subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve



Oakland Police Begin Their Search for the Killer

No official informed the public about the first body, Duquene’s. Nor did the police, District Attorney or Mayor’s office inform them of the second, third, fourth or fifth bodies. They all had names: Duncan Ailsworth, Robert Massey, Charles Wilkinson, Antwan Finch.

There were however a few old timers in the OPD who began to have suspicions when body #3, Massey, was found. Like the others, it was male, probably homeless, with few if any local ties. All the men had been killed in similar fashion: a gunshot through the head. Local journalists who specialized in crime reporting heard, through the grapevine, that OPD was looking into the possibility that a serial killer—rare in Oakland—was preying on homeless men. One reporter got an off-duty cop to tell him, off-the-record, about it, while they were drinking beer in a sports bar. This reporter worked for KTVU-TV. He told his boss, the news editor for the 5 o’clock news. That evening, one of the station’s on-air reporters, Rob Roth, broke the story this way:

“Oakland Police are now more or less convinced that the deaths of these five homeless men are not a coincidence. Although they warn these cases are just beginning to be investigated, they feel that all the victims may have met their deaths at the hands of the same person or persons.”

The news sent shock waves throughout Oakland, and beyond. Homeless advocates were appalled and demanded that the police apprehend the killer immediately. Some suggested that the City had no interest in stopping a killer preying on homeless men; had the victims been, say, wealthy white people in the Hills, Schaaf would be pouring millions into the search for the criminal. A defensive Schaaf had to hold a news conference. With the police chief and Alameda County District Attorney beside her, she reassured doubters that Oakland would leave “no stone unturned” in seeking and identifying the murderer.

Yet the murders continued. By late Spring, four months after Duquene’s body had been found, the number of victims totaled twelve. All of their bodies were found in one of three general locales: Jack London Square, Lake Merritt and West Oakland. America took notice: 60 Minutes came out, the NBC Nightly News, even Fox (which implied that the murderer might be a dark-skinned foreigner, possibly Islamic). This theory seemed dashed when it was learned that the eighth victim, one Ali Rasheed Mohammed, had been Muslim. The Council on American-Islamic Relations became involved, and called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate his murder as a possible hate crime.

Devon Camber followed all this with great interest. As the candidate, now sitting councilmember, who had talked the most about homelessness, he was a natural target of reporters and interest groups working on homeless issues. Did he have any theories, they wanted to know? Did he feel the police were working the case with enough diligence? What more could Oakland do to protect its unhoused citizens? To these questions, Devon had no concrete answers, but since he had to sound as if he did, he gave vague generalities. Yes, Oakland must do more. No, he had no theories, except that there was too much hatred. He was sure the police could be working harder, although he in no way meant to criticize the fine men and women of OPD. And, yes, he would do anything within his power, as both an elected official and a citizen of his beloved Oakland, to help the police apprehend the killer.

* * *

Roosevelt Wilson Brown—“Rosey”—was a Homicide Detective in the Oakland Police Department, a 19-year veteran of the force. Married, a father of four, youth minister in the Third Baptist Church, avid Warriors fan, Rosey had escaped the tarnish heaped on some of his colleagues in the Riders scandal. He was well-liked, admired by most who knew him, trusted by management and rank-and-file, and—for the purposes of the homeless killings—as perfervid to get to the bottom of the case as any cop could be.

Police Chief Kirkpatrick put Rosey in charge of the investigation, although she warned him she did not have the budget to give him extra funds or additional staff: he would have to work within existing departmental means.

He started with basic forensic theory. There was only one killer; there almost always was, in cases of multiple or serial homicides. The killer was likely to be a white male: most serial killers were. He probably lived in, or near, the neighborhoods where the crimes were committed; serial killers usually do. There was no evidence that sexual gratification played a role in his crimes, nor was there evidence that the killer had acted on a spree. No: each murder had been deliberately and carefully carried out. The killer may not have literally stalked his victims, but he had displayed a pattern of aforethought and care, as well as opportunism.

Rosey began by assembling all known information on the dead men, which was little enough. Several were impossible to trace: their fingerprints were not recorded anywhere, nor was any identifying information about them ever found, either on their persons or in what were purported to be their tents. Others—and this seemed to form a pattern—had arrived in Oakland from other places, but their families had been out of touch with them for years. A few actually had relatives or associates with whom they had communicated, more or less recently. Rosey decided to begin his probe by interviewing all known contacts with the deceased men. Often enough, as homicide detectives knew all too well, murderers turned out to have known their victims.

He began, logically enough, with victim #1: William James Duquene, the man who had been found drunk and passed out in the rainstorm and then brought to Kaiser. His admitting physician had been Dr. Edwin Wu. Rosey phoned the doctor, asking if he could stop by to ask him a few questions, including about Duquene’s medical history. Yes, of course, Dr. Wu replied. They met in the doctor’s office, at the Oakland Medical Center, on Broadway.

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts