Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Friend's Betrayal: The Murder of Tammy Epperson

A Big Break

The next morning, an alert patrol officer in LAPD's downtown area was making his usual rounds when he drove past a hotel where parolees usually stayed after getting out of prison. He was familiar with the cars normally parked there, but noticed something new — a red pickup truck. A check of the license plate number revealed that it belonged to Powell. Barr was notified and went out to the location. He'd wait until someone walked out of the hotel and got into the truck.

That someone was tall, muscular and wore a Notre Dame baseball cap with a blood splatter. He was arrested, but claimed to be Charles Vannoy, not Powell. A check of his identification revealed that he was telling the truth. But the blood splatter told something else. Vannoy may have been involved in the murder as well. He denied it.

"Whose truck is that?" Barr asked.

"My friend, Troy Powell, signed it over to me last night," Vannoy answered. He added that Powell, a former prison cellmate, gave him the hat, a jacket, a camera and some other items. Barr went with Vannoy back to his home and searched it, finding the items previously described. The film inside the camera was quickly developed and yielded photos of Tammy, Vannoy, and Powell together.

Evidence Testing in the Lab
Evidence Testing in the Lab

However, DNA tests are another matter. They take time, sometimes months. The blood on the cap would later turn out to not to be Tammy's, but detectives didn't know that at the time and they wanted answers immediately. Vannoy would need to come down to the station for an interview if he had any hopes of being cleared.

After the interrogation had been going on for a while, Vannoy finally broke. He said Powell told him about the murder and asked for help in moving out of his home, and signed over the truck.

"He said he was either going to move on or turn himself over to the police," Vannoy said.

Then Vannoy gave information that only the killer or a witness to the murder would know: that Tammy's throat was slashed and she was stabbed with a screwdriver. Barr was in a quandary — did he dare believe that Vannoy had nothing to do with it?

"So now he becomes a very big concern to myself and my partner," Barr said.

But detectives continued their interrogation and Vannoy redeemed himself. He said he was supposed to get a phone call from Powell at 7 p.m. that night and offered to help detectives catch Powell. That would make it 48 hours since the murder happened, so Barr just might have a lucky break after all.

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