The NY Times did a great job with this story about the death of a cop’s girlfriend — and how it was first ruled a suicide.
This is exactly the scenario I faced more than two decades ago when I was hit with a million-dollar libel suit from a cop whose girlfriend was pronounced a suicide under similarly suspicious circumstances. As the editor for that section, I’d be inundated with calls from people who knew the couple and talked about the cop’s violence, his past stalking of exes and his boasts that he could kill her and make her look like a suicide.
I didn’t write all that. I didn’t even write the main story. I simply wrote a sidebar piece, and here was the million-dollar quote: “Sources close to the couple say the relationship was marked with heavy drinking and violence.”
It was almost two years to the day since the story ran that I got served with the subpoena. As you can imagine, I was shocked.
Here was the thing. I didn’t know whether this cop killed his girlfriend; I only knew that the way the cops and public officials were handling it was off. Not normal. My sidebar was only meant to prod the D.A. into doing his job.
The former white collar prosecutor who was assigned to my libel case didn’t believe me. “I think someone’s been watching too much television,” he said when I told him there was a coverup. “Why would anyone cover up for this officer?” I explained to him that the cop’s father was an official in a town that was a toxic-waste dump for Mafia trucking companies, but he thought I was being dramatic.
Turns out I was right.
I didn’t know for sure that it was a homicide until we got the autopsy photos. The lawyer didn’t want me to look at them: “Too gruesome,” he said. But by this time, I didn’t trust his judgment and I had to see for myself.
The entry wound was dead center in the back of her head. Now, I’ve never fired a .357 but I knew it had to have a fierce kick. I was supposed to believe that this tiny young woman (a little over five feet), a woman with such severe arthritis that she couldn’t even carry a gallon of milk and had to quit her waitress job, reached around the back of her head and shot herself dead center. Right.
And just to make it interesting, the coroner had told me at the time — on the record — that she’d shot herself two inches below her right ear. (The same coroner who later left under a cloud of multiple scandals.)
When we finally got the files from the county CID, it turned out the cop’s best friend was the lead investigator. It also turned out that, just as I’d suspected, he simply bullied the witnesses into submission and hadn’t included any statements at all that undermined the official narrative. (Which, incidentally, is pretty much what happened with the JFK killing.)
This was when I learned to never, ever accept the official story on anything until I checked it out myself.