Page 18 of Detective



On reaching the bedroom death scene, Palacio reacted quickly, going to the nearest phone.

When Sergeant Brewmaster arrived, uniform police were stationed outside the house and, inside, paramedics from Fire Rescue were treating the maid for shock.

Detectives Dion Jacobo and Seth Wightman from Brewmaster's Homicide team had preceded him. Brewmaster had named Jacobo his co-lead investigator, thereby giving Jacobo some extra authority, which, in view of the importance of the case, he was likely to need.

Jacobo, sturdy, heavily built, and with a dozen years of Homicide experience, had already instructed the uniform officers to cordon off the entire house and garden with yellow tape. Moments later Julio Verona and Dr. Sandra Sanchez arrived. Verona had traveled in a crime-scene van, accompanied by three colleagues. The chief of police was reportedly on the way.

The media, alerted by an exchange of urgent calls on police radios, were assembled in force outside the main gate of Bay Point, where they were being restricted from entering by security guards, also acting on Detective Jacobo's orders. Reporters were already debating how the murderer or murderers had penetrated Bay Point's security system and entered the Ernst house.


Brewmaster, on arrival, had been stopped briefly by three television reporters, holding microphones to the open window of his car while TV cameras shot closeups. The shouted questions overlapped. "Detective, are there any suspects yet?" ... "Is it true the Ernsts have been murdered in the same way as others?" . . . "Has their daughter, Major Ernst, been informed?" . . . "Is she on her way back to Miami?" But Brewmaster had shaken his head and continued driving, stopping outside the Ernst house to instruct a uniform officer, "Call PIO and tell them we need someone here to deal with the press."

In some police jurisdictions the murder of a prominent official or celebrity was categorized as a "red ball" homicide or, less officially, a "holy shit" case. Once given that label, the case received priority attention. In Miami, supposedly, no such category existed and all murders and murderers were deemed "equal under the law." But the slaying of City Commissioner Ernst and his wife was already proving this untrue.

Part of the proof was the immediate arrival of Chief of Police Farrell W. Ketledge Jr., in an official car, driven by his sergeant aide. The chief was in uniform, his four stars of rank clearly displayed the equivalent of a full general in the United States Army. As Detective Wightman observed quietly to one of the uniform men, "In any given year you can count the number of times the chief shows up at a homicide on the fingers of one hand."

Lieutenant Newbold, who had arrived a few minutes earlier, met the chief at the main doorway to the house, with Brewmaster beside him.

The chief ordered crisply, "Show me the scene, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir. This way."

With Newbold leading, the trio climbed a broad stairway, then walked along a landing to a bedroom, the doorway open. Inside they paused as the chief looked around.

The ID technicians were already at work. Dr. Sanchez was standing to one side, waiting for a photographer to finish. Detective Jacobo and Sylvia Walden were discussing possible fingerprint sites.

"Who found the bodies?" the chief asked. "How much do we know?"

Newbold signaled to Brewmaster, who described the maid's arrival, her morning tea duty, and her screams, all of which he had learned about from the majordomo, Theo Palacio. Palacio had explained that he and his wife were away from late afternoon the day before until early that morning which happened every week when they visited Maria Palacio's invalid sister in West Palm Beach. The maid, too, had left the house at 5:00 P.M. the day before.

"We don't know the time of death yet," Newbold added, "but it seems pretty likely it happened when Mr. and Mrs. Ernst were in the house alone."

Brewmaster told the chief, "Of course, sir, we'll doublecheck the Palacios' whereabouts."

The chief nodded. "So we could be looking for someone who knew the house routines."

The conclusion was so obvious that neither Newbold nor Brewmaster made a comment. As both knew, Chief Ketledge had never been a detective and had risen to his high rank through police administration, at which he excelled. Occasionally, though, like everyone else in law enforcement, the chief savored a taste of the detective process.

The chief moved farther into the room to get a better view. He walked beside, then behind, the recumbent bodies on which the ID crew was working. Then, as he was about to move again, the voice of Dion Jacobo rang out.

"Stop! Don't go there!"

The chief wheeled, incredulity and anger in his eyes. In an icy voice he demanded, "And who "

Without waiting, Jacobo answered smartly, "Sir! Detective Jacobo, Chief. I'm co-lead investigator here."

The two men faced each other. Both were black. Their eyes met squarely. Jacobo volunteered, "Sorry to shout, sir, but it was urgent."

The chief was still glaring, clearly weighing his next move.

Technically, the peremptory order Jacobo had given was appropriate and correct. As co-lead investigator he had authority over everyone else at the scene, irrespective of rank. But it was an authority seldom pushed to its limits, especially when the officer being spoken to was seven ranks higher than the detective.

As the others watched, Jacobo swallowed. He knew that, correct or not, he had probably gone too far, and by this time tomorrow he could be back in uniform on a midnight walking beat in downtown Miami.

It was then that Julio Verona coughed discreetly and addressed the chief. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I think the detective was just trying to preserve what's here." He pointed to an area behind both bodies.

Lieutenant Newbold asked, "What is it?"

''A dead rabbit,'' Verona said, looking down. ''It may be significant."

Brewmaster looked up, startled. "Damn right, it's significant! It's another symbol. We need Malcolm Ainslie."

The chief asked Verona skeptically, "You're suggesting that Detective Jacobo knew the animal was there?"

"I don't know, sir," the ID supervisor said mildly. "But until we've searched the area we have to assume there's evidence everywhere."

The chief hesitated, plainly exercising control. He had a reputation as a rigid disciplinarian, but also for being fair.

"Very well." More composed, he regarded everyone at the crime scene. "I came here to make it clear how importent this case is. Right now a lot of eyes are watching us. Work hard. We need a solution soon."

Moving back to the doorway, Chief Ketledge paused before Newbold. "Lieutenant, see to it that a commendation is recorded in Detective Jacobo's file." The chief smiled slightly. "Let's say, 'for tenaciously preserving evidence in difficult circumstances.' "

A moment later the chief was gone.

About an hour afterward, as evidence was still being collected, Julio Verona reported to Sergeant Brewmaster. "There's a wallet among Mr. Ernst's effects with his driver's license and credit cards. No money, but the shape of the wallet looks like there usually was some."

Brewmaster promptly checked with Theo Palacio, who, with his wife, had been instructed to remain in the kitchen and not disturb anything in the house. The majordomo was close to tears and had trouble speaking. His wife, seated at the kitchen table, had clearly been crying too. "Mr. Ernst always had money in that wallet," Theo said. "Mostly big bills, fifties and hundreds. He liked having cash."

"Do you know if he recorded the numbers of those big bills?"

Palacio shook his head. "I doubt it."

After pausing to let Palacio compose himself, Brewmaster continued, "Let me ask something else." He flipped through several pages of his notebook, referring to notes made earlier. "You told me that when you came into the Ernsts' bedroom this morning, you realized there was nothing you could do to help Mr. and Mrs. Ernst, and you went immediately to a phone."

"That's the way it was, sir. I called nine-one-one."

"But did you touch anything in the bedroom? Anything at all?"

Palacio shook his head. "I knew that until the police got here, everything had to stay the same." The majordomo hesitated.

Brewmaster prompted, "What is it?"

"Well, there was one thing I'd forgotten until now. The radio was playing very loudly. I turned it off. I'm sorry if I- "

"Never mind. But let's go look at it."

In the Ernst bedroom, the two men walked toward a portable radio. Brewmaster asked, "When you turned this off, did you change the station?"

"No, sir."

"Has anyone used the radio since?"

"I don't think so."

Brewmaster slipped a rubber glove over his right hand, then turned the radio on. The song, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' " from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, filled the room. The detective peered at the radio's dial, set to 93.1 FM.

"That's WTMI," Palacio said. "It was a favorite of Mrs. Ernst. She often listened to it."

Soon afterward, Brewmaster took Maria Palacio to the murdered couple's bedroom to ask another question. "I advise you not to look at the bodies," he told her. "I'll stand between them and you. But there's something else I want you to see."

The "something else" was jewelry a sapphire and diamond ring with matching earrings, another gold ring, a pearl necklace with a pink tourmaline clasp, a gold bracelet set with diamonds all of it obviously valuable and left in plain view on a bedroom dressing table.

"Yes, that's Mrs. Ernst's," Maria Palacio said. "At night she never bothered to put it away, just left it out, then put it in the safe the next morning. I warned her once. . ." The woman's voice broke.

"That's all, Mrs. Palacio, thank you," Brewmaster said. "You've told me what I needed to know."

Still later, replying to another Brewmaster question, Dr. Sanchez affirmed, "Yes, essentially the facial and head beatings and body mutilations of Mr. and Mrs. Ernst are similar to those in the Frost and Urbina cases and probably, from reports I've received, in the Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater cases too."

"And the knife wounds, Doctor?"

"I won't be sure, of course, until after autopsy. But superficially I'd say the knife wounds on both bodies are from the same kind of bowie knife used on the others."

As to the dead rabbit, Dr. Sanchez asked the owner of a pet store, Heather Ubens, with whom she had worked before, to come to the Ernst house. Ubens, an authority on small animals, identified the creature by its commercial name, a Lopear rabbit. Many of them, she said, were sold locally as pets. Since there was no sign of injury to the rabbit, in Ubens's opinion it had been killed by asphyxiation simply deprived of air.

After the rabbit had been photographed, Dr. Sanchez had it sent to the medical examiner's office to be preserved in formaldehyde.

Sergeant Brewmaster checked with Theo Palacio to see if the rabbit had been a pet at the Ernst house. "Absolutely not. Mr. and Mrs. Ernst didn't like animals," the majordomo told him, adding, "I wanted them to have a guard dog because of all the crime; I even offered to take care of it myself. But Mr. Ernst said no, with him being a city commissioner, the police would always look out for his safety. But they didn't, did they?"

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