The Baton Rouge Serial Killer Case and the "Play-Doh" Bomb Caper
by John Philpin, Crime Profiler
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Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade has brought out the big guns. For his four-page letter of complaint to the producer of ABC’s "Primetime Thursday," Englade collaborated with FBI SACs Stephen R. Wiley and Louis M. Reigel. At issue were the program’s characterizations of the investigation conducted by the Multi-Agency Task Force, a spontaneously-generated posse that charged itself with apprehending the Baton Rouge area serial killer.

Featured on the program was best-selling crime novelist Patricia Cornwell. Cornwell’s interest in the case developed early and brought her to Baton Rouge on several occasions to attend rallies, research the murders, and initiate her own investigation. She contributed $25,000 to the reward fund, and offered support to victims’ families. In October 2002, despite her misgivings about task force politics, she urged the public to support police in their efforts to catch the killer.

In their letter, law enforcement’s gang of three claim "errors of fact, erroneous conclusions and inappropriate speculation" concerning the serial murder investigation. "These factual errors," the letter continues, "conclusions and speculations can have a negative impact on both the victims’ families, who already have suffered enormous grief and uncertainty over what happened to their loved ones, and the ability of the task force to complete its investigation, while assuring Mr. Lee a fair trial."

With a single exception (an issue of payment for some DNA testing), ABC stands by the "Primetime" report.

The letter is a throwaway, a political last gasp, one final (we can only hope) attempt to rewrite the history of a failed investigation. Invoking the pain of the victims’ families is specious; the "uncertainty" experienced by these folks was from being kept in the dark throughout by Englade and his top-heavy task force. They failed to link homicides. They ran with a dubious lead (the white POI), and ignored multiple witnesses who gave them descriptions of a black man loitering at Murray Pace’s Sharlo apartment complex on the day before and the day of her murder. They refused to inform, or they misinformed their public. Now they intend to justify doing and saying nothing so that suspect Derrick Todd Lee can receive a fair trial.

Something continues to be rotten in Red Stick.

Who are the federal signatories on this lengthy epistle? They point out that the behavioral profile did not specify a white man, so are they the three "most-senior profilers" who did the work? Nope. Well then they must be special agents in the Baton Rouge office. Sorry. Wrong again. Quantico-based gurus? Nope. Stephen R. Wiley is an accountant by education, and the former SAC of the criminal division in the Los Angeles office. Louis M. Reigel, another accountant and former deputy chief financial officer for the FBI, is SAC of the New Orleans office.

Are we witnessing a revolt of the number crunchers, or is there some more substantive reason for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to have a hair across its ass about Patricia Cornwell? Well, maybe they have tired of the ledger books, but odds are their peevishness might just have to do with the infamous "Play-Doh" Bomb Caper.

Former FBI Agent Eugene Bennett believed that his wife had an affair with Patricia Cornwell in 1992, that this affair led to the dissolution of his marriage and rendered him a prime candidate for St. Elizabeth’s. In her defense, former FBI Agent Marguerite Bennett claimed only two intimate meetings with the author, and indicated that her husband had not raised the subject of lesbianism until after she announced she wanted a divorce. Whatever the case, the Court of Appeals for the Commonwealth of Virgina offers the following account of subsequent events:

"On the night of June 23, 1996, appellant convinced Reverend Edwin Clever to meet with him alone at Clever's church under the false pretense of wanting to make an anonymous donation. When Clever arrived, appellant had already gained access to the locked building and abducted the minister at gunpoint, handcuffing his arms and legs together and placing a pouch containing explosives around the minister's waist. [Author’s note: This was Bennett’s expert use of "Play-Doh."] Claiming that he was investigating a financing scam involving the church's bank accounts, appellant threatened to harm Clever's children unless he telephoned Mrs. Bennett and convinced her to come to the church that night. ... Clever telephoned Mrs. Bennett at home and, following appellant's instructions, asked her to come to the church to assist him in handling a crisis that had arisen. Mrs. Bennett, a member and lay counselor of the church, agreed to meet him.

"When Mrs. Bennett entered the church, she saw appellant, who was wearing dark clothing and a ski mask and was carrying a gun. Mrs. Bennett recognized her husband when he ran toward her saying, "Margo, don't fight me on this." Spraying him with pepper spray, Mrs. Bennett retreated into an office, pulled a gun from her purse, and hid behind a desk.

"While in the office, appellant warned Mrs. Bennett that Clever had explosives around his waist and they would all die if she did not emerge from her hiding place and talk with him. Mrs. Bennett refused, fearing for her life. During the encounter, appellant repeatedly "bobbed around the corner" of the door, aiming his gun at Mrs. Bennett and taunting her to engage in a shootout. At one point, appellant told Mrs. Bennett he was going to take the couple's children and leave the country. Eventually, Mrs. Bennett was able to call 911 from the office, and appellant fled the church."

Tacky. This is not a tale that inspires confidence in our federal constabulary. Substantive? Hardly. But who knows what tweaks an accountant’s inner beast? As for Englade, as noted in earlier articles, the pasture beckons.

If you missed Patricia Cornwell’s case analysis on ABC’s "Primetime" (most of which was filmed before the arrest of the suspect in the case), find someone with a tape and borrow it. Cornwell’s assessment is scathing and accurate. Oh, with one exception. The DNA test that linked the murders of Gina Green and Murray Pace was paid for by the state and not the county coroner.

John Philpin, 2003 All Rights Reserved -- Do not reproduce in any form or circulate without permission.

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