While working as a detective for the Cottonwood Police Department, I was called to a burglary scene at a local heating and air conditioning company. It was a substantial crime with over $30,000 in missing tools, equipment, and new a/c units. The perpetrator had gained access by kicking in the rear door to the business. I observed tire impressions in the dirt yard and a faint shoe impression on the door. Using a portable light set at a 45 degree angle for the purpose of enhancement, I took a photo of the shoe’s tread pattern with a digital camera. Next, I used clear contact paper to lift the print. Now, I had a perfect copy of it on both camera and contact paper. Then, I photographed the tire pattern and made a plaster cast of it.
Upon canvassing the neighborhood, one person saw a GMC pick-up truck in the area in the early morning. The only details he remembered were that it was blue, had a white camper shell, and dated between 1971-1979. I sent a copy of the shoe impression to Scottsdale Crime Lab. who has the largest data base of shoe treads in the country. Within several hours, I knew the shoe brand, size, and the years it was made. It should be noted that a shoe impression is like a latent finger print; no two are alike. This is due to wear and marks on the bottom of the shoe. Now, all I needed was to find the shoe to match it to my evidence. I sent a teletype describing the possible suspect vehicle to all Arizona agencies. Maricopa County responded that they had conducted a traffic stop with a truck matching the description and had arrested the driver on outstanding warrants. I telephoned Maricopa County jail and asked them to check the subject’s personal property for the type and size of his shoes. Bingo! I had a possible suspect.
Now, I just needed to interview him and hopefully recover the property. First, I went to the impound lot to check the truck. The tire pattern seemed to match. After photographing the truck, I searched inside and found a pair of pliers with the a/c company’s name inscribed on them. Armed with all this evidence, it was time to talk with the suspect. We met in an interview room at the jail. Both being seated at a table, I explained to him that I had evidence to connect him to a burglary in Cottonwood; however, I was here to give him the opportunity to help himself. I showed him the photo of the shoe mark on the door and held up his shoe that I had recovered from his personal property. I quoted case law regarding shoe impressions being equivalent to finger prints. Next, I told him that a witness had seen his truck at the crime scene, and his tire treads matched the impressions taken from the yard. Concluding, I said, “By the way, I also found these pliers in your truck.”Looking up knowing I had him, he asked, “So, why are you here?” “To recover the property and give you a chance”, I answered and went on to explain two different scenarios; one being that the suspect was uncooperative and refused to help recover the stolen property, and the other reporting that the suspect was remorseful, cooperative, and furnished the location of the stolen property. Informing him that I had no legal authority to make any deals, I asked him what he thought would be more favorable in his case to the County Attorney and Judge? Staring at me for several seconds, he finally said, “I’m screwed.” He reluctantly gave me the name of the person who had helped him. He said his accomplice lived in Tempe. Upon completion of the interview and officially charging him with the crime,
I left for Tempe where I met with Tempe Police Detectives. They located an address for the accomplice. I prepared an affidavit for a search warrant and went to see a judge at his home, for it was after hours. The location in question was a noted gang banger hang-out, so I was assisted by the Special Criminal Apprehension Team. They conducted an aggressive entry into the residence and quickly handcuffed everyone inside, securing the premises. Next, I conducted a search inside the house and backyard. We recovered all the stolen property and other stolen items. After everything was photographed and categorized, I telephoned the a/c company with the good news and asked them to come and collect their items.Total time spent on the investigation was approximately 72 hours.
Daniel Pastre, author, Justice and Closure