Guest Post: She’s So Cold by Donald E. McInnis

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Think this couldn’t happen to your family? Think again.

In the winter of January 1998, the small town of Escondido, California, was horrified when the body of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was found brutally murdered in her own bedroom. The police used psychological manipulation to force three 14-year-old boys to falsely confess to the murder. She’s So Cold traces the twists and turns of a real-life mystery which eventually changed the lives of fifteen people and cost a district attorney his job.

To protect children and teens from such manipulation in the future, McInnis proposes a new Children’s Miranda Rights Warning and a Bill of Rights for Children who are being questioned as suspects. These proposals must be adopted in order to prevent minors from making false confessions that could destroy their futures.

She’s So Cold is the story of a broken system. A system stacked against families and, most of all, against children.

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THE CROWE MURDER CASE


by Donald E. McInnis
Author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations and the System that Devastated a Family

When a police investigation goes wrong,

it is a travesty for all

 

As one of the defense attorneys in the Crowe murder case, what enrages me most about the botched investigation into the brutal death of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe is that her father, Steven, and mother, Cheryl, never got the closure of knowing that the real killer had been caught, convicted, and sentenced to prison. To make matters worse, these parents had to suffer through the horror of their 14-year-old son being prosecuted for Stephanie’s murder.

The incredibly frustrating fact is that the Escondido detectives had all the evidence they needed to arrest the man whom a jury would eventually convict for killing the little girl. Instead, they followed the hunch of a uniformed officer who felt Michael was not showing enough grief over the loss of his sister.

What evidence did the detectives overlook? On the night of the stabbing of young Stephanie Crowe, a vagrant named Richard Tuite was seen in the neighborhood peering through windows, knocking on doors, and walking into homes looking for a young woman named Tracy – a young woman who looked like Stephanie.

The day after the discovery of Stephanie’s body, the police had already decided that the murder was the result of a well-thought-out plan, since they had found no evidence at the murder scene that could lead them to the murderer. The police therefore expanded their initial investigation and went looking for the 28-year-old vagrant. Tuite was found in a laundromat several miles away from the Crowes’ home. The patrol officer, following protocol, took Tuite to the police station, where the suspect was stripped of his clothes, photographed, interviewed, and given new clothing; his clothing was bagged and catalogued. In the investigating officer’s opinion, however, Tuite was mentally incapable of such a “sophisticated” murder, so he was released.

Tuite’s clothing, along with clothing of the Crowe family, was examined by the local crime lab. No physical evidence was found connecting anyone to the murder. But instead of sending the clothing on to another lab for advanced DNA testing, the evidence was stored at the police station.

Since the police had no other leads, they turned to 14-year-old Michael Crowe. After two days of interrogation, they got a confession. Two friends of Michael’s, 14-year-old Joshua Treadway and 15-year-old Aaron Houser, were also interrogated, and incriminating statements were obtained. The Escondido police had their man, or at least their boys. Case closed.

Until a year after the murder, when the defense attorneys for the three boys demanded further DNA testing, and Tuite’s clothing was sent to an advanced lab in Berkeley, California. By now, Joshua Treadway’s trial was starting. Then came the news that shocked everyone: Tuite’s clothing had splatters of Stephanie’s blood on it. All charges against the boys were dropped and Tuite was charged for Stephanie’s murder. 

Very few of us know what it is like to lose a child, much less by the supposed hand of your own son, who you know in your heart could not have committed such a horrible act. Steven and Cheryl had to live with this terrible reality simply because the police proceeded on a hunch and saw no need to send Tuite’s clothing for further DNA testing. 

But the dismissal of charges against Michael was not the end of the Crowe family’s suffering. After two jury trials for murder and nearly 12 years after Stephanie’s death, Richard Tuite was found not guilty of the murder, due in part to how the police handled the evidence. Not only did the one person the Crowes felt could have murdered Stephanie go free, but now this family faced the worst possible ending to their daughter’s death — no closure. One can’t image the continuing pain the Crowe family has had to live with these last 20 years.

It is hoped my book She’s So Cold, a true and accurate telling of the failed police investigation, once and for all sets the story straight as to why Michael and his friend were maliciously interrogated and prosecuted for a crime they did not commit. Their story of what happens when the police interrogate a child is a warning to every parent: Do not let this happen to your child.

In an effort to prevent such catastrophes in the future, I propose new Miranda rights warnings specifically worded so children can better understand their constitutional rights, and a Bill of Rights for Children for when they are being investigated by police. These new protections are in the Appendix to She’s So Cold. We need not repeat the painful agony that the Crowe family continues to live with to this very day.

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donald E. McInnis is the author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations and the System that Devastated a Family. He is a California criminal defense attorney, and he represented one of the three accused boys, Aaron Houser, in the Stephanie Crowe murder case. Over the span of his 40-year legal career, Mr. McInnis has worked alternately for the prosecution and for the defense, having served as a deputy district attorney for two California counties and as a deputy public defender for one California county during his early professional years. For more information, please visit https://donaldmcinnis.com

 

 

 

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Interview with Author D.M. Pulley

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Interview with D.M. Pulley

 

*In the beginning of your writing career you underlined the struggles you had, but in the end you said, “But I had  a story to tell.” I love that! Can you tell us about this feeling?

 

The building that inspired The Dead Key haunted me for ten years before I really sat down to write the story. In that time, I changed jobs, I got married, and I had children, but no matter where life took me, the abandoned vault below the Euclid Avenue and its unclaimed safe deposit boxes followed. It nagged at me in daydreams and every time I picked up a novel. Whenever I talked about the vacant building with friends, I could tell they were intrigued. When I considered what treasures and secrets had been left buried in the basement of that old bank, my toes would curl up with anticipation. The story just wouldn’t leave me alone.

 

*How did the story about the torso killer emerge and made you want to tell it?

 

Another abandoned building in Cleveland inspired The Unclaimed Victim. I had no idea that the Torso Killer would become the focus of the story. I just began researching the empty Union Gospel Press building’s history, particularly its years as a religious mission in the 1920s and 1930s, and became fascinated with the nun-like “Sallies” that lived there and the city of Cleveland during the Great Depression. The labyrinthine factory cried out for a serial killer in the mold of H.H. Holmes (see Devil in the White City by Erik Larson), and the Torso Killer became an obvious, albeit daunting, choice. So much has been written about the Torso Murders, I was reluctant to take on these true crimes, but as I delved into the research, it became clear that not every story about the murders had been told.

 

*Describe how you came up with the title, The Unclaimed Victim.

 

With this book, I wanted to tell a serial killer story from the victims’ perspective. So many thrillers are told from the detective’s or the killer’s point of view, and the victims become more like objects than people. The fact that only three of the thirteen official Torso victims were ever identified or claimed by their families struck me as another injustice of these crimes. It was my intent to breathe life into the Torso Killer victims with the hope that one might just get away.

 

*What was your first reaction when you heard about the Torso killer?

 

First I was horrified, then morbidly fascinated, then ultimately skeptical of the official findings. The Torso Killer became a media sensation as one of the nation’s most notorious maniacs back in a time before the term “serial killer” even existed. The detectives and coroners that worked the case were certainly devoted and professional, but they had no concept of modern profiling or access to modern forensics. After looking at the facts, I couldn’t shake the feeling that some evidence and potential suspects slipped through the cracks. The killer was never officially identified.

 

 

 

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*Describe your experience writing about him, the unclaimed victim, and the final conclusion (no spoilers of course!).

 

It took eight months of research and drafting to really find the story I wanted to tell and another several months to finish it. I don’t outline, so I usually don’t know the answer to the mystery until I write the ending. As a result, I’m on the edge of my seat as the final scenes unfold. The process of writing this book took me to some pretty dark places where I considered murder on an intimate level from many angles, and asked myself almost daily what it would take for me to kill someone. My kids gave me funny looks for a few weeks there.

 

 

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*How does it feel knowing the success you have today versus the struggles you began with?

 

I feel unbelievably lucky that my books have found an audience and I am able to write full time right now. I try to be thankful each day I sit down to work. I am currently editing my fourth novel, and I’ve found that every book presents different struggles and challenges. I still try to write my first draft like nobody will ever read it. I still worry the literary police will take me away in handcuffs any day now for impersonating a writer.

 

*Do you like historical fiction?

 

I love historical fiction, but I generally prefer to write and read stories about the 20th century. Some of my favorites right now are The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Stranger House by Reginald Hill.

 

 

 

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*Are your stories always based upon true crime?

 

I like to use real history as a backdrop for my stories. The Dead Key wasn’t based on true crime as much as Cleveland’s history of political corruption and financial default. Similarly, The Buried Book was inspired by true events like the 1953 Flint-Beecher tornadoes and Detroit-area history. My third and fourth novels were inspired by true crimes from Cleveland’s past.

 

*What would you say to all the struggling writers out there?

 

Keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t fall in love with your words; just find and follow the story. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Always be willing to re-write, rework, and re-examine. Don’t give up. I also recommend reading craft books including On Writing by Stephen King, No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.  

 

*What are you working on next?

 

My fourth book is a historical mystery about a hundred-year-old mansion in Shaker Heights, Ohio and the decades of secrets and lies hidden behind its facade.

 

 

 

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About D. M. Pulley

Before becoming a full-time writer, D.M. Pulley worked as a Professional Engineer, rehabbing historic structures and conducting forensic investigations of building failures. Pulley’s structural survey of a vacant building in Cleveland inspired her debut novel, The Dead Key, the winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The disappearance of a family member formed the basis for her second historical mystery, The Buried Book. Pulley’s third novel, The Unclaimed Victim, delves into the dark history behind Cleveland’s Torso Killer and is due out November 14, 2017. She lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, her two children, and a dog named Hobo, and she is hard at work on her fourth book.

 

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