By Seamus McGraw   

Blood Trail

Captain Lou Smit in uniform
Captain Lou Smit in uniform
Detective Lou Smit eased his car into the alley off South Nevada Avenue, shut off the engine, took a sip of coffee and then, as always, whispered a little prayer to himself. This was a morning ritual; something the veteran homicide investigator did religiously whenever he was working a case. Before almost every shift, he'd revisit the crime scene. Partly, it was his way of keeping in touch with the victim, to "put yourself in the victim's shoes," as he said. Even back then, in 1975, that was Smit's mantra.

But there was more to it. Every crime scene has a secret that it's just dying to give up, and if you listen closely enough, sometimes it'll whisper its secret in your ear.

chapter continues

It was mid-July, and Smit had been coming to this dead-end alley every morning for the better part of two weeks. Of course, he had been there the night they found her. She had been a beautiful young girl. Even drenched in blood, there was something radiant about her. And even in death, there was no mistaking her strength. She must have had a powerful will to survive. That part of her life story had been scrawled in her own blood on the pavement of the alley on the night she died.

Her killer or killers had slit her throat from behind, severing her carotid artery, and then left her to die. But this young girl, this 18-year-old kid, staggered and crawled down that alley the length of a city block, looking for help, Smit would later recall. But it was late and there was no help. Even as she was bleeding to death, she crawled out of the alley and into a nearby mobile home park. She tried one door her bloody handprint was later found on the screen, Smit remembered. Then she dragged herself to the manager's office, where she finally collapsed outside the door and died. In an image that would haunt investigators, including Smit, for decades, her bloody "handprint was actually about two inches below the doorbell."

Handprint & doorbell
Handprint & doorbell
At first, the cops didn't know who she was.   She had no identification when they found her, no wallet, no driver's license, nothing. All she had in her pockets was an apartment key, and that wasn't much help. "We tried that key in 100 doors around there and we just couldn't put it together," Smit would later lament. But a few days after her death an acquaintance came forward, telling police that a girl fitting the victim's description, a young woman from Florida by the name of Karen Alicia Grammer who had taken a year off from her studies at Barry College and moved up to Colorado Springs, had vanished July 1.

Barry University sign
Barry University sign

Figuring it was worth a try, Smit went to her apartment building and slid the key they had recovered from her body into the lock. It fit. Just to make sure, they asked her older brother, then-20-year-old aspiring actor named Kelsey Grammer, to fly up to identify the body. You could tell just by looking at young Kelsey Grammer that "he really loved his sister," Smit recalled. What's more, it hadn't been that long since their estranged father had been gunned down near his home in Bermuda, and even less time had passed since the death of their grandfather, the man who had really raised the Grammer kids.   "I'll tell you, tragedy has really struck that family," Smit had commented.

Kelsey Grammer
Kelsey Grammer
At least now, they had a name. And maybe they had a little bit more, Smit thought on that July morning as he sat in his car, sipping coffee at the side of the road on a dead-end alley.

There is no such thing as coincidence. And even if there is, there's no room for it in the logical mind of an experienced detective. Every detail, every random incident, no matter how insignificant it might seem at first, may end up fitting into the puzzle. Hell, it could even end up being the critical piece that pulls everything together, that makes everything make sense; that turns an open case into a closed one.

Take that botched robbery at the Red Lobster that had occurred the same night as Grammer's murder. By any standard it had been a real bush-league attempt. A trio of young African-American men, all with a certain "militant" bearing, had stalked into the place just after closing time, intent, it seemed, on robbing the place. But when the few remaining employees simply shut the place down, the would-be thieves stalked away empty-handed. It was the kind of incident that under most circumstances would have ended up as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill notation on the police blotter.

Except for one thing.

Karen Grammer's boyfriend worked there.

1. Blood Trail

2. Dead End

3. By Bread Alone

4. Body Count

5. The Trail Dips South

6. Half a Buck

7. Fix Bayonets

8. Karen Alicia Grammer

9. A Killer's Stare

10. Cheating the Hangman

11. Time Passes

12. Bibliography

13. The Author

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