Sheriff Bill Gore is a thoughtful person who runs a department that did great work in the Amber Dubois-Chelsea King cases, says Caitlin Rother, author of Lost Girls, the book on rapist-murderer John Gardner and his teen victims.
“I think he’s a good man,” Rother says of Gore. “I think he takes great care in the decisions that he makes.”
Rother had extensive contact with members of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department in researching Lost Girls. At the end of the book, she thanked Gore and several sheriff’s investigators for their cooperation.
Returning the admiration was Russ Moore, a longtime member of the department whose review of Lost Girls appeared in the August 2012 issue of Silver Star. [See attached PDF]
“If police agencies want to see how to manage a high-profile case, they should make this book mandatory reading for their investigators,” Moore wrote. “Reading the exploits of our Homicide Unit and Command Staff should make everyone proud.”
But Rother is a wary and experienced crime reporter, and she harbors doubts on another case.
Did Rebecca Zahau really commit suicide at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado?
“People keep asking me” about looking into the case of the death of the nude and bound woman, Rother says. The death was declared a suicide by hanging by the Sheriff’s Department amid wide suspicions otherwise.
Rother says she tells people: “It’s not a murder. If the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t say it’s a murder, I can’t write about it. My publisher won’t take the case unless there’s a conviction.”
Liability issues are a chief concern, she said. Accusing someone of murder is fodder for legal action.
“Not only was there not a conviction, there wasn’t an arrest,” Rother notes.
Still, she says she was “really thinking” of writing about it but demurred since “I just didn’t feel like I would want to take a chance of getting sued.”
When asked whether she thinks Zahau’s death was a suicide, Rother says: “I have no idea. I haven’t looked at the evidence.” But Rother does have a copy of the autopsy report—a pretty long one, she notes.
Acknowledging that she followed the case “very closely,” Rother says it “does kind of boggle the mind that you would find a young naked woman who would do that to herself.”
Rother says she tells people that police agencies “always know things they don’t release. We the public don’t know everything [on Zahau].”
As far as the suicide verdict, Rother says the Sheriff’s Department, aided by the FBI, “don’t make these statements lightly. Bill Gore does not make statements lightly. … I think he takes great care in the decisions that he makes.”
But Rother’s decades of experience as a reporter and crime writer leaves her with a nagging doubt.
“I do kind of wonder sometimes that once [law enforcement] has an idea in their head, they don’t [veer] from it,” she said in an interview last month. “If that’s happening in this case, they should reopen it.”
She speculated that police might be trying to protect the privacy of the Zahau family—“even though they don’t want” privacy.
“I guarantee you that there’s stuff that we don’t know. … Whether they are right or not, I don’t know,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people in the community who don’t believe that [this] is suicide.”
Rother is aware that other crime writers—notably Ann Rule—have taken on the Zahau case. Rule included a chapter in a recent book on the Spreckels mansion mystery, calling it a homicide.
But unlike Rule and fellow true-crime writer Mark Fuhrman (of O.J. Simpson case fame), who are both former police officers or detectives, Rother says she doesn’t have the “credibility” to undertake stories like Zahau.
“I can’t just start investigating,” she said. “If there’s no trial, for example, it’s pretty hard.”
What she learned from the John Gardner case in Lost Girls was “I thought it was going to be easier to write about because it didn’t go to trial.”
In fact, it was much harder, she said, since documents normally used at trial weren’t available.
“I had to do all these end runs to get documents that I’d normally get out of court exhibits,” she said.
Monday: The Firestorm That Fizzled: ‘Lost Girls’ Author Defused Mother of Victim
Tuesday: Of Mice and Monsters: How Caitlin Rother Grew Up to Be a True-Crime Author
Wednesday: Killer Interview: Author Found a ‘Totally Friendly, Charming’ John Gardner
Thursday: Caitlin Rother takes an interest in Coronado’s Rebecca Zahau case.
Friday: How Killer of Chelsea Tried to Turn Himself In—and Was Refused