Crime File

KILLER CHARM from the book The Murder Room

The red light was blinking on the telephone in Richard Walter’s hotel room. Who wants me now? he thought. Walter had just flown in from business in London for a meet­ing of the Vidocq Society, but right now, he was planning to go to the bar. The only five words he wanted to hear for the rest of the night were “What will it be, sir?”

Reluctantly, he picked up the phone. The message was from Vidocq cofounder Bill Fleisher, welcoming him to town-and asking a favor.

“Richard, would you call Jim Dunn? He’s a bereaved father whose son disappeared a year ago in West Texas; the cops haven’t made any progress. This case has your name on it.”

At eight o’clock the next morning, Richard Walter and Jim Dunn sat in Walter’s hotel room, enveloped in cigarette smoke. The profiler sat erect in a Queen Anne chair, a pic­ture of stillness with his eyes closed. Dunn, a tall man with a craggy face, faced him on a matching Queen Anne. On the table between them, Dunn had piled notebooks, tapes, and newspaper clippings.

Now Dunn explained that he had been working late one Sun­day evening in his Bucks County, Pennsylvania, home when the phone rang. He’d thought, It must be Scott. The Sunday calls from his 24-year-old son were a father’s joy, After some troubled years, Scott had moved to Lubbock, Texas, where his father had been raised. Scott wanted to make c new life for himself and had recently told his dad that at Thanksgiving, he’d be bringing home a young woman named Jessica*-a bright, lovely Mississippi State University student who would soon be his fiancee.

Dunn was confused. “The only girl Scott ever told me about was Jessica.”

Scott had suddenly moved out, Leisha said. He’d taken all his clothes, and even the bed they shared was gone. The only thing he’d left was his car, still parked at the office. When Dunn heard that, he felt a chill. “I knew then something was really wrong,” Dunn told the profiler. “Scott would never go anywhere without his car.”

When Leisha called again, Dunn recorded her. Now Walter asked to hear the tape. “She sounds so cold,” Dunn said as the atonal voice filled the room. “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

The walls and ceiling glowed as if they had been painted blue. Huge waves and spikes of blood splashed halfway up the wall. DNA tests showed it was Scott’s blood.

Dunn’s voice broke as he showed Walter the test photos. Scott had died in that room, Dunn was convinced.

Police, too, believed they had a murder on their hands. But they couldn’t find a body. They’d combed the prairie with ca­daver dogs and helicopters, turned over half the city dump, and even brought in psychics. “In Texas, the state can’t suc­cessfully bring murder charges without a body or body part,” Dunn recalls the DA saying. “You don’t have a case.”

The police thought Leisha wasn’t completely forthcoming, but they figured she was scared, and they hoped to coax her into greater trust.

“Super Sleuth Called to Shed Light on Bizarre Disappearance,” touted the front-page story about Richard Walter’s arrival in Lubbock.

At eight o’clock in the morning on a December day in 1992, Walter sat down with a police corporal, sergeant, and detec­tive. Walter got right to his point: They should go to District Attorney Travis Ware and press for murder charges against Leisha Hamilton and her former neighbor Tim Smith, a man Walter believed had been her lover and accomplice. Cpl. George White and Sgt. Randy McGuire took a long look at the profiler. The case had been a top priority for over a year. Jim Dunn was a hometown boy, a distinguished alumnus of Texas Tech; his college roommate W. R. Collier, now president of the largest locally owned bank in Lubbock, was still his best friend. There was great public interest in the case, and the po­lice had invested thousands of man-hours. They wanted noth­ing more than to solve it. But while they liked Walter-and he, them-they weren’t convinced the slender, charming Leisha had orchestrated a cold-blooded murder, and they were sty­mied by the absence of a body and motive.

Walter tried to convince them. “Sometimes, gentlemen,” he said, “what’s missing is more important than what’s present.” He held up the photograph of bloodstains revealed by Lumi­nol. “The careful cleanup speaks to an elaborate plot. The murder was purposeful, not recreational.”

At the word recreational, eyebrows rose, and he explained:

“A Ted Bundy type who chose a random victim for sadistic pleasure would have left a far messier, more symbolic crime scene. So the killers knew Scott.” He let that sink in for a mo­ment. “The carefully organized crime, cleanup, and disposal of the body point to a power assertive, or PA, killer,” he went on. “It’s a type I’ve dealt with many, many times. The killing is all about power-incapacitate, restrain, torture, kill, throw away, ‘1 win, you lose’ kind of power.”

He asked them to examine Scott and Leisha’s relationship.

Scott was a ladies’ man, handsome, bright, and cocky.

Leisha, 29, was also very bright, sexy, flippant, and manipu­lative. “Leisha had a long list of lovers, husbands, one-night stands, wanted and unwanted children,” Walter continued. “She had five children by different fathers.” His voice took on a sarcastic edge. “She told police she only loved the ones con­ceived in love.” He paused to let that take root. “Leisha would have seen Scott as a challenging conquest and a link to his father’s wealth. But like a lot of 24-year-old men, Scott had found someone to take to bed, not home to meet Mom and Dad. When he met a ‘decent’ girl, it was time to dump Leisha Hamilton.”

The day Jessica called and Leisha answered the phone, Scott’s fate was sealed, Walter speculated. “If anything is go­ing to get you killed, it’s to reject the psychopath and say, ‘I’m better than you are.’ ”

District Attorney Travis Ware, six-foot-one, dark-haired, and impeccably attired, rose from his leather chair behind a huge wooden desk. “Well, you’ve asked for this meeting,” he said brusquely. “What do you want?”

Walter snapped back, “We want charges filed against Lei­sha Hamilton and Tim Smith in the murder of Scott Dunn.”

“You don’t have a body or a part of one,” the DA said. With­out either, they could not meet the standards of corpus dilecti.

The profiler removed his horn-rims and glared. “If you want a body, I’ll give you one. It’s right here, in Dr. Shepherd’s report.” He dropped on the desk a slim, blue-bound report ti­tled “Forensic Pathology and Analysis of the Crime Scene in the Murder of Roger Scott Dunn.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s right here,” Walter said. “Dr. Shepherd’s report proves that Scott Dunn was murdered.”

Walter had asked Detective English to have a forensic pa­thologist examine the crime scene to determine if enough blood had been spilled to indisputably have caused the death of a six-foot-two, 170-pound man. Dr. Sparks Veasey, the Lub­bock County pathologist, had refused the job, saying there wasn’t enough information to reach a conclusion. At Walter’s direction, English had mailed a large package with copies of the entire case file, photographs, and bloody carpet samples to Walter’s friend Dr. Richard Shepherd, an internationally known consultant to Scotland Yard. “Dick’s brilliance is un­surpassed,” Walter said. “And he owes me a favor.”

The DA looked up from the report, his chin set in defiance.

He said, “I’m not sure what Texas law would say about this.”

“I just happen to have that section of Texas law with me,” Walter said, grinning.

Ware issued a wan smile. “I thought you might.”

Walter opened a statute book and read, interpreting as he went. “In essence, Texas law says we have to have A) a body, B) part of a body, or C) a confession with corroborative evi­dence. We have B. We have blood; blood is connective tissue, which is a part of the body.”

Ware leaned back in his chair, tenting his fingers. “All right,” he said. “You’ve got a murder case.”

In January 1995, Walter opened a package from Detective English. Out fell a single piece of white paper on which was drawn what Walter called “quite intriguing original art.”

It was a pencil sketch by Leisha of the murder scene­a crude, childlike drawing that documented the torture of Scott Dunn.

Walter phoned English. “Where’d you get this?” the profiler asked.

“An ex-boyfriend she took up with after Scott by the name of Karl Young: He gave it to me in a coffee shop, looking ner­vously over his shoulder the whole time.”

The drawing indicated that Leisha had chained Scott to a pallet where their bed had once been located. At the bot­tom of the picture was a legend or key depicting handcuffs, a needle, a knife, and a gun; also depicted were fists and a blunt instrument. This was consistent with the report of a coroner and blood-spatter expert who’d determined, by the angle of three drops of blood on a far wall, that Scott had died from three lethal blows to the head.

“This is a classic,” Walter added. “She drew this to memori­alize her achievement.” Leisha had made dramatic changes in her life that were also classic post-murder behavior. Few cops understood how killers used murder to stimulate personal growth. It was a very dark self-help movement-“I’m Okay, You’re Dead.” Since murdering Scott, Leisha had dropped Tim Smith and taken up with Young, a local restaurant cook, with whom she’d had a child. She had also attended nursing school, while continuing to work as a waitress, and graduated at the top of her class.

“Her success doesn’t surprise me,” Walter told English. “I always said she was extremely intelligent-psychopathically bright and charming. But the nursing school is really quite rich. If you’re accused of being a murderess, how do you cleanse yourself of all suspicion? You become a healer and dress in white.”

On Friday, May 16, 1997, Richard Walter sat in the Lubbock County Courthouse, anxiously waiting with Jim Dunn and his wife, for justice to be served, at last.

Judge William R. Shaver, his square jaw and graying hair set off smartly by his black robes, had asked Leisha to stand to receive the jury’s verdict.

She appeared confident and at ease in a conservative blue dress. According to testimony during the four-day trial, she had told an ex-lover, “There’s no way I can be convicted, be­cause there’s not a body and there’s not a weapon.” Jim Dunn wore his best dark suit and tie. His wife clutched Jim’s hand. It was six years to the day since Scott had gone missing.

At the state’s table, Rusty Ladd, an assistant district attorney who always wore cowboy boots, nervously leaned forward. The case had been a prosecutor’s nightmare. The first grand jury hadn’t found sufficient evidence to indict for murder; the district attorney who’d brought the case was bounced out in an election; the new DA had a conflict of interest-his old law partner had once represented Tim Smith. So the DA reached out to Ladd in another county to be special prosecutor. A new grand jury labored over the case, and Ladd wrestled for eight months to get it to trial without a body. In a blow to the case, Walter had not been allowed to testify. Judge Shaver had ruled that a profile of an accused murderer was speculative and not worthy of his court.

In the third row, Walter was still quietly fuming over the slight.

The judge unfolded the paper the jury foreman had handed to him, cleared his throat, and read, his voice booming: “We, the jury, find from the evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is guilty of the offense of murder as charged in the indictment.”

Murmurs swept the courtroom. The Dunns turned and looked at each other for a long moment; then Jim threw his arms around his wife and held on, tears streaming down his face. Walter was thrilled to see husband and wife, now his good friends, emerge from a long darkness into light with one swift embrace.

Leisha Hamilton was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of Roger Scott Dunn; she will be released in 2017. Tim Smith was also convicted of first-degree murder but received only a ten-year sentence; it was probated, and he didn’t serve time. Scott Dunn’s body has never been found.

Leisha Hamilton was released on parole in 2016, followed by one year of probation. She got married in 2010 while still in. prison and now lives in Texas with her husband.

Scott Dunn’s remains were found in 2016, buried in a shal­low grave near the apartment where he was killed.

About the author

Michael Capuzzo

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