LA Forensics: The Sandwich Shop Murders
With the evidence collected, the investigative strategy for crime reconstruction and learning about the shooter included the following:
- Dust the store and potentially related items for fingerprints that could be compared with a database of prior offenders
- Lift and preserve the shoeprint for later comparison
- Analyze the spent shell casings for later comparison
- Use autopsy results for how and where each victim was shot
- Look for possible eyewitnesses
- Determine if there were any obvious suspects, such as former or present employees with a grudge or enemies of the victims
From among these activities, investigators hoped to learn enough to be able to arrest and convict the offender. It was an unusual type of crime for the area, and the pressure on was from local residents to solve it.
Northridge was situated at the northwest end of the San Fernando Valley and was considered a safe place. However, by the end of that year, two LA Times reporters would quote statistics that indicated things were changing. "As of December 7," stated Berger and Connelly, "according to the most recent police figures, 137 people had died by violence this year in the Valley a 14.5% increase over last year." They then added six more murders from that weekend, and said that in the Valley over the past decade violent crime had increased by 38%. Even so, they also found that the police there had a good record for arrests.
Yet there was another issue to consider as well. During the year prior to the sandwich shop murders, some 50 sandwich shops in the Los Angeles area had been robbed. The incident in Northridge thus precipitated a meeting with shop owners about how they could make their businesses safer. Richardson and Moseley knew that if the Northridge robbery-homicide was in that series, it had been a random hit by someone not associated with that particular store. Thus, identifying the perpetrator would be much more difficult. Since no one had been killed in the other robberies, they continued to hope their situation would be resolved locally.
Among initial suspects was a man who was arrested for robbing a gas station down the street from the sandwich shop. However, his fingerprints did not match those lifted in the shop. The night manager was interviewed, since he had taken the night off, but he was not detained as a suspect.
While detectives asked for a list of present and former employees, especially those who might have returned to rob it, they learned that turnover at shops like this is high. They received dozens of names, but the franchise owner could think of no one who stood out. Two clerks had been let go in October on suspicion of theft by one of them, but neither was directly accused. The detectives made a note of their names.