely wanted to tan her white and bleached winter skin as she nourished her flower-filled garden.

The woman allowed tall bushes to touch the sides of her house, allowing easy concealment for anyone trying to force his way in. There was no outside security lighting, and she certainly hadn't purchased an alarm system. That window, that old window; surely a newer and more tamper-resistant replacement would have been prudent! Maybe if she had a pistol in that nightstand that sat beside her bed, she could have prevented the attack.

What must by now be blatantly apparent to you is the extreme culpability which must be assigned to that old wooden handled screwdriver. For without that sinister tool, no window could have been wrongfully opened. However, that was the same screwdriver once used to assemble a small child's Christmas tricycle.

As for the motive, well, Joe's only thoughts were of satisfying his sadistic urges. He gave nary a thought for the innocent and unsuspecting young woman and was in no way concerned about the ensuing sleepless and frightful nights she would come to endure.

Looking back on that terrible crime, one that changed a young woman's life forever, one could speculate about "what if's" until the end of time. I don't believe that we can ever truly know the evil that lives in the hearts and minds of some. Maybe we must, although reluctantly, accept the truth that there are wicked people living among us and they commit evil and hideous acts. And the vile actions by some, I truly believe, regardless of our best and most sincere efforts to avert the pain these actions inflict, will never cease to soil the world we live in.

Joe, that monstrous sociopath, returned to the place he belonged, prison. There, three years later and on the exact date of the terrible crime, another inmate repeatedly plunged a pair of scissors into Joe's chest causing him to expire. A guard at the correctional facility found Joe lying on his blood-soaked mattress, his lifeless body so still and so alone.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 06/14/2018

Print Headline: Pointing The Finger Of Guilt

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