An Arizona tragedy #1 – Bailey crane mysteries 1-6

PREFACE

The year was 1967.     

There was exciting news on radio, television, and in the daily papers. Some of the news was reasonably good, some very bad.

Vladimir Komarov, a Russian cosmonaut, died as his descending spacecraft got entangled in its parachute cords.

Congress was fighting about taxes … okay, not so tantalizing!

In May of 1967, the United States Marines took ‘Hill 881’ (the ‘forbidding twin peaks’) just below the DMZ in Vietnam, and there were many casualties.

A huge segment of the world’s population was all atwitter with the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Elvis Presley were on their honeymoon in Palm Springs, California.

Joey Bishop was trying very hard to make it on late night television.

There was a national deficit of some twenty-four billion dollars … could this year have been part of ‘the good old days?’

AJ Foyt still sold plenty of STP by winning his third Indianapolis Five Hundred race.

Bacon was sixty-nine cents a pound.

Ice cream was fifty-nine cents per half-gallon.

Peanut Butter was eighty-nine cents for a two and one-half pound jar.

Instant coffee was eighty-nine cents for a ten-ounce can.

Mass murderer Richard Speck was sentenced to death row for the 1966 murders of eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. This very ugly man broke into their townhouse dormitory on the evening of July 13 and methodically, systematically tortured, stabbed and/or strangled his victims, one by one. He also raped his final victim before strangling her. A ninth student nurse, spending the night with her eight friends, managed to hide under a bed during one of the killings. She stayed hidden until dawn, then crawled out of a window onto a roof ledge, screaming: “They’re all dead! All my friends are dead!”

Carl Sandburg, poetic voice of the Midwest, died on July 22, 1967.

Basil Rathbone died at age seventy-five in August of that year.

There were riots in Detroit.

In Selmer, Tennessee, on August 12, Sheriff Buford Prusser was ambushed and wounded. His wife was killed.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, Frank Sinatra was at the Sands Hotel, became angry and threw some chips in the face of Carl Cohen, age fifty-four. Mr. Cohen retaliated, giving the world-famous crooner a hardy haymaker.

On May 24, 1967, in Washington, DC, a young and lovely twenty-five-years-old secretary was found beaten beyond recognition. The coroner stated in his report that the young lady had died as
a result of multiple blows of force to the head, face, and, strangulation.

On July 19, 1967, after midnight, a young and lovely twenty-six-year-old secretary and actress disappeared in Phoenix, Arizona. Her body was found on August 12, 1967, in the desert northeast of Phoenix. The young divorcee, mother of two children, died of multiple rock blows to the head and face.

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Prologue

There many beautiful spots on this earth of ours. A person who travels extensively, or, not so extensively, can no doubt tell us her/his most idyllic piece of geography. Some will describe for us a coastline of white sand, soft blue waters, and rock-wall cliffs. Some will tell us of an alpine region to the north where the rich colored flowers, the green leaves of summer, and the mountain valleys capture the trophy for ‘most beautiful spot.’ Others will describe a desert at sunset where the colors on the sand and gravel become a surreal mauve color, where the space can overwhelm the senses.

It is, of course, a subjective point of view that each of us bring when describing the most beautiful spot on this earth. We can tease our minds with the thought that one day, perhaps, Star Trek’s ‘beam up’ machinery will be available to transport us at any time to the beauty of our choice.

Just east of downtown Phoenix, Arizona, between Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, Jason and Murphy Brightman were enjoying their most ‘beautiful spot,’ the ageless and serene desert. The two young men were enjoying their favorite hobby, gathering rocks. They didn’t mind the heat. They had their water canteens, along with their canvas rock-collection sacks.

Still in their teens, Jason and Murphy knew the desert, understood its ‘old western’ lore and its potential dangers. They knew how to dress for their rock gathering, with their thick socks and high above-ankle boots. They wore their baseball caps, their colorful short-sleeve shirts, deep pocket shorts, and, in those pockets, each carried his knife of many blades. They were handsome lads, each with the same slender stature, same unruly sandy hair, each with smooth and unblemished faces.

This day was to be a scorcher, and the boys stopped occasionally to drink and to water down some rags for placement under their baseball caps. They were alert for the desert’s most notable resident, the rattlesnake, perhaps seeking shade under one of the rocks they might overturn. They moved cautiously among the cacti and brush, skirting the ironwood and Palo Verde trees. They moved along the arroyos where they normally found some distinctive rocks for their collection. Their shirts were already sticking to their skins, and they decided not to stay out as long as previously planned.

The desert seemed always to yield a splendid assortment of quartz, granite, and sandstone in various shapes, sizes, and colors. While they wandered about looking for their special rocks they chatted about their girlfriends, their sports activities, the freedom they felt when out in this incredible expanse. Far off in all directions could be seen burnt-brown rock mountains rising in majestic and primal beauty, their silhouetted peaks and valleys shimmering in the bright sun. While feeling the torrid heat, Jason and Murphy were energized and captivated by the beauty around them. They were quickly filling their canvas sacks with the geological bounty.

Murphy was the first to notice the body under a Palo Verde tree, at a bend in the wash. The skull was crushed, the rest of the anatomy ravaged by denizens of the desert.

A rattlesnake bite might have been easier for the boys to handle, for etched in their minds forever would be the crudely splayed form of a woman with her head bashed in. A nearby rock of some size appeared to have brownish streaks on its porous surface. Jason would remember previously noticing back down the wash from the body other large rocks, similar in their brownish streaks.

The young men were shocked, repulsed, and frightened. They hurried from the scene to notify the Scottsdale police. The boys knew that the woman had been savagely murdered. The scene would never be erased from their memories. Each desert rock hunt in the future would be strangely parenthetical in its enjoyment.

The police came, roped off a large area with yellow police tape, followed the usual forensic procedures, delivered the body to the coroner, searched the area all the way back to Shea Boulevard to the south and in a wide three hundred sixty degree arc from the murder site.

Dental records would provide the means for identification of the dead woman. Her name was Catherine Gibbs, age 26, divorced mother of two, legal secretary and model, resident of Phoenix, Arizona.

It was Saturday, August 12, 1967. I was thirty and living a loose and lunatic life of soft labor, leisure, and modest dissipation—having fun’ was the vernacular. Catherine Gibbs death brought some abrupt changes to my life.

Chapter One

Tuesday, July 18, 1967

Running late, Cathy gave her daughter and son a kiss goodbye, embraced her mom, and hurried out the door of the apartment. She dropped her purse while fumbling for keys and mumbled a mild obscenity under her breath. She finally made it to the car and headed for work.

Going west on Osborn Road she passed the northern boundary of the Phoenix Country Club. The golf course was hidden by a long row of eucalyptus outgrowth, but early morning golfers could be seen through a break in the hedgerow. Later, when the heat reached the one hundred plus mark, there would be very few players on the course.

The temperature was already in the early nineties and promised to reach one hundred ten degrees by mid-afternoon. This was the norm for Phoenix in July. The cloudless sky was sapphire deep and wide, with a slight shimmering haze on the far-off western horizon.

People either hated Phoenix or they loved it. There seemed to be no middle ground opinions. For Catherine Gibbs, Phoenix and the desert was her Shangri-La. She did not mind the heat. She loved the constancy of sun and clear skies, found the daily regimen strangely soothing and somnolent. The Southwest climate better suited her senses than the dreary days of clouds, rain, and snow that came to the plains of Kansas.

Besides, there were memories she would just as soon forget. As she looked at the hot earth and the various types of cacti, she felt close to some subtle and mysterious awareness of life. The saguaro, cholla, ocotillo, barrel, all the spiny plants of this arid land held a fascination for her, somehow speaking to her in some arcane way of some nebulous truths that she might one day know.

Cathy had been driving this route to work for many months and smiled as she considered there was never a sameness to the drive. It was always a new experience … She was pleased with the thought.

She turned south on Central Avenue to reach the downtown high-rise buildings. She reflected momentarily on the new building taking place along the North Central corridor. The city was growing. Here was her future.

It was Tuesday, and she felt wonderfully alive as she thought of the good things happening in her life. She loved her boss at the law offices and the people she met. She was not so fond of the tedious ‘wherewith, therefore’ legal briefs and documents she had to type and the little nitty-gritty things she was expected to do. All in all, though, the work was satisfying and enjoyable.

She had a modeling audition coming up next week. Still modeling, television commercials, acting, all were such a fun secondary part of her life. She faced no delusions regarding her ‘acting hobby.’ What she ultimately wanted was a good home, a good husband, ‘picket fence’ stuff. She was young, just twenty-six, and she had made a few mistakes. There had been a sadly failed marriage, a few worthless flings, and some bad money decisions, but she had great kids and a loving mom. She had lots of time. The world, her world, was her proverbial oyster.

Cathy thought of Steve Langford, a nice warm thought which made her cheeks turn happy pink. He had what she felt was important for a man in her life to have: a solid career position, money, ambition, and good looks. He was a mover and a shaker, and she was in love with him.

God! She felt so great, and the weekend was still several days away but tantalizingly near in her mind. She and Steve were going to Sedona and would stay at one of those beautiful cabins along the creek. It was only three days from becoming reality.

Cathy was surprised that she was the first to arrive at the law offices. She started the coffee. She readied the files she knew Barry Bergman would need for the mergers on which he was working. She turned on all the lights, the machines, the copiers, the computers, the scanners, and the music system.

From Barry’s private office in the eighth-floor suite, Cathy paused to look out over downtown Phoenix. It was a spectacular view from northwest to northeast. There came a proprietary feeling as she sought out and found the Wrigley Mansion to the northeast and Squaw Peak just beyond. Farther to the east was her favorite, Camelback Mountain, with its ‘praying Monk.’ Just a few months back she had worked for Martin and Randall up on the twentieth floor. The view from there had been even more awesome. Her brow wrinkled as she remembered her leaving Martin and Randall. But it was too nice a day to harbor such thoughts and she pushed them aside.

What a wonderful city!

What a wonderful day!

What a wonderful life!

***Hope you enjoyed the sampling of AN ARIZONA TRAGEDY – Book One of Six of the ‘Bailey ‘Crane Mysteries’ – a book inspired by a true Phoenix, Arizona ‘Cold Case’… Please contact the Phoenix, AZ Police Department – ‘Cold Case Division’ – should you have any information regarding this case… Thank you – Author BRC ***

An Author’s NOTE:

Because I like happy endings in books and movies, I have a couple of things to say…

An Arizona Tragedy – #1 has a personal and special spot in my heart. The actress so brutally murdered in this book was a good friend of my wife and me. She was responsible for some new and exciting experiences for me in acting and film – TV commercials, stage play, film roles, and modeling. She was a lovely lady in her early twenties, the mother of two children, with one dominating wish – to be happily married with a picket fence and the man of her dreams.

Fate played its dirty role one late Sunday evening when Cathy Gibbs (her name in the book) was taken from her dream of love and family on a lonely patch of desert in Northeast Phoenix – near the current site of The Mayo Clinic, her body found six weeks later by two young rock hunters, ravaged by the denizens of the desert and the relentless heat of an Arizona August.

During that time-frame, a young secretary in the nation’s Capital is murdered with a similar M.O.

Bailey Crane will connect some dots, have some daunting moments, being chased, shot at, wounded, and, in the end, solve the crimes.

The real truth is, my friend’s brutal murder has not been solved, all evidentiary material resting in a dark and eerie room of unsolved crimes. The Phoenix Police Department had little from the beginning to go on. Her car was found next to an elementary school on a late Sunday night of her disappearance, car doors open, her purse on front seat, but no other evidence to tell the police what happened. Her body, as mentioned, was found six weeks after the car was found.

Serving as an auxiliary detective for the PPD and being a close friend of the victim, Bailey Crane researches crimes of a similar nature committed throughout the country, finds a possible link in the nation’s capital, and begins to formulate his theories. When he is wounded by a suspect and recovering in a Virginia hospital, his mind starts connecting the dots.

Out of the hospital and back in Phoenix, the PPD puts together a potentially dangerous plan they hope will solve the case, a plan that will involve a female cop named Wendy…

The plan just might work…

Suffice it, Bailey Crane chases the bad guys, laments, and is constantly trying to figure out with his alter ego the ebbs and flows of life – through all his crusading for justice and his penchant for philosophizing about his world of crime and romance. Through all his crime chasing Bailey will stay the same musing, rambling fool who knows the world better than anyone else while trying to maintain a humble persona…

But, know what? There will surely come a mellowness that brings some peace, when Bailey will see the etched beauty that a caring God stamped on his creation…

Would Bailey Crane change anything in his life? Bailey would say, Time takes care of all the things one does. Unless one has an incredible Time Machine, that’s about all you need to know. In other words, live with it all, the good and the bad. Rejoice if you have found Love, Family, Friends – that, a glass of wine, a bear rug in front of a fireplace, Placido Domingo, Josh Groban, ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ on the DVD player, all that and more, my friends, are the essence of life…at least, for some of us. Time is in charge. You cannot do anything differently. Once you have done something, Time is the keeper. It belongs in the Vault of Time.

It has been one hell of a ride for Bailey Crane, and Book 4, Murder in Pueblo del Mar, will capture even more for Bailey Crane’s Vault of Time.

By the way, all six Bailey Crane Mysteries ‘stand alone,’ love to have their pages turned, or, the Kindle button pushed. The books areboisterous and fun reads, with minimal warts,most of them inspired by true crimes.

I’m thinking, more like, hoping, Bailey Crane grows on you, the readers.

BR Chitwood – August 19, 2020

You can find all my books, including the ‘six Baileys’ at: http://billyraychitwood.com – Synopses, Buy Sites, my flowery embellishments, et al.

My Blog, Soul’s Song, with over 350 posts: http://brchitwood.com

Please follow me on Twitter.com – @brchitwood

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