Forensic Files - Sign of the Crime (The Renee Powell/Barbara Powell Case)   View more episodes

Aired at 12:00 AM on Saturday, May 22, 2010 (5/22/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


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00:02:00>> Narrator: Based on the evidence, seattle police suspected the same man raped and murdered two women in the same apartment complex.
00:02:09Residents were demanding round-the-clock protection.
00:02:13>> And that is the saddest thing that has ever happened to me, that I can't even feel safe in my home.
00:02:20>> We're all bothered by it.
00:02:22It's hard to sleep at night, and, I mean, I'm a positive person and I hate to, like, now look at everybody I see walking down the street as some suspicious arsonist.
00:02:33>> Narrator: The victims, renee powell and barbara walsh, had no known enemies.
00:02:39>> She had this laugh that, if anybody knew her, they never forgot her laugh.
00:02:44A very generous person -- you know, she didn't have a lot, but she was willing to help anybody.
00:02:49>> Narrator: The nature of the murders had police checking every registered sex offender within a 50-mile radius.
00:02:56>> We talked to people for weeks, trying to find something that would lead us towards a killer, and came up empty.
00:03:05>> Narrator: But what stood out most to police was the remarkable similarity of the two cases.
00:03:13Both victims were bound and sexually assaulted, although dna evidence was recovered from only one of them.
00:03:22Both lived on the first floor and were doing laundry before they were attacked.
00:03:28Both had electronic items stolen from their apartments.
00:03:31And there were other similarities that detectives identified as the killer's signature.
00:03:38>> The signature consists of five parts, which would involve binding the victim; stabbing the victim; disposing of their body; setting fires, or arson; and then taking souvenirs.
00:03:52>> Narrator: Since much of the evidence was destroyed in the fire, police turned to the public for help, and within days, they got more than 600 tips.
00:04:02One, in particular, logged as "number 316," caught their attention.
00:04:08>> We had an individual that lived nearby -- a short distance, about 3 miles away -- that was brought to us from a domestic-violence advocate at the nearby court.
00:04:19>> Narrator: 23-Year-old gary dolan had a history of minor offenses, but he'd never served jail time.
00:04:26It was his own sister who reported him to police.
00:04:30She was alarmed by hundreds of incredibly lurid poems he'd written and shown her.
00:04:38>> Most of his writings were angry writings.
00:04:40The one, in particular, dealt with forcing a kind lady to have sex with him after he had strangled her.
00:05:02Some poems talked about sexual activity with older women, sexual activity with dead people.
00:05:19>> Police certainly knew that they were working with someone who was very sick.
00:05:28>> Narrator: Gary dolan was unemployed and had no alibi for either murder.
00:05:34He also refused to take a polygraph test, and he wouldn't provide a dna sample.
00:05:40So police had to find another way to get it.
00:05:44>> We knew he smoked.
00:05:46We knew we could get dna from e cigarette butt.
00:05:49But we couldn't take the cigarette butt from him unless he abandoned it.
00:05:53>> Narrator: Sheriffs followed gary until they saw him outside smoking a cigarette.
00:05:59They questioned him at length, hoping he'd cast the butt aside when he was finished, which to their relief, he finally did.
00:06:09That butt was sent for testing, and the results provided yet another setback.
00:06:16>> The dna profile from the cigarette butt did not match the dna profile from the crime scene.
00:06:22>> Narrator: So gary dolan was eliminated as a suspect, and for the next two years, the trail of the killer turned cold.
00:06:33>> Two years, we've beat our head against the wall, trying to find the killer.
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00:09:40>> Narrator: Investigators often request a psychological profile of a serial killer, in the belief this insight will help in efforts to apprehend him.
00:09:51In these two murders, the victims were bound, sexually assaulted, their bodies placed in a position that would shock investigators, and then both scenes were set on fire.
00:10:06These elements were unusual.
00:10:09>> These women were substitutes.
00:10:11They became targets and victims because he's taken his revenge feelings, his hatred of some female in his life, in acting out against them.
00:10:20So he's replaced the person that's been in his life with these victims.
00:10:27>> Narrator: For two years, investigators searched for the killer with no success.
00:10:32[ Telephone rings ] then investigators got a new lead from an unusual source -- a woman incarcerated in the local prison.
00:10:43>> I mean, this tip is just too much to not handle right away.
00:10:48And we go up, and we talk to her.
00:10:50>> Narrator: Her name was princess gray.
00:10:53She was in jail, awaiting trial for assaulting her boyfriend, robert parker, when he had the audacity to leave her for another woman.
00:11:02>> She had assaulted the new girlfriend.
00:11:05And then later when they were in court on that, she had also assaulted robert in the courtroom.
00:11:12And so she was now in jail on those assaults.
00:11:17>> Narrator: Princess gray said her ex-boyfriend, robert parker, was the man who murdered renee powell and barbara walsh.
00:11:26It was the kind of tale police had heard hundreds of times before.
00:11:30>> Princess graydidhave reason to lie.
00:11:33She was the jilted woman.
00:11:35>> Narrato And robert lived just 150 yards away frothe apartment complex where renee powell and barbara walsh were murdered.
00:12:06>> Narrator: The pepper would throw off the scent of any still had the items parker took from the crime scenes.
00:12:23In the couple's apartment, investigators found the items stolen from renee powell and barbara walsh's apartments -- TVs, VCRs, COATS, AND OTHER Items identified by the victims' relatives.
00:12:38When questioned by police, 23-year-old robert parker denied any involvement in the murders.
00:12:45>> There were no fingerprints, there were no eyewitnesses, he never admitted to being in those apartments.
00:12:51>> Narrator: But a background check revealed past brushes with the law.
00:12:55>> At the time of the murders, robert was making his money by selling drugs on the street and pawning property and selling property, most likely stolen property that he got in drug trade and stuff.
00:13:10>> Narrator: But then princess gray recanted her story.
00:13:15Apparently, she and robert parker had reconciled their differences.
00:13:20Princess gray now claimed they found these items in the trash.
00:13:26>> She claims that he was in the apartment all night, that she had gone out and found the property by some garbage cans or a dumpster.
00:13:36>> Narrator: Without princess gray, investigators had no evidence.
00:13:42>> It wasn't unexpected, since her and parker shared a child, but damn it, when you have someone who is providing you good evidence that directly connects the killer with the crime scenes, it's a hard nut to swallow.
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00:17:14>> He started bringing stuff in the house.
00:17:17>> Narrator: Princess gray implicated her boyfriend, robert parker, in the murders of renee powell and barbara walsh but later recanted after the two had reconciled.
00:17:28Which version was correct?
00:17:31>> She had facts that no one but the investigators, the victim, and the suspect, or someone close to the suspect, would know.
00:17:39>> Narrator: But investigators didn't give up.
00:17:42Princess gray had given them hours of information all on tape, countless details of her life with boyfriend robert parker -- some of it telling.
00:18:13And gray said something else abounal hygiene.
00:18:19>> She had mentioned that after she and parker had made love, he frequently would go into their bathroom, clean up using their towels, and then just leave the towels laying about the vanity.
00:18:29We had found two towels in barbara walsh's bathroom that were laying on top ofher vanity.
00:18:35>> Narrator: Although the towels had been in the fire, investigators wondered if parker might have used them after the to find out, investigators took >> the towel was kind of folded or wadded up, and as we opened it up and started to examine it, we found four hairs that were -- if they weren't heat damaged, they were certainly visually different from barbara walsh's hairs.
00:19:06>> Narrator: And one of those hairs had the potential to be a gold mine of evidence.
00:19:12>> The first hair that I glommed onto was probably the largest hair.
00:19:16And it had a root, and it had a root with some tissue onto it.
00:19:21>> Dumb luck kept that towel from burning up and burning the pubic hair with it.
00:19:27>> Narrator: Investigators now had dna evidence from both crime scenes -- biological evidence from renee powell's rape test kit and a hair from barbara walsh's apartment.
00:19:40Scientists compared a to those dna samples.
00:19:46>> Robert parker's dna profile was compared to the profile previously generated from the vaginal swabs.
00:19:54It was a match.
00:19:56>> Narrator: Robert parker had denied ever being in the victims' apartments, and now the evidence directly contradicted him.
00:20:06>> We felt damn good.
00:20:07It was just undescribable relief to get dna, which is pristine, unattackable, scientific evidence, when up to that point, you only had the circumstance and the testimony of someone like princess gray.
00:20:21>> Narrator: Two years after the crimes, 23-year-old robert parker was arrested and charged with two counts of murder.
00:20:31Prosecutors believe parker spent weeks watching his victims.
00:20:39With renee powell, he waited in the woods next to her apartment.
00:20:44>> [ Gasps ] >> Narrator: When she went to the laundry room in the basement, she left her door open.
00:20:57He went inside, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and hid.
00:21:02When renee returned, he attacked, binding her arms with lamp cords from inside the apartment, then sexually assaulting and stabbing her to death.
00:21:15He grabbed some items of value -- a vcr, a coat -- dismantled the smoke detector, then set the fires to destroy evidence.
00:21:35The case of barbara walsh was virtually identical.
00:21:39>> [ Screams ] >> Narrator: She, too, was doing her laundry and had left a door open while she went downstairs.
00:21:51Like the first crime, parker used materials he found inside the apartment.
00:22:05After the sexual assault and murder, he used the towels in the bathroom to clean up before setting the fire.
00:22:21In the folded towel, one hair with the root intact survived the intense heat, smoke, and flames -- a tiny hair found with the help of an angry girlfriend intent on getting revenge.
00:22:39>> The towel itself was singed and burned a little bit, but it wasn't like it was burned up completely.
00:22:44And so the hairs that were inside this towel were never >> Narrator: Investigators think the motive for parker's crimes was, in part, his anger and resentment towards his girlfriend, princess gray.
00:23:00>> I believe that robert had been home with princess and that there had been some kind of an argument where he left princess, >> I assume it's because he had a lot of pent-up anger to princess, who was dominant, extremely di to deal with, and I suspected that contributed to the release of this sexual deviancy that we see in the murders.
00:23:26>> Narrator: After a four-month trial, robert parker was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison.
00:23:37His crimes were planneall the way down to his attempts to destroy the evidence, but science uncovered evidence he didn't even know existed.
00:23:50>> It remains incredibly unsettling that there could be other parkers just walking the streets among us, and there's nothing to tip you off.
00:24:00>> There are a lot of cases that would go unsolved if there was no forensic science around.
00:24:06>> You just never know, because it can be microscopic or it can be something as big as a football or something like that.
00:24:14That's the beauty of forensic science is, you just don't know what's going to be the most important part of your analysis.
00:24:22>> Narrator: Up next, a violent thunderstorm provides cover for a brutal murder.
00:24:27>> It was an absolutely brutal crime scene.
00:24:30>> Obviously, this was a case of an overkill.
00:24:33>> Narrator: There are plenty of suspects with clear motives, but they all pass polygraph tests.
00:24:38>> It's not 100% reliable.
00:24:40>> Narrator: If investigators didn't find the one tiny clue left at the scene, they might never have solved it.
00:24:57The real-estate-development business in texas always seems to be active.
00:25:03Darrell north, a manager for a multibillion-dollar development company, had no shortage of work.
00:25:10>> Darrell north was in charge of building budget suites for a company out of las vegas, and he had been in charge of building several in this area.
00:25:20>> Narrator: Darrell had a reputation as a fair-minded boss who set high standards.
00:25:26>> I asked a subcontractor, "was darrell hard to work for?
00:25:31" " he said, "he expected quality " >> I have seen dad fire numerous subcontractors over the years.
00:25:44My dad had the ability to get his point across very clearly.
00:25:49He was very pointed.
00:25:50He was very direct.
00:25:52>> Narrator: Darrell was always punctual, so when he didn't come home from work one day and didn't answer his phone, his family was concerned.
00:26:02>> When I got to the jobsite, it was after 11:00 at night.
00:26:08The lights of his trailer were on, and his car was out front.
00:26:11And I knew his car hadn't been moved because it was dry underneath his vehicle, where everything else was just drenched.
00:26:21>> Narrator: The door was padlocked.
00:26:24His son knocked on the door but got no answer.
00:26:28>> I climbed up on the rail with a flashlight, trying to shine the flashlight into that dark office to see if dad had a heart attack or something had happened.
00:26:37>> Narrator: Mark saw his father on the floor.
00:26:40>> And I saw dad laying against the door, and he was just laying facedown, not moving.
00:26:48>> Narrator: Paramedics and police declared darrell north dead at the scene.
00:27:01>> It was an absolutely brutal crime scene.
00:27:04As would be typical with any case where there's multiple stab wounds, there was a tremendous amount of blood.
00:27:11>> Narrator: There was blood in two of the three rooms.
00:27:15It was obvious a life-and-de @ struggle had taken place.
00:27:19>> There was also a hole-punch that was discovered in very north's body, that was bent.
00:27:26That would lead me or any other investigator to believe that north may have been struck with that hole-punch or north may have struck his assailant with that hole-punch.
00:27:38>> Narrator: There was a trail of blood from the filing cabinet to darrell's body, then to a desk.
00:27:46On top, police found the machete -- the type used to clear brush from construction sites.
00:27:53It was perfectly clean.
00:27:55>> It actually wasn't blood-soaked, but we didn't know if it might have been used and then cleaned off and placed there.
00:28:02>> Narrator: Darrell north's secretary told police there were normally two machetes in the trailer.
00:28:07>> There was a second machete that had gone missing.
00:28:11>> Narrator: Police assumed this was the one used in the attack.
00:28:16>> The extra wounds on the back of the head, which almost decapitated him, indicated a tremendous desire to make sure that the person was deceased.
00:28:26>> Narrator: Darrell's wallet was still in his pocket.
00:28:29Nothing had been stolen.
00:28:30There was no sign of forced entry.
00:28:33This and the level of violence indicated a very personal crime.
00:28:39>> Out of the 40 cases that i worked, this was the only one that had that type of rage exhibited.
00:28:46>> Narrator: Darrell hired many contractors, so his decisions could either make or break some of them.
00:28:52Someone's anger had spiraled out of control.
00:28:57But police and darrell's family had no idea who it was.
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