Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Starbucks Shooter

New Problems

In September 1997, the police were criticized for failing to seize a pair of white athletic shoes from the first suspect, the former Starbucks employee, to compare to evidence from the scene. Apparently a day after they had investigated him, an evidence technician mentioned that he thought he'd seen a dark stain on the shoes. A black-and-white photo affirmed it. The shoes were then seized and analyzed, but the police announced that there had been no evidence on them linked to the slayings. If the suspect had tried removing evidence, such as a bloodstain, that would have been detected by the FBI's testing.

District Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby
District Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby

However, the public maintained its distrust. The Washington homicide units were under scrutiny, Brian Mooar indicated in The Washington Post, because so many of their cases more than 60% remained unsolved. District Police Chief Larry D. Soulsby replaced all the supervisors and began searching outside the city for a new unit commander. By this time, Starbucks had increased its reward to $100,000.

Police continued to seek leads. A drug abuser had told them he knew of a house in Southwest D.C. where the residents had information about the shooting. He agreed to act as an informant, but to do so, he said, he had to purchase drugs from them. The police gave him less than $100 and remained out of sight as he went to the house. This, they believed, would provide legal grounds to search the house and possibly turn up evidence. However, on his way back the informant was brutally beaten and robbed. Found by a passerby, he was taken to a hospital, where he died. His family instigated a lawsuit against the police and the city for knowingly sending him into a high-risk situation without proper planning and protection. They would ultimately win $98 million, the largest jury verdict ever returned against the D.C. government.

Logo: Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Logo: Community Foundation for the National Capital Region

Throughout this time, the coffee shop remained closed. People who walked by were reminded of what had occurred there. But finally, Starbucks decided to reopen the shop, announcing a reopening date of February 21, 1998. To honor the victims, they built a floor-to-ceiling Maplewood mural that held three boxes, each engraved with the initials of one of the victims. Their surviving relatives placed mementos into the boxes, and the company announced it would donate all net profits from this store to the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, an organization dedicated to nonviolence. Starbucks also gave money to Circle of Hope, a group that guided teens toward being productive members of society.

Soon the store was bustling with activity again. By the time a year had passed, as local newspapers marked the tragic anniversary, the case had grown cold. Public officials said little about it, as they knew how difficult it would be to catch the killers at this point, yet two homicide detectives and an FBI agent were still assigned full time. To date, they had interviewed hundreds of people and followed dozens of leads. One officer told reporters that the police were optimistic about solving it, because they had some tips that looked good; they just had to work up more evidence to make an arrest stick. Some people thought that kind of talk was just for public relations, but the police knew what they had. Some cases take longer than others, and this one, while slow, did in fact have a solid suspect.

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