Detective Henry Chang held the phone between his ear and shoulders and took notes.
“Why did you call me?” he asked and smirked when he heard the answer. “Of course, an Asian woman’s been killed, so you assign a Chinese guy to the case,” he said to the caller.
On his way to the crime scene, Detective Chang drove past the Naval base teeming with moored ships and idle sailors just back from Viet Nam waters arriving at the murder scene- an alley in a dreary section of San Diego. The sound of a grinding garbage truck and a bus accelerating from a corner stop was the only noise at 6:15 AM. The victim was covered with a gray sheet but the blood from the neck wound had seeped through.
“Probably died late last night: throat’s cut,” a patrolman offered.
Chang knelt by the body and noticed the woman’s hands were bound. He lifted her wrists and stared at the rope.
“Pretty fancy knot,” the patrolman said from behind him.
“Do you have her name?” Chang asked.
“Managan, Maria; not much in her purse-a pink ID card with her picture, expired last year,” the uniformed cop answered.
When I got the call I was told she was a Filipina; who decided that?”Chang asked.
“A woman born in the Philippines.”
“Detective Markham said he was in the Navy and spent some time in the Philippines. He seemed pretty certain about her nationality.”
“Markham,” Chang wrote down.
Chang was surprised how young Markham was and said so when they met later.
“Not as young as I look, Detective; I was on the force for about two years then enlisted in the Navy in ‘70, came back and made detective not long after.”
“You were in the Philippines?”
“Yea, being a cop they put me in Shore Patrol and I spent a year at Subic Bay, a base in the Philippines.”
“You saw the body,” Chang asked, “anything strikes you as unusual?”
“The knot-it’s a sailor’s knot. Some you make real quick and they’ll hold a destroyer to the dock in a storm, but others are more for show than binding. That was a show knot. I think she was unconscious or dead when that knot was made.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because there were no abrasions around the wrists, so she didn’t struggle to get free.”
“You’re pretty good for a whippersnapper,” Chang said.
“I had a good teacher. Not here, the captain’s a jerk; a good teacher in the Philippines- Chief Scalia. You may have read about his big case, happened in ‘71. Navy lieutenant killed by the C.O.; the lieutenant was screwing the old man’s wife. Got great press.”
“Did you know that this is the third murder of a Philippine woman in Southern California in the last six months?”
“No, I didn’t. Same pattern?”
“Seems so, I haven’t looked into the earlier killings yet but some of the same links-Filipina, tied up, throat slit. An ID card found on the last victim was for access to a Navy base.”
“So you think there is a link to the Navy?” Markham asked.
“It’s a Navy town. I can handle the murder investigation but could use help with the Navy piece, especially if I’m looking for military suspects.”
“I only spent two years in. Chief Scalia could help.”
Chang was puzzled, “what do you mean?”
“He’s retired and living just south of here. I had a beer with him when I got back to the states.”
Chief Napoleon Scalia lived in a one bedroom apartment in a section of town he called “colorful.” He was sitting in his living room when the phone rang.
“Detective Chang?” Scalia repeated the caller’s name.
“ Yes, I met a cop who knows you-Markham; he knew you from the Philippines.”
“I know Markham, is he okay?”
“He’s fine; goin’ to be a good cop. He says you had something to do with that. He also said you might be able to help me.”
Chang gave him the details as he knew them: three women murdered, all born in the Philippines, in their twenties, two divorced from servicemen, one still married but husband’s out to sea, throat cut, tied around the wrist with a sailor’s knot. No suspects yet.
“What can I do?”
“First your role has to be limited. We don’t usually involve civilians but you were a military cop, that’s close enough. But talking to you Navy guys can be a second language and it’s going to get thicker as I look into the military angle.”
“So, you need me to translate?”
“I’m going to the bar where one of the women was killed. It’s a sailor’s
hangout on Warren Street, run by some ex-Navy guy.”
“Chief Cookson is the guy who owns the bar. We were on a tin can together,” Scalia said when they were outside the building.
“A what?” Chang asked.
“I see why you need me.”
Scalia and Cookson greeted each other warmly and talked briefly about the ship they’d served on. Chang noted the physical differences: Cookson was portly with a sun and alcohol reddened face; a faded blue anchor showed beneath the edge of his short sleeve shirt. He walked as if the deck beneath his feet were moving. Scalia was the opposite: over six feet, still trim, his hair cut short. The only indication of Scalia’s former occupation was a rope tattoo around his bicep.
Scalia introduced Chang.
“What can I do for you?” Cookson asked after being introduced.
“We are investigating the murder of a Philippine woman.”
“Are you a cop, Nap?”Cookson continued after Scalia shook his head; “I heard she was killed just down the street. She was in here that night, sat with some guys, then left alone.”
“Did you see her leave?” Chang asked.
“No, but I saw the guys with her stayed for a while after she left.”
“Could she have left with someone else while you were pouring drinks?”
“It’s possible but it would have happened fast. Those guys ordered a round; they called out from their table. She was sitting with them. When I called back to pick up the drinks, she wasn’t there.”
“Had they ordered a drink for her?”
Cook thought for a minute. “There were three guys, three drinks, as best I can remember.”
Scalia asked, “were they Navy?”
“I heard enough of their conversation to know they were sailors, deck hands, I think.”
“Anyone act suspicious; did you see anybody leave around the same time?” Chang doubled his questions.
Cookson thought again, “there was one guy-another sailor.”
“What was suspicious about him?”
“You know, Nap,” he turned to Scalia, “sailors go bar hopping with their shipmates, never alone. This guy was by himself. He ordered a San Miguel beer-the Philippine brew. I don’t carry that brand. He wasn’t happy. ”
“You didn’t hear him talk, how did you know he was Navy? Was he in uniform?” Chang asked.
“No, but he had a ship’s cap in his back pocket.”
“Could you see the ship’s name, Cookie?” Scalia asked.
“Patrick Henry,” Cookson said with a smile.
“Pretty observant, Chief,” Chang commented.
The two ex-chiefs laughed, and Scalia explained, “Detective Chang, this is Patrick Henry Cookson.”
The USS Patrick Henry CG 85 was an eight thousand ton cruiser, over five hundred forty feet in length, with a crew of more than five hundred. The Henry had spent nearly nine months in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Viet Nam coast.
“Likely they had been to Subic Bay a few times for R&R and replenishment,” Scalia said to Chang in the car.
“Great, that narrows it down to a large Navy boat and includes anyone who served on it; and who hates Philippine women.”
“Could be worse,” said Scalia, “could have been a carrier.”
“Thanks, Chief, I’ll contact the Navy and get a list of the men who served on board.”
“Get a deployment schedule and focus on the crew on board when the ship was in Subic.”
“That’ll narrow it down a bit more,” Chang said sarcastically, “any other advice?”
“It’s a ship not a boat.”
“The following Sunday Chang called Scalia. “Hi, Chief; how’s it going?”
“Fine, just looking at the want ads; I have to do something with myself.” He folded the paper and put it on the chair.
“Maybe I can help; a lot of cops get into security when they retire, I can call a few companies.” Chang’s tone changed, “another killing, same way: throat cut, hands bound with a sailor’s knot, and no witnesses.”
“Did you get the crew list?” Scalia asked.
“Yes, I and it’s an awful lot of people to track down. Maybe you can help; if you’re not doing anything I can stop over. It’ll take me a while; I’ve got to get a car from the precinct garage- mine’s giving me trouble. Hope your neighbors don’t start wondering about you if a black and white’s parked in front.”
Scalia laughed, “they see more cop cars around here than in front of the station house.”
When Chang arrived, Scalia was throwing away an empty frozen dinner container. The living room had few pieces of furniture but the shelves around the room were filled with ship clocks, carvings and other items he’d acquired during his many tours and foreign ports. Photographs of ships, all with visible hull number, were hung around the apartment. Chang put the list on an end table.
“You’re not married, are you, Chief?”
Scalia laughed, “No doilies or flowers, is that how you can tell?”
“Maybe; single men I know live in places you can pack up in a crate and move anywhere and it looks the same, no matter where. Women do things to make a place more permanent, more settled.”
“When you live aboard a ship all your adult life, you develop the habit.”
“I guess,” Chang said.
“You were right, quite a list,” Scalia remarked as he picked up the file Chang brought.
“Any idea how to reduce it?”
“I recognize a few names, career guys; I can contact BUPERS and see if any of them are in the San Diego area so I can call them.”
“Bureau of Naval Personnel,” Scalia answered, “they have records of all sailors. I’ll ask them about the senior crew of the Henry.”
“But one of them on your list of familiar names could be the killer.”
“It’s a risk but I know these guys, they’re chiefs and officers.”
“You mean chiefs and officers don’t commit crimes?”
“I can’t vouch for officers,” Scalia said smiling.
“Chief, any thoughts on why a sailor would hate Philippine women?”
“Nothing I can think of. I’ve met a lot of Filipinos; they’re hospitable people. But to a lot of the ship board sailors Filipinos were the pimps and whores of Olongapo City outside Subic, not the rural folks.”
The Chief contacted most of the recognized names but it wasn’t helpful. On the following Monday, Chang and Scalia went to a small house east of the city and met with Warrant Officer Dennis Letori.
Scalia seemed uneasy questioning Litori, often addressing him as “sir.”
“Mr. Letori, were there any incidents involving one of the ship’s crew of the Patrick Henry and the bar women-any captain’s mast?” Scalia asked.
“There were fights; one guy broke a bartender’s jaw, but nothing that didn’t happen in most ports. These young guys were sitting in the Gulf of Tonkin for sixty to ninety days at a time.”
“Any AWOL, you can remember?”
CWO Letori shook his head.
“Anyone you can recall might hate Philippine women?” Chang was frustrated.
“No, not much help, am I?”
“Anyone on board ever marry a Filipina?” Scalia asked.
“Probably; some of the bar girls were inexperienced, impressionable, or devious,” he added, “they got pregnant and that became a ticket to the States.”
“What happened when they got to the States?” Chang cut in.
“Other family members followed and the next thing you know this guy’s supporting a houseful on E-5 pay. There were stories like that all over, not just in Navy towns, and not just with Philippine women. Some of the wives even returned to their prior occupations.”
“How did the Navy feel about these marriages?”
“I think the Navy would prefer they didn’t happen but it doesn’t affect the guy’s career.” He looked at Scalia, “On a Friday night at the Chief’s club there are more languages spoken than at the UN.”
“It could hurt an officer’s career,” Scalia corrected.
“Yea, that’s true but most officers don’t go to those bars or if they did, they don’t pick up bar girls. It undermines their authority to be seen with a woman who was screwing a seaman apprentice the night before.”
Chang stood up and extended his hand; “we’ll be leaving, thanks.”
Scalia rose and automatically stiffened, “thank you for your help, sir.”
Chang almost expected him to salute. As Chang handed Litori his business card, Scalia took it and wrote his name and number on the back.
In the car, Scalia asked, “what’s next?”
“I still think we should look at the men who married Philippine women. This kind of hatred is not based on casual contact. Can you get a list for me?” “ First, I need you to make a call; I’ve run out of favors. They need confirmation at BUPERS that this is an official investigation,” Scalia said.
“Ok, let me know what you find out after I make the call.”
The Chief had three names to check: one was out to sea-had been for months; the other two left the Navy: one was living in Tennessee, the last was a New Orleans insurance adjuster. Scalia called the New Orleans man and introduced himself, “I’m helping out the San Diego Police with the murder investigation of three Philippine women.”
“I heard about it; I guess you found out I married a Filipina. Am I a suspect?” His tone indicated that his question wasn’t serious.
“No; are you still married?”
“Sure am, third kid on the way. My wife wasn’t like the other bar girls. She was sweet, didn’t put out.”
“We got the names of two others: Reynolds and Bassett, both were on the Patrick Henry and both married Philippine women. They check out. Is there anyone we could have missed?”
“I knew Reynolds, not the other guy. I don’t recall anyone else from the Henry serious with a girl from the Philippines.”
Chang was discouraged after Scalia’s call. All the leads were going nowhere. The only recourse was to go through the entire crew roster since the ship was commissioned, and it would take months- all on Cook’s recollection of a strange acting guy who had a ship’s hat in his back pocket.
“Thanks for your help, Chief, the rest is tedious police work.”
“If you need any …,” Chang hung up before Scalia finished the sentence. For the next three weeks there were no new murders of Philippine women.
The rain came off the Pacific and drenched the town steaming the concrete and tar. Scalia was on the way to the Laundromat when the phone rang.
“Chief Scalia, this is Warrant Officer Litori, we talked about the Patrick Henry.”
“Yes, sir, I remember.”
“How’s the investigation going?”
“At a dead end for now; anything come to mind that can help?”
“Chief, you’re checking out the ship’s company, right, those with permanent orders?”
“Yes, sir, we are.”
“Chief, what about TAD?”
Scalia called Chang. “We didn’t think about sailors assigned TAD-temporary active duty during ship’s Southeast Asia tour.”
“What do you mean by temporary, and who comes aboard for a short time?”
“Reservists, Naval Academy students and spooks.”
“What are spooks?”
“Naval Security Group-SECGRU. Reservists come on for about two weeks maybe a month at the most and it doesn’t happen much outside of the states. Academy guys stay on board for a summer. But spooks come aboard from a shore base and can stay for as long as six months.”
“Chief, we went through the whole ship at that time and only had three with a Philippine wife, why should we add these few?” Chang was unconvinced.
“There are a few things about spooks that make it worthwhile. These guys come aboard, deal with secret stuff, don’t stand watches or get involved in unreps and other ships activities.”
“In what; is there a dictionary for you guys?”
Scalia continued, “These sailors don’t get close to the crew, get shuffled between ships so they don’t even get close to each other. They get lonely. So maybe a bar girl is more important to them.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I had one working for me.”
“Were you a spook?” Chang asked.
Scalia laughed. “No, I had an O-brancher-that’s the rating for communications technicians in the Security Group- who worked for me for a while in the Philippines. This guy married a Filipina and couldn’t stay in his rate. Spooks have a high clearance; the Navy checks out their family, so when one marries a woman who is not an American citizen, whose relatives live in the boonies, the Navy doesn’t know if he’s suddenly a security risk, maybe has Commie in-laws . This guy was really pissed off. It was a big comedown from being a spook to grinding and painting ships in the yard. I remember thinking his marriage wasn’t going to last.”
“So if,” Chang speculated, “a spook on board the Patrick Henry got married because his girlfriend got knocked up and had to give up his job, he would be pretty angry.”
“I’ll bet the guy we are looking for was a second class or first class petty officer, a guy who had re-upped, was making the Navy a career,” Scalia added. “ He’s got seven or eight years in, hopes to make chief and put in twenty years as a spook; suddenly in a new rate, no chance of making chief, lost his clearance and buddies in SECGRU- a lot to make him upset.
With a call to National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, Scalia got the records of Petty Officer First Class Dennis Landers, who had enlisted in the Navy eight years before his assignment to a naval base in Taiwan. He was assigned to the Patrick Henry in the fall of 1969. The ship was in Subic for repairs for nearly two months beginning in January of 1970.Landers married a Philippine woman and was transferred permanently to the Naval Repair Center, Subic Bay. After a divorce, he left the Navy a year later and his last address was San Diego.
Scalia called Chang a few days later. “Did you find him?”
“We got a name,” Chang answered, “but no address. He moved from the location he gave the Navy. No DMV record and we checked the shipyards and private docks figuring he’d get a job working around boats. But no luck.”
“Lots of guys keep their driver’s license from their home state or a port state for awhile. I think you are making the wrong assumption about his job.”
“What do you mean?”
“He probably only worked on ship repair for a few months; that’s not the kind of work he’s qualified for. The spooks had to repair their own equipment, some of it was pretty sophisticated electronics.”
“So he’s likely with an electronics company.”
“Or maybe a store that sells ship’s equipment- radios, sonar radar, things like that.”
Chang checked local companies and stores that sold and serviced ship’s gear. One owner of a shop near a marina told Chang that the name wasn’t familiar but the description from Lander’s Navy records was.
“He works freelance. Comes in once a week and picks up equipment to be repaired. He’s really good, especially with radios,” the owner said.
On Thursday, Chang waited in an unmarked car across from Nautical Directions on Brewers Street. The sun was level with the dockside buildings at the marina and the wind stretched the flags on the masts of the harbormaster’s cottage. A man turned the corner and moved quickly into the store. Chang opened his door and the others in back-up cars across the street moved toward the shop entrance. Landers had an armful of gear when Chang approached and put handcuffs on him.
The former petty officer was being booked when Scalia called.
“Did he admit to the killings?”
“After a while,” Chang answered. “His wife told him the child likely wasn’t his, left him and he was stewing for a long time and couldn’t find meaningful work, like a lot of stories. He decided to murder to get back at the type of woman who destroyed his life. Everything was there, the knife, some blood on clothes in a closet. The shrinks and lawyers can sort it out from this point.”
“Guess my work is done?” Scalia said.
After Scalia hung up, he felt regret like the feeling at the end of tour aboard a good ship. He put on his sneakers and went to jog around the high school track.