Authors: Michael A Kahn
“Ladies,” he told us, “I understand your devotion to that shelter, but we're talking about the future.” He slid into the singsong manner of a preacher. “As we move further into the new millennium we need to expand our perspectives. We have made a commitment to revive a dying portion of this fine city. The sobering reality is that the march of progress often demands the sacrifice of a few to make life better for the many. I am afraid that is the case here.”
“Come on, Nate,” I said, “you're not building Disney World out there. You're talking about revitalizing a real city. Any real city has all typesâblacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, rich and poor, good guys and bad guys, and, unfortunately, some innocent women who are victims of abusive husbands and boyfriends.”
Nate placed his hands palm-down on the desk and nodded. “I hear you, Rachel. I admire your compassion. But you're refusing to look at the big picture. We got all types living in this city but one. The one type we don't have is the white professional class.” He was standing now, turning to gaze out the window at the skyline. “We got to find a way to lure all those white doctors and lawyers and accountants and businessmen back into our fine city.” He turned back to face us. “Let me tell you something, ladies, you don't bait that hook with a depressing shelter for abused women. Isn't that the truth, Herman?”
Borghoff slowly looked up from his notes, his expression impassive, his gaze remote.
“That's ridiculous,” I said, pressing on. “We're not running a crack house, Commissioner. Those are well-maintained apartment buildings, and the cause is a good one.”
“You're missing the point, Rachel. I don't care whether you got the Virgin Mary herself running that operation. My job is to convince Ward and June Cleaver to sell their home out there in the white-bread suburbs, pack up their honky belongings, put Wally and the Beaver in the minivan, and move into the city. I'm never going to close that deal when they find out they're going to be living next door to a bunch of skanky women hiding out from psycho boyfriends. That just ain't gonna fly.”
The meeting went downhill quickly from there and broke up ten minutes later with my assurance to Nate that the shelter's supporters would be stocking the war chest to fight any condemnation proceeding.
That just made him chuckle. “You may think you're messing with City Hall,” he told me, “but you're forgetting something important, counselor. When it comes to messing, City Hall got a whole lot more ways of messing with your client than you got messing with City Hall. Your client may have enough money to hire a lawyer, but we already got lawyers, girl, and we got a whole arsenal besides, and it's called âcity government.' Before you declare war, counselor, you better first remind yourself that we got lots of different weapons in that arsenal. Isn't that so, Herman?”
I was glad to get out of Nate's office. Everything about him infuriated meâfrom his indifference to the plight of the women served by the Oasis Shelter to his smarmy male chauvinism to the way he wielded the instruments of power as if he'd actually earned them. Absent Orion Sampson, Nate would be a nobodyâa fact that only underscored his own hypocrisy, and vulnerability. The congressman lived by the fundamentalist tenets of his church. According to one joke, he and his wife never had sex standing up because someone might think they were dancing. Swearing, drinking, and fornication were also on Sampson's forbidden list. The consequences of violating that list were wondrous to behold. Seven years ago, Sampson's eldest son, Orion junior, was a state representative, a vice president of a black-owned bank in his father's district, and the heir apparent to his father's congressional seat. Then he got sued by an exotic dancer who claimed that he'd fathered her child. When blood tests confirmed paternity, the congressman responded with Old Testament vengeance. These days, Orion junior sells used cars in north St. Louis.
Fortunately for Nate, his uncle was rarely in town and never frequented Nate's favorite nightspots. According to those in the know, Nate had taken one additional precautionary stepâhe'd procured a “fiancÃ©e” in the form of a churchgoing schoolteacher in her early thirties named Beatrice who accompanied Nate to all family gatherings. Uncle Orion was apparently quite taken with the demure Beatrice and never passed up the opportunity to urge his nephew to finally set the wedding date.
Out in the hallway near the elevators, I conferred briefly with Sheila. She was heading back to the shelter, but I had another meeting in the building to try to straighten out a permit problem for a client.
“Put me on the agenda for the next board meeting,” I told her. “I can tell them our options.”
“Do we have any?” she asked bleakly.
“Absolutely, Sheila. We have more leverage than you realize. Remember, Nate's goal is to get this situation resolved quickly. He's in there right now telling Borghoff to light a fire under the city's lawyers. He'll want them cranking out condemnation papers. The more we slow it down, the more the balance shifts in our favor.”
“But how much can we really slow it down?”
“You might be surprised.”
My other meeting at City Hall lasted just thirty minutes. Afterward, I wandered slowly through the rotunda toward the exit, thinking over Angela's situation. A large plaque on the wall caught my attention. According to the engraved text, it was placed there in memory of “the Distinguished Citizens of Greater St. Louis who perished in the Great Glider Crash at Lambert Field, August 1, 1943.” The list of dead included the mayor and nine other Distinguished Citizens.
The Great Glider Crash of 1943
Here I was, a little over a half century later, with absolutely no idea what the plaque memorialized. I'd never heard of the Great Glider Crash of 1943 and didn't recognize any of the names of the Distinguished Citizensânot even the mayor.
There's a lesson there, I told myself. Fifty years from now, the memories of Angela Green's murder trial would be just as faint. After all, hadn't other “trials of the century” faded long before the century had? Who today could even recognize the names Bruno Hauptmann and Alfred de Marigny, much less recall the details of their respective murder trials, each of which mesmerized the nation while dominating the front pages for months? Were you to suggest to someone of Bruno Hauptmann's era that there would come a time in America when the typical citizen could not recite the age, sex, or first name of the kidnapped Lindbergh baby or the place where the infant's corpse was found, he would laugh in disbelief. Or that Sacco and Vanzetti, the most famous pair of criminal defendants of the first half of the twentieth century, could today be passed off as a perfumery from Florence: “Thrill to the scent of liberationâAnarchy, from Sacco & Vanzetti.” Who today even recalled their first names, much less their crime?
And someday, I told myself, Angela's celebrity would fade as well, along with the entourage of lawyers, judges, and witnesses who shared her spotlight. We'll all meet up in the foyer of that celebrity netherworld with Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh baby, O.J. Simpson, and the victims of the Great Glider Crash of 1943. As usual, Shakespeare said it first and said it best:
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
O, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!
I was back in my office after lunch trying to focus, trying to prepare for the two meetings tomorrow in Chicagoâfirst with Angela's criminal defense lawyer and then with the lawyers for all defendants in the Son of Sam lawsuit. But it was no use. I was distractedâstill troubled by the Groucho Marx drug. Was it just another loose end, or an important one? How and why did something called “flunitrazepam” get into Angela Green's bloodstream?
I'd called Brett Abrams that morning. Brett was a lawyer friend in Chicago who specialized in plaintiffs' medical malpractice cases. I knew that Brett, like all medical malpractice lawyers, would have a copy of the
Physicians' Desk Reference
on his desk. He checked the listings for me and reported that there was no entry for flunitrazepam.
Perhaps, I'd mused after hanging up, there was no listing because the drug wasn't lawful to prescribe in the United States. Before leaving for my lunch meeting, I'd asked my secretary, Jacki, to check with the medical school library at St. Louis University to see whether they had a reference book with any information on the drug. When I returned to the office after lunch, Jacki's typed notes of her telephone conversation with one of the librarians were sitting on my desk.
The librarian had found the information in a European equivalent of the
. According to Jacki's notes, flunitrazepam was in the class of drugs used to treat anxiety, convulsions, muscle tension, and sleep disorders. Developed in the 1970s by Hoffman-La Roche, the drug was more popularly known by its trade name, Rohypnol.
I stared at the name.
I said it aloud.
It sounded awfully familiar.
I read through the rest of her notes. The drug was legal in eighty-six countries in Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Low doses of Rohypnol could cause “drowsiness, dizziness, motor incoordination, memory loss, gastrointestinal upsets, headache, reduced blood pressure, visual disturbances, dry mouth, and hangover.” Higher doses could cause coma, respiratory depression, and even death.
I leaned back in my chair and mulled it over. Flunitrazepam could be prescribed for sleeplessness or anxiety. That was not inconsistent with Angela's history. Over the years, her physician had given her prescriptions for sleeping pills and for tranquilizers.
I studied the notes. Legal in eighty-six countries. According to the investigative file, Angela had visited London, Rome, and Bermuda and had taken a Caribbean cruise during the four years before Michael Green's murder. Maybe Rohypnol was legal in one of those countries.
I turned toward the computer screen. My computer was hooked up to Nexis, a computer data bank of hundreds and hundreds of newspapers, periodicals, and specialized journals. It was worth a shot.
I signed onto Nexis. At the search prompt, I typed in a single word:
. I stared at the word for a moment, my lips pursed. This was already a long shot. Better to do the search using its trademark. That might improve my chances of a hit, since newspapers and periodicals were far more likely to use a drug's brand name. Who knew, or could remember, that the dentist numbed you with a shot of procaine hydrochloride, or that the generic name for the twenty-one Ortho-Novums I took each month was norethindrone/mestranol? After all, even Angela's physician had used brand names during his police interview. He told them he had prescribed Nembutal and Valium, not pentobarbital sodium and diazepam.
So I backspaced over
and typed in
. Then I hit the transmit key and leaned back to wait. After fifteen seconds the screen flashed a message:
Search interruptedâyour current search request has located more than 1,000 documents. Would you care to modify your search request? Yes/No?:
I frowned in surprise. There were more than a thousand newspaper and magazine articles in which the word
I typed in
and then modified the search to eliminate all articles shorter than one thousand words. It took two more search modifications to get the number under one hundred articles.
By then I was very curious. I pressed the key to view the first document. A moment later, the screen filled with the opening paragraphs of an article that had appeared three years ago in the financial section of the
under the headline:
COUNTERING ILL EFFECTS OF AN ABUSED DRUG;
FIRM RAISES AWARENESS IN SEX-RELATED ATTACKS
I leaned forward and started reading.
The pill is small, white and tasteless when dissolved in liquid. It is manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. for treating severe insomnia.The prescription sleeping aid is sold and marketed in 80 countries around the world, including many in Europe and Asia, and is a strong revenue producer for the company, though the drug manufacturer has never sought approval to sell it in the United States.Yet it is in this country where the pharmaceutical, known as Rohypnol, has been branded a “date rape drug” by police and has engendered calls for stricter penalties for those who possess it.Rohypnol has been called the date rape drug because of a rise in sexual assaults that police suspect have been committed after the illegally imported drug was slipped into a victim's drink. The drug so incapacitates those who ingest it that they cannot resist sexual assault and they often don't remember much of the attack later, police say.
I reread the last paragraph.
Now, of course, I knew why the word
sounded familiar. The date rape drug.
I leaned forward and read on.
The article focused on the struggle between those fighting to maintain the status quo and those seeking to get the drug reclassified from Schedule 4 to Schedule 1 on the Drug Enforcement Administration's controlled substances list. Schedule 1 drugs include crack cocaine and heroin. According to the article, the legislative compromise had been to stiffen the criminal penalties for the use of any controlled substance in a sexual assault. But the director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center discounted the value of that approach.
“A drug like Rohypnol can cause amnesia,” she explained. “That means that women will not be able to provide the information the police need to prosecute a sexual assault case. You'll never get to the point of using the enhanced penalties.”
I paged slowly through the other articles. Rohypnol had started coming into the U.S. about three years before Michael Green's death, much of it smuggled up through Mexico. It had a variety of street names, the most popular being “roofies.” Other street names included Roachies, Ropes, La Rocha, Rib Roche, R-2, and Mexican Valium.
Rohypnol's use in sexual assaults had earned it a creepier set of nicknames, including the Forget Pill, Trip-and-Fall, and Mind Erasers. In a case in Broward County, a convicted rapist boasted of using Rohypnol to rape more than twenty women. In Miami, where the drug comes in from Latin America through courier services and passengers on commercial airplanes, the poison control center had logged more than two hundred confirmed “roofie” rapes, with hundreds more suspected. A story in the
described why Rohypnol was the weapon of choice for rapists:
Rohypnol tablets dissolve easily and quickly. They are odorless, colorless and tasteless. The victim often blacks out, so she cannot piece together enough details to put a rapist away. “You've got a drug that makes your partner less capable of resisting and unable to remember afterwards,” says Mary Hibbard, a drug policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles. “It really is the perfect crime.”
I stared at that last line, feeling a chill run down my spine.
I skimmed the rest of the articles, trying to figure out why, with all this publicity, Angela Green's defense attorney had said nothing about the blood analysis at trial. Nexis had organized the articles in descending chronological orderâthe most recent first, oldest last. That chronology held at least a partial answer. The media coverage had markedly escalated during the past five years. Indeed, the only articles that mentioned the drug during the three years before Michael Green's death were financial or business profiles on Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. in which the name Rohypnol would pop up on a list of the pharmaceutical company's more successful drugs, along with Valium and a heart-attack medicine called Activase.
All of which might explain why the presence of flunitrazepam had not sent up a red flag in the medical examiner's office when they got the results of the blood tests on the broken glass.
But that was then. This was now.
My mother didn't kill him,” Sonya said bluntly. “She was framed.”
“Who framed her?”
She took a sip of her wine and shrugged. “Probably that blond bimbo.”
We were in the bar at Harry's Restaurant on Market StreetâSonya Green and me. She'd been reluctant to meet, even after I explained that I was representing her mother in the Son of Sam case. After some cajoling, I finally got her to agree to give me thirty minutes after work. I'd suggested Harry's, which was near A. G. Edwards and Sons, where she worked as an analyst in the underwriting department.
Although Sonya was heavier than her mother and had a complexion closer to her father's, she'd inherited her mother's broad facial features. Unlike her mother, though, there was a slightly unkempt quality to Sonya. There were makeup smudges on the collar of her blouse, which was not well pressed. Her straightened hair was a little tousled, her lipstick and eyeliner just a tad off line. I felt a pang in my heart. Although I was probably doing a little projecting, Sonya seemed a big little girl to me, one who still needed a mommy to help her get fixed up, to make sure the blouses were cleaned and ironed and that her the eyeliner was on straight. Unfortunately, the state of Missouri had snatched her mommy and locked her up two hundred miles from home.
How unfair life must have seemed to Sonya. She'd been just a few weeks from graduation at Northwestern when her father was murdered and her mother arrested and charged with the crime. During the same month her classmates celebrated in Evanston with their parents, Sonya was back in St. Louis burying one and visiting the other in jail. For the first two years after graduation, she lived with her grandmotherâAngela's mother. She now lived alone in a condominium in Clayton.
“Why Samantha Cummings?” I asked. “Where's the motive?”
“Motive?” Sonya gave me a scornful look. “Money, of course. Look at the lawsuit. If her kid wins, she'll be wealthy.”
I shook my head. “The lawsuit is an afterthoughtâsomething dreamed up by a lawyer. If she was really after your father's money, the simplest way to get it was to marry him. If she was a gold digger, her best strategy was to keep him alive until the wedding. If he died before that, she'd have no claim to anythingâshe wouldn't be the wife, she wouldn't be the widow, she wouldn't even be the longtime live-in girlfriend who could try to portray herself as the common-law wife. Look at her situation today. In the eyes of the law, she's a nobody. She can't even be a plaintiff in the Son of Sam case. No, if she were looking for money, the last thing she'd want is for your father to die before the wedding.”
“I don't care,” Sonya said, her voice laced with anger. “Some things aren't logical. I'm telling you that whore was behind the murder. I may not know whyâat least not yetâbut I know what I know, and I know there's some connection between her and whoever killed him.”
I backed off the topic. We talked more generally about her mother's predicament. Sonya visited her every month and they corresponded frequently. She'd been much closer to her mother than her father while growing up. The opposite had been true for her older brother, Michael junior.
“Mike's been brainwashed,” she said, snorting in disgust.
“What do you mean?”
“He turned completely against Mom. He hasn't talked to her since the trial. Can you believe that? His own mother.” She shook her head. “But he was turning against her even before my father was killed. Did you know he was planning to go to that awful wedding? I couldn't believe it when I found out. I told him I wouldn't stoop to be in the same room with that whore. He got mad at me, said our father was entitled to happiness, too, said she was a sweet girl. Let me tell you something.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I sometimes think Mike might have had the hots for that whore himself back then. He used to visit her whenever he came to St. Louis. Even after the murder. I bet he still talks to her once in a while.”
“I'm going to see him tomorrow afternoon.”
She looked surprised. “Really? Is he coming down here?”
I shook my head. “I've got meetings in Chicago. On this case, in fact. Your brother agreed to meet me in the afternoon before I fly back to St. Louis.”
“Then you're going to see what I'm telling you. When it comes to my father, Mike's a total believer. Like one of those Moonies.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Funny how things change.” She sighed. “When we were growing up, Mike was the rebel and I was Daddy's girl, little Miss Perfect. When Mike was in high school, he and my father used to scream at each other all the time. He actually hit my father out in our backyard one afternoon. Hit his own father. In the face. Have you ever? My father grounded him for a month and took away his car. They didn't speak for more than a year. But now, to hear Mike talk, you'd think he'd been raised by an angel of God.” She paused, frowning. “Strange how some things turn out.”