It started out with all the ingredients for a real imbroglio, which has grown into a genuine…. rude word that begins with “cluster.” This case has everything – murder, suicides, corrupt police, overzealous prosecutors, and bumbling defense lawyers. It has sub-par investigative work, promotion-hungry officials, lost evidence, and purposely destroyed evidence. It’s got art, literature, attention whores, and at least one very irate juror who feels that he was conned. It’s got glitzy new technology that promises to revolutionize the crime-fighting business. It has a pseudo-hero, several real heroes, an innocent man rotting in prison, his loyal family, and an angel. It exposes the bogosity of the whole forensic psychology scam – but that’s another rant. This case was born to be a media magnet, and a prime example of irresponsible so-called journalism as practiced by some. To borrow the title of a great movie, the case has sex, lies and videotape.
“When this story breaks,” I was told, “it will be huge. You don't need to keep an eye out for it. It will find you.” It had, of course, already found me, by a mysterious process that still can’t be accounted for. Back in mid-2002, in a household where the local newspaper was neither subscribed to nor sought, a part of the Fort Collins Coloradoan showed up one day. The way it was folded, a small article showed, and for some reason I read that piece of reportage. Timothy Masters was taking his case to the state Supreme Court, because the appeals court had upheld his conviction for murder.
“Huh?” was my first reaction to this news item, which seemed to be saying that a man was being put away for life, for no better reason than because he made grotesque artwork. It needed looking into.
The sequence of events was gleaned from news stories, press releases, and conversations. The sources don't always agree on details, and do always raise more questions. As Sara L. Knox had observed, "Every tale of murder arises in and on uncertainty, and no definitive tale can exist."
On a Tuesday night in February of 1987, Peggy Hettrick finished up her evening shift at the Fashion Bar at around 9. She walked home, but couldn’t get in because a temporary roommate had her key. She walked to a bar and saw her “boyfriend” with another woman, then went to a different bar, a favorite hangout where the habitues knew each other. Then - maybe - she walked to the boyfriend's apartment - but he wasn’t home anyway. Around midnight, she walked back to her own place, and then back to the hangout, where the boyfriend was with the same woman, or perhaps another one. There was a difference of opinion loud enough for others to notice and remember. Between 1:00 and 1:30 in the morning, with a blood alcohol level in the legally drunk range, Peggy left; either alone or with somebody; either on foot or in a car. After that she was seen no more - except, and there's no avoiding this cliche', by her killer.
Don't get me wrong. This is scene-setting, not victim-blaming. Some say a woman shouldn’t hang out in taverns or talk to strange men or roam around at night in lonely places. But there’s no judgment here. Every heedless thing Peggy did that night, I've done - but in my early twenties; not at 37, her age when she was killed. It takes a lot of staying power to persist in the club lifestyle when you’re pushing 40. She was up for it, on a weeknight, after working till 9:00. Impressive.
If an implication is to be made that Peggy was somehow responsible for her fate, let it be made on more generalized, less misogynistic terms. After all, even a woman should be able to move about freely without getting murdered. No, if I were into blaming the victim, it would go like this: “Never give out your only apartment key. Get the damn key copied.” No time, no car, no nearby locksmith? No excuse. A responsible adult keeps an extra set of keys to everything, in case of need. If Peggy had done so, she wouldn’t have been out wandering around that night. Well, okay, she probably would have - but she might not have ended up in exactly the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. The point is, to say she brought it on herself by being a nocturnal free spirit is just as stupid as saying she asked to be murdered by not providing a spare key ahead of time.
I didn’t know Peggy, but I identified with her. We were practically the same age. We had similar tastes: as one of her high school classmates later wrote, “She liked music, theater, philosophy, poetry and movies.” This person also described Peggy as “beautiful, intelligent, and so gentle.” Maybe we weren’t all that similar. But we were both writing novels. We lived in the same part of town, and I walked everywhere, alone, at any hour, just like she did. I could have been the victim, that night or any other.
The Day of the Murder
A few minutes after 7 a.m. on February 11, Peggy’s body was discovered in a field and reported to the police. One stab wound in the middle of the back, made by a knife with a five-inch blade, had killed her. She hadn’t been raped, but there was some mutilation the police left undescribed, for the sake of the investigation. Because the field adjoined his property, Clyde Masters was one of the first people questioned. He mentioned that he’d been watching that morning as his 15-year-old son Tim walked through the scrub land to the bus stop. He’d seen Tim veer from his usual path and stop for a moment to look at something. At this time, the police were very positive that Peggy had been killed somewhere else, brought to lonely Landings Drive in a car, dumped at the curb (where a blood pool had formed), and then dragged more than a hundred feet into the field. Tim’s route to the bus stop intersected this drag trail.
Detectives sped to the high school and pulled Tim out of class. They asked if he knew why they were there. He said it had been bothering him. He’d seen what could have been a dead body, but figured it must be a CPR practice doll or something of the kind, thrown in the field as a joke, maybe even left there by alleged friends to freak him out. The police searched his locker and backpack and found a drawing of one person dragging another, and two sketched maps that depicted the area around near his home. These were later considered some of the strongest pieces of evidence against him. He was questioned that day for six or seven hours, without the presence of his father or a lawyer.
Clyde Masters consented to a search of the home he shared with his son, probably unaware that the police not only would look around, but could remove anything or everything. “They tore the place apart,” as one source put it, and took away many items. From Tim’s room, the haul included “a large collection of survival knives with long blades” (if you consider a collection of half a dozen to be large), “a fillet knife, a machete, and a ninja sword…and a large number of drawings and narratives." Oh yes, and "a suitcase with pornographic photos of female genitalia..." Gasp! Not female genitalia in a teenage boy's porn collection! Who could believe such a thing! Given their tendency to exaggerate, this might have been nothing more sinister than Playboy.
Over the next couple of days, Tim was questioned extensively in an interrogation room at the police station. He took a polygraph test which the police said he failed, but which was technically termed “inconclusive.” None of Peggy’s blood was found on any of Tim’s clothes or possessions, or in the house. He didn’t have any of her property or body parts. There were footprints, but he lived next to the field and walked through it every day, so there would be. There was no fiber evidence, no eyewitness evidence, no motive, and a whole lot of supposition that added up to jack. There was nothing to show that he’d known Peggy in life, or played any part in her death.
Deciding that they didn’t have a prosecutable case, the authorities brought no charges against Tim, but continued to keep an eye on him through various means. They would call the school guidance counselor and ask if Tim was acting weird. The year after the murder, an officer sat in a van for 4 or 5 days around the anniversary of Peggy’s death, watching Tim. When he was 18, an officer followed him to a video arcade and reported that Tim seemed agitated when playing a game. He remained the only named suspect.
Going by the photo on the Free Tim Masters website, here was a youth whose portrait Caravaggio would have been delighted to paint. I see the same smoldering impatience with the adult world that characterized my own adolescent years. Strangely, the man who became the angel of the case saw himself there, too. Though there is no adult resemblance, he felt Tim could have been him as a teenager. The angel remembers how teenagers think, or rather, don’t think. “Tim’s reaction to seeing the body and not believing it was real might seem pretty dumb to us, but kids don’t believe bad things like murders will happen near them.”
There would have been the embarrassment factor. When a mine superintendent found the legendary Cullinan Diamond, he thought it was a big piece of glass placed in the tunnel wall by a practical joker. What if Tim had arrived at school and called the police, and they went to that field and found a doll? He’d be a laughingstock, which any teenager would rather die than be. Also, if this adolescent boy had an involuntary physical reaction to the sight of a woman (whether human or artificial) sprawled on the ground with her jeans yanked down, that alone would be shaming enough to make him want to keep quiet about the whole matter.
It seems that something of the kind may have happened. Years later, when Tim was eventually arrested and a Cold Case Files TV show filmed, they made a big deal out of finding what they termed a “mannequin,” a home-brewed sex aid that was basically a stuffed pair of blue jeans. When hormones are rising, a kid can be sexually imprinted by the oddest things, without being given any choice in the matter. It’s unfortunate and kinky, but it’s not proof of murder. (For once, the court showed some good sense and didn’t admit the object as evidence, or any testimony about it.)
Another thing about that TV show: when discussing the home where the Masters father and son lived, the narrator keeps pounding on the word “trailer,” suggesting that any family who lives in one must be trash. It was a big, solidly planted mobile home, not unlike the doublewide my parents occupied for years, and they’re perfectly respectable people. In the Cold Case Files episode, a cop says when they went to arrest Tim as an adult, they found “his room from years ago - just transplanted." That's not an indictable offense, either. If it were, I'd be in trouble. My room has looked the same in every place I’ve ever lived: handmade quilts and lots of books. So what? That doesn’t make me a murderer. But we’re getting ahead of the story.
As long as it’s digression time, there were some similarities between Peggy and Tim, also, aside from aspiring to write. Both have the middle name Lee. Both were military brats, both their mothers had died, and both moved to Fort Collins in 1978.
Failed Arrest and Successful Arrest
Out of school, Tim joined the Navy. He was stationed in Philadelphia when, five years after Peggy’s murder, the Fort Collins police leaned on an informant, who told them Tim had mentioned one of the crime’s unpublicized details. An arrest warrant was obtained, and three officers flew East and questioned him extensively, letting his co-workers and friends know why. As it turned out, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for Tim’s supposedly forbidden knowledge. A high school classmate had been an Explorer Scout, one of the police department interns who helped search the field where the corpse was found, missing one nipple and a sliced-off section of vulva. The students were asked to look for discarded body parts. This girl, of course, told her friends, and pretty soon it was all over the school.
The officers returned home empty-handed, one of them very angry. Sgt. Jim Broderick had decided from Day 1 that Tim was the killer, and did not intend to rest until he was tried and convicted. Broderick’s next move was to hire forensic psychologist Reid Meloy. Remember the “large number of drawings and narratives”? The police had never returned this property to Tim. More than two thousand pages of his school notebooks, stories, pictures, and personal writings were now shipped to Dr. Meloy, whose assignment was to find links between this artistic and literary juvenalia, and the murder of Peggy Hettrick.
Over a period of six months and at a cost to the taxpayers of around $70,000, he succeeded in doing so, and compiled a report. He also, according to an insider, “practically wrote the arrest warrant,” which ran to some 30 pages. Thanks to Dr. Meloy’s vivid imagination, and the fact that he was only shown evidence related to Tim and no other suspect or suspects, the FCPD now had what they needed. Sgt. Broderick and others went to California, where Tim had moved to be near his sister, and arrested him for the murder that was now a decade in the past. They also, to quote a later court document, “seized additional drawings and narratives…created after the crime, as well as other items, from which Dr. Meloy prepared a second report."
The trial, in March of 1999, featured Tim’s writings and drawings, as well the testimony of the expert witness who said Tim had drawn "surprise attacks, gruesome death scenes, and scenes of violence and sex, including mutilation." Dr. Meloy, although he was not allowed to come right out and say so, skillfully assured the jury that a boy who would draw such pictures, would undoubtedly slay a stranger just for the thrill of it. It worked – one juror was quoted as saying, “He admitted his guilt to us through his pictures.” To their credit, the jury deliberated for several hours, but in the end they convicted Tim Masters of first degree murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
The Basis for Conviction
“Hold on,” you say. “That’s it? Pictures and stories?” Same thing I said. Even though the police claimed to have new evidence that would finally justify an arrest after more than ten years, there was no new evidence. Just the same old adolescent scribblings, the kind found by the thousands in any high school across the land, now interpreted by a pricey “expert.” Tim was imprisoned for life on evidence that even the most generous assessment could only call slim. Despite all the intensive study of his productions, no picture was found of a woman being stabbed in the back. And even if there had been a hundred such pictures, and a dozen forensic psychologists to explain their significance, it still wouldn’t prove anything. In the American justice system, doodles, marginalia, graffiti, and even oil paintings are not probative of murder. At least not in the America I still thought I lived in.
The notion that anyone who produces upsetting art is capable of murder, is an insult to me personally and to nearly every painter, musician, and writer I know. Some things change in this world, but others remain the same, including this: To depict violence, graphically or in words, is not to do violence. If creative people can't exercise self-expression in writing and drawing, for fear of being accused of murder when someone happens to be killed in their neighborhood, this is a matter of prior restraint, all-encompassing and society-wide. It’s a First Amendment issue, my favorite Amendment, and I won’t shut up about it. When a life sentence is to be doled out, I prefer that someone receive it for murder proven beyond reasonable doubt, not for antisocial art.
I don’t believe Tim Masters killed Peggy Hettrick. Whoever did, it would be better if the killer went free than for us all to live in a society where a person gets a life sentence for making ugly pictures. It’s unpopular to say so, but over all, the greater good is served when the occasional miscreant escapes punishment - if the alternative would be wrongful punishment of the innocent. Goddess knows there are plenty of killers on the loose already, all over the world, many of them wearing nice suits or neat uniforms. The outrageous notion that an accused can be convicted on the basis of lousy art work is an idea we can't afford to normalize.
The thing about this case is, it never ceases to amaze. The more you study it, the more you bump up against seemingly impossible things. The “Run that by me again?” response is called for, or, often, the WTF??? response. They really did that? They really said that? They really got away with that? There’s a tradition of thought where questions are more important and meaningful than answers. What interests me about any topic is the quality and quantity of questions raised by it. The Peggy Hettrick murder is a mother lode.
I wrote about Tim Masters in my blog. Every few months, usually right after Cold Case Files had rerun their highly imaginative episode, e-mails would come. They had a common theme:
“I, too, was struck by several nagging questions.”
“It appalls me that someone could be sent to prison for drawing disturbing pictures. I want to think there is more to the case … but I have yet to hear otherwise.”
“I am a little disturbed by the lack of evidence….Just having drawings that were inappropriate should not be enough for a conviction.”
“I can’t believe they convicted someone on the evidence they had.”
“I always thought it was the craziest story I ever heard.”
“I was floored at the fact that anyone could be convicted on such flimsy evidence.”
“We were stunned when we realized that it ended with his conviction on no forensic evidence whatsoever…”
“The thing that got me about Tim Masters is that he was convicted on no evidence at all.”
So, it wasn’t just me. Over the years, a lot of people sent questions, mysterious hints, and even warnings. They shared what they knew. I heard from a friend of the bicyclist who found the body, from some of Tim’s family, and from the general public including a woman who said, “I’d like to think they must have had more info on him other than some drawings….This case makes me sick.”
Her nausea was echoed by a former cellmate of Tim’s, since released, who wrote: "I get sick to my stomach every time I think of him sitting in his cell. I'm a good judge of character and have known enough criminals in my time not to fall for the old "I'm innocent" thing. I believe in my heart that an innocent man is sitting in prison right now because of a sickening travesty of the justice system."
So there you have it. Incredulity, disturbance, and an urge to vomit. But you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Anyone unacquainted with the field of forensic psychology is in for a carnival of astonishment.
Almost four years to the day before Peggy was killed, Tim’s mother died suddenly. According to one of the theories crafted by Dr. Meloy, Tim was mad at her for dying, so he commemorated the anniversary by choosing a passer-by as a stand-in for Mom, and stabbed this stranger to death. Why did he wait so long? Now, the “triggering event” doctrine comes into play. Several weeks before the murder, Tim had been reading some kind of military manual or magazine in class. The teacher confiscated it and, after class, wouldn’t give it back. Tim accepted this situation peacefully, if not happily. But at the murder trial, the teacher was allowed to testify that he was “very scary.” (Another staffer testified that Tim “had a chilling calmness.” He exercised mature self-control, and they used it against him.) This hassle at school was said to be the “triggering event” that caused the homicidal incident….a month later. That would be quite the delayed reaction. You don’t pull the trigger of a gun and expect the bullet to come out in four weeks. By that standard, anything could be the “triggering event” to any other thing that happened at any time subsequent to it.
A government document says of Dr. Meloy, “He opined that defendant had killed the victim and, by doing so, had symbolically killed his own mother. Based on this and the other evidence, defendant was arrested and charged…”
Wait a minute. Back off! Even when a consultant makes $300 an hour, his opinion is not evidence. How can they say "based on this and the other evidence"? Because it's not. No thoughts entertained by Dr. Meloy about who killed whom, and why, are evidence. And when they start talking motive, it gets even worse.
District Attorney Jolene Blair said, "Who else could it possibly be? Nobody else had a motive, nobody else had the opportunity, nobody else had the weapons."
Who else could it possibly be? Aside from around 80,000 local residents, 20,000 university students, and several thousand others who might have cruised through town on the night of the 10th to 11th of February. Two blocks away from where Peggy’s body was found is College Ave, aka US 287, which she crossed several times that evening. Any interstate drifter could have sighted her there and followed her to a more secluded area. Lots of people had the opportunity - anyone looking for trouble, anyone who saw Peggy in one of the bars, or followed her epic wanderings of that night.
Nobody else had the weapons? Give me a break. Within a square mile, I don't even want to think about how many hunting knives, scalpels, and other sharp tools could have been collected in a thorough house-by-house, car-by-car and business-by-business search. Hundreds at least.
Nobody else had a motive? This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy called "begging the question." It takes for granted a proposition, as if that proposition had already been accepted as true, and tries to move on to the next step. Well, just slow down a minute. To say "Nobody else had a motive" assumes they had already shown that Tim had a motive, which they never did. What motive was ever demonstrated? Was he the beneficiary of Peggy’s insurance policy? No. Was he her jealous husband? No. Was he an old flame who needed her out of his life in a big way? No.
To say "Nobody else had a motive" is just plain ignorant. To hear a public official say such a thing, is to despair. Unless Ms. Blair knew everything about everybody - unless she was, in fact, omniscient - neither she nor anyone else could possibly know that nobody else had a motive.
By Their Own Standards
Careful study of Dr. Meloy’s reports on Tim reveals many glaring contradictions. Meloy tends to make a point directly opposite to some other point he has previously made, and thus argue against his own reasoning. Dr. Meloy testified that in Tim’s fantasies (as revealed by his writings and drawings), “his preferred victim would be either a stranger or, at best, a casual acquaintance." At the same time, the good doctor wanted the jury to believe that Tim’s preferred victim was his own mother – the farthest thing from a casual stranger.
According to the forensic shrink, because some of Tim’s drawings were of stabbings, draggings, and so on, they were “logically relevant to defendant's motive, intent, and plan to commit the crime." To buy that one, you have to forget that, in all the 2200 pages of Tim’s notebooks, there was not one picture of a woman stabbed in the back. And if these were “rehearsal fantasies,” as Meloy claims, then where are the enactments of the many unusual drawings found in Tim’s productions? In one of them, someone nailed a woman’s tongue to a table. But Tim never did such a thing in real life. It is Dr. Meloy who seems unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
The doctor defined a sexual homicide as one in which there is "primary sexual activity usually involving semen or ejaculation." In other words, the killer gets his rocks off. One of Meloy’s more audacious moves was to label this a sexual homicide despite there being no semen found in, on, or near the body. He categorized the murder as “generally a disorganized sexual homicide with some organized features.” So, the killer was a disorganized psychopath – who managed to pull himself together enough to brilliantly hide or destroy every trace of evidence.
Are there some deeds even a hormone-crazed teenager wouldn't do, such as random killing and carving within sight of his family home? Imagine the Machiavellian deviousness of such a clever adolescent: "Nobody will ever believe I could be stupid enough to bump off some broad right outside the old homestead. It's the perfect crime. Mwah ha ha ha!"
If Tim were so far gone, surely the madness would have broken out again in the following eleven years. Dr. Reid Meloy himself said, "Once they start to murder, the act becomes habitual." If Meloy’s theory were correct, and if Tim killed Peggy, then he would have gone on to kill a few more. But he didn’t.
Why Tim Didn’t Do It
Three reasons why Tim Masters couldn’t have killed Peggy Hettrick:
1. To believe he did it, you’d have to accept that a 15-year-old kid outsmarted the whole Fort Collins Police Department by making it look as if there was absolutely no evidence against him.
2. Any 15-year-old who watches MASH is a decent kid who couldn’t possibly commit murder.
3. Losing a mother at a tender age automatically transforms any child into God’s special angel on earth, incapable of any wrongdoing.
Is it absurd to claim Tim is innocent for those reasons? Yes. But not as absurd as the doozy of a theory the prosecution came up with to supposedly show guilt. Tim killed Peggy because she, like his deceased mother, was a redhead. Get this: they called a witness who hadn’t seen Tim since he was 9 and she was 7. When her family moved, the two kids never met again and she didn’t even remember him. In court she was asked the color of her hair, and replied that it was dark brown with red highlights. In grade school, Tim lived next door to a little red-haired girl so, naturally, he grew into his teens with a propensity to kill redheads. That’s what the jury was supposed to conclude. In photos, the hair of Tim’s mother doesn’t look very red, anyhow. And on her driver’s license, it said “Brown.” But even if the ridiculous red hair theory had any validity, here’s a question: in the dark, how would any assailant be able to see Peggy’s hair color?
The moon was almost full that night, so there was some light – not enough for long-range hair color identification, but some. If you look at pictures of the area, it’s all flat and bare, with nothing to hide behind. There doesn’t appear to be any place for Tim to lie in wait, on the unlikely chance that a woman with red hair might walk by in the middle of the night. The jury was supposed to believe a teenage boy would be patient enough to wait in his room until a lone pedestrian was sighted. Then, he would have to exit the house without being heard by his father, or by the target. He would have to make his way, fast, across a quite spacious patch of ground without letting the victim hear or see his approach.
At first, the official theory was that Peggy had been killed in a different location and her body unloaded from a car, then dragged the hundred-and-some feet. When the police focused on Tim as the suspect, the car theory was abandoned (he didn’t have a car) and it became doctrine that the killing happened right there at the edge of the street. As far as I know, there is still no irrefutable evidence either way. The police version is that the mutilations occurred last, after the body had been moved away from the street, because otherwise there would have been more bleeding. But there also may have been some cleanup – which means a handkerchief or bandanna or piece of clothing with Peggy’s blood on it. Which was never found, especially not on Tim.
Despite the thorough searches of anyplace where Tim could have hidden anything, some items never surfaced. For instance, the missing bits of flesh. For a thrill killer, the victim’s picture would go nicely with those two souvenirs. It seems like Peggy must have had a photo ID, because she had cashed checks in two places earlier in the day, and rented a videotape at some point. But no photo ID was found in her purse, or anywhere, and certainly not among Tim’s belongings.
The marks on Peggy’s face are, at this point, considered not conclusive of anything. Several scenarios could explain them. The attacker might have come up from behind and held a knife to her face. If the cuts were accidental, they could have occurred during the dragging. Dr. Meloy called them distinctive scratch marks, and delivered the opinion that they might be part of the murderer’s “signature.” But as any crime buff knows, a disfigured face implies a relationship. It suggests that the killer knew the victim well enough to develop personal hatred. And that would mean Peggy was killed by someone she knew - someone who wasn’t Tim.
Whether or not the sexual mutilations required specialized training or skill could probably be argued vigorously on either side. Actually, it’s hard to picture anyone doing precision surgery in the middle of a field, at night. Which hand would hold the light? The more impressive medical feat was the efficiency of the murder. Wouldn’t it take a certain amount of anatomical savvy to kill a woman with one knife thrust? Either that, or phenomenal luck? Also impressive is the distance the killer dragged the body. Peggy wasn’t very big, maybe 110 or 115 pounds. We don’t know for sure, because the coroner appears never to have actually weighed her. (Isn’t that, like, routine?) Anyway, Tim might have been a few pounds heavier, but not many. He certainly was no muscle-man. Whoever moved the body left a drag trail without pauses or breaks, so it seems there were no stops for rest or breath-catching.
There is a wealth of information about the knives Tim owned, and here’s the bottom line: No blood or DNA, other than Tim’s own, was found on any knife. The collection was pretty well documented – he had the same knives before and after the murder, so it doesn’t appear that one of his had been used and then disposed of.
At school, Tim told a friend about some part of his early-morning experience, sketching a diagram to illustrate where, in relation to the house and the bus stop, he saw what might have been a body. Somehow this became evidence of major importance to the prosecution, who interpreted it as showing that he had made a plan. No one denies that Tim saw the body or that he neglected, for whatever reason, to report the body. And that’s where the significance of the “map” ends.
When Tim was arrested in August ’98, copies of his reading matter were displayed to the camera: magazines called Ninja, Guns & Ammo, and Fangoria. This is a “Don’t get me started” topic. Reading habits are not symptoms of murderous intent – but thoughtcrime is too big a subject to tackle here.
In 1999 Tim was offered a deal that would have sprung him from prison after 8 years. He refused it because he wanted a trial to prove his innocence. He wanted to go to court and be exonerated. Would a guilty person take that chance?
Who Might Have Done It
The best reason why Tim didn’t kill Peggy is that someone else did. Although he was the only “named” suspect, quite an array of other possibilities were looked at by the police at one time or another, no matter how brief or half-hearted those glances might have been. Or maybe some weren’t looked at.
Clyde Masters: Tim’s father was questioned extensively, which is good. If there had been physical evidence of murder in or around their home, the father would just as likely be responsible as the son. And Clyde was career military. Even if he didn’t kill anybody in the war, he’d certainly been taught how. The night Peggy died, he was at a vocational class from 6 to 10 p.m. After that time, he must have had a darn good alibi, because nothing was ever said in the press about his being a suspect.
Matt Zoellner: Although his and Peggy’s relationship seems to have been so open that the term “boyfriend” was meaningless, that’s what the newspapers called him. One of the truisms of murder investigation is: first, you look at the domestic partner and/or the love interest. I don’t say that Mr. Zoellner was or should be a suspect. It’s just that he was never identified by name in the contemporary news reports, and none of the stories ever said much about him, which seemed odd, and stirred curiosity. Much later, I heard that he owned knives capable of producing the wound that killed Peggy, knives that were neither seized as potential evidence nor sent away for analysis. His car received a cursory examination, but was not impounded or thoroughly searched. Why didn’t the police deem Mr. Zoellner worthy of closer scrutiny? After all, he did admit to having a fight with Peggy that night. Then, he offered her a ride home and excused himself for a moment to visit the restroom. When he was ready to go, she was talking to someone else and/or looking mad. So she ended up leaving some other way. And he’s the last known person to have seen Peggy alive. He and the other woman went to an apartment and talked until three in the morning. (According to them, it’s all they did. In case you were wondering.)
The Other Woman: If this were a detective story, the Other Woman would obviously have a motive – either to carry out the murder herself, or to provide an alibi for the boyfriend. She would certainly have more of a motive than Tim Masters did.
Donald Long: A month after Peggy’s death, Long abducted a woman and stabbed her to death, and in November of the same year he abducted another one and stabbed her to death too. Both their last names, like Peggy’s, started with H. The difference was, they were stabbed many times while Peggy, first in the sequence, was stabbed only once. This charmer pleaded guilty to killing the other two. It is said that although there were similarities between their deaths and Peggy’s, the police let it slide. Back in 1992, journalist Tony Balandran wrote of Long, “For some reason officials decided he could not possibly be connected to Hettrick’s death. The reason remains unclear today.” That hasn’t changed. In 2007, a source close to the defense said, “We don’t know why he was eliminated.”
Name Unknown: Not long after the murder in 1987, the police questioned someone they heard about from an informant. This guy had also been seen talking to Donald Long. He supposedly knew about the nipple excision (which by then must have been common knowledge) and the genital mutilation (which was not believed to be common knowledge at the time – but hey, they thought nobody knew about the other thing, either.) Someone in the defense camp says, “He took a polygraph test and passed every question except for, ‘Do you know who killed Peggy Hettrick?’”
The Biker: a troublemaker who died around 2005. In a bar he was heard saying something like “stuck her pussy with a knife.” He had been in jail for beating or mutilating a woman. Regarding Peggy, he was investigated and cleared.
Confessors: A source close to the defense says, “Two people confessed to this crime. Both were briefly interviewed (nothing like the 9-hour tag team marathon they did on Tim) and nothing else. Their houses were not even searched for evidence. One was a kid who was quickly eliminated.”
Satanist Youth: Then there was the 16-year-old boy who was into satanism and the occult. Although he bragged about killing Peggy, his home was never searched. When interviewed by police he denied any connection, and said he heard at school that some kid named Tim was involved, which they were glad to hear, since they had started the rumor by telling their Explorer interns to avoid Tim.
Someone Needing a Patsy: The fiction writer in me suggests that some older person, perhaps in a position of authority, could have convinced Tim to take the fall because he was a minor and wouldn’t be punished severely. That kind of thing has been known to happen.
Protected Informant: Rumor has it there was cocaine around, the night Peggy was killed, which adds yet another dimension to the mystery. When the War on Some Drugs becomes part of an equation, all bets are off and anything goes. Was a favorite snitch allowed to get away with murder in order to protect some long-standing undercover operation?
Foreign Assassin: What was Peggy’s dad doing anyway, over in Tripoli, Libya, that caused her to spend her high school years there? Maybe someone from overseas was a black-ops agent who annoyed the wrong faction, and Peggy was eliminated in revenge for an old political feud. It is a world where anything can happen.
Stranger in a Bar: Peggy had just encountered her alleged boyfriend with another woman. Who knows, maybe she was in a general man-hating mood, and the next guy who tried to buy her a drink got slapped down. Maybe he was the kind of guy who doesn’t take “attitude” from a woman. There are guys like that.
Stranger on the Road: A lot of people pass through Fort Collins, which seems to be the main shopping town for most of Wyoming (next state to the north). The main street is only a short walk from Peggy’s murder scene, or at least dump scene.
There were possibilities other than Tim, whether officially recognized or not. And there was one very good possibility, so good in fact that the government’s failure to tell Tim’s defense attorneys about this man, who should have become the prime suspect, is the basis of the current legal action.
Who Probably Did It
The Hammond Affair took place in early 1995, eight years after Peggy was murdered. Tim, although he had been accosted three years earlier in Philadelphia by police who intended to arrest him, was at this time still a free man.
Back in Fort Collins, a woman I’ll call Chris responded to a house-sitter ad, written on an index card and posted on a bulletin board. Arriving at the address, she was shown around by the lady of the house. Encountering the husband, a body-builder type, Chris got the impression that he was coming on to her, non-verbally, right in front of his wife. Chris would be occupying the basement family room, which had a hide-a-bed and bathroom. She was shown the off-limits areas of the basement, including the husband’s office, which was said to be locked.
The family left for vacation and, once settled in, Chris couldn’t help noticing that when the toilet was in use, a strange noise would start up. A friend came over to help figure it out, and they found, hidden behind a grate across from the commode, a video camera. As it turned out, the office door wasn’t locked after all. In that room they discovered the hole in the wall through which the camera was accessed, an array of high-tech videography and editing equipment, and many videotape cases including one with Chris’s name printed on it in readiness.
The police received a call around 3:30 in the morning, obtained a warrant, and searched the house later that day. They found a sophisticated setup including two cameras that warmed up when the bathroom light was turned on and were activated by motion sensors, and another hidden camera aimed at the bed. They took away two televisions, seven VCRs, and more than 300 videotapes. On later examination, the tapes proved to be semi-professional work, with shots from the various camera angles spliced in. There was also a log that listed the names and ages (13 to 50 years) of the victims whose privacy had been violated, along with dates and reference numbers matching the cassettes. It would take a lot of work to determine whether there were tapes with no log entries, or log entries with no tapes.
The next day, Monday, homeowner Dr. Richard Hammond turned himself in and was arrested. Several hours later he put up $5,000 bond, agreed to get a psych consult, and was released. Sgt. Jim Broderick told the local paper about it. The public also learned that friends of the 13-year-old Hammond daughter had been videotaped. On Tuesday, several students who had visited the house asked a high-school counselor for help. It is to be hoped that the Hammond girls got help from somewhere too, because they were both subjects of their father’s peculiar hobby.
On Wednesday, the DA made a statement to the effect that no charges had been filed, because the police didn’t quite know yet what they had gotten hold of, or how much of it. On Friday, police searched for half an hour at the eye clinic where Hammond worked and found no evidence of taping there. By now, the uncertainty over what offenses to charge the doctor with, had expanded to a question of who should do the charging. A couple of potential victims and/or witnesses had parents who worked in the DA’s office. This conflict of interest could lead to problems, so a special prosecutor from outside was called for.
Friday night, Dr. Hammond went to Denver, 60 or 80 miles away, depending on which part of it you aim for, and checked into a motel. He injected a deadly toxin into a one of his own veins, and the next day was found dead by a maid.
A therapist who taught at Colorado State University was quoted in the local paper: “His suicide will leave questions unanswered.” Hammond’s lawyer said these prophetic words: “This is a tragedy and it goes far beyond his death.” The Larimer County DA made an equally and eerily predictive comment: “This doesn’t end it for the victims, that’s for sure.”
None of them knew it, but they were talking about Tim Masters. The tragedy of Dr. Richard Hammond has indeed extended far beyond his death, into the life of a man who was convicted of a murder that Dr. Hammond might well have committed. Truly, Hammond’s death didn’t end it for the victims, and Tim became one of those victims.
Of course the question on many lips was, would the investigation of Hammond’s activities continue? Police commander Brad Hurst said it would, because quite a few people wanted to know if they had unknowingly starred in the doctor’s home movies. And had the filmmaker kept all the jollies for himself, or was he into any kind of distribution, commercial or otherwise? But Hurst also said, “The investigation into any crimes committed by Dr. Hammond is complete.” (Now the inner alarm bell system kicks in.) An official from the DA’s office in an adjacent county, where the case had been transferred, agreed that “…generally, in the case of suicide, the case will be closed.”
Some people think a doctor wouldn’t kill anybody. When the lavatory video scandal erupted, those who had met Hammond in his professional and social capacities, the colleagues and patients and the denizens of society’s upper layer, were shocked. They had known him, you see, as a “prominent doctor.” Excuse me, but as any true-crime buff will tell you, some of the most flagrant psychopaths and serial murderers in history have been physicians. The list must run into several pages. Where’s the surprise? Especially when you’re talking about a family man who kept another apartment in Denver, equipped with a mistress who was also secretly videotaped by him.
When the Hammond-as-killer theory recently went public, one reader of the local paper commented sarcastically, “Let's just blame it on a dead guy who can't defend himself.” Fair enough, but not good enough. Hammond made the choice to become dead. He chose not to stick around and defend himself against a colorful variety of legal charges. If he did kill Peggy Hettrick, the fact that he’s dead is an insufficient reason to let him off the hook for it, and an even lousier reason to let Tim serve a life sentence in prison.
Hammond’s suicide left questions unanswered, for sure. Question #1 – Why didn’t the police look at this guy for Peggy’s murder? And here is where things start to get murky. In the course of the continuing videotape investigation, one officer happened to notice that the view from Hammond’s bedroom window took in the site where Peggy’s corpse had been left eight years before. And Peggy had been known to house-sit, on occasion. Some officers felt very strongly that this should be pursued and, at the very least, all the videotapes should be reviewed, to see if Peggy showed up.
Officially, the law enforcers were only interested in determining whether any of Hammond’s video productions were out amongst the general public. Now, I don’t claim the police should have thought of everything. After all, no organization or person is perfect. But here’s the thing: a Hammond/Hettrick connection was thought of. The idea was brought up, suggested, put forward. And ignored. Not only ignored, but actively quashed. The police commander said for the record, “There is no longer an investigation on whether or not [Richard Hammond] committed additional crimes beyond those we were going to charge him with.” In other words, never mind about Peggy.
Sgt. Broderick was in charge – the same cop who led the crusade against Tim from the beginning, and whose arrest attempt was painfully foiled three years before. Broderick decided that the modesty of women should no longer be trespassed upon, not even by professionals doing the job we pay them for. Whatever else might be on the tapes didn’t matter. They couldn’t get Hammond for sex offenses, messing around with minors, or anything else. He was dead. And that Hettrick case was a can of worms Broderick didn’t want to see opened at that point or for that reason. Steps were taken to ensure that the matter went no further. The videotapes were soon destroyed without having all been looked at.
Dr. Hammond’s suicide was “a tragic end to what has been a painful story,” one reporter wrote. But it wasn’t the end for Tim, who might never have been arrested if the idea of putting the doctor together with the dead woman had been allowed to develop. There were other reasons to make the connection. For instance: many of the fresh footprints in the field near Peggy’s body were made by Thom McAn dress shoes - not exactly the favored footwear of adolescent boys.
Hypocrisy is what the whole mess reeks of. Throughout all the years when Broderick was amassing his weapons, the alleged view from Tim’s bedroom window was a major big deal. The police did some kind of test with a plank of wood out in the field in the same place as the dead body, which supposedly proved the spot could be seen from Tim’s window, although this turned out to be one of the things they lied about in court. The point is, they said it mattered. It mattered a lot. But when an officer noticed that the body’s resting place was visible from Dr. Hammond’s bedroom window, it was like - so what? This window from which the spot could be seen belonged to a prominent doctor. Suddenly, the bedroom window theory didn’t matter at all. In fact, it seems to be a pattern. Theory is proposed; theory is found to not fit with Tim; theory is abandoned.
In the Hammond case, one issue was the delicacy of the situation. The special prosecutor was needed in order to prevent the appearance of impropriety. Everything had to be aboveboard. And the authorities were so thoughtful and considerate toward the feelings of whoever might have been in Hammond’s tapes. That’s all very nice and politically correct and touchy-feely, but meanwhile, something was going on much worse than mere impropriety. The refusal to consider Hammond as a suspect in the Peggy Hettrick murder is an injustice that could accurately be called monumental.
When Tim was arrested in 1998, three years after the Hammond Affair, it was as if Richard Hammond had never existed. Tim was accused of killing Peggy as if no other suspect ever could or should have been considered. The steamroller of the trial proceeded merrily on its way, preparing to crush Tim with plenty of forensic psychobabble from Dr. Meloy, but nary a mention of the other doctor, the one who lived right across the street from the dead body. There are excellent reasons why Tim should never have been arrested or convicted. In his appeal, excellent legal points were raised. But it looks like the Hammond Affair will be what finally sets him free. That, and the DNA and the fingerprints. And the angel.
An important step was for Tim to prepare a 35c Ineffective Counsel motion and seek a new trial. First, he had to clear the way by making sure the motion wouldn’t come before either of two particular District Court judges, because they both were on the prosecution team that convicted him. Not only that, but before his trial in 1999 they knew about evidence that could have turned suspicion away from him, namely the Hammond Affair. The prosecutors withheld that information from the defense lawyers. They claimed that nobody ever told them to look at Hammond as a murder suspect, but their own notes proved them to be liars.
Somewhere along the way, Tim’s dire situation attracted the notice of a man who felt called to help. This angel gathered the coalition of people who think Tim was wrongly convicted. He says things like, “What we have to show the court is so overwhelming…the state will realize that they cannot win.”
The DNA and Fingerprints
A firm in the Netherlands has developed a way to detect “contact DNA” in epithelial (or skin) cells that remain on objects a person has touched. Tim’s attorneys wanted this lab to test Peggy’s clothes. It was okayed, but the police department decided to do their own DNA testing first, and used a method involving cotton swabs that pretty much wiped out the possibility of doing the more up-to-date type of testing. Peggy’s clothes are being examined by the European lab techs anyway. If contact DNA is found, it won’t be Tim’s. The FCPD could then produce their samples of Richard Hammond’s DNA and compare. Oops! No they can’t. After his suicide, they got rid of it.
Well, okay, Hammond’s fingerprints are on file, right? Let’s compare them with the prints found in Peggy’s purse. Around a dozen of them didn’t belong to her, or the “boyfriend,” or to Tim either. So maybe they are Richard Hammond’s, or perhaps they match up with some prints in the national database, to which they were never compared. But wait – the photos and “lifts” that were taken at the time of the murder and sent to the FBI are missing, with more than one story about what happened. First, they said the evidence was signed out from their fingerprint library in 2005 and never returned. Then, they said the evidence never left their lab, but it’s gone anyway. One question: If the Federal Bureau of Investigation can’t keep track of legal evidence entrusted to their care, then WTF???
When Peggy was found, what appeared to be a partial pubic hair was retrieved from somewhere on the body or clothing. At the time, it was no good for DNA analysis, because the hair root would have been needed. Now, with the advance of technology, the partial hair could be used. Unfortunately, it has been lost as well. It’s amazing, how they contrived to hold onto so many other things all these years – knives, shoes, clothing, flashlight, toy guns, books, magazines, and sink drains from the Masters home – but managed to let so much evidence disappear that’s important to the defense.
Peggy was wearing a gold bracelet that ended up with somebody’s blood on it. The defense would like to have that item for DNA analysis, but it was said to be a family heirloom and given back to her relations, and now they don’t know where it is.
At the crime scene, some basic procedures were neglected, such as recording the orientation of various footprints. Granted, there are arguments any good lawyer could make about which way the footprints pointed, and why – but unless the information is recorded in the first place, neither defense nor prosecution can use it. At the trial, such matters as the locations and directions of footprints were established by relying on officers’ memories. Maybe it’s just that I read too many detective stories, but aren’t the measurable, recordable things meant to be measured and recorded?
If Richard Hammond had a safe, or a bank safety deposit box, or anything of the kind, let’s hope it was checked for evidence connected to Peggy, such as the missing body parts. One thing’s for sure, either Hammond or someone else had the twisted satisfaction of knowing that he got away with it. If Hammond was the killer, imagine him living there for years, in his room with a view of the body dump location, and the home of the young man who would pay the price for murder.
The Pseudo-Hero and the Real Heroes
The case against Tim Masters is emblematic, iconic, prototypical; a textbook illustration of how not to run a murder investigation. Even the little old ladies in cozy British mystery novels know this: you don’t solve a case by first deciding who did it, then shaping the facts to fit your theory. Which is what Jim Broderick has done. No matter how many colleagues disagreed, no matter how farfetched the theories he had to weave, no matter how many signs pointing to other suspects he had to overlook, Broderick wasn’t going to release Tim from the role of chief suspect, or let anyone else take over that title. Despite having no evidence against Tim, and though it was necessary to put his vendetta on hold for years, Broderick persisted. He was there the day the Colorado Supreme Court heard Tim’s case, and affirmed to a reporter that there was “absolutely no doubt in his mind” that Tim killed Peggy.
On the Cold Case Files TV program, Lt. Broderick reminisced about the day in 1998 when they arrested Tim. "This was a 15-year-old kid last time I met him." I wish he hadn't said that - because it sounds an awful lot like a police officer telling a lie. Broderick was one of the cops who flew east in 1992, planning to make an arrest, and he saw Tim then, and Tim wasn’t 15. Okay, I understand the need for brevity and simplification in a television script. The story has to fit into a couple of minutes. So the loose ends are snipped off, and the complicated stuff is left out - like the previous, thwarted arrest attempt. And it’s easy to see why the cop who thought up the Philadelphia fiasco would want to pretend it never happened.
When a judge green-lighted the defense to take Peggy’s clothes for DNA testing, it was Broderick who grabbed them, without permission, and sent them to the DNA lab of his choice, which did its best to destroy the usefulness of the evidence. The defense asked the court to take disciplinary action, but the damage was done.
There’s an American myth about the cop who “doesn’t mind bending the rules,” or whatever nudge-and-wink term they care to use about a rogue officer who’s willing to plant evidence, destroy evidence, lie, blackmail, beat suspects, and just generally violate civil rights, and the law, at will. Cops with that mindset have a simplistic, comic-book worldview. The cops are Good and the suspects are Evil, and that’s all the excuse they need to completely jump the track. But if the cops are supposed to be the good guys, they should be observing the rules more than anyone, not less.
My fellow countrymen are enamored of the maverick cop who does whatever it takes to lock up his chosen perp, or doer, or animal - whatever the local slang may be. TV viewers love shows about this type. It’s One Man Defying Authority to Bring in the Scumbag Who Did This No Matter How Long It Takes. With messianic certainty, the square-jawed lawman makes up his mind about who is guilty, and pursues that person to the ends of the earth. It’s the Lone Cop on a Mission from God. Don’t get me wrong: dedication to the job, caring about the victims and wanting to avenge their deaths, all that is lovely. But when an investigation becomes a holy war, when it zeroes in on one suspect and excludes all others – well, call me old-fashioned, but isn’t that, like, un-American?
And when Officer Studly rushes to judgment, makes the wrong call right from the start, closes his mind to any and all possibilities other than his own cherished suspect – then what? Through the strenuous and unremitting efforts of one pseudo-hero cop, the wrong person is convicted. And if the mistake is ever revealed, Officer Studly is wearing a whole lot of egg on his face. An out-of-control cop is not a hero. The most he can be is a pseudo-hero, someone who attains hero status at another person’s expense. A guy who gets books written about his studly law-enforcement feats, and then movies made from the books. Maybe that’s what Jim Broderick had in mind.
Now, here’s a strange thing. The Hammond Affair occupied an intense month in 1995. Earlier in the same month, a local woman announced that she would file a federal lawsuit against the Fort Collins police department, accusing it of maliciousness and incompetence. Her husband had been murdered a couple of years before, and she was considered the main suspect, although there wasn’t evidence enough to do anything about it. They had spent eight months, that’s the better part of a year, to determine that one of her shoes had blood on it – and then announced that it wasn’t blood after all. Furthermore, one officer point-blank told her if he couldn’t prove her guilt, he’d still do his best to ruin her relationships with family and friends. The department was accused of overstepping its bounds, and of conducting a crusade against the woman. Then the Hammond Affair came along and proved crusading, incompetence, and maliciousness to be the very same traits that characterize the official attitude toward Tim.
The real hero of the case is Linda Wheeler-Holloway, without whose help there might never have been any hope for Tim. In the Philadelphia incident, she refused to carry out the arrest for the simple and sane reason that bringing him in would be the wrong thing to do, and assisted in many other ways since then.
Actually there are several heroes: the angel, the DNA analysts, the new defense team, Tim’s family, the journalists who didn’t buy into the party line, and seven former detectives who worked on the case. One of them, at the time of the trial, put himself in jeopardy by trying to tip off the Public Defender when they ran into each other at the courthouse. He muttered something like "In the Hettrick case, you should look at Dr. Richard Hammond." This officer assumed a public defender would be handling it. But Tim's family had hired a lawyer, so the tip fell on fallow ground. The whole course of everything might have been different if Tim had had the public defender. His lawyer, of course, had never heard of Dr. Richard Hammond.
One of the original jurors, on hearing that the case had been reopened, attended a hearing where he angrily confronted Jim Broderick about the missing and destroyed evidence and the fact that the jury was not told some very important facts.
Oh - and forget all those mean thoughts about prison guards. (Just kidding.) But - a guard who tossed Tim's cell when he was out at exercise got hold of all his research notes on Donald Long (who Tim then believed to be the killer). The guard copied all the stuff and sent it to a friend in the Fort Collins PD who didn't think Tim did it, to make sure the sympathetic detective was aware of Long. In other words, he was a good guy.
Where It Stands
Recently I noticed that a petition to free a jailed celebrity had garnered 25,000 signatures. Ponder the obscenity of this. Thousands of people will take the trouble to speak up for the famous-for-being-famous blonde. How many will speak up for Tim Masters? Or for that poor bastard who was sentenced to 15 years for being a good neighbor? (He signed for a package when the addressee wasn't home, and the package had cocaine in it.) Or for any of the thousands of other poor bastards who are currently guests of the State, and who shouldn't be?
Why does it matter? It matters because there are issues in this case that could impact my life and fate, and yours too. What difference does it make? In terms of the big picture, maybe not much difference. The sad reality is, injustice has become so rampant that any isolated example of it has to be really egregious, to get any attention at all. The opposite ought to be true. Every time any person is unjustly imprisoned, it should send crowds roaring toward the capitol to kick butt and take names.
The police didn’t follow up on a perfectly good suspect, Richard Hammond, because by then the crusade against Tim had gathered too much momentum to be deflected. Despite any number of facts that stared them in the face, all their chips were on Tim as the guilty one. They didn’t tell his defense counsel about the other suspect, and that alone ought to be sufficient to put an end to this farce. The momentum now flows in the other direction. Once a few people started paying attention, the inevitable conclusion they had to reach was “This is wrong.” When things started to go Tim’s way, surprises began to happen, and there could yet be more surprises. The fingerprints might help Tim, and the DNA., and so might some as-yet-unrevealed but decisive piece of information. Having a special prosecutor brought in from outside has got to help. The fact that Tim shouldn’t have been arrested, tried, or convicted for Peggy Hettrick’s murder in the first place – well, it’s too late for anything to help that. When Tim Masters is exonerated, it won’t be that justice prevails, only that this particular injustice ends.
First published at Earthblog.net June 12, 2007
For court transcripts, photos, and drawings, see http://www.FreeTimMasters.com