For any homicide investigator, it is the unsolved cases that never leave your mind. For almost nine years I never passed the crime scene of the inn without wondering who the monstrous individual was that killed a defenseless woman.
Sue Behrens was a forty-four year-old woman, working an extra job at a Red Roof Inn as a night clerk. Being a night clerk was relatively safe since the desk was behind bulletproof glass and the door to the desk was always secured at night. But one night Sue made an error in judgment that would end her life in the most horrible way.
After I arrived at the scene and discussed the protocol for processing the case with my detective, I looked at the fortress-like protection of the front desk. It was clear that Sue had allowed someone she most likely knew into that protected space. The person then beat, tortured her and then stabbed her to death, leaving a macabre painting of blood on canvas of the room.
Her desk had every conceivable pattern a blood pattern specialist studies: transfers, castoffs, medium impact, pooling and droplet. Each pattern showed movement and struggle. At the center of the struggle was the phone. The receiver was off, but there was a concentration of blood over the buttons “911”. I could envision her blood-soaked hands flailing to dial those numbers, even going so far as to grab the blade of the knife in order to defend herself. We catalogued 54 cuts to the face, 43 cuts to the hands, and marks of strangulation and abrasions testifying to her struggle. This was beyond robbery.
A good investigator relies on collecting data (evidence), processing the evidence and then asking the question, “why?” This process is called Crime Scene Reconstruction. It goes beyond identifying the evidence; it gives meaning to the evidence and animates the crime scene. It sequences events, tells the story of the victim and the actions and emotions of the perpetrator. To reconstruct the scene, the forensic team relies heavily on teamwork and communication. By sharing our individual areas of expertise, we tell the story of the deceased and preserve the facts so that they are admissible in court.
It took nearly a decade, but the killer’s scorned ex-wife finally provided the testimony needed to convict the murderer. Life and death can turn on a dime. In a moment of trust Sue let someone into her protected space, a seemingly small decision that cost her everything.
The case is closed. . . but there’s always another story.