Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George Russell


There was nothing to indicate this being a different day than any other in beautiful Bellevue. Nothing very exciting happened in Bellevue, if you were to ask most of its citizens that Saturday morning of June 23, 1990. As for Jimmy the counter clerk at McDonald's, life was too serene. He might even say that the Pacific Ocean, upon which Washington State sits, was aptly named, pacifico being a Spanish word meaning peaceful. The sun had barely risen, and the restaurant would open in a half-hour; inside, the manager was yelling about last night's trash not being tossed before the crew went home. So, here was Jimmy, yanking the heavy plastic gray gurney to the Dumpster in the back.

Heaving the gurney over the back door threshold, Jimmy didn't know what that thing was ahead of him, lying halfway between him and the Dumpster, dead center in the alley. The early morning shadows hazed his view. It looked white and long and twisted just like a tree branch. Or was it something that fell out of the Black Angus' trashcans adjacent to theirs? McDonald's and the steakhouse shared the same refuse area.

Jimmy paused and squinted. If it was a wounded animal of some sort, no way was he going to touch it. He tippy-toed a few feet closer. It was a mannequin...wasn't it? A mannequin of a woman. Wait, though, it...she...looked too real, and quite naked, and quite still. Drunk, maybe? Injured? Yeah, but no human being can contort her body like that, whispered Jimmy. Leaning over this spectacle, this time for a real look, he caught all the glimpse he cared to get. And it scared the hell out of him.

Vaulting back through McDonald's alley door, he raced for the phone and screamed into the receiver for the police.

Within minutes, the alleyway was alive with blue uniforms and squad cars, their cherry lights bouncing across the rear walls of the buildings and the faces of gathering pedestrians the cops were trying to keep away. Of the body, the corpse was a grotesque picture of a young nude woman, wearing nothing but small articles of jewelry and bent into shapes unthinkable to the human form. The word that came to mind with the experts who inspected her was degradation.

"The victim was left lying on her back, with her left foot crossed over the instep of her right ankle," reads Dr. Robert Keppel's chapter on the Bellevue Yuppie Murders in his clinical study of Signature Killers. "Her head was turned to the left and a Frito-Lay dip container rested on top of her right eye...In one hand, detectives found a startling piece of evidence: a Douglas fir cone."

Keppel, who would become intrinsically involved as consultant in the case and the subsequent trial of the murderer, would go on to diagnose the pine cone as being a stark and frightening phallic symbol of something sexually predominant in the killer's mind. It was fairly obvious in the way the woman had been molested that the murder was a product of a deviant fantasy. The autopsy examination revealed apart from a number of vicious wounds indicating that she had been severely punched and kicked that the victim had been brutally raped. Besides the clinical sign of vaginal penetration, her anus had been savagely stabbed with an unknown foreign object.

Estimated time of death was between 2:30 and 5:20 a.m., but the latter time seems to have been more realistic as the night crew from the Black Angus Restaurant katty-corner had dumped its garbage at approximately 3:15 a.m. and had seen nothing. As the body had been left on the asphalt-paved garbage area in the path of the Dumpster, there could have been no way that anyone would have passed over the pavement without encountering it.

Cause of death was trauma to the right side of the head delivered by a blunt instrument heavy enough to crack the skull. The woman had also suffered a ruptured liver from what must have been a horrendous blow. But, most of her other injuries and bruises, even signs of her having been garroted, appeared to have been delivered after death, which added an even stranger dementia to the case. Whoever killed her had taken his/her time to perform a kind of ritual, enjoying the handiwork, climaxed with the act of posing the body into a specified contour. In fact, it seemed that the killer had taken great pains to leave the body in a state that would beget two results:
1) to shock whomever found it, and
2) to send a message to the police that said, in its own macabre, silent way, "See what I've done come and get me!"

As it would turn out, the posing meant more than a perverted joke. It had deeper meaning. Accordingly, the killer had truly and instinctively gratified his/her own instincts, similar to a waxworks artist creating a specific emotion in the face of his figure.

Officials worried that this slaying might be the first of more to come; it had all the earmarks of someone with a warped psychological chip on the shoulder. There were traces of spontaneity, but, in all, the butcher job performed on the victim reeked of a long pent-up anxiety that had finally broken loose. For one, the fact that the killer spent so much time arranging the body indicated a fantasy, a vision, of something he or she had prefabricated in his or her mind and long yearned to play out. What bothered the experts more than anything was that they knew from experience dealing with other psycho-homicides, that as their killing progresses they become more and more violent.

Bellevue was a very peacaeble community until that night murders were and are to this day a rarity so the local police had very little experience handling a murder case. Rap sheets in their files amounted to petty thieves and miscreants.

However, once the victim was identified, clues at least solid presumptions began to materialize. Through dental records, a name was given to the corpse: Mary Ann Pohlreich. In life, she was a pretty, talkative woman of 27 years who stood 5'7" with gray eyes and shoulder-length light brown hair. She was last seen on Friday evening, June 22, in one of Bellevue's favorite weekend habitats not far from where she was found dead, a popular singles bar and "meet market" called Papagayo's Cantina. Her 1984 Chevrolet Camaro was found still parked in the adjoining lot, telling police that she may have left the place with her killer. While investigators interviewed several who remembered seeing Miss Pohlreich there, none could recall when she left the bar nor with whom.

Because her purse was also left behind in the cloakroom, this reinforced the investigators' belief that she had left with a male headed for a rush of casual sex, intending to return to the bar afterwards. Perhaps her killer had suggested they make love in his car in the parking lot, or that they cruise to one of the nearby dark corners within the vicinity. Leaving Papagayo's, the victim thought she would be back.

Conjecture, the point at which any successful criminal investigation begins, caused a picture to start emerging on a blank canvas. Pohlreich was picked up at Papagayo's by or maybe had set a date to meet someone who fit into the singles bar scene, someone matching the common milieux. (Ted Bundy wore his tangible world like a glove.) She had had a few drinks on an empty stomach the coroner's report confirmed that and was easy prey. Not promiscuous but nevertheless not one either to turn down a little innocent sex, she fell prey to her pickup.

Some investigators, including Keppel, believed that the woman's killer may not have initially intended to murder her, but had lost control. It seemed quite probable that Pohlreich, having been the first of more victims to come, may have inadvertantly triggered not only her own annihilation but a long-caged frustration that would set the psychopath off on a killing spree. Maybe he wanted more than she cared to offer in terms of sex. When she objected to his physical advances in his automobile, he angered. The more she fought, the more he worked himself into a frenzy, ultimately beating her until she was unconscious.

Even if the murder had not been premeditated, the slaughter showed signs of a deranged mind, the type of killing that, once fulfilled, would lead to others. In short, the killer had tasted blood, had released perhaps years of psychosexual dreaming, and in the act of letting the fantasy explode realized he reveled in it with complete satisfaction a heightened sexual climax.

If that were the case, reasoned the authorities, the murderer would strike again. Quite soon.


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