Jigsaw and Jane Fish and Write at the Klamath River  

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Crime Writing | 0 comments

December, 2023. Camarillo, California. The chaos and clutter of Christmas filled my house, my brain and my life with unreachable deadlines. My original plan for this blog was not to focus on Detective St. John’s crime-solving expertise but to write about St. John – the person behind the Badge. Where to start?

 Perhaps if I dug through my file cabinet filled with trial transcripts, manuscripts, and newspaper articles I’d find inspiration for this new twist on murder and mayhem.

Suddenly there it was. A photo of John St. John at the kitchen stove cooking breakfast.   

I picked up my camera and snapped the photo. He wasn’t with me at a prison, or at a police station or giving a lecture. Instead, there was John cooking breakfast at his retirement home in Hornbrook, California on fifty acres bordering the Klamath River. He wore a blue shirt, khaki pants and held a spatula when I asked him to smile for the camera. He looked so ordinary.

Yet there was nothing ordinary about the man who wore the LAPD’s Badge Number One.   

What intrigued so many who knew him and what made him so darn good was he didn’t have the style and swagger of a Hollywood detective. Instead, he seemed like a cheerful grandpa with a dollar for the grandkids or the guy who buys the first round of drinks. He didn’t wear Brook Brothers suits or silk ties. He bought his suits at the same place my husband bought tires – Sears. 

 When I first met him, I expected a slick, fast-talking Kojak right out of Hollywood central casting. Instead, I found and got to know a man who looked more like Archie Bunker than Jack Webb. He did ordinary stuff like deposit checks in the bank, cut grass, and wash his truck. One weekend he helped me construct a ledge for my oddball collection of flowerpots.    

He used this plain vanilla ordinariness to get critical information from serial killers Bill Bonin, Brandon Tholmer and Bill Bradford. He used that info to arrest, convict, and sentence those murderous monsters – one to life in prison and the others to the death penalty.       

His methodical approach fascinated me. I once watched him interview a kid hoping to get information about his father – a serial killer – with the craftiness and patience of a trained counselor. I also watched him interview my neighbor who owned a large ranch in Camarillo just because he was curious. How many acres do you own? What did you grow? What’s the difference between growing corn versus strawberries? How much does seed, water, hired help cost?     

When St. John invited me to visit him and his wife, Helen, for a few weeks of writing and fishing at their newly built vacation home in April 1994, I wondered how we’d all get along.

I said, “First, I know next to nothing about fishing. Second, knitting lessons with Helen who thinks I need to learn how to count stitches and knit a sweater will make me dizzy.”   

“She’ll be happy to have another woman around just to visit with when we’re not writing,” he said. “We have a proposal and an outline to write. Work will always trump knitting and fishing.”

When I packed my bag for the trip, I grabbed a few bottles of wine thinking if I could wean Helen from tea to wine, she’d forget about counting stitches and share some of her secret stories.

When I asked John the best way to bribe Helen he had the answer – apple pie. Bingo!