Bill Bonin’s Pickup Line “Hey Kid, Want a Ride?”
Back in the beginning of this journey, I wasn’t sure if me–a newbie writer who’d only met Detective St. John twice–had the chutzpah to approach him with a favor. I had nothing to lose. My interview with Barbara went well, and he didcompliment me on doing my homework. While St. John and my husband, Jim, were engrossed in a conversation about football, standing in Barbara Bien’s driveway, I waited for the right moment to change the subject from football to murder. Finally, I saw an opening.
“Mr. St. John,” I began. “Would it be too much to ask if you could take me to the Wood crime scene? I studied the report you gave me but being there to see it for myself would help a lot.”
The seasoned homicide investigator with the nickname “Jigsaw”,” turned to me with a look that I read as You’ve got gumption. He said yes.
St. John led the way to the crime scene, 740 West Esther Street in Long Beach while Jim and I followed past a neighborhood restaurant, grocery store, and Arco station on the corner. I leaned close to the passenger window and wondered: Could that be the restaurant where Barbara worked? Could that be the grocery store where Bill Bonin bought his Dr. Pepper? Could that be the gas station where Steven helped little old ladies fill their tank for a quarter? I wonder where Manny’s Liquor store is where Steven bought his notebook? How far to Columbus High School?
The closer we got to the alley where Bonin dumped Steven Wood’s corpse, the more I wondered why I asked St. John to see the crime scene. Instead, Jim and I could be headed home to normalcy, our dogs, the teenage babysitter, and our two boys who’d been safely tucked into bed. The gray, cloudy sky, winter chill, ugly garbage cans set by the curb for collection added to my unease. I turned to Jim and asked why a killer would choose an alley for a dump site.
He said, “My guess is the area is not lit, it’s narrow and it’s unlikely someone would see him as he moved quickly in and out with his van.” Then – there it was. The grubby, grimy street.
St. John drove into the alley and stopped next to a large work bench littered with dirt, gravel, debris, and rubble in a truck loading area. We got out of our vehicles and walked toward the bench – me in the lead reading from the report: “Victim’s head was up against the legs of a large work bench which was also sitting adjacent to the west wall.” The report jarred me with the clinical description of a boy who just hours before his death was on the way to his favorite class. I asked St. John to make his best guess describing Bonin’s strategy for dumping Wood’s body.
He moved close to the wood bench where Jimmie Lee Brown found Steven’s body and said, “My best guess is, as you already know, after the murder, Bonin drove to a 4:30 job interview and ate a pizza while he waited for the cover of darkness.”
Unimaginable. Horror on top of horror. Eating a pizza with a dead body in the back of his van. Waiting for dark to dump Steven.
St. John continued: “Night comes. Bonin backs into the alley so if anyone is nearby, they won’t see him unload the body. He grabs Wood’s body and tosses it–face up–onto the ground.”
“In other words, Mr. St. John, he treats the body like trash. Like the photo you have of the victim stuffed into a trash can in your office. Bonin is the embodiment of your belief that killers treat victims like garbage.” St. John didn’t say anything. He just nodded and looked away.
The drive home seemed to take forever. Pulling into our driveway, I raced to our son’s bedroom, where they lay sleeping. The sound of Ryan and Jeff breathing was better than Beethoven.
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