Crime beat: a decade of covering cops and killers - By Michael Connelly





Mayhem and ennui set the tone for a week spent in the forefront of the battle against a city’s murders.


October 25, 1987

IT HAS BEEN FOUR DAYS since anybody has heard from or seen Walter Moody and people are thinking that something is wrong. The tenants at the South Andrews Avenue apartment building he manages say he hasn’t answered his door since Thursday. His parents can’t get him on the phone. And he didn’t call his boss Saturday when he didn’t show up for his part-time truck-driving job.

This is not like Walter, everyone agrees.

It is now 1:40 p.m., Monday, June 29. The happenstance of concern from so many places for Walter Moody results in two Fort Lauderdale police officers and a locksmith coming to his apartment door. There is a small crowd of tenants watching closely.

The three-story apartment building has a Spanish castle motif: white walls, red barrel-tile roof, round turret with small arched windows at the corner. It is a U-shaped building with a neatly kept center courtyard dominated by a shade tree reaching all the way to the roof. There are small bushes and shrubs about the courtyard, all trimmed and cared for by the manager, Walter Moody. The tenants sit on a bench beneath the shade tree and look up to the second-floor walkway where the locksmith has just opened the door to Walter’s apartment. The officers go in and find the place ransacked and the door to the master bedroom locked. They call for the locksmith to open it. And after a few moments inside, they call for the homicide squad.

GEORGE HURT has gone home early. His sinuses are acting up and the last few days have been slow. He figures he can take the break. He is sitting on the couch and has the afternoon paper in his hands when he gets The Call.

It’s another murder. An apartment manager. No smoking gun. No such luck.

He is told where. He is told when. The how is not yet known. It is Detective Vicki Russo telling him this. She’s rolling on it, she says. And so are the others—they being all available members of the homicide squad. George Hurt, sergeant in charge of the squad, says he’s rolling too. A routine week in homicide has begun. Hurt hangs up and curses to himself. This is number 38.

Murder in Fort Lauderdale comes in all ways, times, places and circumstances. It is a crime unclassifiable in any way other than by its final result, the taking of life. For George Hurt and the homicide squad the only sure bet is that it comes and comes. This is Monday, June 29, and already there have been 38 homicides this year. There were 42 in all of 1986. The most ever was 52, back in 1981. At this rate, George Hurt is thinking he is going to need another case chart for the wall in the squad room. There could be 60 to 70 murders in Fort Lauderdale this year. That’s kind of scary. And that’s why he curses each time he gets The Call.

It is hard to account for the numbers. Economics, drugs, heat, full moons, whatever. Hurt’s squad has investigated three people shot to death in a fast-food restaurant during a Saturday morning robbery; a high-profile divorce lawyer murdered a few steps from his office elevator; a rock-and-roll singer beaten to death because he was gay. More than a dozen times the victim was either the buyer or seller of drugs when things went wrong. There have been the quiet cases that rated only a few paragraphs in the newspapers, and the big cases that drew the TV trucks with the microwave dishes.

It all adds up to 37 times in six months that the squad has assembled at a scene that defied common sensibilities, the Norman Rockwell portrait of life. And now it is time to gather again. Number 38, Walter Moody, lies cold in bed, his blood four days old on the sheets and pillows, waiting for the homicide squad.

“SMELL THAT?” says George Hurt. “They just rolled the body over in there.”

Capt. Al Van Zandt, a supervisor of the detective division, puffs on his cigar so the smell of tobacco will overcome the sickly smell of death.

The two of them are standing outside the door to Walter Moody’s apartment. Hurt didn’t have to be inside to know what the smell is; he has had years of experience with it. Going back to his stint