Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder by the Book: William Overson

Meth Head Talks

Sgt. David Johnson
Sgt. David Johnson

Police investigators assigned to the caseincluding Sgt. David Johnson and Detectives Joe Cristinzianzi and John Teffthad precious little to go on. The Mitsubishi yielded no physical evidence such as hair, fingerprints or blood, except that of the victim. The best clues were the slugs and shell casings, which came from a .223-caliber rifle, and the eyewitness description of the getaway vehicle, a white Ford Ranger with a shell on the back.

Detective Joe Cristinzianzi
Detective Joe Cristinzianzi

Police issued a public bulletin about the truck and set up a hotline. But there were thousands of Rangers registered in southern California, and the murder probe seemed to hang on a long, tedious review of those registration records. Then came a break.

Detective John Tefft
Detective John Tefft

In an unrelated drug investigation, police collared a man with a record of methamphetamine offenses. Facing prison, he offered a barter: the names of the Tecolote Canyon killers for a reduced sentence. The informant explained that he ran with a group of San Diego meth heads, and in that circle a rumor had sprung up of the possibility of an easy-money robbery.

Based on a tip from a golf course insider, the group had come to believe that the weekend receipts from Tecolote Canyon were taken to the bank on Monday mornings by the general manager, Overson. According to the tipster, Overson was believed to run the bank errand in his personal vehicle, the light-colored Mitsubishi Montero, and to do so unarmed. Overson typically was the first one in to work every day, often before sunrise, and it was believed he made the deposit run soon after the bank's 9 a.m. opening. The snitch said Dennis Earls, 35, a local man with a record of drug arrests, had hatched a plan to relieve Overson of the cash, which the meth heads believed would total as much as $60,000.

The getaway driver was identified as Jimmy Derieux Jr., 39, a handsome tile installer with piercing blue eyes. Derieux grew up in the Clairemont neighborhood not far from the golf course. Derieux looked like a San Diego surfer dude, but he was in the process of flushing his life down the toilet, thanks to a meth jones. He had been arrested in the past on narcotics and weapons charges, and he found himself living that spring in a meth flophouse with his girlfriend and a collection of equally pathetic addicts.

The informant identified the killer as Montgomery (Fritz) Bruce, also 39. Bruce lived in the North Park neighborhood with a much older girlfriend and was known for zipping around the city on a sport bike-style motorcycle. Bruce affected a violent, skinhead personal stylecomplete with a shaved pate and a collection of tattoos. He had a record of violence and theft dating to his teen years, including one assault in 1986 in which he bit off part of another man's ear. One cop described him as "evil."

Jailhouse informants tell many storiessome true, some not. But this informant's tale earned traction when investigators ran the three suspects' names through the California Department of Motor Vehicles database. Jimmy Derieux, the records showed, owned a white Ford Ranger pickup.

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