Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George Russell

Hate

On August 9, 1990, a little more than a month after the Pohlreich murder, Carol Ann Beethe returned home from the Keg Restaurant to be exterminated before sunrise.

Like Papagayo's, the Keg was another "in" spot for Bellevue's young professionals, many of who worked in nearby Seattle across Lake Washington and mingled in each other's company after work. Bathed in lavender light, Liz Claiborne perfume, calmed by soft keyboard and their favorite mixed drink, they came together in AKA Joe sportswear or in Armani and Versace linens to chat, to laugh and to make out. It didn't matter how long or if they knew each other.

Pretty, blonde-haired, svelte Carol Beethe slotted well with her crowd, trading sexual innuendoes, teasing the men, inviting their flirtations, and most often dropping them cold. It was a game and great for the ego. On the evening of August 9, however, she concentrated on the bartender, turning her back to all the other males who watched her swivel temptingly on the barstool. She hadn't realized that one pair of eyes paid her extra special attention from behind the quivering flame of a table candle in the corner of the lounge.

Beethe left the Keg a little past 2 a.m. and drove straight home. A neighbor out walking his dog later told police that he had seen Beethe unlock the front door of her ranch-style home, then enter about 2:30. She was alone, and she looked a little tipsy. There was neither anyone with her or near her, on foot or cruising the block in an automobile.

Inside her home, Beethe, a divorcee, peeked in on her two daughters, a nine- and a 13-year-old, and was glad to see that they both looked peacefully asleep. Taking a quick shower, she prepared for bed. Tomorrow was a workday and she was scheduled to work the late shift; she tended bar at Cucina Cucina, one more of Bellevue's trendy drinking dens. She didn't like leaving her kids alone so often at night, but they were responsible, and she knew that her ex often checked in on them.

The neighborhood where she resided was a quiet community comprised of varied house styles, all of them in good order, boasting spacious front lawns and larger backyards. It lay two miles from Bellevue's downtown thoroughfare and a mile and a half from the McDonald's and Black Angus restaurants from whose connecting alley Miss Pohlreich's body turned up. That homicide had upset this neighborhood, as it did all of Bellevue. But now, after forty days of resumed tranquility and order, general concensus was that the murderer had been a transient passing through and had put Bellevue, probably even Washington State, far behind him.

Beethe, exhausted, rested her head on her pillow not long after 3 a.m. The moon was especially bright that night, so she turned her eyes from the open French glass doors that shone translucently in lunar light. She rarely bothered to draw their drapes, even though they opened into her yard. She figured that because her yard was private it did not draw public access. She never locked the doors either, and it was through them that the killer had found easy entrance.

Whether he entered before or after she went to bed is not known, but the woman had had only a brief warning of any intruder as indicated by two defense wounds on her palms. As her trespasser had done with Pohlreich, he slammed his fists into Beethe's ribcage to stifle an outcry, then continued to punch her about her face and chest until she was winded and then unconscious. With her now silenced, he went about his business, preparing to lay her "in state" in such a way that the world would know just what he thought about Carol Ann Beethe.

To make sure she would never wake up, he whacked her skull several times with a blunt and heavy object that left large Y-shaped impressions across her cranium and face. (The weapon would never be identified.) She was dead, but he couldn't stand her two eyes staring at him through the dimness of the room. Though emotionless now, they seemed to follow him wherever he crossed like his own guilt confronting him. He would put an end to that, he told himself, and from across her bureau he grabbed a plastic bag, the kind cleaners use to wrap newly pressed garments, and slipped it over her head. Doubling it over twice thick, he then secured it around her throat with a belt. But...that was not enough. The moonlight still caught those eyes and they still met his, pupil to pupil. Groaning, he clutched the pillow from beneath her and shoved it over her face. She could not see him now nor could he be intimidated.

Now he could enjoy the rest of his ritual...

*****

Carol Beethe's oldest daughter Kelly found her mother the following morning. When the police arrived, they found something more revolting to the eyes than the savagery performed on Pohlreich. Beethe's naked body was sprawled sideways on the bed, her feet towards the door. At first the cops thought she had been suffocated by the pillow until they lifted it to find her head sealed in the plastic bag, which was tied around her neck. Her skull was cracked open and multiple bruises swelled her face. Her nightgown lay crumpled and torn on the floor.

She wore only red high-heeled shoes. These, the police determined, were rudely stuffed on her feet by her killer after death. The middle finger of one hand was nearly severed. Her legs were pried open and the barrel of a shotgun, which Kelly Beethe said belonged to her mother for protection, was shoved far up her vagina. Her ribcage, stomach and chest displayed marks of abuse.

What the killer had done, taking care to pose her in this fashion, took no little effort. Investigators judged that the slayer had been methodical and expended much time. The Beethe children had heard nothing during the night although they slept immediately in the connecting room; this meant that the intruder must have operated stealthily. Evidence in the house suggested that he had wandered through it before he left, perhaps looking for money or valuables. At one point, Kelly had caught a glimpse of a man passing her bedroom door, but wrote him off as one of her mother's boyfriends. She couldn't describe him.

As the police began investigating, they interviewed the neighbor who had seen her return home the previous night, but he could provide them with nothing substantial. They also spoke with some neighborhood children who had been camping out next door. They said she seemed to be in a hurry, as if afraid of someone or something outside.

Questioning John Comfort, the bartender she had stopped to see at the Keg, the police learned Beethe helped him close up, then went with him to his car where they made love. He had seen no signs of life in the parking lot, nor any suspicious characters hanging about the restaurant at closing time. There had been a few last-minute stragglers, but all were gone by the time they locked up.

Comfort was detained, let go, then placed under surveillance. Bellevue authorities refused to believe at this point that they had a serial killer on their hands. They argued that the modus operandi of the Pohlreich and Beethe crimes differed. Pohlreich, they said, had been the victim of a spontaneous date rape gone awry; Beethe had died at the hands of a housebreaker who might have had a personal vendetta against her.

They failed to recognize four important psychological elements:
1) that both crimes bore signs of graphic sexual deviancy;
2) that both women's bodies had been treated with sheer contempt by the killer;
3) that both corpses were posed to laugh at and malign the law; and
4) that even though the MO had altered, the signature (the other three elements) had not.

 

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