Ask most any homicide detective in Chicago and they will probably tell you that they are there by choice. At least during my tenure I never ran across any that did not want to work in a homicide unit. Murder is the ultimate crime and working the various cases is both interesting and challenging.
Continue on and ask them their least favorite thing about working in a homicide unit and many will tell you, paper jobs. Back in the day, the full title of the unit was Homicide, Sex and Aggravated Assault. That meant we also investigated rapes and sexual assaults along with shootings and stabbings where the victim was not killed. These assignments were typically passed out to individual detectives at roll call in the form of case reports previously submitted by the district beat cars. They came with a deadline for resolution and oft times the pressure of murder investigations, or just plain procrastination, resulted in a backlog of paper jobs on your clipboard.
It was just such an assignment that was passed out to Mike one day. After roll call we were flipping through our newly assigned paper jobs, prioritizing them as best we could when I heard a long sigh from Mike.
“What is it?” I inquired. He answered in a sing-song voice.
“Heard a shot,
Felt a pain,
Story number nine again.”
Paper jobs were enough of a distraction in and of themselves, but when the victim demonstrated a total lack of cooperation, they became a colossal waste of time. Mike had long advocated that we be authorized to dispose of such cases with a large rubber stamp that merely read:
Our supervisors did not agree of course. Each case required at least a cursory investigation before it could be suspended, even if the victim continued to be uncooperative.
Mike handed me the case report and I scanned it quickly. Carlos Diaz was walking on Division Street when an unknown person ran up behind him and stabbed him in the back for no apparent reason. Carlos could not offer any description—he didn’t even know if the offender was male or female—nothing was taken from him. His story screamed #9. There was one thing however that would require we give the case more than passing attention. The beat officer indicated that Carlos was being admitted to the Cook County Hospital.
“We’d better stop by and check his condition Mike. We don’t want any surprise bodies showing up at the morgue.”
“Yeah, I hate when that happens.” said Mike
“So does the sergeant—let’s buzz by the County… but not ‘til after we eat.”
“I like the way you think.”
After breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, we headed for the Cook County Hospital. We learned that Carlos had just come out of surgery and wouldn’t be able to talk to us, but we asked to speak with anyone who could update us on his condition. Our only concern was, “is he going to live?” For the most part CCH was a cop friendly hospital and the surgical resident agreed to speak with us.
“Is he goin’ to die?” was our very first question.
“No,” laughed the doctor. “He’s going to do just fine, but he’s going to have some permanent disability in his left arm because the stab wound severed a nerve… and he wants to talk to you guys to tell you what really happened.”
“Did he tell you what happened?”
“Yeah,” replied the doctor. “He said it happened in the half-way house where he is living but he didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. Now he’s pissed because he’s only going to have partial use of his left arm.”
Mike and I looked over the original case report. Carlos Diaz had listed his residence in the 1800 block of North Humboldt Boulevard. If that was true, this wouldn’t be our job. It would belong to Area 5 to the north. On our way back to the office we stopped by the half-way house and learned that Diaz in fact lived there. Great! We would just bounce this paper job back to the proper Area.
Back in our Area Four office, the sergeant wasn’t having any.
“It’s your case. You started it, you finish it.”
“But it’s not our job and we haven’t done anything on it yet. Just send it over to Area 5,” we pleaded.
“You heard me! It’s your case…” he waved his hand dismissing us from the office.
The desk man followed us out into the squad room.
“He’s just being a jerk, it’s really not our job,” he said. “Give me the case and I’ll take it off the log and send it over.”
Mike and I pondered his offer a bit. For the most part we were blessed with good bosses in Area Four. There were just two sergeants that gave us problems from time to time and on a scale of 1 to 10, this was about a 1.5. No point in riling him up over a pissant paper job. We would pick our battles, and this wouldn’t be one of them.
“Thanks, but we’ll keep it,” we told the desk man.
We kept tabs on Carlos Diaz and on the third day post-op he was well enough to be interviewed in his hospital bed.
Carlos was mister cooperation when we spoke with him. The fight happened in the kitchen of the half-way house where he and about 15 other men were completing their prison sentence. It was very late and an inmate by the name of Freddie Rivera had been drinking and was arguing with the group. Carlos sensed things were going from bad to worse so he started to leave the kitchen when Freddie grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed him in the back. Carlos never saw it coming, but he knew for certain that it was Freddie. There were several witnesses, friends of Carlos that would back up his story. The only problem was that his friends told him that Freddie had left the half-way house the night of the incident and hadn’t been seen since.
We stopped by the half-way house and found it to be a large residential building on the west side of the street. The first floor, immediately to the left, had an expansive living room and dining room that had been combined into a sort of recreational area with couches, game tables and a large television in the far corner. Toward the rear of the first floor was a large community kitchen. The right of the large foyer was a desk that sat just outside what had become the director’s office. The second and third floors were bedrooms for the inmates. It was a magnificent building in its prime, but now it was definitely showing its age and years of hard use.
The secretary at the desk was reluctant to even tell the director that we were there, but when we told her we were looking for Freddie Rivera the door quickly opened and we were ushered into a large office with oversize leather chairs and a very bulky wooden desk, all of which appeared to have come from the “distressed merchandise” section of a thrift shop.
The director, John Lawson, was about 50 years old and dressed in a suit and tie… his appearance definitely commanded respect. He closed the door behind us and opened Rivera’s file which was already on his desk.
“Right now we’re getting a warrant for parole violation,” he said. “But if he doesn’t return within another day or two, we’ll tack an escape charge on top of that. At the moment, we’re carrying him ‘overdue.’”
We explained that we would be seeking an Aggravated Battery warrant if the State’s Attorney approved, but first we needed background information on Rivera and we would need to talk with the inmates that had seen the incident.
Lawson passed Rivera’s file across the desk to us and told us to paper clip any pages we wanted Xeroxed. From the file we learned that Rivera had been working for a local butcher and his sister lived in the neighborhood.. That would be helpful for whoever wound up looking for him, but we did not envision ourselves pounding the bushes for him. It was, after all, a paper job and it didn’t even belong in our Area. The Special Operations Group and the 014th District Tactical Team would be happy to find him and bring him in once we got the warrant.
The majority of the residents were at work, but Director Lawson would make them available for interview over the week-end. Carlos Diaz was well liked, Freddie Rivera much less so. Cooperation would not be a problem he thought, especially since they were all so close to release.
The next week we sandwiched the Diaz case in between our other cases and ultimately got the warrant and published Freddie’s picture in the Daily Bulletin. That’s the last we expected to hear of the case—someone else would find him, arrest him and lodge the warrant. In total, we probably hadn’t spent more than four or five hours on the case. Four or five hours more than we should have, being that it was a paper assignment and it wasn’t our job.
Mike and I rotated shifts a few times over the next several months and the Carlos Diaz case became a distant memory of no importance. Then came the telephone call from Carlos.
“Do you know what that bastard did?” Carlos literally exploded over the phone. He didn’t wait for a response. “That son-of-a-bitch applied for unemployment compensation!”
“How do you know?” we asked.
“One of the other guys works for the butcher. He heard the owner complaining—they sent the paperwork over here to the house, but the director won’t tell me anything… he says it’s confidential. Ain’t that a crock?”
A few days later we found ourselves back at the halfway house sitting in front of Director John Lawson’s oversized desk. This time, he had to retrieve Rivera’s file from a battered file cabinet along the wall.
“Yep. You’re right. Freddie has filed for unemployment. That’s a lot of nerve. How did you guys find out?” Lawson peered over his glasses at us.
Mike grimaced a bit and shifted in his seat. No telling exactly how Carlos got his information, but it wouldn’t do anyone any good to reveal our source.
“Ah… not really at liberty to say,” said Mike haltingly. “But we sure would like to know where Freddie wants his checks sent.”
It was Lawson’s turn to play coy, but he did so with a warm friendly tone.
“That’s information I can’t divulge. I’m sorry but there’s just no way I can tell you that.” Rivera’s file was open in front of him.
“It’s really a shame, because it’s right here,” he said pointing at the open page.
“Will you excuse me just a minute or two?” he continued as he pushed the file across to our edge of the desk. He abruptly left the room and closed the door behind him.
Mike and I jumped from our chairs. I read and Mike wrote rapidly; claim number, current residence… whoa! New York City! Calm down, calm down—we were like a couple of kids stealing candy before the proprietor returned. Quickly, re-read, confirm… no errors permitted!
We sat back in our oversized badly worn leather chairs. It was another minute or two before the director returned to his office. He took Rivera’s file and closed it.
“It’s really a shame that I can’t share this information, I hope you understand my position,” he spoke with sincere regret. He was dead serious.
“We understand,” said Mike, “It’s a shame, but we know you have to play by the rules.” Sincere regret. Dead serious.
“We’ll let you know if we find him,” I said as we left.
“I would appreciate that,” Lawson responded.
Out in the car Mike and I tried to contain ourselves.
“Do you smell extradition?” said Mike.
“I used to live in New York City,” I replied. “We can have a good time there!”
It wasn’t cut and dried. We needed to get the State’s Attorney’s Office to review the case and approve it for extradition, but it turned out Freddie Rivera had really riled people by being a fugitive and applying for unemployment. Approval was easier than we thought.
New York City police were notified and their fugitive unit replied about a week later. Freddie Rivera had left their jurisdiction and the unemployment authorities would not tell them where he had gone. Another dead end.
But who could get into those files legally? Two phone calls later we had an answer. The FBI. Get an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant and if Freddie was receiving unemployment checks, they would find him. Once again, our State’s Attorney’s Office readily gave us approval to seek a federal warrant. We set up a meeting with a Special Agent in our office.
“How did you determine that he was receiving unemployment?” he asked.
“Confidential informant,” we replied.
“Has this CI given you reliable information on previous cases?” asked the agent.
“No…” there was a long pause. “But we were able to examine a document that confirmed the CI’s information.”
“Do you have that document?” This agent wasn’t giving up.
“Then how did those papers confirm the CI’s reliability?”
“The document pointed to New York City and the NYPD verified Rivera was there but now he’s left their jurisdiction,” we replied.
“And you’re not going to reveal your source?”
“Does Coke tell Pepsi?” I replied, tiring a bit of this extended conversation.
The agent paused for what seemed like an eternity before he replied. Had I overstepped?
“I’ll run it by our legal, but I think you’ve got your UFAP.”
Ten days later we had a federal warrant charging Freddie Rivera with Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution. If the FBI mystique was anywhere near a match to the homicide mystique, all we had to do was wait for our extradition trip. Overall, it was a strange turn of events and it was only a paper job that didn’t even belong in our Area.
Every day in homicide is a new day and as the current cases came in, the old ones migrated to the bottom of the priority list. We had wrapped up the Diaz/Rivera case, tied it in a bow and presented it to the feds. It was off our radar and as always Area Four Homicide, affectionately known as the murder factory, presented us with an abundance of fresh murders… and yes, the bane of all homicide detectives—paper jobs.
It was a pleasant surprise a few months later when our Special Agent from the fugitive squad called to tell us that Freddie Rivera was in custody.
“So ya’ found him, heh?” said Mike.
“”Find’ is a strong word,” replied the agent. “I think our guy stumbled over him on the beach.”
“Beach?” queried Mike. “Where is he?”
Mike and I beamed at one another—this paper job just kept getting better and better and it wasn’t even supposed to be our job. It was an Area Five case.
The FBI does not extradite on UFAP warrants. Such a warrant acts merely as a device to justify federal assistance when a bad guy flees a local jurisdiction. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office would be responsible for putting the extradition papers together and the investigating detectives would be dispatched to return the prisoner to our jurisdiction. That of course would be Mike and me.
We needed to confirm that we still had contact with our victim and witnesses, but that proved to be an easy task. We garnered all the approvals, stamps and signatures and when the extradition package was complete we presented it to our sergeant. As luck would have it, it was the same sergeant who had insisted we handle the case many months before.
“Hey! This is an Area Five case!” he exclaimed. We had no idea if he remembered that months previous it was he who had personally insisted we continue the investigation, even after we had complained.
“Yeah, it’s not our job, how strange is that?” replied Mike.
“It’s only a paper job and you’re going to Puerto Rico?” The sergeant was incredulous.
“Yeah, how strange is that? And it’s not even our job.” I chimed in, maybe with more than a hint of sarcasm.
The desk man stifled a laugh, but it resulted in something that sounded like a combination of a snort and a sneeze. Mike and I decided to step out of the office if for nothing more than to contain our pleasure at the turn of events.
It was a cold winter day in Chicago when Mike and I stepped off the plane in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had arranged to take an extra day compensatory time, so we would have time to do the tourist thing. The frosting on the cake was when we stopped in the office of del Departamento de Justicia in downtown San Juan and discovered that a judicial signature was missing from one of the extradition documents. The gentleman apologized, but it would take an extra day to get the papers in order. Mike and I feigned disappointment and asked if they would FAX our office to explain the delay. A quick two day extradition had turned into four.
Mike and I filled the days with a few of the normal touristy things, but concentrated mostly on historical sites, the highlight being Fort San Felipe del Morro, or Morro Castle. By evening we explored restaurants in downtown San Juan, daytime would find us at a beachfront cabaña enjoying our favorite rum drink.
The fourth day we “returned to work” when we picked up Freddie Rivera and headed for the airport. On most of our extraditions we had little trouble with our prisoners and Rivera was no exception. He was too frightened to be any trouble. Once on board our flight he bowed his head as if in prayer. After takeoff, beads of sweat appeared on his brow as moderate turbulence buffeted the Delta plane.
“Freddie, surely you have made this trip before?” I asked as we bounced about the sky.
“Si señor,” he replied. “But never before sober!”
The turbulence gradually increased to the point it became the roughest flight Mike and I had ever experienced. Loose objects bounced about the cabin. An overhead popped open several rows ahead of us spilling the contents on the passengers below. We could feel our bodies straining against the seatbelts as the plane plummeted, only to be immediately followed by a feeling of soaring in a rapid ascent. The pilot warned us periodically to keep our seatbelts snug and not to leave our seats. Even the flight attendants had themselves strapped in.
“Is this our punishment for manipulating the system?” I thought. “Plunging to our deaths in the Atlantic Ocean?” It seemed a bit harsh to me. But as we approached the coastline, the flight became silky smooth. Thoughts of Divine retribution evaporated. “Hey, we were only doing our job, and a very fine job at that!”
- Epilogue: Freddie Rivera never went to trial, He elected to plead guilty to the plethora of charges that were awaiting him, parole violations, escape and Aggravated Battery among them. He was 43 years old—he would be an old man before he would walk the streets again as a free man.