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Her brown eyes were open, but lifeless. Her body was rigid. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was dressed in the purple T-shirt and blue jeans she had on the night before. As Cheryl Crowe rushed to the room, she heard Steve's cries, "No! My baby, my baby! The case was assigned to Detective Ralph Claytor, a twenty-three-year veteran of law enforcement. He had been a full-time homicide investigator, one of three in the Escondido Police Department, for about two years after several years working juvenile cases.
It was about 7: Walking the perimeter of the home, officers found no broken doors or windows or other evidence of a forced entry. Stephanie's bedroom window was unlocked and the screen was bent-it had been pulled out at the bottom, so that the line for her new phone could be run into her room-but dust and cobwebs indicated that no one had come through the window.
A sliding glass door from the parents' bedroom to the backyard also was unlocked. To enter through it, however, an intruder would have had to open a sliding screen door, which was locked, and get past a plastic vertical blind, which was closed, without alerting Steve and Cheryl, who said they were sleeping in the room.
Claytor immediately suspected that the killing was an inside job-not a surprising theory, because most domestic murders are committed by someone known to the victim. The initial suspects, thus, were Stephanie's grandmother, parents, and her siblings, Michael, fourteen, and Shannon, ten. The Crowes were working-class people. They had been married in Augustthree years after Steve graduated from Orange Glen and a year before Michael was born.
They had never owned a home. They bought their cars used. But there was enough to cover the monthly bills and provide a comfortable home for the kids, as long as they didn't splurge. The family members were ushered into their living room and told not to talk to each other-standard police procedure to guard against witnesses' sharing information and contaminating the investigation. Shortly after Claytor arrived, the family was taken to police headquarters in downtown Escondido, where each of the five was placed in a room and told to undress, one piece of clothing at a time, until they were naked.
They were photographed at each stage-also standard procedure. Detectives were looking for scratches, cuts, marks of any kind that could have been caused by either a knife or a struggling victim. The police took blood, hair, and fingernail samples and took the family's clothing for further testing. Back at the Crowe house that morning, on the public side of yellow crime-scene tape, a handful of neighbors gathered.
Some of them told officers about the strange-looking man with dirty blond hair and beard who was roaming the rural neighborhood the night before. The description rang a bell instantly with police-Richard Raymond Tuite, a drifter with a long history of arrests and severe mental illness, was no stranger to street cops and narcotics detectives.
He had been questioned by police the previous day after he followed two kids into an apartment complex. He had served time recently for methamphetamine possession and vandalism and had been diagnosed while in custody as paranoid schizophrenic.
Around eight o'clock the night Stephanie was stabbed, Tuite had peered through the windows of Sheldon Homa's house, across Valley Center Road from the Crowe home. When Homa confronted him, Tuite said he was looking for someone named Tracy.
Thirty minutes later, Homa's son and his son's girlfriend saw Tuite walking along the road toward the Crowe house and were sufficiently alarmed to stop at a nearby church and warn leaders of a youth group. Next, Tuite knocked on the door of Dannette Mogelinski, who told him to come in. He asked for Tracy. Mogelinski said no one by that name lived there.
Tuite left but moments later walked in again, unannounced, and the conversation was repeated. Again, Tuite asked for "Tracy" and was told no one by that name lived there. Tuite then went to the main house on the property, where the Reverend Gary West, the Crowes' immediate neighbor to the south, lived. West told Tuite to go away and not come back. Like Sheldon Homa before him, West called An officer arrived in the neighborhood at 9: He did not see Tuite, but reported noticing the laundry-room door by the Crowes' garage closing.
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Two other neighbors reported that they had seen Tuite standing in the Crowes' driveway looking up at their house at The FBI trains homicide investigators that when a child is killed at home, the parents are the first suspects. If the parents are ruled out, under the FBI protocol, the next suspects should be siblings, then others living in the house, then persons with frequent access to the child, a babysitter, for example, then friends and business associates of the parents, and, last, strangers.
Detectives accordingly focused first on Steve Crowe, wondering whether he might have been molesting his daughter and killed her to keep her quiet. But they also were suspicious of Stephanie's fourteen-year-old brother Michael, whom some officers had found curiously unemotional that morning.
Around noon, Claytor obtained a search warrant, and detectives and evidence technicians converged on the Crowes' eighteen-hundred-square-foot house, taking dozens of photographs and hours of videotape.
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They measured distances and drew diagrams and compiled detailed lists of what was where. They found almost ninety fingerprints, including bloody ones on Stephanie's bed frame, on her door, and on the hallway door frame of her parents' bedroom. Stephanie's bedding was stained with blood, and her comforter had been slashed numerous times.
Stephanie's body yielded clues. When police arrived, she was lying on her right side, with her head just outside the doorway, which is in an alcove about two feet from the hallway.
In that spot, her door could not be closed. Her right foot was resting on a book, a mystery novel titled The Twisted Window. Pools of blood were on the bed, at the foot of the bed, and near the door. There were several hairs in her hands, including one woven between the ring and middle fingers of her right hand. Brian Blackbourne, San Diego County's chief medical examiner, did a preliminary examination of Stephanie before her body was removed from the home and performed an autopsy the next day.
He determined that Stephanie had been stabbed nine times-twice on the top of the right shoulder and once each on the left cheek, the left ear, the right ear, the left side of the neck, the back of the neck, the back of the right shoulder, and the left side of the chest. The wounds to the back of the right shoulder and the left side of the chest were lethal-each penetrated more than five inches and cut major arteries. She had not been molested. From her stomach contents, Blackbourne concluded that the death occurred between 9: He described Stephanie as very outgoing and well-liked.
He said she recently had received an award for volunteering at the Escondido Public Library. He talked about how guilty he felt about not being able to prevent her death, and said he didn't know anyone who would want to hurt her. He was not asked whether he had heard anything in the night, whether anything was missing, whether anything unusual had happened the day before.
Steve mentioned that Michael loved video games. Also in the room, police found books and drawings and Lego sets decorated with medieval imagery and a handmade booklet mentioning the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and stating, "Many have entered, none have left alive.
Cheryl Crowe told police she remembered hearing her bedroom door push open a couple of times that night -- not the glass slider, but the door at the other end of the room, leading to the hallway.
She thought it was one of the family's two cats. All this suggested to Claytor that the killing was an inside job.
No one was surprised by that theory. Most domestic murders are committed by someone known to the victim. The FBI, in fact, trains law enforcers that, when a child is killed in the home, the parents are the first suspects. If the parents can be ruled out, move next to siblings and others living in the house. Then move to those who had frequent access to the child, a baby-sitter, for example, and then to friends and business associates of the parents.
The final option, under the FBI's protocol, is to look at strangers. Police investigators the world over follow this line of thinking. Detectives looked first at Steve Crowe, wondering whether maybe he was molesting his daughter and killed her to keep her quiet.
But they also wondered about Michael Crowe. Family members had been ushered into the living room and told not to talk to each other -- standard police procedure to guard against witnesses' sharing information and contaminating the investigation. Although the first officer at the scene reported that the Crowes "all appeared to be very upset," others found the year-old boy curiously unemotional.
Claytor would testify that while the rest of the Crowes sat close together on the couch Michael played a hand-held video game. The family disputes this. Claytor also learned that Michael had been overheard saying he got up in the early morning, about 4: He said he had a headache.
Michael's bedroom was directly across the hallway from Stephanie's. How, the detective wondered, could the teen have left his room and not seen his sister's bloody corpse in her doorway? House taken over Claytor got a search warrant about noon, and the Crowe house was taken over by detectives and evidence technicians.
Eventually, as many as members of the Police Department would be involved. Working in some cases hour days, they inched their way through the 1,square-foot house. They took hours of videotape and dozens of still photographs. They measured distances and drew diagrams and compiled detailed lists of what was where.
Technicians had no trouble finding fingerprints; almost 90 would be analyzed later. Among them were bloody prints on Stephanie's bed frame, on her door, and on the hallway door frame of her parents' bedroom. Stephanie's body, which remained at the crime scene for almost nine hours on that first day, yielded clues, too. There were several hairs in her hands, including one woven between the ring and middle fingers of her right hand. It seemed to Claytor that some of the hairs might be Michael Crowe's.
Near the top of her head was a twig. Days into their investigation, police found the phrase "kill kill" penciled in small letters on the bedroom windowsill. From the beginning, the location of Stephanie's body was critical to the police.
Their videotapes and reports placed her lying on her right side, with her head just outside the doorway, which is in an alcove about two feet from the hallway. In that spot, her door could not be closed. Her right foot was resting on one of her books, a mystery novel titled "The Twisted Window.
Did someone move her? Had she somehow gotten out of bed after being attacked and then crawled 10 feet to the door in a futile effort to get help? Inside the room, the top drawer of Stephanie's dresser had been pulled out and was on the floor near the bed. The blood-stained bedding, including a flower-print comforter with numerous slices in it, was pushed to one side. A leading blood-spatter expert from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department would spend two days in the home helping investigators interpret the scene.
George Durgin, manager of Escondido's crime laboratory, spent many hours at the house, too, maneuvering around in a wheelchair because of recent knee surgery. A police officer for 20 years, Durgin believes in a fledgling blood-detection procedure using the chemical mixture fluorescein and has made Escondido a pioneer in its use. The process has not been widely adopted by law enforcement. Durgin used fluorescein at the Crowe house, with mixed results.
Later, fluorescein would figure prominently in the case -- once for finding possible blood on a piece of evidence, and once for missing it. Taken to headquarters Shortly after Claytor arrived, the Crowe family members were taken to police headquarters in downtown Escondido. The Crowes are working-class people. They have never owned a home. They buy their cars used. But they said there's always enough to cover the monthly bills and provide a comfortable home for the kids, as long as they don't splurge.
They started dating when Cheryl was a freshman and Steve a junior. They were married in Augustthree years after Steve graduated from Orange Glen and one year before Michael was born.
Cheryl has lived in the area her entire life. Her father, who lives in Hatchet Junction, Ariz. Steve's dad, who retired to Louisiana, was also in the Navy. Steve was born in the Mojave Desert town of China Lake, and his family bounced from base to base before settling in Escondido when he was in second grade.
His mother, ill off and on for years, died when Steve was At the police station, the Crowes were not allowed to see or talk with one another.
Each of the five family members was taken into a room and ordered to undress, one piece of clothing at a time, until they were naked. They were photographed at each stage. This is standard procedure. Detectives were looking for scratches, cuts, marks of any kind that could have been caused by either a knife or a struggling victim. Police confiscated the family's clothes for further testing and took blood, hair and fingernail samples.
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Steve Crowe resisted but was told he could either allow himself to be photographed then and there or wait, perhaps for days, in a cell while a court order was obtained. He submitted to the camera. Judith Kennedy, who had surgery for breast cancer several years earlier, successfully fought the detectives' inclination to impound her custom-made prosthetic bra.
Strange-looking roamer Back at the Crowe house that morning, on the public side of the yellow crime-scene tape, a handful of neighbors gathered. Some of them told officers about the strange-looking man with dirty blond hair and beard who was roaming the rural neighborhood the night before.
The description rang a bell instantly with Escondido police. Richard Raymond Tuite, then a year-old drifter with a long history of arrests and severe mental illness, was no stranger to street cops and narcotics detectives.
Tuite, pronounced "too-it," had been questioned by police the previous day after he followed two kids into an apartment complex. He had served time recently for methamphetamine possession and vandalism and was diagnosed while in custody with paranoid schizophrenia. Homa confronted him, and Tuite said he was looking for someone named Tracy who used to live in the neighborhood.
Thirty minutes later, Tuite was seen by Homa's son and his son's girlfriend walking along the road toward the Crowe house. They were sufficiently alarmed to stop at a nearby church and warn leaders of a youth group. Next, Tuite knocked on the door of Dannette Mogelinski. She told him to come in. He asked for Tracy. Mogelinski said no one by that name lived there. Moments later, Tuite walked in again, unannounced, and they repeated their conversation.
Again, Tuite asked for Tracy. Again, he was told no one named Tracy lived there. Tuite then headed to the main house on the property, where the Rev. Gary West, the Crowes' immediate neighbor to the south, lived. West told Tuite to go away and not come back. And, like Sheldon Homa before him, West called An officer arrived in the neighborhood at 9: Soon after, he drove his squad car up the T-shaped drive shared by the West and Crowe homes.
The officer wrote in a report that he did not see Tuite, but he did notice the laundry-room door by the Crowes' garage closing. The officer headed back down the driveway and noted in his report that the suspect was "GOA," gone on arrival. Two other Crowe neighbors told police they saw Tuite at Spotted at an Escondido laundry the following evening, Tuite was brought in by police for questioning. In his report, Detective Barry Sweeney notes he told Tuite that "possibly a homicide had occurred out on the east end of Escondido.
Police took fingernail scrapings and clippings and photographs of Tuite. Sweeney also confiscated his clothing, black jeans, black Nikes, a white T-shirt and a red turtleneck sweat shirt. Tuite was given sweat clothes and released. The following day, a patrol officer was sent out to find Tuite again. The police had forgotten to fingerprint him during the earlier interview. Tuite didn't mind going back to the station. Three days later, on Super Bowl Sunday, a patrol officer was summoned to the Best Western motel on Seven Oaks Road, where a transient had been seen looking into car windows.
The officer found Tuite and asked what he was doing at the motel. Tuite replied that he thought "the family of that kid who got killed" was staying there. Tuite again was cooperative.
Finding no weapons or drugs after searching him, the officer sent Tuite on his way. They believed it was highly likely that the killer, or killers, was splattered with blood during the attack. Blackbourne went to the Crowe house the day Stephanie was found for a preliminary examination, then performed the autopsy the next day.
He determined that Stephanie had been stabbed nine times: Blackbourne said the wounds to the back of the right shoulder and the left side of the chest were lethal. Each penetrated more than five inches into Stephanie's body and cut major arteries.
He later told the grand jury that the stabbing was done rapidly and that she went into shock and died within minutes. The autopsy also showed the girl had not been molested. In other words, she died no later than Claytor attended the autopsy. He noted cuts in the girl's clavicle and vertebrae and began forming an opinion about what kind of knife was used. Police found many knives at the Crowe house.
In one kitchen drawer, there were In the garage, A wooden block with six knife slots was sitting on a kitchen counter; one of the slots was empty. But none of these knives appeared to police to be the murder weapon. So they kept looking. They pulled apart stereo speakers. They cut holes in the walls.
They brought in plumbers, who uprooted two toilets and ran a camera through the sewer lines. They found an Igloo cooler and a pair of old, blue socks. Officers used metal detectors to scan the property. They located a knife, but it, too, was dismissed as the murder weapon. Inside the house, the combing went on for days. Steve Crowe had told police his son loved video games, and inside Michael's room was the proof. One handmade booklet mentioned "Dungeons and Dragons," the role-playing game, and included this saying: Police opened it and reported finding "narcotics paraphernalia and a white powdery substance.
Later tests identified the 1. Thirteen months after that discovery, when it was first made public, the Crowes denied any involvement with narcotics.