Read Empty Promises Online

Authors: Ann Rule

Tags: #General, #Law, #Offenses Against the Person

Empty Promises (27 page)

Fortified with more beer and some tranquilizers, Teri was finally ready to try again. She muttered to the sleeping victim, "I'm sorry but I gotta do this," and she swung the sash weight with all her might. There was a terrible crunching sound as David's skull shattered and a spray of blood made an arc on the pale wall. Tearfully, Teri went out to tell Carole that it was all over.
But it wasn't.
They could hear David's voice, very faint now, but they knew he was still alive. Carole shoved Teri back in to finish the job. "I hit him some more," Teri said, "until
his head looked something awful and I knew he was dead."
Their final, icy plan had worked. Carole was now a widow. She and Teri worked frantically to clean up all signs that murder had been committed in the neat little house. Somehow, they hadn't expected it was going to be so messy. Working in the dark of night, they were like two women from the movie
in a scene that was half horror and half comedy as they struggled to cover up their murderous handiwork.
Every time they got the blood washed from David's head, he would bleed again from the ears. Teri took some adhesive tape and taped his ears closed to stanch the blood flow.
Then they tried to carry David's body out of the house; they were shocked to find how heavy "dead weight" could be— they could barely lift him. Somehow they managed to get him down the outside stairway in the back of the Hargis home to the carport and finally into the bed of the Hargises' pickup truck. Teri drove off to dump him in some lonely spot. She found what she was looking for on a bridge along Black Canyon Road near the Mesa Grande Indian Reservation, east of the small town of Ramona, California.
Pulling and tugging, Teri managed to get David's body out of the truck bed on her own, and she rolled him to the edge of the bridge and pushed him off. It was too dark for her to see where he landed; all she heard was brush crackling and the sound of rocks displaced and tumbling somewhere beneath where she stood. Exhausted, Teri drove back to the house where Carole was waiting. It was 4:30 A.M. when she got back to Laurel Street.
While Teri was gone, Carole had washed all the
sheets and blankets, but she couldn't get the blood that had sprayed the walls and ceiling to disappear completely. Despite all her scrubbing, a faint shadow remained. They realized that they had to paint the room. Somehow, by the time Carole's sons woke up, everything looked clean and normal again.
The women agreed that they shouldn't stay together— so Teri left. They agreed that Carole would call and report David missing, but didn't work out the details. Whether unconsciously or deliberately, Carole put Teri in the spotlight in her first call to the San Diego County sheriff's office.
It was early morning on July 21, when a sobbing Carole Hargis called the San Diego Sheriff's Department. The dispatcher listened as Carole said her husband, a marine sergeant, had left the evening before with their next-door neighbor. "It was about 10:30," she said, "and they were going to go snake hunting somewhere in the east part of the county. I'm actually calling from Ramona," she said. "Our neighbor— Teri Depew— is back, but my husband isn't, and I'm so worried. She said some guys may have hurt him…"
Teri and Carole had what they considered to be a very convincing story to explain how David had "disappeared." It would be dicey for a while, but they were confident that things were going to be fine now.
By noon, a sheriff's helicopter headed for the rugged country in eastern San Diego County; if the missing man was injured or alone out there in baking July heat and they waited the usual twenty-four hours to look for him, all they could expect to find was a corpse.
Of course, the hapless David Hargis was already dead. As the helicopter pilot passed Ramona, he swept
his eyes over the Santa Ysabel Creek below and spotted what looked like a body lying beneath a bridge. He radioed the location and San Diego County Homicide Detectives Joe Cellucci and Fred Balmer headed out from downtown San Diego for the mountainous, pine tree–dotted wilderness. It took them forty-five minutes.
David Hargis had been dead for over twelve hours. He was fully clothed and his wallet was in his pocket with his military ID and two one-dollar bills. Balmer and Cellucci stared at the body, perplexed. It was the first time in their experience that a killer had bothered to bandage the ears of his victim, and Hargis's head was swathed in gauze, tissue paper and bright yellow vinyl tape.
Joe Cellucci crouched down to look at the dead man. He lay on one side, his face twisted toward the sky. The detective couldn't begin to count the numerous crushing blows on Hargis's skull, or the bruises on his neck, shoulder, lower back and hip. His wrists had been bound with shoe laces that were threaded through his belt loops.
Hargis had lain in plain sight of the road. If anyone had happened to pause and look down into the dry creek, they would have seen him. Balmer and Cellucci had no idea of the movitation of the killer or killers; it was possible that it
a robbery and that the robber had left behind the two single bills and taken away a much larger amount.
The San Diego detectives climbed up to the road and studied the shoulder there. There was a partial tread mark from a tire and they photographed that, along with a shoe print a bit closer to the drop-off. The print indicated that the shoe had a waffle design on its sole. There were dried bloodstains on the bridge and they found a piece of the yellow vinyl tape that was identical to the "bandage" on the victim's head.
A quarter mile down the road, Fred Balmer located a bloodied sheet and a brown corduroy jacket. But the investigators found no appreciable bloodstains in the sandy soil or on the concrete bridge and its supports. David Hargis had clearly not been killed here; he had only been thrown away here.
After they had gathered what physical evidence they could find into neatly labeled plastic bags, Cellucci and Balmer faced a dreaded task. They had to inform the widow. Waiting at the sheriff's substation in Ramona, Carol Hargis had managed to control her emotions and was no longer sobbing. She was stoic as they informed her that her husband was dead— murdered.
She said she had expected that. Her dear friend— Teri Depew— was afraid that someone might have beaten and robbed David.
"Why?" Balmer asked. "What was he doing out here in the middle of the night?"
"He was hunting for snakes," Carole said, adding that she hadn't thought a thing about it when David decided to take advantage of the cool of night to hunt rattlesnakes. A lot of his friends did that, too, collecting the rattles and the skins. Skeletal snake heads, their fangs exposed, were in demand to hang from rearview mirrors. "The snakes hide under rocks in the daytime when it's so hot," Carole explained. "Teri wanted to go along with him last night, and that was fine with me. I stayed home with my little boys."
But Carole said Teri was very upset when she came home. "They were up at Black Canyon Road and they ran into a bunch of guys that were partying," Carole said. "Teri said David joined in while she went out to buy more beer— but when she got back he and the strangers were gone."
Carole had called the sheriff and then talked to another marine who lived in her neighborhood into taking her up to the campgrounds to look for David. "But I didn't find him," she said softly, "so I went back to your substation in Ramona."
Traditionally, the first place any good detective looks for a killer is among those near and dear to the deceased. They begin with the spouse and the family, and move on to the victim's circle of friends and co-workers. The San Diego detectives started their questioning with Carole. There was something "hinky" about this widow. Her affect was all wrong— too flat and empty of emotion— and she fumbled with her story. She contradicted herself and her eyes darted around nervously.
Next, Cellucci and Balmer obtained a search warrant for the Hargis residence. After the rest of the Laurel Street house yielded no clues, they concentrated on the bedroom. Catching a whiff of fresh paint, they stared at the walls and touched them— only to find the paint was still tacky. They knelt to run a fine, sharp tool along a crack in the baseboard, and along with balls of paint, they saw dark red. Women who thought tarantula venom sacs were deadly had no idea what secrets even small amounts of blood could reveal. David's blood had soaked into the wall and the baseboard, and there was enough left to match exemplars of his blood type that were readily available from Marine Corps records.
When the detectives told Carole that evidence indicated that her husband had expired in the bed they shared, she turned pale. They pointed out the spot they found on the wall, and explained about how the crime lab could match blood types.
Then Balmer and Cellucci worked their way down the back stairs to the driveway where a shiny pickup
truck sat. Oddly, someone had recently washed the truck; the cement around it was still wet. They peered at the bench seat that was upholstered in gray with white stitching. At least the stitching on the driver's side was white. The stitching on the passenger side was pink— and damp. When they lifted up the floor mat on that side, they saw why. Blood had puddled on the steel floor.
Teri Depew had already admitted that
was the last person to see David Hargis. The detectives questioned her now. She initially told the same story Carole had— about the wild partyers she and David had met in Black Canyon. When they mentioned the blood they found in the truck, Teri shifted uneasily in her chair.
"I have no idea how it got there," she said.
During the questioning, Teri had volunteered that she was a lesbian and was disgusted when men made moves on her. Joe Cellucci was sympathetic. He commented that he would understand if she had been defending herself against David Hargis that night. "If he was drunk and made advances toward you, it would be understandable for you to fight back…"
Teri nodded, thinking hard.
"That would have been pretty upsetting for you, and you say you'd both had a lot of beer," Joe Cellucci pressed.
"That's what happened—" she said. Teri followed Cellucci's lead; it gave her a way to confess, and perhaps plead self-defense. The San Diego detective doubted that David Hargis would have been attracted to this masculine-appearing woman, but Cellucci listened with an expression on his face that
as though he believed her.
Teri said that she and David had originally gone out
in the middle of the night to catch rattlers, but when they got to the wilderness area David suddenly became irrational and tried to rape her. "I panicked when he reached for me…"
Teri said she had fought him off and finally found something to hit him with.
"What was the weapon you used?" Cellucci asked.
"I don't know what the hell it was. There was this thing about twelve inches long."
"What was it? …What are we talking about— twelve inches?"
"Oh, I guess it was."
"Where did you find it"
"It was down on the rocks. I picked it up and started hitting him with it."
"How many times did you hit him?"
"I don't know."
"What happened after you hit him with it?"
"He yelled, 'Carole!' "
"Did he fall on the ground?"
"Then what did you do with him?"
"I picked him up and put him in the truck. I drove to the bridge and threw him over the bridge."
Teri admitted that she had tied David's hands to his belt loops. She said she took a roll of tape from her car and taped his head, so he wouldn't "bleed all over the place."
The detectives found it odd that Teri would have been so concerned about blood if she had killed David way out in the wilderness. And why had he called out "Carole!" who was allegedly in their house back in San Diego?
Teri was confabulating; she was telling part of the
truth, but she had completely changed the location of the crime. They were already convinced that David Hargis had, indeed, died in his own bed on Laurel Street. They didn't know what part Carole Hargis had played in her husband's murder.
But they soon would. One of Teri Depew's friends visited her in jail and was outraged to learn that Teri was taking the fall all by herself. The woman walked to the sheriff's office and confronted Fred Balmer and Joe Cellucci. "Hey, you guys," she said. "You'd better take a look at
Hargis because she's not telling you the whole truth."
When her friend told Teri she was being a patsy, she began to talk to the detectives. The floodgates opened. She blamed Carole for having the idea in the first place. With the tape recorder turning, Teri regaled the amazed detectives with almost a dozen wild plots they had considered
to get rid of David, so Carole could collect $40,000 worth of insurance.
But when Carole Hargis was invited to sheriff's headquarters to give a statement to Balmer and Cellucci, she gave them a different version.
After listening to Teri's confession about all the murderous schemes they had tried, Carole burst into tears.
"I didn't do it," she sobbed, burying her face in her hands. "It was Teri's idea. She made me do it. I had to— or she would have killed my children!"
Carole insisted that she didn't even know Teri was planning to bash David's head in with the sash weight. She was horrified, she said, when she saw Teri emerge from the bedroom carrying the bloody sash weight and laughing. "She said, 'I just killed your goddam husband for you, you bitch.' "
Carole insisted she'd tried to call the police but that
she was too afraid of what Teri might do to her and her boys if she told the truth.
The crime lab specialists had turned up enough evidence in the Hargis house for three or four trials. There was a bloodstained nightie in the hamper, blood flecks on the ruffled bedroom curtains, and the mattress had been sprinkled with bleach to erase the blood there. They even found odd bleach marks on the cement
the house. They determined the women had used toilet bowl cleaner to get David's blood out of the cement.
Two deputies searched the stretch of Highway 67 where Teri said she'd thrown the sash weight used to crush David's skull.
And they found it!
They waded through the thick weeds in the median and somehow spotted the weight. Criminalists found David Hargis's blood, hair follicles and tiny patches of his scalp still clinging to the weight.

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