While Detective Hussey is here at Terry's Place, I've got a post about "Made It Moments" at Jenny Milchman's blog.
Let's continue with last week's chapter from Detective Hussey. The full post is here. For those who have read it, I'll start with a few paragraphs to refresh your memories:
On May 7, 1984, while Janet and I were patrol officers, a grandmotherly old lady named Anna Houston, was brutally stabbed to death in the West Lake Apartments. Anna was known to people in the neighborhood as the 'Cookie Lady', because of her tendency to bake cookies for all the local children. Janet and I were working midnights then, and assisted in the search of the area for the murder weapon, any other evidence we might find. We canvassed the neighborhood, looking for witnesses. No luck, it seemed that nobody had seen anyone or anything.
The detectives, whose names I will not name, were feuding and either were unable, or unwilling to solve the case. As the weeks and months went by, the trail and list of suspects grew cold. The case went into the 'cold case' file and was not thought of again, until 1996, when Detective Janet Hughes began working on it.
And now, on to Part 2:
She took the massive file home and pored over the yellowing documents, making notes, posing questions, jotting down addresses and phone numbers. In her spare time, between working her other cases, she ran down leads which had gone cold years ago. She called relatives and friends, who were surprised that the nearly twenty year old case was again being worked.
She placed Automated Pole Cameras at the murdered woman’s grave on the anniversary of her death. She re-contacted friends, neighbors and acquaintances who had been interviewed almost two decades before. Many had died or moved away. The case file was growing, but she was no closer to solving the heinous homicide.
In 1997, Janet married one of the nicest guys it has ever been my privilege to know, John Franson. John was the stabilization Janet needed in her life. Their personalities complemented each other’s perfectly.
Also in 1997, Janet and I became family, when I married her sister, Joyce. Joyce also worked for the Lakeland Police Department, first as a dispatcher, then as a property and evidence clerk. She retired from the PD in 1998.
Janet was thinking of calling the Fox television show, America’s Most Wanted, and having the case profiled. Instead, she reluctantly telephoned a Lakeland Ledger Newspaper reporter, who she really did not care for. Janet knew though, that he was a good writer, who had a feel for police related stories. Janet told Rick Rusos about the case, and on January 4, 2000, a story appeared about the crime which had never been solved.
It was enough to get the phones ringing. Janet got her first break in the case, Rick Rusos wrote a great article, asking for any citizen assistance in solving the Anna Houston case. Three Tampa news stations also did follow-up stories.
The calls came rolling in. A boyhood friend of Robert’s agreed to testify that the day after the murder, an exited 16-year-old boy had told him that he "stabbed the white lady that lived cattycorner to us." The friend said that Robert showed her a two inch long 'fresh' cut on his right thumb from when the old lady was fightin' him.
'This accounted for the suspect’s blood located in the kitchen of the crime scene,' Janet thought. Another call came in giving the same name as the person who was responsible for the murder of Anna Houston. Two people who did not know each other had given the same name of a suspect, previously unknown to the investigation. The two witnesses were reluctant to testify.
Now she had a name and there was still blood evidence from the murder in the Lakeland Police Department’s Evidence Locker. Of that Janet was sure. Many times she had looked at that evidence. Over and over, until she knew each piece and detail of the case, as if she’d been there that night. She would dream about the case at night. Many nights she just didn’t sleep. She’d go over the facts of the case in her mind as she stated at the TV set. "I’ve got to find this guy, somebody knows something."
With the advent of the DNA technology, it was now possible to compare old case evidence to samples taken from new suspects. Janet had no probable cause for a search warrant, but there had to be a way. Janet contacted the prison officials, where her suspect was being housed for narcotics trafficking. After some discussion, it was decided that when the inmate left his cell for a shower, a corrections officer would remove his toothbrush from his cell, and give it to Janet. Hopefully there would be enough of Robert’s DNA on the toothbrush for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s serology lab to compare it to the samples already in evidence. It was not to be. The lab report stated that there was insufficient DNA for analysis.
Janet hoped the confidential information was enough to get a search warrant. The information was recorded and transferred to the warrant. After a little judge shopping, the warrant was signed, and on a rainy day February of 2000, a small entourage, led by the world’s smallest homicide detective, arrived at the Florida State Prison to draw several small vials of blood from a convicted drug dealer who thought that he had gotten away with a brutal murder.
"I know why you’re in here," the detective said.
"Yeah, Bruno put me in here. I got got by the best." Robert grinned.
"You want to tell me about killin’ this old lady?" Janet asked.