Jigsaw Takes Jane to the Miranda Crime Scene
Camarillo, California. 1982. Detective St. John and I sat across the kitchen table from each other– a glass of iced tea for him and coffee for me – and the LAPD Homicide Manual off to the side. The plan was, for him to give me a tutorial on crime scene investigation techniques before taking me to the Miranda crime scene in downtown Los Angeles he supervised during the Freeway Killer investigation in 1982.
All I knew about crime scenes when I first met St. John, was in the movies: a crime scene was cordoned off with yellow tape, curious onlookers were shooed away like pesky mosquitos, and off to the side there might be an ambulance, for sure the coroner’s wagon, the lead homicide detective and several police officers. Other than that, crime scenes were a mystery to a woman who’d never had the opportunity to co-author a book with a homicide detective who happened to be a legend with the LAPD: Detective John “Jigsaw” St. John.
We’d been drinking iced tea and coffee for about an hour, and I was getting antsy about moving from the kitchen table to the loading dock where St. John found the teenager’s body on February 2, 1980. Finally, he got up signaling he was ready to leave. We got into his undercover car and headed toward East 2nd street in LA. He continued the tutorial from the driver’s seat.
“A few times I just got lucky,” St. John said, “like the time the killer left his driver’s license at the crime scene. I call those self-solvers, but those were rare. The search for the killer begins at the scene and clues are non-existent. The crime scene is the place where the cop meets the killer. Who is this guy? Why did he dump the body here? There’s a reason. What is it?
I remembered something he wrote in the manual when he was a recruit: If you don’t write it down, you will forget. St. John’s remarkable memory enabled him to never need a map, remember details of a murder years later, and almost never forget a name or phone number.
“One thing I always tell my recruits at the LAPD Academy,” he said, “is a crime scene tells me as much about the killer as his own mother.”
Two hours later, St. John pulled into an alley at the rear of 924 East 2nd Street in Los Angeles Street. I felt about as far away from my comfortable study and kitchen table as I was the time I went with my mother on a trip to Russia. The scene on East 2nd Street and the streets my mother and I walked in Russia felt like two Wastelands a continent apart: dingy, cluttered, depressing.
I got out of St. John’s Crown Vic and walked to the spot on a loading deck where St. John found the body: naked with ligature marks on the neck and wrists. I asked St. John what happened.
“Miranda and two of his buddies were at one of their favorite haunts, the Starwood disco, one Saturday night, got separated from his friends at about 2:00 am and after trying to get in touch with friends with no luck, started to walk home. He was last seen at 3:30 close to the disco. That was approximately the time he crossed paths with Bill Bonin who was cruising the area.”
I walked to the loading dock area thinking about the kid walking home alone at 3:00 in the morning because he couldn’t get a ride home and wound up strangled, tortured, and died because his path coincided with a serial killer looking for a kid just like Charles Miranda.
What secrets about that crime scene would Bonin’s mother reveal to a detective?