The Gallaudet Murders
Trail of Evidence
Understandably, many students and their parents were worried about safety. Murder in a dorm was a rare event, period, and Gallaudet had now had two. During the previous two years, according to the statistics gathered by the U. S. Department of Education, from 1997-1999 there had been 53 homicides on college campuses around the country, and in 1999 only three of eleven nationwide had occurred in dorms. Eric Plunkett's mother, already in town, mobilized to plead with students not to leave, because that would only compound the tragedy. Nevertheless, several withdrew.
The police quickly interviewed a number of students to learn if anyone in Cogswell Hall that night had seen a stranger, especially near Benjamin's room. They also wanted to know who had set off the fire alarm, although it was clear that Benjamin had been dead for at least a day. Complicating the investigation was the need to use interpreters for every interview. Time was of the essence, but the process was slow.
It was clear from the crime scene that the attacker had been injured, so detectives watched for someone with recent injuries. They also kept an eye on Benjamin's bank accounts, since it looked as if his checkbook was gone. That hunch paid off.
Bank records showed that he had visited the Riggs Bank branch on Friday, February 2, to cash a check. Detectives, knowing it could not have been Benjamin, requested the bank's videotape. After they viewed it, they knew what the culprit who had probably committed the crime looked like. They just had to identify him. On the subject line of the check was "used laptop." However, there was no laptop in Benjamin's room, used or otherwise.
Secret Service handwriting experts said the check had been written by someone other than Benjamin and it was made out to Joseph Mesa, a freshman at the university who had lived in Cogswell Hall. He proved to be the young man on the bank surveillance video. The police went to arrest him.
Thus, ten days after the murder, they had a suspect and to the horror of the students and staff, he was potentially implicated in both homicides. He had lived across the hall from Eric Plunkett and had been the one who'd alerted the RA to look in on him. That alone made him a potential suspect.