Public Places

Date Published 03.02.12

It always surprises me when multiple victims are killed in a public space, like a restaurant or store, and the case goes unsolved.  Public space crime scenes would appear rich in potential evidence --- transaction history, surveillance video, and potential customer witnesses.


But 34 years after four young employees of Burger Chef in Speedway, Indiana were kidnapped and murdered, their bodies left in the woods, the killer, or more likely killers, remain unknown.  The crucial lead that went nowhere: a witness described two white men in their thirties hanging out in a car outside the restaurant just before the crime occurred.


The case of four teenage girls murdered in a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas on December 6, 1991 is cold again, after the two young men convicted of the crime were freed amid new DNA evidence that appears to absolve them and charges of coerced confessions.  Attention is now being paid to two unidentified men who witnesses say were loitering and acting suspiciously in the shop near closing time.



The Austin Chronicle ran an excellent story about the case recently.  It’s hard to imagine how police could have pegged the crime the impulsive act of four teenage boys, as they did originally.  The crime was systematic and methodical.


One intriguing “a-ha” moment in the case came when a crime scene photo depicting the front of the shop was reviewed.  Something previously unnoticed stood out.  The girls were last seen closing up the yogurt shop, overturning chairs onto tabletops and refilling napkin dispensers.


But one booth is without an overturned chair or refilled napkin dispenser --- the booth where witnesses said the two mysterious men were sitting.


Last month was the four-year anniversary of the Lane Bryant murders in Tinley Park, Illinois.  It was around 10 a.m. on a Saturday when a man purporting to be a deliveryman entered the store.  He pulled out a gun and herded six women, a mix of employees and customers, into the back room, where he bound them with duct tape.  Shortly after he caught the store manager secretly calling 911 he shot the women execution style.  One victim survived, and was able to give a description of the suspect.  He hasn’t been identified yet.


What was the motive?  Was it really a botched robbery?  Of a women’s clothing store that likely had very little cash on hand?


The question of motive haunts the case of the Superbike Motorsports murders.  On Nov. 6, 2003 four Superbike employees --- the owner, his mother who worked as a bookkeeper, the service manager, and the mechanic --- were gunned down in the middle of the afternoon at the store in Chesnee, South Carolina.  No one has ever been able to pin down a motive for the massacre.


But it appears the case is heating up again.  Yesterday a new sketch of the man investigators believe is the main suspect was released.  The man was in the store minutes before the killings, acting like a customer, and the motorcycle he was looking at was partially processed for a sale.  Officials say the key witness wasn't happy with the original sketch, but believes the new one bears a strong resemblance.


New sketch of Superbike suspect

Visiting, or working at, a business open to the public is one of the common, everyday experiences.  Often several times a day we'll give or receive an order at a counter, or check a price tag.

We hear the jingle of a doorbell opening so frequently it often doesn't register anymore.  The ordinariness of a shared public space instills a sense of security in a community.  That's why it's so important to solve cases like these, to figure out what bad impulse drove the maddening blank of a person who would turn out to be one of the last jingles through the door.

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RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.