Resident Evil in Omaha
What choice did he have but to lash out at the people who continued to heap tragedy and embarrassment on his life? As Shakespeare wrote, if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Reader discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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Nemesis had a list. It contained the names of the enemy's arrayed against him. A triumvirate cabal. Number one was a woman old enough to be his mother. At first, nemesis had hoped she would be like his mother and that she would nurture and protect him. Instead, betrayal. She had, in fact, become his chief inquisitor, torturing him. Piling on humiliations until he cried out for mercy.
The bitch's overseers were no better than she was. Mercy was not in their vernacular. They closed ranks, rejected his entreaties. They were demons, ravaging Nemesis with their poison quills, reveling in his supplication. Instead of succor, they threw him to the dogs. After their judgment, Nemesis held them all equally accountable. He thought of them as a three-headed hydra.
What choice did he have but to lash out at the people who continued to heap tragedy and embarrassment on his life? As Shakespeare wrote, if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
Nemesis needed a win. He considered the ways of bringing them to their knees. To show them he would not just take the abuse and retreat. What does a knight do when slapped in the face with injustice? This was his quest. He would strike the vipers in their nest.
Nemesis picked Hunter because he couldn't get to the hag. Hunter was a good first substitute. Hunter was the one who could have called off the madness. Instead, he was no help. He'd willingly, no, eagerly joined the bitch's mission to destroy him.
But what Hunter didn't know is that he himself was a soft target, he and his perfect wife. Perfect family. Living in the perfect neighborhood. Pompous asshole even had servants to do his bidding.
Nemesis had done some investigating. He had watched until he was comfortable with the situation. Then he made his decision. It was mid-afternoon on a bright sunshine day. No one was on the streets. No one was on the immaculate manicured yards. He circled around the neighborhood, passed his target, and parked down the street. He grabbed his bag of tools and walked the rest of the way.
During the stroll, Nemesis compared his surroundings to his current place. These were rich people's houses. The neighborhood filled with assholes, just like Hunter and his brood.
He felt that familiar pang of jealousy. This is what they were stealing from him, but it was okay. Anger was turning out to be a high-octane fuel.
Nemesis walked casually, confidently, up to Hunter's place. He had the nap sack slung, hoping to avoid using the tools it contained. He tried the front door without knocking and finding it unlocked, he quietly cracked it open, peering inside, scanning the small entryway before he committed and seeing no one, nemesis slipped through and pressed his back against the door until he felt it latch behind him.
Standing motionless just inside the doorway, he willed his ears to hear past his rapid breathing. To the left, a long, open living room. He couldn't see the far end, but he didn't think anybody was in there. In front of him lay the central hallway with a stairwell down to the basement. To the right was a dining room, and further on the kitchen. It was there that he would find the first mission objective.
There was no sign of where anyone was yet. So nemesis crept through the dining room and into the kitchen. The knife block was just where he imagined it would be, waiting at the end of one of the counters.
As he examined a blade, Nemesis heard movement from somewhere in the back of the house. He quickly retreated back toward the main hall, intending to circle around via the dark central hallway. As he made the turn out of the dining room nemesis, collided with the boy who had just come up the basement stairs. The boy, a skinny white kid with brown hair and glasses, maybe 10 or 11, looked up, surprise flashing on his face, almost searching for recognition and finding none. The boy's eyes dropped to Nemesis' hand as the blade came up.
The boy moved suddenly. His reflexes overrode conscious action. But Nemesis was ready. This was what he had come for. He grabbed the boy simultaneously, driving him down to the ground as he drove the knife into his neck. The boy let out a stifled, guttural cry as they fell to the floor. The blade penetrated his throat, ripping through tissues, severing vessels entering and withdrawing repeatedly.
Nemesis quietly unleashed his rage on the child, whose shocked body put up no meaningful resistance.
Nemesis had seen death before. He was comfortable with it. He recognized the boy was dead long before he stopped stabbing.
He could only spare a few seconds to enjoy the revenge. After that, his survival instinct rang an alarm. There was still at least one person in the back of the house. Driving the blade one last time, he let it protrude from the boy's neck as a message.
Nemesis jumped up and sprinted back to the knife block, pulling a second blade. He burst through the passage into the rear of the house. The servant was there, an old woman carrying a bucket and cleaning supplies. The woman's eyes met his, and he saw her fear. She dropped everything and turned to flee.
Her old reflexes were no match for nemesis, who took three quick strides, catching her before she could reach the back door. Tackling her flat on the floor, he plunged the knife into the side of her throat repeatedly. Like the boy, she put up no resistance.
When she was clearly dead, nemesis got up. He searched the house and found no one else. He went back to look at the bodies and he was satisfied. He figured the piglet grows up to be like its swine father, so it made sense to strike the bloodline. A bonus killing the child would mame the man.
Omaha, Nebraska, a Midwest city of 450,000 residents on the banks of the Missouri River. It is the home of the college Baseball World Series and billionaire businessman, philanthropist, Warren Buffett.
The city has its share of problems, but there are areas where crime, particularly violence, is virtually unheard of. One of these areas is the Dundee neighborhood, an affluent sector just west of downtown and Creighton University. Nevertheless, in the early evening of March 13th, 2008, police 9 1 1 dispatch received an urgent call from a Dundee residence. A man was reporting two victims dead in his house.
Dr. Bill Hunter was a pathologist who left his office on the campus of Creighton Medical Center at 5:00 PM. 10 minutes later, he arrived at his house, which was just a few blocks from where Warren Buffett lives.
Dr. Hunter parked as usual, entered through the rear doors, and encountered the almost unbelievable sight of his 57-year-old housekeeper, dead of stab wounds, lying on the floor. He immediately recognized that she was beyond help. The doctor urgently moved past the body only to discover his 11-year-old son Tom in the hallway. His boy was also dead, with severe trauma to his throat and a knife protruding from his neck.
The police arrived to clear and secure the house. The crime scene team went to work with its processes. The two detectives assigned as primary investigators noted several things about the victims at the scene. There were several knives lying around, and one was left embedded in Tom's neck.
The knives were all apparently from a block on the kitchen counter. The wounds themselves were unusual. Someone had similarly attacked each victim, targeting the right side of their throats. Shirlee Sherman suffered 17 blade penetrations, including one that went completely through her neck.
The scene showed that normal life was in progress before the killer interrupted it. The investigators believed that Tom died first, his body lying near the stairs to the basement. Downstairs, Tom's Xbox account was still logged in. Partially consumed after-school snacks flanked the chair he'd been using.
Close to the back door, it appeared that Shirlee had been interrupted in her cleaning. A bucket and supplies lay close to the body dropped during the attack.
Investigators found evidence at the scene woefully lacking. There was no clear sign of motive. It didn't look like a robbery. In a house full of valuable items, nothing was missing. Shirlee was carrying several hundred dollars on her when she died. Processing had turned up little trace evidence and no identifiable suspect DNA was found at the scene.
The neighborhood canvas didn't turn up much either. No one had anything bad to say about the hunters. Only one neighbor reported something unusual. She saw a silver Honda SUV with out-of-state plates driving slowly through the area. The car had parked on the street and a man got out carrying a bag. He walked up the street and out of her sight. She rationalized that the man must be a door-to-door salesman and went on about her business.
The investigators focused for a time on victimology. Surveying the family, the parents were both medical doctors. They had four kids, so six plus the housekeeper were the insiders. Aside from the victims, all had solid alibis at the time of the murders.
Tom's mother, Dr. Claire Hunter, had been attending a medical conference in Hawaii. Once notified, she immediately flew home in shock. Detectives could not determine whether either Tom or Shirlee were the intended target of the attack.
In Tom's case, there was no sign of problems at school. The bus camera showed him riding that afternoon with no sign that he was living his last minutes. Every indication was that Tom was a good kid, a smart kid who did well in school. He loved science and math. His last minutes were his routine Xbox, Dr. Pepper, potato chips in the basement. The examination of Tom's internet and gaming contacts didn't turn up anything suspicious.
Could Shirlee have been the target? The detectives didn't think so. She was a hardworking grandmother of five. She didn't appear to have any problems or enemies. Her adult children described her as dependable. Indispensable and rock-solid. She was the beloved center of the family.
The detectives turned from Shirlee and Tom to look at Claire and Bill Hunter. Neither seemed to have coworkers or patients who would want to do them harm. No disgruntled employees came to mind. Bill had been involved in human resource actions, including terminations, but all left quietly without ongoing problems.
As days turned into weeks with no solid suspects, investigators feared the attacks might have been completely random.
Five years later, on Mother's Day morning, May 12th, 2013, Dr. Chandra and Under Bewtra took two elderly friends to a holiday brunch. As they were finishing breakfast, they received a phone call that their home's intruder alarm had been activated.
They were delayed in checking on their house while they finished breakfast and dropped off their slow-moving guests. When they finally arrived at their house. Nothing appeared to be out of place, but the back door was open.
Dr. Roger Brumback's house was just a few miles away from the Bewtra residence. On that Mother's Day of 2013, Roger and his wife Mary were working on their house, preparing for his retirement. They were planning to sell and leave Omaha.
As Roger was painting the entryway, someone knocked on the front door. Roger answered, and the shooting started.
Two days later, a moving crew arrived at the Brumback house to pick up their piano. The workers received no answer at the door. One of the crew looked through a window and spotted a pistol magazine lying on the floor in the entryway. They called the police.
When officers arrived, they found Roger's body behind the door and Mary just a little further into the house. Roger had been shot, and both had suffered several stab wounds to the right side of their necks. The on-call homicide detectives were the same team that took the case at the Hunter home five years prior. The two detectives walked in and were immediately struck by the similarities in the two murder cases.
Two victims, each stabbed multiple times in the same area of the throat. Mary, presumably the second attack victim, had defensive lacerations on her arm. The crime scene and the victim's background would only solidify their growing unease that the two murder scenes were related.
Same as the Hunter house, there was very little left at the scene. Police collected a broken pistol magazine from the entryway floor.
There were no witnesses and no direct sign of motive. Nothing valuable was taken. There was no sexual assault. There was overkill, but no postmortem mutilation. Also, similar to the Hunter House, the suspect used knives from the scene.
As far as the victimology went, people who knew Mary Brumback said that she could not have had a single person who disliked her. It was Roger Brumback's background that focused the investigation. He was a pathologist at Creighton. Roger Brumback was the chairman of the program, and Bill Hunter, the father of the murdered boy, supervised residents at Creighton.
As soon as they made the Brumback murders public, the investigators received a call from the Bewtra's who told them about their burglary alarm and the suspicious open door. Crime scene team members were sent to process the Bewtra residence.
The investigators took stock. In 2008, a Creighton Medical Center pathologist's home had been invaded by an unknown suspect who left everyone inside dead with distinct almost signature injuries to both bodies. Then, Mother's Day 2013, the home of two Creighton Medical Center doctors, one a pathologist, had been broken into setting off the burglar alarm. Later that day, someone mercilessly slaughtered the chief of the Creighton Pathology Department and his wife in the entryway of their home. Their bodies bore the same distinct stab injuries as the first two victims.
The question for investigators was, who might want to target the Creighton pathology department? Could there be a patient or family somehow blaming them for a medical issue? That didn't seem right. No one in the department could come up with a likely subject for that line of inquiry. Minus that, what's left was a disgruntled current or former employee. Workplace-related violence is not uncommon if that was indeed the issue here. But the level of violence and the enduring nature of the malevolence seemed almost unbelievable.
What kind of employee might quietly hold a deadly grudge for that long? The answer? A resident. Residency is a critical make-or-break period in a doctor's career. Successful completion of a residency is the gateway. Failure often is the end of a career, the death of a dream that has endured in that resident's life for years.
The detectives began sifting through the files of pathology residence, going back years, setting aside several failed candidates. They were the new pool of suspects, and one of them was Anthony Garcia.
Garcia came up in 2008 but was dismissed in the initial investigation because it seemed he had gone away quietly, even moving out of Nebraska. When they asked Dr. Bewtra about Garcia, her reaction was what detectives were looking for. He was a terrible student, but beyond that, he was a bad person. He was malicious; he was vindictive.
Dr. Bewtra had been Garcia's direct supervisor. She had written him up for several performance issues, and instead of improving, he lashed out at her and others in the department. Dr. Bure said that she had been pushing hard for the Chief Bill Hunter and the chair Roger Brumback, to use her documentation to fire Garcia.
When there were two incidents that, as they say, were the straws that broke the camel's back. In the first incident, Garcia improperly handled the cadaver in a manner that caused disfigurement to the body. Butcher said it showed Garcia lacked the requisite compassion and attention to detail that their program demanded.
In the second incident, Garcia intentionally tried to sabotage the career of pathology's chief resident. When Garcia was called on the carpet over the incident, he laughed it off as a joke, but Bewtra said his actions were malicious. When Garcia was fired, the names Bewtra, Hunter, and Brumback were on the paperwork.
In the weeks and months that followed, it would first be the job of the investigators and then the media to find the answer to the question. Who is Garcia?
Fred and Estella Garcia were an American success story. Fred, born in the US with a strong Mexican heritage, fought in Vietnam. He came home, married, and worked for the post office. Estella, born in Mexico, became a nurse. The Garcias were the kind of people who were proud, as their hard work earned them a place firmly in the American middle class. They could afford a house in Walnut, California, a distant suburb of Los Angeles, far enough east to not have that big city feel.
Garcia was their first child, and they had big dreams for him. Growing up, he did well in school. He was an altar boy at their church. He was a big kid, so naturally he played football. Garcia accepted the hopes and dreams of his parents with dutiful resolve. They wanted him to be a doctor, so that became his dream, too.
He went to college in California and medical school at the University of Utah. After graduation in 1999, Garcia began a residency program at Bassett St. Elizabeth's in Utica, New York. His time in New York did not go well. Garcia had personal problems with staff members who accused him of behaving unprofessionally. The conflict simmered, culminating in an incident where he blew up screaming at a radiology technician. He was gone by the end of the year.
With the termination came a warning from the New York State Board of Professional Medical Conduct. It would be a flag on his permanent record that would follow his medical career indefinitely.
After the termination, Garcia went back to his parent's home in California. Then he received a rare second chance. The pathology department at Creighton Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, was willing to take him.
After Garcia started at Creighton, it didn't take long for him to have similar problems as at Bassett. His supervising Dr. Chandra Bewtra described him as academically very poor. Dr. Butcher complained that Garcia was a child cloaked with a medical degree.
The poor performance reviews, mistakes and attempts to sabotage a fellow doctor led to Garcia's dismissal in 2001. He didn't take his dismissal completely in silence. He lashed out, complaining to the program, the college and whoever might listen. Leveling professional and personal attacks at those he saw as responsible for his situation.
These complaints were sloppy and transparent in their motivation. In the end, Garcia seemed to admit defeat. He packed up and left Omaha.
Garcia again returned home. His brother and parents noticed he was depressed, but never
gave up on the goal of working as a doctor. In 2003, he got a third chance. He got into a residency at the University of Illinois Hospital, and at that time got a license to practice medicine in Illinois.
Following the Illinois residency, Garcia chased employment in several states, working in clinics and taking contracts in prisons. When he applied for a medical license to practice, they often refused him. The Illinois license kept his career off life support, but the proceeding failures in New York and Nebraska were writ large on his record.
LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana fired Garcia from a psychiatry residency because the state reviewed his record and refused to issue him a license. That was in late February 2008, a few weeks before the murders at the Hunter residence. After the LSU termination, Garcia found worked at a federal penitentiary outside of Terre Haute, Indiana.
He applied for the state licensure there twice, but was denied each time. During a failed application in November 2012, he complained in writing. "I feel my actions do not rise to the level of a denial of my medical licensure application. I have been aggrieved and adversely affected by not being able to work as a physician in the state of Indiana."
He had been working in Indiana on a temporary medical license, which expired on the last day of 2012. The Brumback murders happened a few weeks later.
To the homicide investigators working the Omaha murders. What they discovered about Garcia added to their suspicions. The licensure timing could be emotive for a revenge killing, but it wasn't definitive.
One of the tantalizing pieces of evidence was that at the time of the first murders, Garcia was driving a silver Honda CR-V with Louisiana plates. It matched the suspicious car the neighbor had described perfectly.
To track Garcia's recent movements, detectives pulled cell and credit card records. Bingo. On the day of the murders, Garcia's cell phone hit on a tower an hour outside of Omaha. Later, he made a purchase at a chicken wing joint and was captured on camera buying beer in the city. The detectives considered these facts highly suspicious, considering Garcia's residence was almost 600 miles away in Terre Haute.
Once they were on the right suspect, the investigators began to build their case quickly. When they made it to Garcia's Terre Haute home, the second murders were still fresh. It felt like they were hot on the trail. That's why they were anxious When Garcia couldn't be located. Was he still traveling? Were there other targets?
The Omaha detectives working with the FBI pulled in other state and local agencies. It was the Illinois State troopers that found Garcia, pulling him over on July 15th at 8:30 in the morning. They arrested him for drunk driving. While searching his car, they found parts of a gun, a sledged hammer, and a crowbar.
The homicide team had search warrants ready for when Garcia was arrested. When he was in custody, they went into his house in Terre Haute. It turned out that Garcia was a compulsive list guy. He wrote what he wanted to get done over the course of a day. His lists included things as mundane as reminders to buy vegetables or hygiene products. Unfortunately, for him, the list also included portentous words like gun invade, torture, kill, kidnap. There was a trove of evidence soaking in water in the kitchen sink. All of his Creighton paperwork was there: the poor performance reviews and the termination.
Also, in the house, detectives found the box that matched the piece of pistol that was found in Garcia's car. Interestingly, the missing part of the pistol matched by serial number was later located near a roadway in Terre Haute. It appears he threw it from a moving vehicle. The caliber of that weapon was nine-millimeter matching that used in the murders.
While in Terre Haute, detectives tried to track where Garcia was spending his time, the search led to Club Coyote and Cecilia Hoffman. Cecilia was an exotic dancer that Garcia was interested in. He frequented the establishment and made it known that he wanted Cecilia to be his girlfriend. Cecilia wanted nothing to do with Garcia.
One night she rebuffed his advances by saying Dr. Tony, I only like bad boys. I'm a bad girl.
You couldn't, you couldn't handle a girl like me. Cecilia said that Garcia responded by telling her that he wasn't as good as she thought he was. And to prove it, she quoted him saying; I killed people before I killed a young boy and an old woman. That statement put Cecilia on the witness list.
Garcia was extradited to Omaha. And on July 23rd, 2013, they indicted him on four counts of first-degree murder at the Douglas County Courthouse.
At trial, the prosecution presented a mountain of mostly circumstantial evidence, including brutal scene photos, a broken gun magazine from the second murder scene that corresponded with Garcia's gun box, and two other pieces of the pistol. There was the witness information about the suspicious car in the hunter's neighborhood that matched the car with Louisiana plates that Garcia owned.
There was the cell phone tracking showing Garcia traveled at least 18 hours round trip for only a four-hour stay in Omaha. There were credit card receipts showing items that Garcia purchased in Omaha, accompanied by video proof that he was actually the one using the card. There was DNA matched to Garcia from the back doorknob of the Bewtra's home.
Police theorized the couple was Garcia's primary target that day. This theory was bolstered by Garcia's electronic search for their residence address. They also showed the jury a cache of motive evidence that was found soaking in Garcia's home. The prosecution also put on Cecilia, the exotic dancer, who told the story of how he tried to charm her by claiming the murders of a kid in an old lady.
The defense fired back with what was not at the murder scene. No witness, no fingerprints, no fibers, no DNA. They said that a quick round trip to Omaha was not evidence of murder.
He had once lived there and was looking for a new job. They said the stripper was a strung-out addict who was fed the story by the cops. The defense attorneys went further, saying that all the evidence was either planted like the cell phone tracking, suspicious Google searches, or the pieces of gun, or it was contaminated like the DNA match from the Bewtra's back door.
The defense's tactic was to allege police misconduct with no evidence to support the claims. The arguments between defense and prosecution were acrimonious, and when the judge cited with the prosecution, the defense was openly disrespectful of the process leading the judge to hold the lead defense attorneys, a husband-and-wife team, from Chicago in contempt. They resigned and had to be replaced with associates, which nearly led to a mistrial.
The trial lasted more than two weeks, with 50 witnesses. Garcia chose not to testify. It took the jury seven hours to find him guilty on all counts. At the end of the trial, Garcia began acting strangely. He stopped talking to his lawyers and never looked up during closing arguments.
Before sentencing, the defense team asked that Garcia's mental health status be evaluated. The judge refused to delay sentencing based on that request. His reasoning being that Garcia had been uncooperative to some level for the entire process and he had been
evaluated prior to trial and found competent.
In the first of two sentencing hearings, the prosecutor addressed the jury, presenting that Garcia should receive the death penalty because of three statutory aggravating factors. He killed multiple people. He killed to conceal his identity, and the killings were especially heinous, cruel, and manifesting exceptional depravity.
The jury agreed that Garcia's crimes met the statutory requirement for the death penalty. In the second of the two-part sentencing, hearing a three-judge panel validated the jury's reasoning and sentenced Garcia to death. During the sentencing hearings, they wield Garcia into the courtroom. He never looked up or said anything and appeared to sleep through both proceedings.
Marcy: To begin this discussion, Mark, this is such a sad case. Tom had a bright future and Shirlee was a grandmother. There was the lawyer and the doctor, and they were getting ready for their retirement and so they were starting a new chapter in their lives.
Mark: I agree. Senseless deaths. The victims had almost no direct involvement with the person who killed them, and because of that, they could have done nothing to avoid their end.
Marcy: Why did you pick the name nemesis for the character in the narrative?
Mark: Nemesis is the Greek goddess of retribution and indignation. So I thought that was appropriate. When I write a narrative, I don't want to use the names the given names cause it gives too much away. Plus, I wanna focus on what's being done and why. So I try to pick something that's appropriate.
And I think the goddess of retribution and indignation is good. It reminds me of one of the cases we went through where the psychologist labeled the suspect, a grievance collector. I think that label is appropriate for Garcia.
Marcy: And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
Mark: Okay. So the reason I put that in there, in the narrative, is that line about revenge. Was actually one that the investigators pulled off of Garcia's phone, believe it or not. He literally googled the word revenge. The irony with those Shakespearean lines is that character, the character that says them is a true victim.
Marcy: Garcia's failed career was full of disappointments. In medical school, he actually originally wanted to be a neurosurgeon.
Mark: Dr. Bewtra, the pathologist, assessed him as academically very poor. That was a quote from her academically, very poor. The neurosurgeon thing was only the first of many setbacks that befell his career.
The problem with people like him is they lack introspection and resilience.
Marcy: Clearly not a person who thinks, what did I do wrong and how can I do better?
Marcy: Before we get too far into the case, one thing I found unusual in Garcia's bio was that by all indications, he grew up in a loving home with supportive parents, solid middle class family, did really well in school and sports, and I can't figure out how it took this turn.
Mark: Yeah, I can't explain it. Personality defect. Like I said, he's an injustice collector. When something goes wrong, he doesn't forget about it. Doesn't smooth it over. And clearly he's not a guy who's gifted socially. Part of the reason I say that is he's he's as old as he was spending a lot of time in a strip joint trying to get a girlfriend who's a stripper.
You wouldn't think that it'd be difficult for a guy like that to find a woman that he didn't have to pay off.
Marcy: I guess I have sympathy with the parents. They saw a son who seemed to have everything going completely right totally implode.
Mark: Yeah. And for that reason, I think it's not surprising. They were in denial for a while. They and his sibling said they had no idea of the problems he had after medical school.
Marcy: One wonders why he chose pathology, which for anybody who's not up to speed on theology, is the study of the causes and effects of disease, especially laboratory examination of samples of body tissues for diagnostic or forensic purposes.
Mark: Yeah, from what I've read, they have the reputation of being lab rats analyzing samples and not having a lot of contact with patients. And I guess that could be a positive if you don't like people.
Marcy: Yeah. But pathologists, like most doctors, think of themselves as disease fighters who help people. It seems like compassion would be a prerequisite for a doctor, even for pathologists.
Mark: Yeah, I've thought about that. I have a feeling that's why Garcia stood out in the pathology department where he worked.
He wasn't pathologist material. I saw that in my career. You saw recruits come out that did fine in the academy, hit the street on field training, and when they got to the street, the wheels fell off because they couldn't adapt information to application. Some people just aren't suited to some jobs.
Nine out of 10 recruits make the same kinds of mistakes. But they learn and improve. Some are faster than others. There's these outliers that, that just don't seem to have what it takes and they don't learn and adapt.
What I learned over time is that when that sort of deficiency becomes known, they have to be shown the door because they can become, if they make it through, they can be disastrous as police officers. And actually in those cases, dismissal is merciful for the recruit and the department and the public.
And I'm sure that's doubly true for substandard pathologists.
Marcy: You mentioned in the investigation that the idea that the suspect is completely random is not what investigators want. Why is that such a problem?
Mark: Yeah, it's true. Cases where there's no clear link in terms of motive or relationship between the offender and the suspect are notoriously difficult to solve.
With most murders, there are witnesses. There's a coherent motive, there's a pool of likely suspects who are linked in some way to the victim. The problem with unrelated random attackers is getting to the suspect. This can be seen in the clearance rate of like gang related shootings in drive-bys in urban areas. Those clearance rates are much lower because there's usually no direct link between the shooter and the victim. The other concern for the Omaha detectives was if the attack of the Hunter House was a random guy, that's the kind of guy who's likely to do it again. And you better find that guy soon.
Marcy:. He didn't wait for Dr. Hunter to come back and he didn't return to get Dr. Hunter later. Why was he satisfied with killing the son and not go back and get Dr. Hunter?
Mark: The key is revenge. And what is the best revenge?
Let me tell a story first. Cause I think it, it gives some. I've got some evidence I want to talk about with this, but this is a story that kind of illustrates this. We had a horrible DV case in Anchorage. A woman that separated from her husband. She had placed a domestic violence order.
They had two kids. They were like elementary school, young, maybe a little younger than that. She sees her man pull up to the residence, and she immediately calls the police. So the police are en route, but she's so afraid of the guy who is she knows is outside. She takes her kids out the back door and runs with them to a neighbor's house.
It's a good distance away. The guy breaks into the house, looks through the house, does some stuff, and then leaves the house and tracks them through. The neighbor's yard probably has snow. He breaks down the neighbor's door, finds the kids clinging to his wife, and he shoots each of the kids in the head and kills them instantly. When he leaves and commits suicide nearby in the woods.
But he had the opportunity to, and he didn't kill the mother. She was alive when he left and she lived. She was shot in the abdomen by one of the bullets that went through one of the kids' heads, but the man didn't kill her. Why do you think he didn't kill her?
Marcy: Because living after that experience is torture enough.
Mark: Yeah. He wanted her to experience that and be alive, to live with it. Revenge. So let's look at the first murder. Garcia knows what Dr. Hunter's schedule is like. He knows when he'll be home about. He knows where he is, what he probably drives. His wife is also a doctor, and he probably knows his wife isn't there.
I think it's the most probable. He went there early afternoon knowing that the kid's gonna be there. I think that he went there expecting some of the there's three kids that weren't at home. I think he went there expecting other kids to be there. Garcia's a sadistic dude, and he wanted to punish Dr. Hunter. Dr. Hunter wasn't a hard target. He could have waited for Dr. Hunter to come home and killed him then. And this, my belief in this is bolstered by the, by one of the lists found in Garcia's home that included a note to kill the rich kid, which he did.
Marcy: Speaking of lists, you are a list guy.
Mark: Yeah, it's a tightly wrapped thing. I cope with anxiety sometimes by making order in my life by listing or making a schedule.
Marcy: Okay, but you aren't writing. Brush my teeth by gun kill people.
Mark: No. I usually remember to do both those things without a list.
Marcy: Do you buy the defense's assertion that Garcia's mentally ill?
Mark: Before the trial, he had a court-ordered or evaluation by a psychiatrist that found that he was competent at the time. The bottom line with mental illness is, was he capable of discerning right from wrong? Did he make rational decisions when committing these crimes?
The first expert I remember reading about who wrote on this issue was profiler John Douglas, and he said something that sticks with me on this topic. Basically, you can see that some of these offenders are sane. They know that they're doing something wrong through the lengths they go to conceal their crimes to get away with them.
Marcy: Can you give examples of similar crimes, maybe on either side of the insanity claim?
Mark: A woman in Texas several years ago brought five of her young children into the bathroom and drowned each one in succession in her bathtub. Afterwards, she admitted doing it and made no real attempt to conceal it, and her motive, once given, was irrational and she was later ruled to be insane.
Here's a similar crime. A young mother in South Carolina claimed that her two little kids had been carjacked and driven away by a black man. Within a few days, the kids were found dead in the car at the bottom of a nearby lake. It turned out that the mother had drowned her kids because she wanted to have a relationship with a man who wouldn't date a woman with kids, and she tried to unsuccessfully to claim insanity.
The difference between story one and story two is that she had a rational, albeit despicable, motive for killing her kids.
Marcy: And she made up a despicable story to cover her track. If you look at the first murders, Garcia was stealthy and didn't leave evidence, did things like, okay, so if you look at the first murders, Garcia was stealthy.
He didn't leave much evidence. He did things like park up the street to avoid detection.
And then the second murders. He wasn't as sophisticated at covering his tracks, but he drove long distance to get to the scene. A full day's round trip. He thought at the time that dis that the distance would cover him and that the motive would be difficult to figure out because of the time lapse.
But since the conviction Garcia has been sent between the state psychiatric hospital and the prison on more than one occasion,
Mark: Yeah, I'm not saying he doesn't have mental health issues. And I don't know how serious they are. What happened in the trial is he stopped talking to the defense team, started to sleep or pretending to sleep through the process.
But it increased in kind of noticeability and severity after his conviction. I've talked before about suspects when being interviewed, how they employed different tactics to avoid having to face what they've done. In fact, the last episode we recorded the shooter claimed to have blacked out, so he didn't remember the specific details and in that case, he didn't have to describe it because he claimed he blacked out, and the detectives taking the interview left it there because he had admitted, I can remember some of it, but I can't remember all the details.
So they left it at that. I suspect the onset of insanity, or at least his extreme sleepiness, is Garcia's way of avoiding accountability. It's okay. He still has to sit in prison for it.
Marcy: The other angle on insanity. If he's successful, that might get him off of death row.
Mark: Yeah, that is true.
And that is actually the focus of his ongoing appeals process. They're not so focused on getting him out of prison. I think that's pretty unlikely, but they're looking ahead at reducing his sentence to just life without parole.
As an aside, the death penalty is obviously a controversial subject for many reasons. And Nebraskans were asked in 2016, in a referendum, if the death penalty should remain on the books in Nebraska. And they voted overwhelmingly to keep it for cases like this. One murder, one with aggravators, worst of the worst cases. And this is one of those cases that motivated that vote and that referendum,
Marcy: Talk for a second about overkill.
Mark: So, overkill is basically doing more in an assault or a crime than is necessary to achieve the desired results. I've never seen a gunshot victim who was stabbed after the fact. But I did go to a shooting where the victim who was shot dead in the street or fatally wounded and dying, was beaten, curb stomped or kicked repeatedly as he died. The case I'm talking about that was a message of intimidation by gang bangers to the residents that lived on that street. It was a very public event.
These murders were a message. Yes. But the case reminded me more of a murder case that we covered in Kentucky, where the murderer was Martin. He shot the man he was targeting and then beat him badly. He broke his nose, causing facial injuries. And the reason for that and the reason for these murders, the overkill, these murders were rage.
Marcy: And looking at overkill is important because it helps investigators understand potential motive.
Mark: Yes. And in the Martin case, the same thing. It wasn't just a random guy bumbling through a burglary because of that overkill. And in this case, 17 stab wounds, multiple stab wounds to somebody's neck, way more than it takes to kill them.
That is about anger, and that anger's often related to familiarity with the victim.
Marcy: The location where the victims were stabbed is significant. He's a doctor and knows the anatomy. So do you think that's why he stabbed him in the neck?
Mark: Yeah. I've been on at least a couple of cases where neck lacerations caused death or very close to it.
I remember a fight in a parking lot one morning after the bars closed. Started with as a simple fist fight. A guy had the made the choice to break a beer bottle, whipped it across another guy's throat, and it killed him very quickly.
In another incident, I was walking around in a crowd after bar-break. In the middle of the night. There had been a fight down the street and the crowd was so big I didn't even know about it. Suddenly this huge Samoan guy bursts outta the crowd was lumbering towards me and blood was seeming this pour out of his out from under his chin.
Someone had taken a knife and sliced his throat and that guy was running around like crazy. I got him on the ground. We put pressure on it, and luckily an ambulance was close. That guy certainly would've died. Had we not gotten to him and taken measures to send him off the hospital. All of this to say the neck is a very vulnerable place and the pathologist who committed these murders knew that.
Marcy: Talk about the neighborhood canvas.
Mark: Yeah. I love it when you are walking around and think there's nothing to find here. And you find someone who saw something very important and they may not even think they saw something. And this happens more than you think.
Nowadays, the other thing you might get on a canvas is a video camera that caught one of the players come here going from the scene. And I've also been involved in a canvas where he found the suspect vehicle leaving the scene of a murder. That's always pretty cool.
One of the details I love that's so real about talking to people is that the witness in the first murder rationalized that the guy in the Honda must just be a salesman. It's unusual to have somebody park on the street in this very wealthy area and walk somewhere.
But they were suspicious. They were suspicious enough to note perfect details. The car was right on. The suspect description wasn't great, but medium height, stocky male, tan or olive complexion complected skin accurate enough that the jury bought that was the guy that was there.
The Bootlegger's Cove case we did. And she saw the guy who lit the fire, and she didn't even know it. And she said, yeah, this guy was sitting over there. That's, it's gold man.
When you come up with that, it's gold.
Marcy: If the Brumback bodies weren't found for two days, how do they know when the killings took place?
Mark: One of the really sad aspects of their murder was that they had been on a FaceTime call with their daughter and her husband. That morning. Mary took several screenshots, one of which they were all cracking up at a joke that the daughter had just told.
They looked really happy. And they know that this was right before the murders. And this would've been like Sunday morning, Mother's Day, morning-ish, mid-morning. So they have the time on that call. The detectives noted the clothes that they were wearing. And they were the same clothes they were killed in.
And Dr. Brumback was painting that morning, so he probably also had paint open, paint on the clothes. I can't keep from paint, from getting paint on my clothes. And all of that. And the conditions of the bodies, the temperature in that house, they'd be able to come up with an estimated timeframe that was fairly accurate.
Marcy: It seems like maybe a mistake that the detectives didn't track down the cars of the terminated residence after the first set of murders. Do you think that they should have caught that at that time?
Mark: In retrospect, that small step would've broken the case, prior. But consider that the detectives were given the idea that the residents were an all clear.
When they asked the question, do you have any disgruntled employees? Clearly when they went to act to focus on Garcia, maybe what they had been told was to smooth over history.
I think that level of denial is largely because these are doctors who don't want to think about their colleagues, even the substandard ones being capable of this.
As a detective, you're gonna work through scenarios from most likely to least likely. And some of that is based on what the people you're interviewing tell you. From the outside looking in, the residents are gonna seem like poor suspects. Even the fail ones, they have dedicated their years of their lives, pledged themselves to a profession that is about caring for the sick and all of them have worked hard. Even the ones that didn't do well. And in light of that, it probably seemed more likely that the suspect was gonna turn out to be some random psycho.
Marcy: What you said makes me think of two things. Garcia was washed out because he stood out. He wasn't the hardworking, compassionate person that he needed to be to pass. And the second thing is, it seems like it could have been amiss because Garcia was dismissed and he left the state and they knew that, and yet the suspect was driving a vehicle out-of-state plates. They missed that ability to tie those two things together. But hindsight's 2020.
Mark: Yes, that was missed for sure.
Marcy: The gun evidence was a little confusing for me. Was there a ballistic match?
Mark: No, there's no ballistic match. I think the bullets were too deformed. What happened was that Garcia was shooting at the door of the Brumback house.
He obviously shot Dr. Brumback and his gun malfunctioned. And apparently, usually when you have a malfunction, it's a fixable thing, but they actually found part of his, of a recoil spring and a damaged magazine that, that came out of the gun. Literally those things were laying in the threshold of the door.
Those items that were left behind didn't have serial numbers and couldn't be traced back to a specific gun. But they were determined to belong to a specific model of pistol that fired nine millimeter rounds. Now, Garcia owned two guns, and he had one nine millimeter, and it was the same type of gun that spring that was found on the scene and the broken magazine would fit.
When Garcia was arrested, part of the nine-millimeter, pistol was in the car, and that had a serial number on it and part of the pistol that was missing and later found in grass near the roadway, like he had pitched it out to get rid of it. That was also the same serial number.
So both pieces of gun had the same serial number and the box with the serial number, the gun was in his house. So basically you take those. The suspicious thing about he broke the gun in half, threw it out the window and a gun that matched the magazine in the spring that broke off.
It isn't definitive evidence, but it's very, it adds to the proof. It's circumstantial.
Marcy: So I just have this mental picture of this gun just falling apart into pieces as he's trying to kill these poor people. Did he ninja try to take it apart to spread evidence around? Did it really fall apart? Or do you think they were fighting over it and it came apart? How did it end up in so many pieces?
Mark: I read one theory that somehow the door, like he shot the doctor, and the door got closed on the gun in the fight and it broke apart. I don't know, but you, the recoil spring in the pistol, is internal to the pistol. That is a, that's a devastating pi.
You're not firing that gun unless you really know what you're doing without a recoil spring. And there, and I think, who knows, maybe the, he's trying to strip it and clear the gun to fix the malfunction and the. And the magazine falls out and somebody steps on it.
Something happened. There's piece pieces, parts. He took the upper receiver and the lower receiver. If you know what your guns; he took the upper receiver and lower receiver with him, but there's still parts on the ground. When he left that house.
So talk a little bit about Club Coyote and the deal with Cecilia Hoffman.
Mark: First of all, having worked as a vice detective around commercial sex workers and exotic dancers, a gentleman's club is the last place a guy wants to go looking for. It's one or two things if you do. One, you're a male predator looking to take advantage of the vulnerable position many of these women are in or seem to be in. Or two, you're the prey and you're gonna be chewed up and spit out by a woman and probably her boyfriend who only value you as a source of income.
Marcy: Which one do you think Garcia would've been? He was the killer of children and the elderly.
Mark: I think he would've been number two. He was clueless and vulnerable. He didn't realize that in his own words, killing a little kid and an old lady would not give him mad street cred. The really cool thing is she turned out to be a stellar witness.
The defense tried to call her all kinds of things, but she maintained her credibility. And in the closing arguments, the prosecution pointed out she had nothing to prove. She gained nothing by testifying.
Marcy: What a phenomenal loser to have that much hate and anger boiling so that you carry this plan out over five years and probably would have continued and circled back around for the Bewtras again. if given the chance.
Mark: Yeah. What strikes me about this case is particularly horrible is I think he targeted the kid on purpose, right? For the reasons I said. And the idea you want to go kill a 10 or 11-year-old boy. You look at the kids' photos, it just, oh, it just breaks your heart.
Think about that kid running around having a good time after school. And there's a guy that, for reasons that have nothing to do with the poor cleaning lady and the boy, targets them. Come on. It's just horrendous.
Marcy: What the families want people to know is that the victims in these senseless killings were great people, either of accomplishment or potential. Thomas Hunter was a smart, compassionate sixth grader who would've achieved great things.
Shirlee Sherman was a loving sister, mother, and grandmother who was adored by her family and the family she served. Mary Brumback was a retired lawyer, active volunteer,
beloved grandmother, wife and friend. Dr. Roger Brumback was a grandfather, father, and medical doctor who devoted his life to improving healthcare, focusing on children and the elderly.
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