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TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 26

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Rosey’s Investigation Expands

Mrs. Wu was furious at her daughter, at her husband, at Danny, at everyone. She exploded at the bridge game she played every Wednesday with her lady friends; a minor bidding mistake by her partner sent her into a towering rage. She remained in poor health, with frequent headaches; Dr. Wu gave her Xanax. The big house they had lived in for more than twenty years was silent and gloomy during the daytime when the doctor was at work. At night, when he came home, things were tense.

Dr. Wu told her about his interview with the police detective, Brown.

“What did he want?” Mrs. Wu asked her husband.

“He’s investigating those homeless killings.” Mrs. Wu had heard about them on local T.V. news broadcasts.

“What do you have to do with any of that?” she demanded.

“I don’t know,” her husband replied. “I guess he’s checking every lead he can. I got the impression they don’t have a clue.”

“Well, what did you tell him?”

“I told him what I know: nothing.”

“I don’t understand. Why did he want to talk to you? You’re just a Kaiser doctor.”

“I treated the first victim.”

Mrs. Wu’s eyebrows shot up like a rocket soaring into space. “Really, Edwin? You didn’t tell me that.”

“There was no reason to. And I didn’t want to upset you, what with—well, all the stuff with our daughter.”

Mrs. Wu reached for a cigarette from a small box she kept on the mantle.

“Gladys, you’re smoking again,” her husband told her.

“And why not? It steadies my serves. God only knows they need steadying. You’re no help.”

Back at police headquarters, Rosey also was thinking about Dr. Wu. An interesting character, he thought. Slippery. What more did Rosey know about him? An investigation showed that he had had a prior run-in with the law: in 2008, the Wu’s neighbors had called police about a domestic incident, when one night loud screams and crashing sounds came from their house. When officers arrived, they found Dr. Wu with a black eye, a very drunk Mrs. Wu with lacerations on her face, and a terrified Cindy—then only a teenager—hiding in an upstairs closet. It proved impossible to determine who had started the fight, or why; neither Dr. Wu nor Mrs. Wu was arrested. But the case remained on-the-record.

Rosey was curious. Police departments have ways of finding things out that the public does not. Rosey dug, prompted others to dig, and found: Dr. Wu had been in psychotherapy for anger-related issues. This had occurred in 2009-2010—within a year or so of the domestic violence incident. Rosey took due note.

The discovery of the newest homeless victim, one Homer Coolidge, while not entirely surprising nonetheless shocked Oakland. It was downtown, not on the furtive edges of the city but in its heart. Moreover, this murder was particularly violent: the victim had been, not only shot in the head as were the others, but mutilated in the face. Rosey knew enough of the academic side of serial killers to understand that, at some point if left unchecked, the killers gradually escalate their level of violence. They grow bored with their initial technique and seek newer, more creative  and dramatic ways of expressing their towering rage. In his study of the literature, Rosey knew that such a development foreshadows, not a diminution of criminal activity, but an escalation of it.

That day Rosey started on his workspace, as he thought of it. He cleared a large section of a wall, hitherto jammed with memos and shelves, and decorated it with small yellow index cards, each with the name of the 15 known victims. Beside them he posted, on white index cards, the names of persons of interest. These included everyone he had already interviewed: Devon Camber and Dr. Wu among them. They were not “suspects.” They were not even potential suspects; but they were all Rosey had. That was how investigative work happened: you started with what you knew, no matter how trivial or insignificant it seemed. From there, you took baby steps laterally. Sometimes, leads evaporated into the nothingness they really were. But sometimes, you stumbled across something shiny and meaningful.

Thus Rosey determined to add two more persons to his interview list: Mrs. Wu, obviously, who probably knew more about her husband than anyone, and could implicate or exculpate him accordingly. But whom should he talk to about Camber? There was no wife, no family members in the Bay Area. The councilmember knew everyone, and was known by everyone, but seemed to have few personal friends. There was a rumor—but that’s all it was, scuttlebutt—that Camber had a girlfriend; a cop on the beat reported this. But no one knew her name, or where to find her. Rosey decided to find out.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 25

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The Detective and the Councilmember

OPD Detective Roosevelt Wilson Brown—Rosey—and Oakland City Councilmember Devon Camber met for drinks at the Five10 bar, on Fifteenth Street, just a few blocks from City Hall. Rosey was not in a good mood: the Oakland Police Department was under fire from the city’s liberals—again—for an alleged instance of “police brutality”; a young man, armed and resisting arrest, had been shot and killed. Nor was the Councilmember himself all that happy. He was finding himself increasingly frustrated by the Council’s chronic infighting; Oakland politics was proving a difficult game for the ambitious Devon to master. No matter what he said or did, he managed to find himself the object of criticism and scorn, usually from people he found contemptible. He wasn’t used to it; it didn’t fit into his playbook.

They both arrived at the bar on time, found a little table near the pinball machines, and ordered their drinks: a beer for the detective, a glass of red wine for Camber.

“Well, you asked for this meeting, so why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind,” Rosey began. The Councilmember replied, “I understand Chief Kirkpatrick put you in charge of the Homeless Killings case.”

“That’s correct.”

“I have a particular interest in that,” Camber continued. “As you may know, I made homelessness a central issue in my campaign. I promised the voters I would reduce the number of homeless people in Oakland. The people who voted for me expect me to act, and act fast, in that regard. But I’m afraid these killings are disrupting the process. The Council is extremely upset; neighborhood groups, like the Coalition to Shelter the Unhoused, are raising Cain to find the killer, even while they’re demanding the City reduce OPD’s budget and repurpose it for homeless services. It’s a mess. Four of the bodies were found in my district. Nobody, from the Mayor on down, is willing at this point to talk about more funding. Things are only going to get worse, if there are additional murders.”

“And what is it you want from me, Councilmember?”

“I want to know how the case is coming along. Are you doing everything you can? Do you have suspects? Evidence? A profile? How many cops do you have on the case? Can we expect indictments?”

“Councilmember Camber—”

“Call me Devon.”

“Very well. Devon, let me explain how these things work. At this point in the investigation, our work is confidential. I could no more share details with you than I would with a newspaper reporter.”

“I’m not a newspaper reporter, I’m an elected official of the City of Oakland. I should think that entitles me to more information than you’d give to the media.”

“Actually, Councilmember—err, Devon, you’re probably entitled to less. The press has Constitutional rights under our system of law, whereas elected officials are proscribed by statute and law from interfering in the activities of law enforcement agencies.”

“How the hell am I interfering?” Devon was getting hot under the collar. They hadn’t been together for fifteen minutes and already they were  butting heads. “I’m just asking you to bring me up to date, so that when I have conversations about the case with my constituents and other interest groups, I can know what the hell I’m talking about.”

Rosey realized he’d perhaps been a bit too officious with this newby politician. “All right, Devon, I can share a little. But please don’t push me. We have no suspects at this point. We have no profile, except that serial killers are usually white men; they almost always do their work alone. We have precious little evidence. I have four officers working fulltime on the case; I’ve asked the Chief for three more, and she’s asked the Mayor in turn for additional funding. But Schaaf so far isn’t complying, and I seriously doubt if she will.”

Devon took in this sour news with evident disappointment. “I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear,” Rosey added. “But keep in mind, this is still a young investigation. These things can take months, even years; look at the Zodiac killings in San Francisco. Fifty years later, it’s still an open case.”

“Fifty years!” Devon spat out the words. “So in other words, you’re telling me you’ve gotten precisely nowhere, and the murders may continue.”

“I’m afraid that’s true, Devon. Sometimes, serial killers go on hiatus, for a variety of reasons, mainly because they start feeling the heat. Sometimes they don’t. We have no way of knowing.” At that instant, Rosey’s phone began pinging. “Excuse me,” he said, picking up the device. Camber listened in on the one-way conversation, which was brief. “Yeah. Where? What time? Anything else? Okay, thanks, on my way.”

Rosey put the phone back into his pocket. “You’ll have to excuse me, Devon. They found another body. Twelfth and Webster, behind a dumpster.” The latest crime scene once again was in Camber’s district. Moreover, it occurred only blocks from his apartment.



TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 24

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Flambé’s Education Continues. Danny Gets Drunk Again

Esther had had her sex reassignment surgery in Mexico, in a clinic in Monterrey. The total cost, some $22,500, included the initial consultations and the actual cost of surgery and anesthesia, as well as ten days of post-operative nursing care, medications, and all ground transportation, as well as a one-week stay in a local hotel.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” Esther told Flambé, “but if I’d had it done in the States, it would easily have been double that.” Esther had been lucky; she experienced few complications from the procedure. About one-third of patients suffer from complications, mainly a narrowing of the urethra, which makes urination difficult. Many also have post-operative infections. Psychological problems can plague patients, Esther warned Flambé. “But I more or less sailed through everything.”

Flambé couldn’t wait to ask the ultimate question. “So, uh, how long—I mean, did you–?” Esther saw her stammering, knew exactly what was happening.

“It was four months before I could have penetrative sex.” She let that sink into Flambé’s mind.

“And what—how–?”

Esther took her friend’s hand. “Let me tell you, sister, because it’s a good story.”

Within three months of the surgery, Esther was pain-free. Everything seemed to be working just as her doctors had forecast. They had lined her neo-vagina with her old penile sheath, turned inside out and inserted into her body, a drastic-sounding procedure, to be sure, but simple in its functionality. The sheath lost none of its sensitivity; orgasm could be reached, with all the accompanying physical feelings.

In fact, thirteen weeks after surgery, Esther had masturbated herself, using a dildo she’d bought at L’Amour Shoppe, an adult store in downtown Oakland. She did this very slowly and carefully. “I didn’t want to break anything,” she explained, “but I needed to know.” The experiment was a complete success. It was a thrilling vindication of what Esther had done. A few weeks later, after repeated masturbation, she was ready to move beyond self-stimulation to the real thing. It finally happened on a weekend night, with a young man she met at a downtown club.

Flambé took this all in with captivated interest. This was the stuff she’d wondered about all her adult life—something that had seemed so fantastical, so beyond the realm of probability that all it could ever amount to was an unfulfilled fantasy. And yet, Esther—just an ordinary girl—had made the fantasy come true. And now, Esther told her, she—Esther—fully enjoyed sexual relations with men. It was true, Esther added, ironically, that she found herself gravitating towards women for sexual pleasure, but that didn’t detract from the sublime fact that her neo-vagina was in perfect working order.

Flambé felt like she was walking on clouds. At Devon’s that night, nestled beside him in bed, as he slept she crept a hand to her still-intact penis, and began sliding the foreskin slowly up and down the hardening shaft. As her passion built she inclined her face into Devon’s back, kissed him on the neck, breathed heavily and with a gasp came onto her own belly. Devon never awoke as she whispered, “Oh, my God, my angel, how I want you inside my cunt.”

* * *

At Bay Grape they were pouring rosé Champagne. Nick and Danny sat at the bar and, after a little small talk with Josiah, the proprietor, they resumed the conversation about Cindy and the baby. Danny knew he’d been drinking too much lately; the pressures of work and in his personal life drove him increasingly to a few extra glasses of wine or bottles of beer at night. There were frequent times when all he wanted was to zone out, to numb himself and succumb to deep, blissful sleep. He saw nothing wrong with this.

And so he got very drunk. They kept reordering Champagne; the bubbles went straight to Danny’s brain and made him gay and talkative. Nick slowed down at the fifth glass; not Danny. “I don’t know,” he said to Nick at some point, slurring his words, “maybe you’re right, maybe it’d be cool to have a kid, you know what I mean? Hey Josiah, another round! Like, a kid can be fun. I’d like to be the kind of dad who brings his kid to the park to throw a football around.”

“Your kid,” Nick observed, “might be a girl.”

“I don’t think so,” Danny replied. “I just have a feeling. Hey Josiah, another!”

And so it went. By ten that night, Danny was in no shape to drive back to Castro Valley, so Nick invited him to sleep it off at the Perkins Street flat. He, Nick, would call Cindy to tell her. Danny fell asleep the minute his head hit the couch. When he woke up, with a pounding headache, the next morning to drive home, his Camry had a $185 parking ticket. It was street-cleaning day on Perkins.



TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 23

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Flambé Learns About Vaginas from a New Friend

Flambé wanted a vagina. She always had—the thought of it, the vision, was never far from her mind. Until recently, she’d been able to live without, a lacuna that always needed fulfillment, like hunger, but that was manageable.

Yet for the last several weeks, she had become more and more obsessed with her “situation,” as she phrased it to herself. Maybe it was because of hew new relationship with Devon. Her penis still functioned quite well, thank you. Devon enjoyed it, and Flambé even masturbated every once in a while. But as much of an old friend as her penis was, it also came to represent for Flambé an invasion, a part of her body that didn’t belong, like a hernia.

It was a topic she dare not speak of with anyone: not with Nick, certainly (given how delicate things were between them), and not with Devon, obviously. She sometimes wished she had a psychotherapist to talk with, but therapy cost money, and Flambé as usual was short of cash, despite the relative success of her dog-walking business.

There was, in Oakland and the greater East Bay, a well-organized trans community, centered mainly around the bar scene. Flambé had never considered herself part of it. She was, if anything, a lone wolf in life, going her own way, prompted by her own instincts and desires, not a “joiner.” And yet, as she pondered her situation, she realized that others had experienced the same things. She wanted the vagina; she could not afford the vagina; perhaps there were ways to go about it she was unaware of. So, with this emerging attitude, Flambé went to her first meeting of the East Bay Transgender Alliance, held in an old storefront in the Fruitvale District.

About a dozen people were there. They sat in rickety folding chairs in a circle. Apparently most of them knew each other; Flambé was the new girl. After introducing herself, she settled in, and quietly inspected the others. One caught her attention: at first, Flambé had thought she was Moira, her long-dead mentor into the world of cross-dressing. Separated at birth? After the meeting, when coffee and donuts were served, Flambé approached her. Her name was Esther.

She was very pretty, in a gamin way, short and petite, with elfin eyes and a wry smile. Many male-to-female trans people choose long hair, often accented with wigs or falls; not Esther, who wore her auburn hair close-cropped, like Mia Farrow in her Frank Sinatra days. Also, unlike many trans women, Esther’s clothes were more of the businesswoman than the drag queen: a smart, pinstriped navy blue skirt and jacket, white silk blouse, a single strand of white pearls around her neck. She was not very buxom, but yet possessed an undeniable femininity. Flambé decided she liked this woman.

They traded phone numbers. Esther lived in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood, in what used to be called China Hill before that name became politically incorrect. Flambé texted her a few days later. “Hi there, it’s Flambé, we met at the Alliance thing, wonder if you want to get 2gether 4 coffee or something.” Esther did. They met up by the Pergola. It was a nice day. They decided to take a stroll around Lake Merritt.

The two women hit it off well. Esther was white and Jewish, in stark contrast to Flambé, but aside from those differences, they shared many things in common. Esther, who at 37 was a few years older than Flambé, had begun her trans journey earlier. A clerk in a law office, she was now fully transitioned, entirely comfortable with her identity; the “Evan” she’d been until the age of 25 had been dead and buried for a long time. Flambé admired Esther’s self-control and poise. Had Flambé met her in any other capacity, she decided, she would not have guessed she had not been born a woman.

Which led Flambé to pose the ultimate question. They had walked to the south end of the Lake, to Lake Merritt Boulevard. “Look,” Flambé temporized, “I know we only just met, but I feel close to you—”

“I feel close to you, too,” Esther replied.

“So I hope you won’t take this the wrong way. Let me know if I’m prying, okay? Because I don’t mean to. I’d never intrude into your—”

“Yes, I’ve had the surgery.”

Flambé stopped walking. “What did you say?”

“I’m post-op.” Esther was very kind about it. “I know that’s what you want to know. It’s what many transitioning women want to know about me, and every one of them has trouble getting it out. So don’t worry about it, or be embarrassed. I had the surgery ten years ago. Do you want to talk about it?”

Flambé was thrilled. She’d never had “that conversation” before with anyone, not even with Moira. Her knowledge of the procedure came entirely from websites she’d found through Google. She had so many questions—not only about the financial aspects, but medical ones and personal and intimate ones. Never had she found anyone she could trust enough to ask, and now, here was Esther: smart, kind, experienced, and willing to answer any question she might have, no matter how silly. In fact, as Esther quickly reminded her, “There are no silly questions, Flambé. Ask away!”


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 22

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To Abort, or Not to Abort

Danny wanted Cindy to get an abortion.

He’d been thinking it over for days, ever since she’d told him she was pregnant. The issue of abortion had never been of particular interest to Danny. Sure, he’d followed the national debate all his adult life, but at a distance, and with split thinking. Part of him was bothered by the thought of nullifying a developing life in a woman’s uterus. But a larger part of him decided that (a) whether to have an abortion was really the business of the woman and her doctor, not of politicians, and (b) the people who were so ardently anti-abortion seemed to be a horror show of evangelical Christians and rightwing Tea Party types, neither of which Danny trusted, or wished to see further empowered. So, on balance, he was pro-abortion.

He raised the topic with Cindy as gingerly as he possibly could. It was a Sunday morning. They were having brunch at a waterfront restaurant in San Leandro. Afterwards, they strolled along the Bay Trail that skirted the marinas and lagoons. It was a sunny, windy day. The waters of San Francisco Bay gleamed and glistened; foamy whitecaps flecked the wavy crests. Far to the northwest loomed the skyscrapers of the City, with Salesforce Tower soaring above the rest.

They sat on a park bench. “I have something on my mind,” Danny began.

“I know. I can hear you thinking.”

“This baby. Are you sure you’re ready for it? I mean, a baby changes everything. You’re only 24. I’m only 28. A baby would really tie us down. We can always have one in a few years.”

Cindy looked at him in earnest. “What are you trying to say?”

“Just that we can terminate this pregnancy. We don’t have to go through with it unless we’re absolutely sure.”

“’Terminate this pregnancy’”? Cindy repeated. “You mean, kill the baby?”

“Well, that’s not the way I’d put it.”

“How would you put it, Daniel?” Whenever Cindy was pissed, she called him “Daniel.”

“Look, I admit I’m not entirely comfortable with abortion. But it is legal and safe. You’d be in and out of the clinic in a couple of hours. I looked it up on Planned Parenthood’s website. The procedure itself only takes about ten minutes. You stay in the recovery room for an hour. Then you’re discharged.”

“You make it sound like an oil change.”

“I don’t mean to make light of it, Cin. But it’s not the worst thing in the world.”

Cindy looked over the Bay, at the distant city. She heard the gulls cawing, the revving of the motor of a speedboat, the wind rippling through the trees. Then she said, quietly and firmly, “I am not having an abortion. I want this baby.”

That seemed to be the end of it. The next day, after work, Danny met up with Nick at Playa. They hadn’t seen each other in a while and were looking forward to catching up. Danny told Nick about the Castro Valley cottage. Nick told Danny about the situation with Flambé. She was still living with him, technically, but she was seeing the new councilmember, Devon Camber, and it was increasingly clear that she was in love with him.

“That sucks,” Danny observed. “How do you feel about it?”

“I don’t know. I like Flambé. She’s been good for me. But I never expected it to be like a marriage, a ‘for better or for worse’ kind of thing. If she wants to move on, I’m cool. How’s Cindy?”

Danny explained.

“Wow. She’s pregnant?”

“Yeah. We should have had protection, but that’s water under the bridge. The point is, she wants the baby, and I don’t. I can’t force her to get an abortion. So we’re kind of at an impasse.”

“That sucks.”

“Indeed.” The two friends lapsed into silence. Then Nick suggested that maybe Danny would like being a father. “I mean, kids can be great.”

Danny looked at Nick and grinned ironically. “What would you know about having kids?”

 “Don’t forget I had three younger siblings.”

“Which makes you an expert at parenting, I’m sure.”

“Hey, don’t take it out on me. I’m just trying to help.”

“Well,” Danny asked, “what would you do?”

Nick considered. “I don’t know. Like you said, you can’t force her to get an abortion. So I guess you’re stuck.”

“Which is exactly what I said.”

“Do you really want to stay with her?”

“I’m not going to walk away from the baby, if that’s what you’re driving at. If she has it, then I’m going to be a good father.”

“Daddy!” Nick laughed, and then made baby-crying noises. “Wah! Wah!”

Danny socked his friend on the bicep. “Hey, let’s go over to Bay Grape and see what they’re tasting.”

“That,” announced Nick, “is the best idea I’ve heard all day!”


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 21

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“They Certainly Don’t Deserve to Die”

“It’s a tragic case, but really fairly straightforward.” Dr. Wu was riffling through Duquene’s medical file, while Rosey listened and took the occasional note. “A single gunshot wound, more or less right between the eyes. Instant death.”

“What kind of health was he in?” Rosie asked. “I mean, besides the shooting.”

“Poor.” Dr. Wu’s eye scanned the chart: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, probably endemic cardiovascular disease. “Evidence of malnutrition. He tested positive for hepatitis B. And while we don’t do dental forensics, one look inside his mouth showed extensive periodontitis. I doubt if he had another two years, at most.”

“Did you see him the next morning? I mean, when he had sobered up?”

“I did.”

“How would you characterize his mood, his state of mind?”

“He was anxious to get discharged. He said he’d been in and out of hospitals many times, and he didn’t like them.”

“Did he indicate any particular concerns about returning to the streets? For example, did he say anything about enemies, or threats, or anything that he was afraid of?”

Dr. Wu tapped his fingers together. “I’m afraid not. Not that I recall, anyway. He said he’d been on the streets for so many years that it was the only place he felt safe.”

The interview was yielding precious little information, Rosey decided. He stood, gave Dr. Wu his card. “Thank you, doctor. Look: if anything else occurs to you, give me a call, okay?”

Dr. Wu also stood, took the card, then offered his right hand for a shake. “I will, Detective. Umm, are there any leads? I mean, this is connected to the serial killings, isn’t it?”

“I’m not really at liberty to go into details, doctor, but I can tell you we’ve elevated this to a Status One investigation.. Our highest.”

Dr. Wu let Rosey’s hand go. “Well, that’s good to hear. It’s a shame, really. These people have done nothing wrong; it’s not their fault they’ve fallen on hard times. They certainly don’t deserve to die. Good luck, Detective.”

Rosey stopped in the hospital cafeteria for a quick lunch and coffee: tuna sandwich, cole slaw, fries (terrible for his weight. His wife, Ceci, he knew, would kill him, but they were so delicious). He brought out the little drawing pad he always carried; Rosey was a great doodler. His scribblings, of cartoon animals, helped steady his racing mind, and enabled him to focus his thoughts when they threatened to run out of control. In some weird way he didn’t understand, the doodles allowed his unconscious mind to connect things that his conscious mind was unable to—a helpful talent for an investigator often working with seemingly unrelated bits of evidence. Someone once said Rosey Brown’s doodles had solved more homicides than the National Crime Database. It wasn’t true, of course, but it made Rosey smile.

He got back to his office, on Washington Street, where he found multiple messages awaiting him. Among them was one from the new City Councilmember, Devon Camber, asking for a meeting. Rosey hadn’t yet met Camber, whose district he lived outside, but he was certainly aware of the young politician’s rising political star. He emailed the Councilmember back. Sure, they could get together. How about a drink after work that evening? Rosey had a little bar he liked, not far from City Hall: the Five10, on Fifteenth Street. Great pizza, kind of a dive, good beer. Devon emailed back instantly. He knew the place; he went there himself. They set a meeting time for 6:30.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 20

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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.


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