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Case I: The Virgin and the Maintenance Man

Case I: Chapter 1: Introduction

He didn’t want to be here. He really didn’t want to be here. This was not the way he had envisioned this period of his life.

Matthew Dudley was stuck in this “old folks’ home” for rehabilitation after a mild heart attack. His doctor had placed him here so he could recover in a safe and secure environment rather than living alone as he had for the past several years as a widower.

But, La Vida Aureo (The Golden Life) was very different from the environment Dudley had always feared. It was located in an upscale area of Albuquerque and was considered a state-of-the-art facility. It was a large complex which included all levels of care from independent living cottages to a comprehensive skilled nursing wing as well as a so-called memory unit for those individuals suffering from degenerative dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even though these facilities were pleasant and appealing and the majority of the staff was competent, pleasant and very professional, Dudley still felt a significant loss of independence.

Matthew Dudley had retired from a long career working for the state of New Mexico in the Water Resources Department. What he enjoyed most about this position was the ability to frequently get outdoors. He was able to travel and work with local municipalities and organizations to manage the limited water resources so common throughout the state. He enjoyed working alone and really valued his independence. He had retired a few years ago and he and his wife had bought a small rundown home in the rural community of Cerrillos just south of Santa Fe. He enjoyed working on the home and the independence of this rather isolated environment. It was a major tragedy in his life when his wife died suddenly. He was relieved that she did not suffer or succumb to a long period of physical or mental deterioration. But he felt alone even in the small house and the associated stress may have contributed to his mild heart attack. His time in the hospital was brief and he felt that he had recovered fully and would be able to go back to Cerrillos and continue working on his home and other projects. He wasn’t convinced that he actually had a heart attack; it may have just been the stress caused by adjusting to a life alone. However his doctor, who was also a close personal friend, recommended that he spend some time in rehabilitation much to his chagrin. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the doctor and his children had conspired to get him out of the home in Cerrillos and into the more social and secure environment of a retirement home in Albuquerque. Neither of his two adult children lived in New Mexico and they had often encouraged him to move into a more populated area particularly after the death of his wife. Even though his pension from the state was relatively modest, his doctor arranged for him to be in perhaps the most expensive facility in New Mexico. He had argued that he should only be there for a few days but his doctor continued to refuse to sign the papers to indicate he had completed his rehabilitation successfully.

He really couldn’t complain because this facility was among the best in Albuquerque and had excellent physical therapy capabilities. Nonetheless, he was bored and frustrated and continued to believe that he didn’t belong here. He understood why many of the residents referred to this facility as The Golden Corral. He felt trapped and restricted and unable to do a lot of things that were part of his very active life

But Matthew Dudley’s life was about to change and the boredom and frustration end when La Vida Aureo’s Maintenance Man was found dead in the Utility Room with a large screwdriver stuck in his chest.

 

Case I: Chapter 2: The Local Police Arrive

The body of the Maintenance Man was discovered early in the afternoon by an employee known as Odd Job, a large, tough-looking Hispanic man, covered in tattoos and with a surly disposition. He frequently assisted the Facility’s Maintenance Man and performed other miscellaneous duties around the complex. When he discovered the body, he went immediately to La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director who quickly called 911.

Lt. Frank Garcia of the Albuquerque Major Crime Unit arrived about the same time as an emergency medical technician who promptly called the City’s Medical Examiner.

George Hernandez, the Chief Medical Examiner, looked at Garcia and said, “Even you could probably figure this one out. It looks like the Maintenance Man died from a stab wound to the chest caused by this large screwdriver. I suspect he was killed by a strong person, as the screwdriver was thrust into the chest up to the hilt which would require a considerable amount of force. There is some bruising on the back of his head, but I imagine it occurred when he fell backwards. If I discover any additional information during the autopsy, I’ll let you know.”

“Well, George, it’s always nice to see you too and I appreciate your solving this crime for me. I think I’ll just have a look around the room to see if there are any vital clues you might have missed.”

Garcia spent a few minutes examining the scene, but had to agree that this looked pretty straight forward. All that remained was to find out who had stabbed the Maintenance Man so violently. There wasn’t much else to do and the body was promptly removed, but the Utility Room was placed off-limits by standard police yellow tape.

As Lt. Garcia was leaving the facility, he stopped by the kitchen to pay his respects to Paloma Angostura, the cook. He had known her all his life and she had been instrumental in keeping him out of trouble and setting him on a more constructive course for his life. Lt. Garcia had been friends with her son and had spent much of his youth in their home.

“Francisco, it is so nice to see you. What brings you here, mi hijo?”

“Bad things. querida Madre, a man has been killed and I’m here to investigate his murder.”

Mi Dios, I heard about it. This is such a beautiful, peaceful place.” she said.

Garcia knew that “she had heard about it” was an understatement; there was probably very little that happened at La Vida Aureo that she didn’t know about.   He knew that she would be a source of important information as his investigation proceeded.

Garcia remembered his manners and inquired about Señora Angostura’s children. “How are Antonio and Marisa?”

“They are well, but so far from here.”

As he left the dining room, Lt. Garcia was stopped by Millicent Branch, an older woman and long time resident. “I know who murdered the Maintenance Man, she said. He was an evil person, always trying to touch the young Mexican girls who work here. I saw one of those girls coming up from the utility room earlier today and she was crying.”

Garcia thanked Mrs. Branch for her comments as he thought to himself, “just what I need, help from an old biddy who thinks she’s Agatha Christy.”

 

Case I: Chapter 3: Initial Murder Investigation

Based on the Medical Examiner’s initial assessment, Lt. Garcia felt that he was looking for a male as the prime suspect for this murder. He initiated a process of collecting fingerprints from delivery people and other service people for the facility such as gardeners etc. In the back of his mind, Garcia felt that Odd Job was the most likely candidate for the crime. He had known many people like this in Albuquerque and was familiar with many of the gangs and unsavory characters who roamed the city. He decided that he would go back to the retirement home to go through the utility room once more looking for additional evidence and clues. He would also visit with the Executive Director to inquire about Odd Job in greater detail as well as trying to understand the recent activities of the Maintenance Man.

But, Garcia was a thorough investigator and could not ignore Mrs. Branch’s comments, however unreasonable. The Medical Examiner had said that the murderer had to be a very strong person in order to drive the screwdriver so deeply into the Maintenance Man’s chest. He was able to remove some fingerprints from the screwdriver but found no other evidence or forensic information at the scene.

La Vida Aureo’s Executive Director, Isabella Duncan, told Lt. Garcia that there had been problems with the heating and air-conditioning system and a number of residents had complained about the temperature in their in their rooms and in the common areas. She had asked the Maintenance Man to check this out.

“What can you tell me about Odd Job and his role at the facility?”

“The man’s name is Orlando Juan Torreon and people call him OJ. This quickly became “Odd Job” because of his various activities around the facility. I personally hired him and can vouch for his integrity. He made some bad choices earlier in his life but is trying to live a clean and law-abiding life. I am his sponsor in his local support group and am trying to help him gain the skills necessary for a more permanent job. It seems unlikely that he would attack the Maintenance Man since they seemed to get along reasonably well.”

As Lt. Garcia was leaving the building, Millicent Branch stopped him once again and insisted that he talked to “Maria”, a young girl who worked in the kitchen. This is the same person that she had mentioned and accused earlier, but had referred to her simply as “that Mexican girl”. “I think she knows something about the murder and you should talk to her. Maybe she even did it!”

Garcia went back into the kitchen and asked Señora Angostura specifically about Maria. “Maria is a hard worker and a conscientious young woman. She has only been at La Vida Aureo a short time and is struggling to improve her English. I noticed today that Maria seemed upset and was crying quite a bit.”

Case I: Chapter 4: A Suspect is Identified

Garcia returned to the police station and went back to visit to Medical Examiner.

“Is there anything else you can tell me about the murderer based on your autopsy, George?”

“It is obvious that the murder was done with considerable force with a slight upward thrust to the screwdriver which knocked the Maintenance Man backwards. Forensics found three sets of fingerprints the on screwdriver, one set belonged to the Maintenance Man, one to the guy known as O.J. Torreon who is in the Bernalillo County Criminal Database and one unknown set of prints.”

“I talked briefly to this OJ guy at the facility and found him tough and uncooperative. His police records showed that he has a history of gangs and some mild violence.”

“Well, Señor Investigador, I can’t do your job for you, but you might want to talk to him again and a bit more seriously.”

Garcia called the retirement complex and arranged to meet with Isabella Duncan and said that he wanted to “have a serious conversation” with OJ.

“I’ll be in my office when you arrive and OJ will be here with me.”

When Garcia reached Ms. Duncan’s office, she stood up, looked directly at him and said, “Before you arrest OJ, Lieutenant, please call Jermaine Thompson in the Bernalillo County Probation Office.”

Garcia was taken aback, but stepped into the hallway and placed the call. On the fourth ring, a deep booming voice says, “JT here.”

“This is Lt. Frank Garcia with Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit and I’m investigating a murder at the La Vita Aureo retirement home. I’d like to ask you some questions about O.J. Torreon.”

“Ah, OJ, one of my star pupils.” said Thompson.

“And what do you mean by star pupil?”

“OJ got off to a bad start in life and made some bad choices, but he turned his life around and I am extremely proud of him. He is an example for a lot of the young cholos I see on a daily basis. He was arrested the first time when he was twelve for stealing a car. He did a few months in a juvenile detention home where he met some really bad guys. When he got out, he was taken in by the Tecolote gang who treated him like family, but put him up to a series of petty crimes. Fortunately, none of these involved any serious violence against people or the use of weapons. His “family” also introduced him to drugs and controlled him that way. Eventually, he was arrested with a sack full of electronic equipment and sentenced to a year in jail. That experience didn’t get his attention and he became a frequent guest of the County at the West Side Hilton. Unfortunately, there always seemed to be several Tecolotes in jail at the same time and OJ couldn’t break their influence.”

“Somewhat later, he was breaking into a home in North Valley and was confronted by the woman of the house who was armed. I don’t know what she said to him, but I understand they talked for over an hour. She drove him to the police station where he surrendered. Her husband represented OJ in court and he was offered an extended period probation rather than jail. That was almost five years ago and, to the best of my knowledge, he’s been on the “straight and narrow” ever since. He volunteers in one of our programs and tries to help young kids avoid making similar mistakes. He is here every morning for several hours, including yesterday. That’s what I mean by star pupil.”

“Thanks for that interesting bit of history, Mr. Thompson, but his prints were found on the murder weapon.”

“As I said, he has no history of serious violence. I suspect there is some other explanation for the prints.   If you’re at La Vita Aureo now, you might want to talk to their Executive Director and get her take on OJ.”

“Why?

“”She’s the woman whose house he broke into and who turned him around.”

“I’m standing in the hallway outside her office.”

Garcia walked back into Isabella Duncan’s office. “I won’t arrest him right now, but I’m holding you responsible for knowing where I can find him until I get this cleared up.”

Garcia was disappointed and decided to go back to the Utility Room in hopes of finding any additional clues. It is late in the afternoon and the sun casts different light in the room. He noticed something shining from under the large air blower. He got on his hands and knees and retrieved a small silver cross. He handled it carefully as it might contain evidence that will tell him what happened. And, he knows someone he can ask about this cross.

As Garcia walked toward the dining room, he realized how similar his own history was to OJ’s. It had been Señora Angostura who got his attention and headed him in a better direction before he got into serious trouble. She had virtually taken him into her home and family and raised him along with her own two children who were about Frank’s age. As he entered the dining room, he sees her arranging flowers on a table.

Querida Madre, is there any coffee left from lunch?”

“Come into the kitchen, hijo and I’ll see. Your eyes tell me you need more than just a cup of coffee.”

“Oh, Madre, I am confused. I thought I had identified the killer, but now I have doubts. I want to solve this case quickly since I know it hurts everyone here.”

“My son, have faith. You will always do your best.”

“Can you tell me anything about this cross?”

Paloma looked closely at the cross in Garcia’s evidence bag. “It is very old and of handmade silver. These were common among my parent’s generation of farm workers. It is often passed down to the youngest daughter in a family.”

Garcia noticed young Maria standing in a corner. She appeared shy and afraid and avoids eye contact. She quickly left the kitchen and went out into the main dining room. He turned to Paloma and says, “Madre, could there be any truth to Millicent’s comment that Maria killed the Maintenance Man? She seems so fragile and incapable of any act such as that.”

“She has been unusually quiet today every time I look at her. But she is a hard worker, a gentle soul and is dedicated to a life of service, like The Virgin.”

“I’m sorry, Madre, but I have to check out every possibility.” Garcia picked up a mixing spoon that Maria was holding to take back to the forensics lab for fingerprint analysis.

Garcia ran into George Hernandez when he returned to Police HQ and George noticed the spoon he is carrying in an evidence bag.

“Well, Señor Investigador, have you found the killer yet, or have you decided to take up cooking instead?”

“George, let me ask you a question. Do you think it possible that a young girl could have committed this murder?”

“Frank, you saw the body before I did. Do you believe someone other than a very strong person could have plunged that large screwdriver that deeply into that poor guy’s chest?”

“Probably not. But, this cross I found tells me there was someone else in that Utility Room. I’m on my way to Forensics to have a set of prints run.”

A few days later, Forensics called Garcia to tell him the prints from the spoon match the unidentified set on the screwdriver. Based on this evidence, Garcia reluctantly realized that he must return to La Vida Aureo to arrest Maria on suspicion of murder. He struggled with the course of action that the evidence demanded, but it is apparent that her prints are on the screwdriver and he suspected that the cross was also hers. He just cannot understand how this shy girl could have committed this serious crime.

Case I: Chapter 5: Paloma Engages Matthew Dudley

When Matthew Dudley returned to his room after a physical therapy session, he noticed a small note under his door.

 Please come to see me. It is urgent.

Paloma Angostura, La Cocinera

Dudley went to the kitchen where Paloma seemed to be waiting for him. “Señor Dudley, you do not know me. I am Paloma Angostura, the mother of Marisa Angostura Ortega and Antonio Canesco Angostura.”

“Señora Angostura, it is truly an honor to finally meet you. Your son and daughter are two of the finest young people I’ve have ever known.”

Dudley had worked in Santa Fe for the State Water Resources Department and often ran into Antonio, an engineer with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, in the field. Dudley would frequently go to a remote lake to “study the water resource” as a way to get away from the frustration and boredom of the office. On many occasions, Antonio was there taking water samples. They would talk about their shared love of the outdoors and try to get in a little fishing. Antonio always spoke affectionately about his mother and how she had sacrificed to raise him and his sister.

Her daughter Marisa had gone to work for the State in the Water Resources Department when she graduated from the University of New Mexico. After a few months on the job, Marisa had confided in Dudley that she felt she was being harassed and held back from advancement by the male-dominated culture and particularly by one macho male supervisor. They had coffee several times and Dudley realized that this young woman has considerable talent and ambition which were probably not being utilized in her current situation. Dudley intervened on her behalf to get her transferred to another Department. He also suggested that she look elsewhere for employment, preferably in private industry where her chances for advancement would be enhanced. He said that it takes a certain disposition and personality to be able to work for a government agency particularly in a male-dominated environment. Marisa was able to find employment easily based on her drive and skills. She advanced quickly and was soon offered job which required her leave Albuquerque and New Mexico. Although she was close to her family, her mother encouraged her to seize this opportunity.

Finally meeting the mother of these two young people was indeed a privilege for Dudley. He knew that she had been instrumental in raising them to be such fine adults.

Paloma looked deeply into Dudley’s eyes and said, “You are smart. This situation with Maria is similar to the one with my daughter. Maria came crying to me on several occasions and said that the Maintenance Man had tried to get her to “do things”. Maria has been very upset and has spent a considerable amount of time praying. She could not have killed this man, but the police found a silver cross at the scene and I believe it belongs to Maria. Please talk to her.”

“I don’t know much about the situation, except that it looks like the Maintenance Man was stabbed to death with a large screwdriver. I don’t know how I can help, but I will certainly do my best. Perhaps it would be best if Maria were to tell me exactly what happened. And, it would help if you were present so that she is not so afraid. But first let me go to the utility room and look at the scene for myself.”

Case I: Chapter 6: Dudley Visits the Crime Scene

Dudley waited for an opportunity and went downstairs to utility room unnoticed where he began to carefully look around. The police tape had been removed but the room remained off-limits to all residents. It appeared like a typical utility room containing a large steam boiler and associated water treatment equipment. There was also a large heating and air conditioning system for the main building. It consisted of several compressed air refrigeration units and two large blowers to circulate cold air throughout the building. As he examined the HVAC system more closely, he noticed that the cover was off the fan belt and pulley assembly of the larger fan blower unit. This was an unsafe condition and he was tempted to replace the cover, but realized that the police probably still consider this an active crime scene. As he turned to walk away, a small piece of debris fell onto the fan belt and it was immediately “launched“ across the room. Dudley also noted a safety switch and interlock system connected to the main power breaker located near the door.

He struggled with his observations over a restless night. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary in the utility room that would offer a different explanation than a simple stabbing. The next morning at breakfast, he asked Paloma to have Maria accompany him to the Utility Room.

“Maria, I assume the silver cross the police found on the floor belongs to you. That means you were in this room at some point. Please start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened while you were here.”

Si, the cross is mine. I was in this room with the Maintenance Man, but I did not kill him. I will try to tell you all that I remember. The Maintenance Man stopped me in the hallway and asked me to help him with some repairs. When I got into the room, it was dark and he began to say bad things to me. He asked me to hand him a tool, I think it was a screwdriver. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward him. He put the tool down and tried to put his hands on me. When I tried to pull away from him, he grabbed at me and broke the chain around my neck and my cross fell to the floor. I went to pick it up and he grabbed at me again. I moved toward the door and he was calling me names. I felt trapped and called out loudly to The Virgin to protect me. I think that frightened him. He continued to call me names. He said I should go. He told me to turn the lights on and get out. I pushed the light switch near the door. Then, the large tool just flew across the room and struck him in the chest. I knew that The Virgin had answered my prayers and protected me from this evil man. I ran out of the utility room crying and back to the safety of the kitchen.”

“Can you show me where he laid the screwdriver and where it was sitting before it flew across the room?”

“It was sitting here on this large wheel. I think he put it there when he reached out to touch me.”

“Please show me the light switch you pushed as you ran out of the room.”

Dudley noted that Maria had pointed to the large flywheel for the blower of the air-conditioning system. And, the switch on the wall that Maria pointed to was not a light switch but the safety interlock to turn off the power to the motors.

“Thank you Maria, you helped me understand a great deal. You can go back to your duties in the kitchen now.”

Dudley took a piece of string from his pocket and attached one end to the top of the flywheel and held the other to his chest and backed away to the position where the Maintenance Man was presumably standing when the screwdriver struck him. He concluded that the trajectory of the screwdriver which had been resting on top of the flywheel would have “flown” directly into the chest of the Maintenance Man when Maria accidently turned on the power, thinking it was the light switch. The screwdriver would have been launched so quickly at the Maintenance Man’s chest that he would not have had time to react. Dudley didn’t often believe in divine intervention but Maria’s understanding that The Virgin had interceded on her behalf was easily explained by simple physics. He wanted to repeat the experiment but he was alone in the utility room and that seemed like a dangerous and foolish course of action.

At about that moment, Lt. Garcia entered the room. “So, who are you and who appointed you House Detective? I hope you haven’t touched anything in here. This is a murder crime scene.”

“I haven’t touched anything, Officer. My name is Matthew Dudley and I’m a resident here. Señora Angostura asked me to talk to Maria and get her version of what happened in this room between her and the Maintenance Man.

“I believe that she certainly was here but was trying to fend off unwanted advances from this guy. I think I understand what happened and could use your assistance in confirming my suspicions. But rather than trying to duplicate the actual murder process with a screwdriver, I suggest we use a small piece of wood to see if it is possible that Maria’s description of things is even possible.”

Garcia reluctantly drew a small golf tee from his pocket and placed it on top of the flywheel fan belt where Dudley directed. Then, they both moved to toward the door where the safety switch was located. With both of them at a safe distance and carefully watching the golf tee, Dudley pressed the safety switch. The golf tee immediately shot across the room, directly for the spot where the Maintenance Man had been standing.

“Maria said that, as she left the room she thought she was turning on the light switch as the Maintenance Man had told her to do but she hit the safety switch by mistake. The screwdriver, which was resting on flywheel’s fan belt, flew across the room and into the chest of the Maintenance Man. If our experiment with the golf tee is any indication, the screwdriver must have been travelling at considerable speed. Maria’s understanding of events is that The Virgin caused the screwdriver to “fly” to punish this evil man who had been harassing her. I know that sounds a bit far-fetched, but it makes sense. It is more reasonable, at least to me, than to assume that Maria violently stabbed this jerk.”

Garcia reluctantly conceded that this highly unusual explanation made sense. It confirmed that Maria was in the room as indicated by the presence of her cross on the floor as well as her prints on the screwdriver. He is somewhat relieved, but still has to confirm this story for himself. He also has to decide whether to charge Maria in the presumed accidental death.

He decided to interview Maria to see if she repeats the events consistently. As part of his investigation process, Garcia asked Maria for her identification to conduct a background check.

Garcia listened carefully as Maria repeated her story. It was exactly as she previously told Dudley, including the role of The Virgin.

Over the next few days, Garcia determined that all of her papers were in order and that she was in the country legally. She and her family are actually from Guatemala. He smiled to himself, “So much for Millicent’s powers of observation. She is blinded by a very narrow view of things.” He also talked to a few people at her church who vouch for her integrity and provide glowing descriptions of her character. Based on all of this information, Garcia decided not to bring charges for involuntary manslaughter against Maria. He returned to police headquarters where he documented this case as an accidental death.

Garcia returned to La Vita Aureo to have one last discussion with Isabella Duncan. He apologized for his aggressive treatment of OJ and told her that Matthew Dudley had been a help in solving this case. He also advised her to keep an eye on Millicent and not let her create problems for the complex because she sees everything as a crime and herself as Agatha Christie, determined to solve each case. “She is not a very credible person, much less a witness!”

Case I: Chapter 7: Isabella Makes an Offer

A few days later, Isabella Duncan asked Dudley to come to her office. “Well, Mr. Dudley, we at La Vida Aureo owe you a vote of thanks for bringing this matter to close so quickly and helping to demonstrate that it was actually an accident. It helped avoid some unnecessary bad publicity.”

“Please don’t call me Mr. Dudley or even Matthew. For the longest time, people have used my initials and have called me “Doc”. I prefer it; there always seemed to be too many Matthews in the world to begin with.

“Well, Doc, now that this matter is cleared up and I note that your rehabilitation is going well, when will you be leaving us?”

“As soon as possible, but it’s really up to my Doctor and probably my children if I can ever convince them to let me out of here.”

“Where will you go?”

“Probably back to my home in Cerrillos. It may seem a bit remote and I would be there alone, but I have plenty of projects to stay busy and interested.”

“Would you consider staying here?”

“On my state pension, there’s no way that I could afford us to staying in a fancy place like this.”

“Suppose I make you an offer you can’t refuse? I’m willing to offer you room and board if you stay on as our handyman, at least until we can find someone on a more permanent basis.”

“That is an interesting offer and I’d be willing to consider it; it would only be temporary, however. It seems that I have quite a bit of catching up to do with Señora Angostura now that I know who she is and realize the long-term relationship I’ve had with her family.”

“Look, Doc, let’s be realistic. My guess is that you would leave here and just go hang out with your curmudgeon buddies. I doubt if that would be good for you in the long-term. You seem healthy and vibrant and I suspect that you would just sink into loneliness and depression if you were to go back to Cerrillos. It would be to my benefit and to the benefit of this facility if you would stay here. There are other ways that I believe I can use your expertise. I talked to friends of mine in Santa Fe about your entire work history in the Water Resources Department and how you ended up in their planning section. The Owners and I want to grow and expand this facility and I really could use your planning skills as we move forward.”

“Thank you for the compliment, Ms. Duncan, but before I commit to anything like that, I’d really need to know more about the structure of this facility as well as your background. I have no interest in getting involved with some government-run facility and having to put up with a bunch of bureaucrats who try to run this place. Or, if this place is actually owned by some out-of-state healthcare conglomerate, I can see some young hotshot MBA come in here to organize this place to be more profitable. Neither those situations is appealing to be.”