Authors: Gary Hastings
“I spent a day with this file, reading it over and over again. To summarize this case, Chief, Forrest
Butelli was found in his car in Central Park on Saturday morning, September 8, 2001. A jogger spotted his car and called it in, reporting a man was slumped over the wheel. Butelli was in his green 2000 Buick Century. The uniforms got there and discovered he had blown his brains out. There was a suicide note on the dash and a .38 Special pistol was in his right hand. As best I can tell, this is about all they did, other than talk to Margaret Butelli. Her interview is one paragraph in the report which essentially says she’d last seen her husband on Saturday morning, when he left at 0800 to meet a client. She didn’t know with whom or where the meeting was taking place.”
“How about the lab work?” Pat asked.
“As best as I could tell, they photographed the scene, and there is nothing else in the file. There are no ballistics reports or test firings, and I’ve been unable to verify an autopsy was actually performed. The body was cremated.”
“How could this happen?”
“Sometimes, not a lot of time is spent on these cases. If the detective thought his case was an obvious suicide, he may have taken some shortcuts.”
“Which, of course, is something that is wrong!” Pat said in a strong voice.
“I agree, Chief, but some of the squad whips just want the detectives getting back to work on their
cases because the suicides get no attention at COMPSTAT.”
“Who was the detective in this case?”
“A guy named McAllister, who retired in 2003.”
“Jerry McAllister?” Pat asked.
“I know Jerry. He was kind of an average detective. He always flew under the radar screen, but I would’ve expected more from him, in a case like this. Do you have the crime scene photographs?”
“Yes sir, and they also raise some concerns and more unanswered questions. I’ve scanned them into my laptop.”
Bryan opened his laptop and brought up the photographs. The first photograph was a picture of Forrest
Butelli’s green Buick parked next to a curb in Central Park. You could barely see that someone was in the driver’s seat. The next photograph was through the driver’s window, where you can clearly see a man slumped across the front seat. A photograph with the right passenger door open shows Forrest Butelli’s face pointed toward the passenger side. There was a gunshot wound at the right temple just behind the eyebrow. He had a blue-steel revolver in his right hand and his legs were lying across the passenger seat. Bryan Flannery noted that his finger was outside the trigger guard. There were close up shots of the wound and an apparent exit wound on the left side of Forrest Butelli’s head. There were several photographs of the interior of the car including a photograph of the headliner, where it appeared a bullet was lodged. There is also a photograph of the revolver, a blue-steel, Model 36, five-shot, .38 Special, Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special. A photograph of the recovered bullet showed it to be a perfectly mushroomed copper-jacketed, hollow-point. Pat, Dickie Davis, and Angie Wilson were all huddled behind Bryan Flannery’s computer. Bryan offered some thoughts.
“Okay, if you want some feedback, Chief, I do have some serious concerns.”
“That’s why I asked you to take a look at the case.”
“The first thing that caught my eye was that it looked like
Butelli was really gripping the gun, yet his trigger finger was out of the trigger guard and wrapped around the grip. A Chief’s Special is a pretty small pistol. I don’t really see how or why his trigger finger would be out of the guard and in that position. I’m not a pathologist, but I feel like it would require a conscious act, which would be hard to imagine with a bullet through the brain.”
Bryan’s analysis captures Pat’s attention immediately.
“Well, let’s see.” Pat said
Pat removed his revolver from his holster and carefully dumped the cartridges in his hand. He then showed the empty cylinder to the others, making sure they were all comfortable that the gun was unloaded.
“This isn’t a Chief’s Special; it’s a .357 Magnum Model 640. However, the guns are both built on the Smith and Wesson J-frame. The trigger guard and grip are the same.”
Pat puts the pistol to his head and pulls the trigger and then allows his hand to naturally fall from his temple. He does this several times. Everyone seems to cringe every time he points the revolver to his head.
“Now it seems like the finger has a natural tendency to stay in the guard or at least under the gun.”
Pat looked closely at the photograph of Forrest
Butelli’s hand and then repeated the re-enactment putting his finger in the identical position as the photograph. It was apparent to everyone that it took several movements of the hand to accomplish that position. Pat then passed the revolver around the table, once again opening the cylinder to show the gun was unloaded. Each of the others repeated Pat’s demonstration. Angie Wilson was clearly bothered by it.
“I’ll probably have nightmares about this, Chief, but if this wasn’t a suicide, who would have wanted to kill Forrest
Butelli? Could it have been some wayward husband he caught as a PI?”
“Good questions, Angie, but I want Bryan to finish his observations before we dig deeper.”
“Sorry, Chief, but this has my curiosity aroused.”
“No need to be sorry, a detective has to be curious in order to be successful. Go ahead, Bryan.”
“The next thing that bothers me is the wound.”
Bryan clicked through the images until he found the close up of the entrance wound.
“Notice how clean it looks. It’s at the temple where there’s no hair, you see this perfectly cylindrical hole, but no powder burns. If Butelli had shot himself at close range there should have been powder burns around the wound. I don’t think a veteran cop would shoot himself from a distance, and how hard would that be anyway?”
Pat once more picked up his revolver and opened the cylinder to show everyone it was still unloaded. He then outstretched his arm and tried to point the gun at his temple without getting too close.
“You can see that this is obviously a very unnatural maneuver. Even at the furthest point, it’s still a distance of less than a foot.”
Pat changed the position of the revolver and outstretched his arm.
“The only way I can get the revolver further away is to grip it backwards where the grip is against my fingers and my thumb is through the trigger guard. It seems even more improbable his fingers would have ended up in this position, if this was the case.”
Pat passed his revolver around once again. The others tried Pat’s positioning. Bryan Flannery continued. “The other thing that bugs me is there’s absolutely no blood in the car. The only place you see blood is on the exit wound. Now a .38 is not a hand cannon, but a through and through gunshot wound would’ve sprayed the car with a mist of blood. It just doesn’t seem possible to me.”
“I appreciate you looking at this, Bryan. This is troubling to me. How could this slip by our detectives? I just don’t like it. Do you have anything else?”
“There are three separate letters in the file, from Margaret
Butelli and one from each of her daughters asking us to take a serious look at Forrest’s death. They were all addressed to Captain Beck of Manhattan South Homicide. There’s only one reply letter. Beck essentially says this; “
We have discussed this case with the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, and the case has been ruled a suicide. After a careful personal review of this case, I have found no issues to support any other conclusion.”
It was signed Captain Phillip D. Beck, Commanding Officer of Manhattan South Homicide. There are no reports in the system to indicate anything else was done.”
“Thanks, Bryan. Ray
Capese gave me a list of a half dozen of Butelli’s closest friends. I asked Dickie to reach out to them and to see if they were aware of anything going on with Forrest prior to his alleged suicide. Please enlighten us, Dickie.”
“Each of these guys was shocked by
Butelli’s death. They couldn’t even think of any possible reason he would have committed suicide, Chief. He had a good marriage and good finances when you consider his pension and his detective business. Curtis Young, the retired detective, was the most adamant about it. He says Forrest was a devout Catholic, and they were in the same parish. He says Forrest would have believed it was an unforgivable sin. He knew very little about his business other than the fact Forrest told him he had a new case which was very sensitive, but he didn’t know the nature of it.”
“So why did his friends accept it?” Pat asked.
“They just didn’t want to question the NYPD. These guys are all career cops or retired off the job. They are extremely loyal to the job. They trust the department and it just kind of went away after 9/11.”
Pat was visibly frustrated. He was well aware of the nightmare 9/11 had been for the department, but he couldn’t understand why so little had been done to address Margaret
“We need to reach out to Jerry McAllister, Bryan, and see what he can remember about this case. Also get in touch with Sergeant George
McBain over at the Crime Scene Unit and see what evidence we have and if there are additional tests available which could shed some light.”
“I’ll take care of it, Chief.”
“Thanks. Dickie and Angie can assist you if you need some help. Also, let’s keep this case strictly confidential for now. I don’t want to give the Butelli family any false hopes.”
“Okay. I can tell your gut’s already churning over this case.” Bryan said.
“I admit that I don’t feel good at all about the way it was handled.” Pat acknowledged.
Monday, January 24 - Day 6
Chief of Detectives’ Office - One Police Plaza
Borough of Manhattan, New York
ryan Flannery and Dickie Davis left the meeting and Pat asked Angela Wilson to remain.
“I know you’re wondering why I didn’t ask you to talk about the cases, Angie.”
“Yes sir, I didn’t want to say anything, but the information is correct. All of these cases were dismissed by the same people. Either Judge Robert Fitzpatrick or Assistant District Attorney Franklyn Donovan was involved. The judge would’ve either accepted a defense motion to dismiss, or the case was overtly dismissed by Donovan. In every case, Donovan was the ADA. I think there could be a lot more cases.”
“Wow, it sounds like whoever hired
Butelli was on to something. The reason I didn’t mention this, Angie, is that I wanted an unbiased look at the facts and evidence surrounding Forrest Butelli’s death without the knowledge of the dismissed cases. It would be easy for this information to compel us to believe Forrest Butelli was murdered. I want the decision to be based on concrete evidence as much as possible, while recognizing that this case Butelli was working on casts a whole new light on his death. I think it’s important to be sure, because Margaret Butelli and her family have been through enough.”
“What do you want me to do, Chief?”
“Do you think you aroused any suspicions checking on these cases?”
“No, I was actually able to do it all online. I don’t see how anyone could know.”
“Well, let’s pick about a two-year window and see if we can get the number of cases in a two-year period prior to Butelli’s death. I also want to try a few other things, and if this case goes where I think it could, we may end up in a full blown homicide investigation.”
“I think this could be the case, although I’m not sure how we could ever prove it.” Angie concluded.
“If Butelli was murdered, we’ll prove it. We owe it not only to his family, but to the NYPD. We must always remember that Forrest Butelli was once on the job and carried the same shield we do.”
Tuesday, January 25 - Day 7
Chief of Detectives’ Office - One Police Plaza
Borough of Manhattan, New York
at sat down at his desk and shuffled through the mound of paperwork Angie Wilson had put in his tray. It was unusual for Angie to be directly involved in a case, but with her legal background, Pat knew she was a whiz at legal research.
Pat’s desk phone rang.
“Hi Pat. It’s Maggie.”
“Of course, I recognize the voice of the prettiest girl in New York.”
“I appreciate the compliment, but this is actually a business call.”
“Does this mean I can’t flirt with you?”
“I hope not. It wouldn’t be the Pat O’Connor I know and love. Anyway, I have some information on one of our psychologists.”