Cold Storage: The truck sat in the drive on flats, an electrical cable powering a freezer in its cargo hold. What’s inside is the stuff of nightmares.
The Running Man: A man is seen running from a burning house. Inside is the badly burned corpse of a young woman. Are the two events connected?
Malevolent: The savage murder of a disabled woman sends police on a decades long hunt for a cowardly killer. One small detail might unlock the mystery.
Firebug: Fire had always been John Veysey’s friend. Sometimes it put money in his pocket. Other times, it covered the evidence of his evil deeds.
The Coward's Way: The case had gone unsolved for decades, then a veteran detective took an interest and uncovered a killer close to home.
Family Secrets: John’s wives had a habit of walking out on him, never to be seen again. Unlucky in love? Or something more sinister?
Prime Suspect: A brutal murder with an obvious suspect. The police have evidence, but the killer has an alibi. It will take time for technology to catch up.
Run: A promising young athlete with dreams of the Olympics; a sexual predator with far less admirable objectives. They meet. Tragedy ensues.
Cold Cases: Solved! Volume 3
To Catch a Killer
What really caught Tucker’s attention, was the similarity to an unsolved case he had on his books, the 1987 murder of 23-year-old, Michele LaFond. Then the NCIS agent put a picture of his victim up on screen and Tucker’s level of interest went up another notch. Dina Kichler and Michele LaFond looked very much alike. They could have been sisters.
Michelle LaFond had met her terrible death at her home in Dublin, New Hampshire on March 4, 1987. It was her husband, Gary, who had the misfortune of finding her. He’d come home from work to find the house in disarray and his wife’s naked body in an upstairs bathroom. Her hair was wet, suggesting that her killer had placed her in a tub of water at some point. He’d also bound her wrists and ankles and subjected her to a savage rape before strangling her to death. Michele LaFond had been four months pregnant at the time of her death.
The Portsmouth police worked the case hard, focusing on Michelle and Gary LaFond’s inner circle. The lack of forced entry suggested that Michelle might have known her killer and let him into the house. They had semen from the victim’s body, but the sample wasn’t sufficient for a DNA match, using 1987 technology. Despite the best efforts of investigators, the case had slipped away from them and gone cold. Now, Captain Tucker was listening to the details of another tragedy, involving a young woman on the other side of the country.
Like Michele LaFond, Dina Kichler was an attractive young woman, recently married, living a happy life. Michelle had been 23, Dina was 21 years old and the mother of a two-year-old son. Her husband, Pat, was a naval officer, serving aboard the USS Forestall. On the morning of Monday, December 3, 1990, the day that Dina was killed, Pat was away on deployment. Dina’s son was visiting his grandparents. Dina was home alone.
Dina Kichler was employed at an optics store in Jacksonville at this time. Her outgoing personality made her popular with colleagues and customers alike. She was also an unfailingly reliable person, so when she failed to show up at work that morning, there was immediate concern. Friend and co-worker, Amy Stark, tried calling her but got no reply. Amy then decided to drive over to Mayport Landing, a complex for military families, where Dina lived. The first sign of something untoward was when Amy spotted her friend’s car in the driveway. If Dina was home, why wasn’t she answering her phone? Amy parked her car and got out. She started towards the house, then stopped. A chill ran down her spine. Something was wrong here, very wrong. In any case, she wasn’t going any further. Reaching into her purse, she retrieved her phone and called the police.
Amy Stark’s decision not to enter the house turned out to be a wise one. It spared her a glimpse into the horror that lay within. The patrolman who picked up the call noticed something wrong the minute he stepped through the door. There was blood pooled in the foyer and clear signs of a struggle. The officer followed a trail of blood upstairs. On the floor of the master bedroom was a pile of blankets from which a human foot protruded. The officer backed out of the room, returned to his cruiser, and called it in.
Dina Kichler had been savagely raped, brutally killed. Her life had been snuffed out with a length of rope, twisted into a tourniquet around her slender neck. There were blood spatters throughout the house, as well as tufts of dark hair, which appeared to have been snipped from the victim, most likely by her killer. Plenty of forensic evidence was gathered, including a cigarette butt, and three hairs, determined to be from the inner thigh, the leg, and the pubic area. These were found on the blanket covering Dina’s body, but they weren’t hers. Most likely, they were from her killer.
The other important piece of information to emerge from that initial sweep was the way in which the killer had gained entry to the home. None of the doors or windows had been forced. It appeared that Dina Kichler had let him in, meaning that they were probably acquainted. That narrowed the suspect pool considerably.
Dina Kichler, as we have already mentioned, was a physically attractive woman. But what really drew people to her, was her personality. Friendly and vivacious, she was seldom without a smile or a kind word. This had gained her many admirers. Several of her colleagues at the optics store appeared to have a crush on her and three of these men, were flagged as suspects. They were eliminated from the inquiry when the hair samples they provided did not match those found at the crime scene. The investigators then expanded their net to include other males in the Kichlers’ inner circle. That was when the name John Brewer first came up.
Brewer was a native of New Hampshire who worked on the naval base as a painter and lived in the same complex as Pat and Dina Kichler. His name was first brought to the attention of investigators when they found it in an address book at the couple’s home. Further inquiries revealed that he had a record, mostly for minor infractions but with a couple of burglary convictions thrown in.
Brought in for questioning, Brewer admitted that he was on friendly terms with Pat and Dina Kichler. He’d visited them at their apartment several times, he said. In fact, he’d promised Pat that he’d look out for Dina while Pat was away at sea. Brewer then asked the detectives if he could light up a cigarette while they talked. The brand he smoked was the same as the butt found at the crime scene. And something else caught the attention of investigators. Brewer’s hands were swollen, and he had several cuts across his knuckles.
John Brewer had now been elevated to the top of the suspect list. One simple test would prove his guilt or clear him as a person of interest. He was asked to provide hair samples for comparison and agreed right away. The investigators were sure that they had their man. They were as surprised as anyone when the test results came back as inconclusive.
The reason for this mismatch would only become clear once the samples were sent to the FBI crime lab for a more comprehensive test. There, it would be revealed that Brewer had duped the Florida investigators. He’d provided hair samples from other parts of his body. Officers were then dispatched to bring Brewer back in, but their suspect was long gone. It would take the police a year before they eventually tracked him down. Then the correct samples were obtained, and a match was made. On December 12, 1991, John Brewer was taken into custody and charged with the first-degree murder of Dina Kichler.
Brewer was held without bond while prosecutors built their case against him. However, this would not prove to be the slam dunk that many believed. Brewer was a wily character who was no doubt aware that his biological material might have been found at the crime scene. During his initial interview with detectives, he’d been at pains to stress that he had been inside the Kichler residence prior to the murder. This hadn’t just been randomly thrown into the conversation. Brewer was laying the groundwork for reasonable doubt. Any half-competent defense attorney would be able to argue that his DNA might have been left at the scene under entirely innocent circumstances.
And that was also how Circuit Judge Lawrence Haddock, saw it. In November 1993, he set Brewer free, ruling that the state of Florida did not have sufficient cause to hold him. At this stage, the case was dead in the water. If John Brewer was indeed the killer of Dina Kichler, then he appeared to have gotten away with it. For the next seven years, he probably believed that he had.
But then came that conference and the presentation by the NCIS agent; then came the realization by Captain James Tucker that the murder of Dina Kichler had much in common with his own cold case. After the presentation, the officers got together and exchanged notes. They soon realized that they both had biological evidence, the hairs that had been matched to John Brewer, and the sperm sample, that had yet to find a match. What were the chances that these two samples, deposited twelve hundred miles apart, at opposite ends of the country, were a match to each other?
The chances, as it turned out, were very good. DNA tests would prove that they had the same donor – John Brewer. Brewer was arrested in April 1998 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was then presented with a stark choice. Prosecutors in both states were determined to seek the death penalty. His only chance of avoiding the needle was to come clean. With little option but to comply, Brewer accepted the offer that was on the table, entering guilty pleas at trial and accepting two life terms with no possibility of parole.
Describing the murders, Brewer said that he had deliberately befriended his victims and their husbands in order to gain their confidence. Gary LaFond had been a work colleague of his. Pat and Dina Kichler had been his neighbors. He’d called on the women when he knew their husbands were away (Gary at work; Pat on deployment at sea). Both Michelle and Dina had let him in when he’d arrived unannounced at their homes. He’d attacked the minute he was through the door. The women were beaten into submission, raped, and then strangled to death. Brewer then departed the scene, unaware that he’d left behind the biological evidence that would ultimately bring about his downfall. Every contact leaves a trace is the credo of forensic investigation. In this case, it had come up trumps.
But one question remains to be answered. Were Michelle LaFond and Dina Kichler the only victims of this cold-hearted killer? Given what we know of this personality type, it seems unlikely. There is every chance that more murders will be linked to John Brewer in the future. We might not have heard the last of him.