On a hot afternoon in North Park, early in October, a pretty nine-year-old girl rode her bicycle past a neighbor s house. The neighbor was one of the big kids she knew a little, had seen around. He was watering the lawn in front of where he lived. He seemed nice. They smiled and waved at each other. The big kid, plump and pillowy, was like a pale teddy bear. He sprayed her with the hose and she squealed with laughter.
The girl rode home to change her clothes and get her squirt gun. She counterattacked and the big kid got wet. He turned the hose on her again until she was soaked. Laughing, the girl said she would get in trouble if she went home wet. The boy suggested she come inside and dry off with a towel. It was about 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.
The big kid gave her a towel and the girl took off her clothes to wrap the towel around herself and the boy put her clothes in the dryer. No one saw the little girl alive after that except for the big boy. His name was, and is, David. Her name was Amanda Leigh Gaeke.
These events were in 1991. It began a dark chapter in San Diego history that did not end until spring of 1997. For some, it will never be over.
I was living a few blocks away from the girl, sharing an apartment on Redwood Street between Grim and Herman Avenues. I believe I had seen her on her bike and once floating bougainvillea leaves down the curb in the runoff from someone’s lawn-watering. She was blond and lively, with the beginnings of gangly, preadolescent limbs.
My roommate and I had shared the front apartment for four months, and I didn’t know him very well. He was a cherubic-looking, soft little man with blond hair and a tattoo of a knife emblazoned with the name “Scotty” on the blood-dripping blade. He was a chef at a prestigious restaurant downtown: Rainwater’s. Ex-Navy, he had said, and an ex-Hare Krishna as well as a one-time born-again Christian. His parents were bikers in Oakland. He liked to drink. He owned almost nothing. His bedroom was as spare as a monk’s cell. He looked a decade younger than his age. In September of 1991, he was 30 years old. His name was David.
David worked nights mostly, but some days. He liked to hang out at the Waterfront on Kettner when he had money. He almost never had money but would borrow from me until I finally said, “No more.” He had a friend with one leg who liked to drink also — mostly at the Waterfront. His friend, whose name I can’t remember and who has since died, lived in a cheap hotel room across Kettner at the corner of Grape Street. I often gave David a ride there on the back of my motorcycle.
He and I painted our large two-bedroom apartment in June of that year and he bought a bottle of Glenfiddich to help us along. It was expensive stuff. He was worse with money than I was. That’s about everything I remember about David except he was a Giants fan. If I’ve gotten anything wrong, too bad. I owe him nothing.
We were four days late with rent in October of ’91. I had my half, but David hadn't been home for days. The landlady was understanding when he showed up and apologized. She was always understanding. I gave David $250 and he announced he was going down to Ray’s Liquor for a money order and did I want anything? No, I didn’t. Just get the money order and pay the rent, please. He left the apartment casually, in a good mood it seemed, considering he admitted to being hungover from the night before, drinking with his one-legged friend at the Waterfront. That was the last I saw of him.
The landlady, or, more precisely, the duplex manager and her boyfriend, came by the next day— they lived in the back apartment — to see what the deal was. I said, “He disappeared again. Went out for beer and a money order, with my money and yours, never came back.”
We commiserated for a while, cursed his name and agreed how little we knew about the guy in the first place. We made arrangements for me to slide on rent until November, a stay of execution. The neighbors/managers, Paul Landis and Linda Stronson (not their real names), were nothing if not sympathetic and amenable.
Later that day, October 5 of ’91, as I took the garbage out to the containers hidden by a bamboo stand, I saw a large object secreted beneath an overgrowth of elephant ear leaves. I knelt down and pulled forward a suitcase. I opened it. The battered 1950s-style luggage was filled with bloodstained clothing I recognized as David’s. Among Levi’s and T-shirts, some socks — all his clothes, essentially — I also found wadded-up dollar bills, some of them blood-stained as well. Thirty-three dollars all told. It was immediately apparent to me that David had planned his getaway with our $500 rent money and whatever was left of his paycheck from October 4, which he had told me was his payday.
I took the suitcase next door to Linda and Paul’s. “The little bastard had this planned,” someone said. No one disagreed. We sat in the living room and divided the conveniently divisible sum three ways, $11 each. The blood, we figured, was from one of David’s barroom brawls outside the Waterfront.
Some nine days later we sat in Paul and Linda’s living room again. The big-screen TV set was on in the background: policemen moved around a canyon, a crowd looked on. I can’t remember who recognized our street and the canyon first. Linda said, “Yeah, they found the body of that kid from around here that was missing.”
I remember saying, “Oh, yeah. I saw a bad Xerox picture of her at that market around the corner. I think I used to see her around before she went missing. She was floating leaves one day out by the curb and I think I yelled at her and some other kids once for dropping candy wrappers on the lawn out front.”
Linda then made a comment about the victim as being “a latchkey kid.” She said that the woman across the street, Margaret, who watched the neighborhood vigilantly as she cruised alley-ways for cans, had told her the little girl was “wild and unsupervised.” This annoyed me vaguely, as if they were suggesting that what had happened was the girl’s own fault — or her parents’. I said nothing.
The remarkable thing about that evening was that it took an hour or two and several beers before someone cracked a joke like this, “Hey, why don’t we call the cops and tell them we think Numb-nuts [our new name for David] might have killed the little kid!”
“God, we could really mess with him. Bastard.”
“I love it!”
“Yeah, it’s a great idea, but we can’t do that.”
“It wouldn’t be fair to the cops, a wild goose chase. They need to find the real guy.”
No one had connected Numbnuts’ disappearance with the death of the neighborhood girl we now knew was named Amanda Gaeke. When we finally did, it was just as a joke. The guy was a creep and a thief, but... he couldn’t... no way... he was just a larcenous little ferret... wasn't he?
He once took a whole frozen chicken I had bought out of the freezer to bring to a barbecue with his pregnant girlfriend and his one-legged friend. He called me from the party to ask for a loan for beer money and he told me about the chicken. “You don’t mind, do you? I’ll get you another one.” I yelled into the receiver, “Yeah, I mind, goddammit!”
“You want me to bring it back?”
He did bring it back, still frozen. He sulked and apologized half-heartedly.
That joke between Linda and Paul and me didn’t last long. In the first week of October I had found hastily washed-up blood in the bathroom, on the walls, in the sink, and on the floor. A week later Linda discovered a little peephole plastered over between David’s room and the common bath room. The hole was at about crotch level between the toilet and the shower. This was discovered when I slammed his bedroom door, cursing his name, and the plaster came loose. Linda told me she was pretty sure it was the previous tenants who had done that.
I threw away the blood-stained clothes, but I think I kept the suitcase for a few weeks before ditching it. On some level I was beginning to think about the connection between David’s fade and the girl, but on another level I refused to think about it.
In the weeks that followed, the fence above the canyon where Amanda’s body was found wrapped in a patterned sheet, her head in a plastic grocery bag, was strung with flowers and cards: “Amanda, we miss you. May you rest with the angels” and “They will find who did this to you. Here are flowers and our tears.” Incense and little toys, photographs and drawings were entwined into the mesh. The incense burned low, the flowers wilted quickly in the next day’s sun, the drawings faded, the photos curled.
At night the neighbors kept candlelight vigils, praying and carrying signs about the neighborhood. Safety and vigilance. The corner of 32nd Street and Redwood was a media outpost, all they needed was a tent. I had to elbow through candle-toting adults and children on my way to the market. The same market where I had first seen the Xerox of the missing girl.
Jack Gates from KNSD was often at the site, clutching a microphone, his visage harshly lit by camera lights, his back to angry, frightened parents and neighbors and bewildered, nervous children.
The neighborhood took on a feral atmosphere. Everyone wanted his hands on the sick human being who had done this thing.
Office of the Medical Examiner
October 14, 1991
Investigator William Leard
Coroner’s Case # 91 -2127
Deceased: Amanda Leigh Gaeke
Female. Caucasian. Birthplace: California. Age: 9 yrs 3 mos. Student — 4th Grade
McKinley Elementary School. Place of Death: Open area (canyon) 25 feet south of 3142 32nd Street.
The decedent’s body was found at 11:25 a.m. by Pete Garrett, who resides at... 32nd Street, San Diego.... San Diego Police Homicide Detective Carl Smith, #2899, said the 911 telephone call reported a “found body” and their first unit on scene was Officer Joseph Krouss, #4684. Lieutenant A.E.. Thompson at Donovan State Prison was notified of the decedent’s death via telephone by the undersigned at 6:25 p.m., 10-14-91 and was requested to immediately notify the decedent’s father, Frederick Gaeke, who is an inmate at the prison.
VIEWED: .. .The body was wrapped in a white with thin blue squares sheet. The body was in a supine position on the dirt between two large eucalyptus trees. Body fluids exuded from the body. The body was placed in a pouch by members of Homicide Team #1....
OPINION: Amanda Gaeke was a 9 year old girl who had been missing for 11 days when her remains were discovered. The conditions under which her remains were discovered (her head covered by a plastic bag and body wrapped in a sheet in a secluded location) indicate a non-natural manner of death. The decomposed condition other remains are consistent with death occurring approximately one week before discovery. No fractures, sharp force injury, or gunshot wounds were discovered. The autopsy findings are not inconsistent with death by asphyxia.
Mitchel Keenan Morey, M.D.
Harry J. Bonnell. M.D.
PAGE #3 AUTOPSY REPORT
WITNESSES: The autopsy is assisted by Mr. Fabian King, Forensic Autopsy Assistant. The autopsy is also attended by Detective Carl Smith of the San Diego Police Department Homicide Team I and Evidence Technician Dave Rodriguez. Also present are latent Print Examiners Ralph Bukowski and Mary Widner-Brown....
GENERAL: The body is that of a markedly decomposed young Caucasian female. There are moderate amounts of loose soil and vegetable matter on the decedent. Insect‘activity consists of numerous white fly larvae averaging 1.0 cm in length. Fly eggs are also identified on the head. Numerous small black beetles are present averaging 1.0 cm in greatest dimension. The height is 4 foot, 7 1/2 inches and the weight is 74 pounds. Rigor mortis has faded. Lividity is present on the posterior body except at pressure points. It is fixed and a light red color. Swabs of the oral cavity and the external perineum are taken. Samples of insects are fixed in formalin. Samples of hair, skeletal muscle, 2 molars and femur are taken for the San Diego Police Department.
HEAD: The head and upper anterior neck are wrapped in a white plastic bag stating the letters “save on” on it. This is secured by an 11 inch tie extending across the chin and around the neck in the horizontal plane....The tie is elastic and soaked with decompositional fluids. There are advanced decompositional changes to virtually all the soft tissues of the face leaving the underlying skull. The scalp is incomplete and has attached wavy blonde-brown hair.... No evidence of injury can be discerned....
EXTREMITIES:..There are small amounts of red-purple nail polish on the toenails....
The circus down the block continued for weeks. The display of neighborhood solidarity was impressive. The visitation of evil upon these faltering middle-class residential streets affected the entire city. So as not to think about it too much, I cynically observed to Linda and Paul that if the victim had been black instead of angelically blond and as white as you get, there would hardly be this kind of citywide outrage. Mostly I didn’t think about it. When I did it was with an eye toward the gathering, ugly mood among the people next door, across the street, and down the block.
I had other things to worry about, like getting a temporary job. My book royalties had slowed to a trickle, and it was proving harder than I had thought to make a living from journalism. I took part-time work at Doubleday Book Store in Horton Plaza. This was toward the end of October.
It was Halloween, or close enough, when the Homicide cops arrived at the bookstore asking for me. I was dressed as a priest: black shirt, black pants, and a white tumed-around collar. It was hot so I didn’t wear the black sports coat.
“Homicide?” I asked the 24-year-old assistant manager who hated me and seemed to take pleasure in the cops’ asking for me, as if it were confirmation of suspicions she had had all along.
“Yes.” She was dressed as a crew member of the Enterprise. “Please talk to them outside.” That was the beginning of the distancing I experienced for some time from coworkers, neighbors, even friends. “I don’t want customers upset.”
Detectives Al Vitela and Carl Smith were assigned to Homicide Team # 1 under Sergeant Robert Furtak, but this was clearly Smith’s case.
Vitela was, and I suppose still is, a large-framed Mexican-American with a mustache. I remember thinking he looked like a guy who worked out but ate anything he wanted. He had a pleasant manner. In 1984, when he had been in uniform, he was the first policeman to arrive at the scene of the McDonald’s shooting, when an out-of-work security guard auditioned for the U.S. Postal Service by blowing away men, women, and children for no apparent reason.
Smith is not a large guy, but I remember him on that afternoon as intimidating. I realize now he was probably just very focused. The shorter, also-mustached detective asked me about my former roommate.
They asked about David’s habits: what he watched on television. Giants games, I answered. I saw him watch The Terminator once, I told them, trying to be helpful. Then one of them asked if I was sure he didn’t watch children’s shows. I said I wasn’t sure. We had one piece-of-shit TV set between us that I never watched, mostly because it received only two or three channels. I thought it was an odd question. I told them he made long-distance calls to friends in San Jose and a brother in New Orleans (I was stuck for those too). Then I was asked if he had a pet. I told them that, yes, he had an ugly, skinny cat I hated. The cat disappeared shortly after David. What color was the cat? Kind of orange, I said. Reddish brown/yellow. I remember they looked at each other when I said that. They asked what he liked to do and I told them, “Drink, mostly at the Waterfront. Sometimes he would fight. When he drank, he thought he was tougher than he was.” They asked if they could search the apartment and I said okay, but they had already phoned in a request for a search warrant.
The next day when I got home from work the police were everywhere. Cars were parked in the haphazard way cops park. Detectives in shirtsleeves and rubber gloves were going through my garbage. Some had their 9mms on their belts and some had laid their guns, in holsters, on the hoods of unmarked police cars. The people next door and across the street watched with great interest as Homicide Team #1 crawled through the canyon, the cactus, and the bamboo some 30 yards east of my building, where the girl’s body had been found.
Smith and Vitela were there. They showed me the search warrant on the kitchen table. It was four yellow pages, none of which seemed to have anything on them except the printed form:
In the Municipal Court, San Diego Judicial District County of San Diego, State of California.
Index No._Case No_
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF California, to any Sheriff, Constable, Marshal, or Policeman in the County of San Diego: Proof by oral statement under oath made in conformity with Penal Code Section 1526 (b) having been made this day to me by___, that there is probable cause for the issuance of a Search Warrant on grounds set forth….YOU ARE THEREFORE COMMANDED to make a search at any time of the day __, good cause having been shown therefore, of the following described persons or property:.
Everything was blank: the time, the date, the judge’s signature, everything. It was a sealed warrant. I could make out faint tracings as if they had been inscribed through long-overused carbon sheets. But for all I knew, they could have been scribbled lyrics to “All of Me” or nonsensical hen-scratchings. Meanwhile, the cops were taking the place apart.
By the time they were done, there was another yellow sheet on the table, this a “Receipt and Inventory” for the items they were confiscating. A dozen items all told, including “Blue T-shirt w/red stain n/w bedroom box. Blue jeans w/red stain—wicker basket closet. Tape lifts from carpet n/w bedroom, carpet sample from n/w bedroom, Multi-colored striped sheet” and “Plastic Sav-On bag bathroom door knob.”
This last item I paid little attention to since I had no way of knowing how such a bag figured into the death of the girl. I assumed the cops had grabbed it to stuff the other things into.
The neighbors, as I said, took a keen interest in all of this. Some of them pretended to water their lawns, others didn’t bother to pretend anything. By now, I was convinced that my roommate had done it, but the folks on the street had no way of knowing that it wasn’t me. I thought of putting a sign on the lawn: I DIDN’T DO IT! Or going door-to-door to explain. But there was no good way.
A news producer at KNSD got wind of the development and called me, asking for comments. I had little to tell him. He said he wanted to send a camera crew over to talk to me and I said, no way. I could just see myself on the six o’clock news saying things like, “Well, he kept to himself pretty much. He was a quiet guy, nice to pets.” Or trying to get to the curb and my motorcycle while lifting my collar against the camera lights and saying, “No comment.” It was then that I started picturing bricks through my window or a burning cross on my lawn. I told the producer that the street and sidewalk were public property and that he could shoot anything he wanted from there, the First Amendment being what it is, but I was leaving now.
“Wait a minute! Trust me. We’re both reporters,” he had said.
“Not me,” I answered him. “Every time I call myself a reporter I end up in the county building going through public records to see if a councilman defaulted on a loan. I’m a writer. You’re a reporter. I don’t trust you and I’m gone.” Apparently they shot my apartment from the street but did not air the piece.
Another employee at the bookstore, working temporarily those weeks before Christmas, was a parole officer who must remain anonymous. I told him what was going on and he agreed I had more to fear from my neighbors than from my allegedly homicidal roommate returning in the middle of the night. He lent me his Ruger SP101, a five-shot .38-caliber revolver with ten bullets and two speed loaders. He gave it to me in a locked case lined with foam rubber and told me to keep my mouth shut.
One night, I heard a tapping on the glass of my bedroom’s French door and saw a shadow disappear around the corner. I pulled the gun from under my bed and loaded it in five seconds. I’d been practicing. Keeping the lights off, I made my way to the front door in my underwear.
I kept my motorcycle parked just beneath the kitchen window, and I heard something that sounded like keys scraping at the ignition or a belt buckle against the gas tank. I swung the door open and moved to one side like I’d seen cops do in movies. I aimed the gun out the door toward the bike and started to pull the trigger.
I apologize for what is an old Hitchcock device, but it was Linda’s cat sitting on the gas tank cleaning itself. I grabbed the hammer of the pistol with my left hand and brought it back. Aside from fear and anger (at the cat, my neighbors, David), I now had a practical problem to contend with right there. I tried bringing the hammer down slowly, but it would only go so far. This seems to me like a serious flaw in the design of that model Ruger. I could not unload the gun. Nor could I gently rest the hammer against the bullet. It seemed I had to pull the trigger.
I went back inside and carefully set the gun on the couch. I called my friend Mark. I’d gone shooting with him a few times and he knew more about guns than I did. He answered sleepily. I told him the problem and he asked me if I knew what time it was. I said I didn’t.
“Well, it sounds like you’re going to have to discharge the gun. Grab a pillow, wrap it around the barrel, and aim it into the canyon. No, wait, with your luck the pillow will catch fire and you’ll light up the whole neighborhood. Gotta pencil?”
I said that I did and followed his instructions. I placed the pencil horizontally between the hammer and the barrel, pulled the trigger, and then slowly slid the pencil away. The hammer snicked easily against the primer. I emptied the gun. The next day I gave the thing back to my coworker. I’d nearly killed a cat and put a bullet into the gas tank of my bike, and I would almost certainly have shot anyone I saw lurking around the duplex.
Meanwhile, my La Jolla girlfriend thought it in very poor taste for me to be involved in a gruesome murder case. We saw less and less of each other, and before Christmas we were history.
Flowers and cards continued to appear on the fence at the corner of 32nd and Redwood.
Over the next month or so Linda, Paul, and I speculated as to who put the cops on to David. It wasn’t any of us. We came to the conclusion, later confirmed by the police, that someone at Rainwater’s had put together the coincidence of their chef’s disappearance and the timing of the murder. It was undoubtedly someone to whom David owed money.
In February of 1992 I moved out of that apartment. I began writing versions of a novel based on the events around Amanda Gaeke’s murder. None of the drafts were very satisfying.
I finally called Homicide to ask if they had found David. Had they arrested him or ruled him out? I think it was Carl Smith I spoke to, but I am not certain. I was told that the blood on David’s clothes was animal blood, the fibers and cat hairs did not match those at the crime scene, and that they were no longer looking at David George as a suspect. I was later told by the KNSD news producer that the blood was not animal blood at all.
The case remained in limbo and would for more than four years. Sergeant Robert Furtak still headed up the investigation, and Carl Smith was still on the case, working with little and often on his own time — but there were no new clues. Suspects were exhausted one by one. Meanwhile, the killer still lived in North Park, just blocks away from where he had left Amanda’s body after torturing her and finally snuffing her life out.
Linda, Paul, and I maintained contact and frequently discussed what might have happened. It was Linda’s theory that since there were so few clues, the killer knew what he was doing and had likely done this before. In December of 1994, I decided I would like to interview Amanda’s mother. I had no idea if she would be willing to talk to the press anymore, but I thought it might draw attention to the case, which seemed to be languishing in the horse latitudes of an expiring investigation.
Marlene Price had moved to El Cajon and remarried. Her ex-husband, Fred Gaeke, was in Donovan state prison on drug charges.
Price sat in shadow on the late December afternoon when I met her. She wore a purple jogging suit and sneakers. Her Christmas tree, half decorated and halfheartedly covered with spray flocking, stood in one corner, the lights hung at odd angles and had not been plugged in. Price turned on no lights in the living room as the sun went down. She was drinking what looked like orange juice and ice.
She told me that “Mandy” had returned home from a half day of school on October 3, 1991, and dropped off her backpack full of schoolbooks. She changed her clothes and left her North Park apartment, riding her lavender-and-pink Huffy bicycle down Landis Street. This was the day she met her so-very-harmless-looking murderer. “I think she was trusting,” Marlene Price told me, “and that’s, I guess, a bad thing.
“On that morning, October 3, I woke up before the kids, of course. Mandy had slept on the couch. She used to do that a lot. If she couldn’t sleep, she would come into my bed and then sleep on the couch. So she was kind of sprawled out. I just looked at her and admired her as I did often, because she was a very pretty girl. Anyway, I made breakfast and got ready for work and got her up for school and dressed. She had just gotten some new school clothes two weeks before, and I remember she was mad at her hair because she couldn’t get it just the way she wanted it. When she finally got ready, she looked so grown up to me, it almost scared me. She looked so pretty, so beautiful. I had a friend once tell me, ‘Your youngest daughter has something of the angel about her.’
“Like every morning, I got my car out of the garage, and Mandy got her bike out. I said good-bye and gave her a kiss. She was heading to a friend’s house around the corner — to meet her before school. She was really going to town riding her bike. It was so strange as I drove by her. I looked back at her three times, and I normally didn’t do that. It was like I was taking her in, how pretty she was and how much I loved her. It was the last time I saw her.”
As a result of my published interview with Marlene Price, I received an anonymous five-page, single-spaced letter from a woman in La Mesa who used to live in Golden Hill.
Dear Mr. Brizzolara,
I don’t know how to begin this tale, but I’ll jump right in. I can’t sleep until I do.
I lived in Golden Hill when Amanda Gaeke disappeared. At the time, unknown to me and the other mothers in the neighborhood, a man named C.P. was molesting the children of the neighborhood.
I moved out of the neighborhood to La Mesa in September of 1992. In November of 1992 my son and another child finally disclosed that C.P. had been molesting them for many years. (The first time for my son was in 1986.) We began the process of trying to get the man prosecuted, but due to the length of time, the statute of limitations had run out. Also both of the boys were terrified of what this man had said he would do to them and their families that they weren’t considered “good witnesses" [sic].
As the time went on for the next year, we were in and out of the D.A.’s office, CPS, counseling...everyone believed the boys except the D.A. There were other children that were questioned and gave essentially the same stories, but no action was taken. As a matter of bet, we experienced as much indifference or more than Amanda’s mother did.
I now know that one of the reasons that nothing was done was because too much focus was on the Dale Akiki case and the D.A.’s office mishandling of the whole affair. The D.A. didn’t want to stick out their necks again, especially at that time.
The reason that I am writing to you is to tell you what we knew that the boys had told us and what we experienced at the time of Amanda’s disappearance and came to learn afterwards. We wanted to tell Amanda’s mother ourselves but couldn’t find her, and after we told the D.A. what we suspected we were cautioned very sternly not to slander C.P. by the D.A.’s office.
What we have is circumstantial to say the least, but I have lived with this nagging feeling for many years that the circumstantiality that we presented was ignored. I believe that this man is capable of having done something like this, and so do many others that know the man.
On the day that Amanda disappeared and the helicopters were flying overhead announcing on the PA that a child had disappeared, C.P. approached me and my mother as we got out of the car. He appeared to be excited, agitated and proceeded to ramble on and on about how “parents should watch their children more” and that “they deserved what could happen” and “they are looking for a lost child," and...“this probably has something to do with a drug deal.”
Now remember at this time we did not know or suspect the extent of molestation that this man had been doing,... And how at this point did he have any information that there were possibly drugs involved? UNLESS HE ALREADY KNEW WHERE SHE WAS...OR HE KNEW THE FAMILY WELL ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT FRED GAEKE WAS A HEROIN ADDICT.
I had worked at a substance abuse clinic and knew that our neighborhood was filled with heroin addicts. I had an occasion to talk to Fred many years before and he jokingly made reference to the bet of my neighborhood being his “old stomping ground.” Given the fact that C.P. not only exposed our boys to marijuana by blowing it at them when he had them locked in the house, but both boys say they saw the syringes and the “white powder” drugs that he had, C.P. probably knew Fred Gaeke. Given that he needed to buy his drugs from someone, and that Fred knew the neighborhood well, I believe that C.P. could have been a friend or acquaintance of either Amanda’s mother or father or both, maybe she even knew him, if in fact they had lived around the neighborhood.
The second incident was after the other boy had disclosed his molestation by C.P. He told of C.P. telling him that “what happened to Amanda would happen to him” and that “he knew what happened to Amanda.” At this time the boy spent hours and days searching the canyons for Amanda...he told his mother that he knew that was where she was. It became a joke to his parents about how obsessed he was with looking the canyons for Amanda, did HE KNOW SOMETHING AT THAT POINT THAT C.P. HAD TOLD HIM?
The third incident came after the boys disclosed that C.P. had molested them. Other children came forward, one of which is a younger girl who went to Amanda’s school. She told her mother and the boy's mother that she saw C.P. putting a bicycle in his car around the time that Amanda disappeared. I don’t believe that anyone followed up on that either.
As I said, this tale is very interweaved. We weren’t believed, even when they busted him with illegal guns, child pornography... and methamphetamine.
The letter goes on to cite a series of coincidences, some of them reaching vaguely for connections, some of them interesting in a grisly way. First, a boy that was almost abducted by C.P. (presumably) in a field somewhere, but someone intervened. The Laura Arroyo disappearance is mentioned because C.P. “...owns several rental properties in what I believe is the same area that she lived in.” Another case:
Leticia Hernandez...disappeared from her home in Oceanside. That same year, C.P. had bought his Marine son a house in Oceanside. One of the things that he did to intimidate the boys was to take them up to the mountains and threaten to leave them there. He took boys up there all the time. Did anyone check to see that this area of the mountains was anywhere near where they found the child?
The two boys who were murdered (Which two boys? What case was this?) one of which is named Jonathan. Jonathan was friends with the family that lived directly across the street from C.P. Jonathan visited several times there before he moved from Golden Hill to his new home. The family that he visited happens to be the woman to whom he (C.P.? Jonathan?) rambled on about finding the boy in the field who was about to be molested and “saving him.” I do not know the details about how the boys were killed. I do know that they were hung in some sort of manner and that they were possibly sexually molested. Even the method of death of those two boys seems to match what was found in our canyon: A stray neighborhood dog was found and all of the kids were in love with it. C.P. offered to take it to the pound when the kids were in school. The same dog was later found hung in the canyon and gutted, hung from the tree where the kids from the neighborhood had their rope swing. This can be verified with dates from the police and the Humane Society.
This man is dangerous and I believe he has a fascination with death. One of the things that all of the kids said he had in his possession is a scrapbook filled with pictures of mangled bodies that have been hit by trains, and bodies being shipped on the train. (He worked as an engineer or something on a train for twenty years.) He also played out his fascination with death by blowing up small animals with electric devices in front of the kids. The police found these devices, I believe.
I firmly believe that he could have had something to do with all of these kids’ deaths, but most especially Amanda and Jonathan.
The other mother and I tried for over a year to get someone to listen to us. Even as this man began acting out to us, following our kids, threatening letters, we still tried. In the end though, he was too well protected and too much of an upstanding citizen for our allegations to go too far. He made no bones about saying that he had many friends, mainly in the police. In the end, anyone who knows our side of the story knows that somehow he managed to get himself protected from prosecution.
We may just have over-active imaginations as we have been accused of many times.... I would have done anything to get this man behind bars...we have been accused of being vindictive, having our own agendas....
But time does heal. And my children are now very successful and are mostly well-adjusted. We’ve been through thousands of dollars of counseling.
I hope that you will at least attempt to find out for Amanda’s and Jonathan’s mothers if any of this has been followed up on.... If I have inadvertently steered you on a wild goose chase, I sincerely apologize....
I can’t leave you my name. This man is too dangerous, we’ve moved twice to get away from him...I am terrified that C.P. will get ahold of a copy of this.... The only thing I can do is to search the header personal ads each week.... I will respond to you at that time....
The first thing I did was call the cops and tell them about this. I spoke to Sgt. Furtak, who asked me to repeat C.P.’s name several times as if he were writing it down. He seemed unfamiliar with the name. He then asked me to fax him the letter. I did. Immediately. Other reporters might chide me for doing so, but this letter made me nervous, though much of it was so vague it lacked credibility. If C.P. turned out to be a killer and I had some possible knowledge and hadn’t gone to the police, I would have more serious problems than usual.
The next thing I did was place a personal ad in these pages: “La Mesa Mom: I need more information…”with my phone number. A week later, I heard from her.
She told me her first name. Let's say it was Sue. Sue didn't add much to what she had said in the letter. She stressed how frightened she was of C.P., and I assured her that I understood that. I also told her that I had sent her letter to the police, and she didn't mind. “They know who he is," she said. She elaborated on her theory that C.P. was a police informant, probably in matters of the drug trade, and that he was too useful to prosecute. She went on about C.P.’s theoretical relationship to Fred Gaeke, and she gave me the name of a counselor at McKinley School (which Amanda attended) who would tell me of other complaints against C.P.
I called Marlene Price to ask if she had ever heard of C.P., and she said that she hadn't. I called Joyce Frankie, the counselor at McKinley. She allowed that another woman had complained about this man. I was told that woman’s boy had had surgery at Children’s Hospital as a result of sexual abuse. I called the woman. She made no direct accusations but gave me C.P.’s phone number. I called him.
Keeping any cards I might have close to my vest, I told C.P. that I was doing a follow-up story on the Gaeke disappearance and that his name had come up as being a neighbor who kept an eye on the street. He seemed happy to talk to me and said, yes, he could tell me a couple of things about the neighborhood and the case. I told him I would call back and make an appointment to meet him. I never did.
Reasons I told myself over the next few weeks were these. The guy sounded too eager to meet, get his name in the paper. He struck me as one of those people who will happily talk to you for hours about information you already have, and nothing new. I could have been wrong, but I had a dead-end hunch about C.P. He may be a dozen kinds of creep, but something didn't add up about him being the killer of Amanda Gaeke. The guy seemed to like boys, for one thing, if what Sue and the other woman had told me was true, and not girls. Also, the police now had at least as much information or allegations against the guy as I had. If they were true, the cops must have quite a file on C.P., yet Furtak seemed never to have heard of him. Later Detective Carl Smith would allow that he knew who C.P. was. Still, I couldn’t summon the paranoia to believe a police force so cynical they would shield the murderer and probable torturer of a nine-year-old girl to maintain a pervert stoolie on the streets tipping them off about drug deals. Call me an idealist.
One more reason: this was not the movies. I was not a hard-boiled P.I. who conducts his own homicide investigation. That never happens outside of pulp fiction and the screen.
It was a little over a year later, on May 28, 1996, that police received a tip that led them to Amanda Gaeke's killer. His name is David Allan Webb-Kim. He is a little pudding ball of a man, a panda bear with doughy face and arms and short black hair. His eyes hardly flash with intelligence, but they look no more like those of a psychotic killer than the button eyes of a stuffed toy.
Webb-Kim, aged 21, was arrested as he was about to sign up for the U.S. Army. He was 16 when he abducted and tortured Gaeke, gave her alcohol and cocaine while he kept her under his bed like a doll, and then asphyxiated her to death probably two days afterward. His age at the time of the crime presented a problem as to whether he would be tried as an adult or a juvenile.
On May 31, 1996, Webb-Kim pleaded not guilty in juvenile court and Amanda Gaeke's father Frederick, recently released from prison, looked as if he might kill the defendant had he not been restrained. The bailiff stood next to him and said, “Just hang on. Don't make any mistakes. He's not worth it, man.”
In August of that same year the defendant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in San Diego Municipal Court as onlookers groaned and protested. District Attorney Peter Longanbach reiterated to judge Albert Harutunian III that “Over a period of two days the defendant tortured, raped, orally copulated, and sodomized a young girl."
One person in attendance shouted, “Kill him!” and was warned to be silent.
Webb-Kim, or Webb as he calls himself when it suits him, pleaded out and agreed to be tried as an adult. On March 10, 1997, he admitted he tortured Amanda Gaeke and that he killed her. Judge Bernard Revak went, it seemed to me, to great lengths to make sure Webb understood everything that was being said and on what his attorney, public defender Alex Loebig, had counseled him. Loebig's demeanor in the courtroom appeared to me one of defeat and cutting losses. I sympathized. Even Satan has a right to a defense, but what on God's earth can you say on behalf of someone who admits to doing these things and acts, in a courtroom, as if he were there for a couple of parking tickets?
At the sentencing, I sat next to Marlene Price. She greeted me and stared straight ahead with tears in her eyes. I could not turn my head to look at her because I would, I knew, completely lose it. When the sentence came down, I could no longer resist watching her face.
On May 7, 1997, over a dinner on University Avenue, it was my turn to question 33-year-old Detective Carl Smith, formerly of Homicide (seven years investigating 20 to 30 homicides a year) and now with Vice.
“I'd only been in Homicide a year back then [ 1991], so I was a relative rookie." Smith studied the menu. He was shorter and much more friendly in demeanor than I remembered him. “I was on Team #1 with Terry Lange, Sergeant Ron Newman, John Flynn, and Al Vitela. We also had an evidence technician who works in the crime lab in our department, but each homicide team is assigned someone who collects and preserves and processes the evidence collected on a homicide scene. That was Gary Dorsett. It was a team effort. There was no one person who did something that was outstanding."
Smith, however, admitted that for him, “It was very personal. Our team happened to be on call the day that Amanda's body was found. And it wasn’t very far from where we were downtown. It just took us a few minutes to get there. We didn’t know if it was Amanda's body. To be honest with you, I personally did not know about her disappearance. That was being handled by a divisional substation. We deal only in murders.”
About seeing the child’s body for the first time. Smith said, “You couldn’t tell she was a little kid. By that time I had worked 50 or more murder cases, some of which were probably as unpleasant or brutal as hers was. You have to get a little calloused over, just to protect your own psyche. I had a nine-year-old son, exactly the same age as Amanda when that happened.” He put down the menu, and though he still stared at it, he did not seem to be seeing it.
“It was a Thursday afternoon. It was hot It had been hot for a week. It was my turn to do the crime scene, diagramming, documenting hair, fiber, etc. It involves witnessing the autopsy as well. You have to be able to testify to the chain of evidence so that it is untainted. It was my turn in rotation. Paperwork, everything.”
Asked about the scarcity of clues. Smith shook his head.
“There were clues: items of evidence that I collected at the scene that we did not disclose to the public or the media. We did that for a specific reason. If someone confessed to the crime and they gave us information only we had, we would know we had the right — or close to the right — person.
“When I found the body, she was nude, wrapped in a bedsheet, a top sheet to a bedsheet set. It was a certain make, manufacture, and design; she had a plastic Sav-on drugstore bag around her head; she had a nylon stocking tied around her head and across her mouth. It was my feeling, and everyone agreed, that these things should never be allowed to be publicized as long as that case remained unsolved. This withholding information in the event someone confessed proved to be almost prophetic in this case because that's exactly what happened. That’s the reason we had the autopsy report sealed and all the warrants on that case sealed.
“That's why, if you go back to newspaper reports, etc., the past five or six years, you’ll find they said she was wrapped in a blanket.” I told Smith that I had written about the case and said the same thing based on police sources. “You couldn't have known," he told me. “That’s why the media gets pissed off at us. Not because we’re trying to be secretive or hide things from you, but those things are important to our case."
I asked him about the above-mentioned C.P. “I know who he is,“ Smith said flatly. He did not seem overjoyed that he had made this acquaintance.
“What,” I asked him, “about the allegations by this woman," I showed him the letter, “that he was a protected police informant?"
“I don’t know anything about that,” Smith said and looked at the wine list. “I'll tell you this, he was contacted, he was bled, he was interviewed, and he was eliminated.”
Smith moved on. “As you well know, it was a very publicized, very community-involved case. People who never met Amanda or knew her came and left flowers on that memorial on that fence. I'm sure the owner got pissed off at that. But when you ask for help, sometimes people will call in with ridiculous names. We interviewed scores of people and analyzed the blood of half that or more. We seriously looked at about 40 suspects. We started with the family. Her father was in Donovan prison, her mother was working, her sister was in school, and they were the only three that lived in the same household: Amanda, her sister, and her mother. We started from there and went on to other suspects."
“My roommate," I reminded him, “was a suspect.”
“Yes, he was. He called me. Actually he was a nice guy. Or, I should say, a very cooperative guy.”
“Did you guys pursue him? Did you try to find him up in the Bay Area? Or New Orleans?”
“I tried, but I couldn't find him,” Smith said, chewing. He ate the way cops eat in movies, like it might be his last meal and to hell with Emily Post. “I came to a dead end,” he said around a mouthful of bread. “We have a way of putting the word out, not in the media, but in our interoffice media, when we’re looking for someone as a witness or a possible suspect — blah blah blah, if you get ahold of him give me a call. I called San lose and let them know I was looking for him. But he was just not a registered sex offender.
“First thing we did after we cleared the family, after we were sure they had no involvement in this, was to do a request for records of all registered sex offenders in the three adjoining beats around where the body was found. We got a list of 37 names of registered sex offenders. My partners and I personally tried to contact those sex offenders. We were only able to find between 17 and 22. The rest were either dead, in jail, or had given bogus addresses.
“Of the ones we did contact, we explained what we were doing, why we were doing it, and asked for a blood sample. We had not one person refuse to do that.”
The investigation, though still in progress, had grown cold. What changed that? “Who,” I asked Smith over another glass of wine, "ratted out David Allan Webb-Kim?"
Smith looked out at traffic on University, paused, then turned back to me. “I personally do not know his name. There was a person arrested for a robbery case. The detective who was responsible for interviewing him and processing him, getting him charged, said that this guy had some information about a little girl that was murdered five years ago. He never asked to be helped, asked for a favor or leniency. All he said was, ‘I have this information. If it helps me out, so what. If it doesn't, so what. I don’t care.' So he just related what David Webb-Kim told him about that murder.”
“Was this a neighbor of David’s?"
"I honestly do not know. No, no, he was not a neighbor, but he was a personal close friend of David Allan Webb-Kim. I can tell you that he knew about this information shortly after Amanda was killed and never said anything about it up until the time he was arrested."
“Did you arrest David Webb-Kim?"
“No, I did not. That was Jim Tomsovic. He took my spot when I left Homicide because he knew how important the case was to me. I did serve the search warrant on Webb-Kim’s mother's business, which was where David lived.”
“A massage parlor, right?"
“Did you ever talk to Webb?”
“No, I didn't. I watched the interview, though.”
“Can I get a hold of that?”
“Why is that?"
"I don’t know the real answer."
“I have the probation report about what he said he did and how he was squirting Amanda with the hose and everything just before he kidnapped her, tortured and killed her. What else is there?”
“The probation report is pretty accurate. It's as accurate as you could possibly get."
I thought about asking Smith why he thought Webb-Kim would do something like what he did, and then I thought again; what possible explanation, even from an experienced cop — what kind of rationale, what kind of answer could there possibly be? Instead we went outside and smoked and didn't say much.
David Allan Webb-Kim was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. Judge Revak added an additional 16 years to that: 8 for torture and 8 for lewd and lascivious acts on a minor. He gave Longanbach everything the prosecution asked for. When the defense cried out that the D.A. was asking for an “extra pound of flesh,” Longanbach explained to the court why. “Because," he pointed out, “it is allowable under the law, and...” After a silent and tense dramatic pause, the prosecutor delivered one of the shortest and most eloquent speeches pertaining to justice I have ever heard: “...and because that's what he did.”
Outside the courtroom I asked Marlene Price how she felt about the likelihood that Webb-Kim would never serve out his sentence and instead be killed in Chino state prison before too much time had passed. For the first time that afternoon, her eyes seemed dry and clear. She said nothing, only shrugged.