In 2005 and 2006, serial shooters terrorized Phoenix, Arizona with drive-by, late night shootings of animals and people that these criminals called “random recreational violence.” On May 30, 2006, Clark Schwartzkopf, a veteran detective with the Phoenix Police Department, took on the case. In his book (with an excerpt of Chapter 10 here), he tells a gripping story of how, despite many obstacles, he and his team were able to track down, arrest, and bring these serial killers to justice for wounding or killing over thirty-five people. The book reveals the inner workings of law enforcement officers and the pathology of a psychopath. Schwartzkopf also humanizes each one of the victims of these crimes. Both Netflix and the Oxygen channel are releasing two different true crime documentaries based on Schwartzkopf’s book: Random Recreational Violence: The True Story of the Serial Killings that Terrorized the Phoenix Area
Sergeant Andy Hill, a retired Public Information Officer and 26 years with the Phoenix Police says, “This is the best crime book I’ve ever read, fiction or nonfiction. Not only is it a great story for entertainment, it should be mandatory reading and study for anyone aspiring to be a detective, investigator, or crime writer.”
The toll for the carnage on the night of December 29 and into the early morning hours of December 30 totaled eight shootings; four dogs (three dead) and four humans (two dead).
“So what the hell have you been doing for the last six months?” I asked sarcastically.
Detective Jewell informed me they’d been pulling .22 caliber rifles that were seized or found and having them test fired. Our lab had identified some of the projectiles and shell casings as having been fired from the same gun, identified a possible gun make (a Marlin), and had behavior analysts from the FBI come out to go through all the data.
“What wisdom did those little minions from Quantico shed on this spree?” I asked.
“They wouldn’t put anything in writing,” he said.
“You mean anything in writing on a profile of your shooter.”
“Right, a profile,” he muttered. “They said something about the fact that they’re leery of putting their names on profiles. You know anything about that?”
“Oh, yeah. I take it you didn’t follow the D.C. sniper case.”
“Yes, I did, but I forgot about their involvement, at least on the behavioral end,” he added.
“Well, you still haven’t told me what they told you. I know they came up with some kind of profile even if they wouldn’t put pen to paper.” The FBI wouldn’t fly all the way to Phoenix from Virginia without taking a stab at some type of profile. What if they were right? They could brag about that for years and claim they solved the case.
“They believe that it’s only one guy. He’s a white male, probably in his late teens or maybe early twenties. He shoots from both sides of the vehicle and has been a menace in his neighborhood since he was a child. He has probably been arrested before, but nothing that is violent oriented: theft, criminal damage, something along those lines. He never changes weapons, and the use of two different weapons is coincidence.”
“Is that it?” I asked.
That’s about it.”
“What about the time frame between your shootings and mine? That’s almost six months! Did they happen to opine about that gap?”
“There may not be a gap as big as six months. I’m just not sure. We’ve had some shootings of other animals: ducks, cows, and birds. We even had a guy riding on a bicycle shot. Problem was, we couldn’t recover any bullets, so we can’t prove they’re related.”
A guy on a bike was a new one. A guy on a bike brings up a new set of circumstances and obstacles. It’s tough to hit a pedestrian when you’re driving by, but a guy on a bicycle would be twice as hard.
“Guy’s name was Timothy Bovial. He was pedaling down Camelback Road at about 40th Avenue when someone shot him in the butt. He was shot on March 10, 2006.
“I suppose he has no useful information, like a car description or someone flashing gang signs.”
Detective Jewell sighed, “Oh, he said that three vehicles passed him right before or after he was shot. He first thought it was backfire from a muffler until his rump started hurting. He got descriptions of two of the vehicles, an SUV and some type of foreign sedan.”
“You can’t include the bicyclist because you don’t know what he was shot with, or the other animals for that matter.” I sat back in my chair. “Don’t you think it’s a little odd that someone would switch back and forth between animals and humans?” To switch back and forth was confounding…unless.
“Obviously,” he said.
“Okay, back to my original question. Did the profilers say anything else about the gap in shootings?”
“No, not really. They basically think he may have gone underground or got arrested. The usual reasons for someone to stop a crime spree. But America’s Most Wanted did a profile of the shootings and somehow got hold of the caliber of our gun. They put it out, so who knows if that got back to the shooter.”
“How did that happen?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“So we’ve got small caliber shootings, .22 caliber to be exact, a prostitute, and another dog shot with a shotgun. And we’ve got my three shootings with a shotgun.”
“That’s right,” he said.
“Okay, what’s the connection, if any? You’ve been working these cases for six months. Do you think they could be related?”
“I don’t know.”
“The Whitner dog and the prostitute were shot how far apart, time wise?’ I asked.
“Several hours,” he said. It was actually about four hours, give or take a few minutes. So the shotgun shootings started and ended the night with .22 caliber murders in the middle. “The boys from Quantico told me that the shooter doesn’t change weapons, no matter what?”
“Yes, they did, but I’m not so sure. They told you that it could be pure coincidence, so I haven’t ruled that out. But there’s another explanation. Maybe there were two shooters: one who likes rifles and one who likes shotguns.”
The Homicide Unit didn’t need this. They had all the press they could handle with the Baseline Killer being splashed across the headlines. That guy was making the whole town nervous, especially females. Nervous females make for big coverage.
There were several pieces of the puzzle that would come together later. The murders of Tony Mendez, Reginald Remillard, and the Tolleson murder of David Estrada, not to mention the horses. Regrettably, there was another jurisdiction with a homicide, one that mirrored these shootings. It was in a city that despised the words, “suspect outstanding.”
Detective Clark Schwartzkopf (ret.), author of Random Recreational Violence: The True Story of the Serial Killings that Terrorized the Phoenix Area, served over thirty years in the Phoenix Police Department. He consults in serial murder cases, unsolved homicide cases, crime scene reconstruction, school threats and violence, and risk/threat management. With an MS in Counseling and an MEd in Domestic Preparedness, he has taught university courses in terrorism and lectured nationally on serial murder and school violence. He was awarded investigator of the year in 2010 and has been decorated dozens of times for his work in violent crime investigation.