Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bag of Tricks: The Murder of Roland Kuster

Bag of Tricks

HOLLYWOOD — It was 9:40 a.m. on May 9, 1997, and Los Angeles police detectives Thomas Small and John Thacker arrived in a seamy area frequented by drug users and pushers. A call had come in regarding a dead body in a two-story home and they were called out to investigate.

Los Angeles police detective John Thacker
Los Angeles police detective
John Thacker

One of the first things they noticed was a smashed window at the front of the house. They entered the ground floor and walked around what looked like a photography studio and office. Besides the broken glass littering the floor, nothing much seemed askew. But then they saw a drop of blood and a bloody shoeprint made by some sort of athletic shoe.

Small and Thacker made their way up the stairs and were greeted by a much different scenario. A trail of blood started at the top of the stairs and led the detectives to a bedroom that was like a scene out of a horror movie. Blood dripped off the ceiling, ran down the walls and covered the floor. Shards of glass were everywhere and a heavy porcelain figurine was broken. A man lay facedown halfway off the foot of the bed, covered in blood.

The gruesome trail continued out the room and toward another bedroom, a bathroom, a walk-in closet and a kitchen. There wasn't an upstairs room that didn't have blood spatter. Detectives spent the entire day at the scene.

Los Angeles police detective Thomas Small
Los Angeles police detective
Thomas Small

"I've been doing this for over 10 years now and I never cease being amazed at the violence that people can inflict on each other," Small said later. "A crime scene that was this violent and this bloody, you know, I got to admit I was taken aback a little bit. There is a distinct smell when you enter a place that's been this disrupted. And just the pure volume of blood let me know that this was extremely violent.

"I was trying to imagine what this victim was thinking. How he was alerted to the fact that he was about to be assaulted. What his killer must be like, what his killer was thinking at the time, what is the purpose of the whole attack.

"You try to be open minded and realize that you really don't know what transpired here but you have to now speak for the dead and utilize the evidence you have at hand ... and try to put the pieces back together."

Small was about to do just that.

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