Who Killed Kaitlyn Arquette?
For Lois Duncan who has climbed every mountain that she could in an effort to find her daughters killer.
Kait was shot twice in the head July 16, 1989 at approximately 11:00pm pm as Kait was driving east on Lomas Blvd, Albuquerque NM. Her car jumped the median and came to a rest against a pole at the intersection of Lomas and Arno streets. She was in a coma, officially declared brain-dead. Her family made the gut wrenching decision to shut off life support the next evening July 17, 1989.
What makes this case interesting isn’t even that her mother is famed Author Lois Duncan who penned “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” What makes this case interesting is that the very police force tasked with investigating it was and has been riddled with accusations of police cover-ups, criminal activity, corruption and several former officers who have been sent to prison for a multitude of criminal activity.
A lot of different stories went around during the investigation. What’s certain is that Kait had been shot twice in the head. Two bullets traveled through the driver’s side window, one striking Kait in the left temple and one in the cheek. It appears that a car drove up next to her and shot her. Hardly, an accident although police did initially rule it a random drive-by shooting in that perhaps Kait had not been the intended target.
In the days after the murder, no suspect was found, no murder weapon, no real motive could be found for such a senseless murder. Detective Steve Gallegos did get a few of what seemed promising clues though. Kait’s friend stated that Kait was upset with her then boyfriend, which in and of itself is not unusual considering that Kait was only 18. It has been said that some of Kait’s friends believed she had been planning to break up with her boyfriend, a Vietnamese man named Dung (pronounced “Yoon”) Nguyen.
From the background on Dung, many doubted that he’d have hurt Kait or have her hurt. Dung fled Vietnam by sea after the Americans evacuated and he was nearly a decade older than Kait. They met at a coffeehouse a year and a half before her death, it seemed at least to Kait’s family that he made Kait happy. They spent holidays together, he even referred to Lois, Kait’s mother as mom.
When Detective Gallegos was able to reach Dung for questioning, Dung stated that on the night Kait was murdered he had been at a bar with a couple of friends and afterward, they gave him a ride to Kait’s apartment. “I waited and waited for her,” Dung later told a local reporter. “But she never came home.”
The interview with Dung was conducted just hours after the shooting, so Detective Gallegos tested Dung’s hands for gunshot residue. When he searched the apartment, he placed just one item into evidence.
A small yellow piece of paper with a note that Dung said Kait had written him earlier in the day. “Hon, where are you,” the note read. “I know you’re still mad. I’m so sorry OK! I miss you today. I went to mom’s house to return these books. I’ll see ya. Love.”
The residue test came back negative, no other evidence was found that implicated Dung, something Kait’s brother Brett agreed with as he liked his sister’s boyfriend and he went to the police station and told Detective Gallegos that.
Five days after Kait’s murder, Dung was staying with a couple of friends in an Air Force dorm room. When the friends returned from a restaurant, they discovered him on a bunk bed in the corner, moaning. There was blood on the sheets and a 4-inch folding knife on the bed. Dung had stabbed himself in the stomach.
Dung was distraught over Kait’s murder and blamed himself in a way for arguing with her; he felt had they not argued she might still be alive according to what he told Detective Gallegos. He did survive his suicide attempt.
Kait’s family heard a rumor at some point that Dung was deeply involved in an auto-accident insurance scheme group down in southern Cali. The group it’s said that he was working the scams with is pretty dirty and low down. The individuals who controlled those types of criminal groups could be pretty ruthless.
Kait’s sister Robin has wondered if somehow Kait’s shooting and Dung’s attempted suicide were somehow connected to the insurance fraud scheme because people don’t usually try to off themselves by stabbing themselves in the stomach. I wonder the same thing.
Kaits sister saw a psychic who suggested that Dung, although not directly responsible for Kait’s murder might have information with regards to who had committed it. Subsequent conversations with Dung after that, with Kait’s family about whether or not he knows who did it, have been out of character for him to say the least. He simply has not provided any information.
Additionally, later on Kait’s family learned that Kait had been part of a car accident for the Insurance Fraud crew that Dung worked with, a friend of Kait’s told Lois that she had received a call from Dung the night of Kait’s murder, where he told her “Kait Dead, Kait Dead” yet the police hadn’t yet at least according to the police records officially told Dung of Kait’s death yet. They didn’t call him until after 3am.
Then while Lois was taking care of Kait’s personal affairs after her daughter’s death she noticed that on July 17th, the exact time the family was at the hospital, with Dung, that three telephone calls had been placed from Kait’s apartment to Orange county but the number was unlisted. Odd because everyone was at the hospital who would have or should have had access to Kait’s apartment.
Even more odd, the note that police claim was written from Kait to Dung, the one that Dung gave to Detective Gallegos during the interview, wasn’t Kait’s handwriting according to family.
In fact, the note had spelling errors and mistakes that Kait would not have made according to her family.
The police seemed to have at one point lost interest. Detective Gallegos stopped calling Lois back, wasn’t really doing much despite the fact that Dung’s stellar performance was beginning to lose traction and fall completely apart.
Shockingly in a bizarre twist, Dung admitted finally to the insurance fraud scheme. Initially in Dung’s encounters with the police, he said that he knew nothing about the insurance fraud when he in fact did, and he later admitted to participating in two staged accidents. Both of which were planned and paid for by a paralegal in Orange County. He lied because a friend and fellow fraudster told him to. The friend, just so happened to find his way into Kait’s apartment and…made the three mysterious phone calls from Kait’s apartment. Each one was to the staged accident-planning paralegal.
Now here’s what one would think, the case would finally be solved and it seems that Dung’s friends might have had something to do with her death right? It gets even more bizarre than this.
The Albuquerque Police Department conducting the investigation, found two men, two men they subsequently charged with Kait’s murder. Police said the man who fired the gun that killed Kait, had been sitting in the passenger seat of a Camaro. His name was Miguel Garcia, but he went by Mike. In an interview with police, a friend told police that Mike’s nickname was: Vamp.
Then an accomplice of Mike’s whose name was Juvenal “Juve” Escobedo was arrested in connection to Kait’s murder along with Mike. In the summer of 1989, Mike and Juve were 18 and 21, respectively.
According to what Detective Gallegos, they said that they had been out for a ride in Juve’s Camaro — Juve was driving — when they saw a blonde in a little red Ford. An affidavit for an arrest warrant described that, “Juve dared Mike to shoot at the female driver and so Mike then pointed a revolver at the blonde female driver through his passenger window, which was open, and fired several shots.
Sad is it is to say, the case fell apart shortly after the arrests. It appears that the friend who turned on Juve and Mike who offered police information to begin with stated that he was sitting the the back seat of the Camaro at the time of the shooting. At some point it turned out that, that was not possible as said friend had been in jail the night of the shooting.
That friend also said that he saw Mike take a gun from underneath a mattress and box spring from his family’s home earlier that night, the friend said it was the same gun used to kill Kait. Yet when police found the gun it was missing a bushing and spring and happened to be inoperable and had been that way for months.
It took less than two week for the case to unravel and for charges to be dropped against Juve and Mike.
The police were insistent that these two were in fact guilty of Kait’s murder and focused all efforts they could in an effort to collect the needed evidence to prove that. Detectives spoke to neighbors who claimed to have heard Mike talking about the crime, as well as another man who told a cop and jail guards, that he too witnessed the murder from the Camaro’s backseat.
By the time a grand jury was convened, he backed off the claim and said the confession was coerced. He only made the statement, he said, after the detective interviewing him turned off a tape recorder and threatened him. “If you don’t want to cooperate, then I’ll just send you to prison and set you up on the death penalty.”
A month after the charges were dismissed, Juve and Mike were indicted by the Grand Jury for first-degree murder. Mike had remained in jail, but Juve, who had been freed, was nowhere to be found. Police claimed at the time they were searching high and low for him…they came up empty handed.
In the spring of 1991, district attorney, Robert Schwartz, decided to drop the charges against Juve and Mike because although, he personally felt they were guilty the witnesses were increasingly becoming more and more unreliable.
Mr. Schwartz believed the witnesses had been intimidated. “They became pretty much unusable,” he stated to Lois, Kait’s mother “The other problem was, the defense attorneys had gotten on to this Vietnamese connection. It has a much better motive than our case.”
I actually believe the Vietnamese connection is the key as do many others, the fact here is that police refused to even consider it let alone investigate it, and the DA, Mr. Schwartz, never took that spin anywhere either.
Here are some tidbits to chew on:
- A plainclothes detective who had working another crime, driving witnesses to the police station saw Kait’s car and figured it was an accident and radioed it in but did not stop, rather he kept driving. Dispatch came back and informed him no one had reported the accident so he turned around and went back.
- Initially the detective who drove by the car did in fact report seeing a second car a VW, that wasn’t at the scene upon his return
- A man who lived around the corner from the scene later tell police that after hearing what sounded like gunshots, he peeked out his front window and saw a VW bug racing away from the scene. But the detective didn’t see this and there were no late-night high-speed chases through downtown Albuquerque. Instead, the detective found a man standing near Kait’s car. “He happened to be passing by,” the detective later explained in a deposition.
- The first person on record as having been at the crime scene was a man named Paul Apodaca. Paul was driving a VW bug
- Pat Caristo a very highly respected former police officer, investigator and now private investigator looked at the case after having been hired by the Arquette’s, she noted that during her deconstruction of the crime that no bullet, shells or casings were ever recovered from the scene or Kait
- The forensic pathologist who examined Kait suggested that the two bullets that killed her were fired from a small-caliber pistol, yet when Pat examined photos of Kait’s car, she noticed a large bullet hole in the car’s driver-side door that appeared to have come from at least a .38
- After Pat interviewed the first two officers to arrive on the scene that fateful night, she concluded that from that point on, they had not one confirmed fact in the case, not one
- Kait’s car had sustained damage to the left end of the rear bumper, which suggests the rear of her vehicle was struck and pushed to the right by a second vehicle which veered her car across the median and into the utility pole
- When Violent Crimes Detective Ronald Merriman and Officer Mary Ann Wallace arrived at the scene, Paul was already there, standing next to Kait’s car. His VW Bug was not in evidence. Apparently someone had taken off in the VW and left him there when they realized police were arriving.
- Police did not take a statement from Paul and allowed him to leave the scene without even getting his address, despite the fact that Paul had a long record of violent crime, including several vicious attacks upon women
- In 1995, Pat Caristo was able to locate Paul and interviewed him in jail where he was awaiting sentencing for kidnapping and raping his 14-year-old stepsister, he told Pat that he was driving a VW bug, the same make car that witnesses saw fleeing the crime scene. When Pat asked him who drove the VW away, he became very nervous and insisted that nobody was with him.
- Paul stated his reason for being in the neighborhood that night was to buy drugs from his dealer, Lee Padilla. Lee Padilla is the brother of an APD undercover narcotics officer, who was a friend of Mary Ann Wallace, the first officer dispatched to the scene. The following year, when Paul was arrested for shooting a victim from his VW Bug, he tried to get off by presenting ID that showed him to be Lee Padilla
A really brief rundown of the Police department who investigated Kait’s Murder (brief is an understatement, this department’s history of problem children goes back and forward quite a bit)
- One of the cops from who had been involved in some local chop shop, Officer Matt Griffin, has since been sentenced to life in prison for multiple bank robberies and murder of a witness
- The man whose knife was used to stab Dung (the alleged suicide attempt), was a good friend of Matt Griffin
- Deputy Darryl Burt, senior officer in the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department Gang Unit, was charged with kidnapping, criminal sexual penetration, and other felonies in connection with the traffic stop of a 24-yr-old male, as well as 34 counts of sexual assault and extortion of a 16-yr-old boy. He was also found guilty of drug trafficking charges.
- APD Officer Andrew LeHocky had his 80-pound dog, attack dog a homeless woman who was asleep at the time. Andrew LeHocky had once been named “Officer of the Month”
- APD Sgt. Mike Garcia, supervisor of officers assigned to public schools, was indicted on sex charges involving a 12-yr-old girl who was staying the night with one of his daughters. When he was tried in 2004, the jury was deadlocked, and the prosecutors did not seek a retrial
- The APD Intelligence Unit, under the supervision of Sgt. Joseph Polisar, was accused of illegally creating and maintaining secret dossiers on innocent political figures. The only possible use for such dossiers would be to exert influence and pressure on those politicians. When the existence of the dossiers became known, they were burned to prevent their inspection. Sgt. Polisar was subsequently elevated to Chief of Police
The list could go on for days, months and weeks even. This department was riddled with incompetence.
The Arquette family and their investigators speculate that the crime scene may have been altered before investigators got there. APD criminalistics arrived late, because they had been at a police shooting. According to their report, they were met at the scene by Sgt. John B. Gallegos. Much of the content of the criminalistic report apparently was based upon information from Gallegos rather than personal observations. Sgt. Gallegos was reportedly one of the rogue cops who partied at a chop shop on Arno one half block north of the crime scene. He has since been fired from APD for burglarizing a liquor store… while on duty no less.
Lois has who is not a detective, did more detective work than the APD did on this case. A mother should never have to bury her child, a mother should also, never have to be the one to actually investigate her own child’s death.
It’s been rumored that the police did in fact know about this Car Accident fraud scheme group.
Through the years other stories have surfaced with more prime suspects which includes dirty cops, hitmen, the car scam Vietnamese group in the car accident fraud scheme.
To date, no one has been tried or convicted for Kait’s death and for her mom Lois, it’s been a tale of so many twists and turns, hope and disappointment. Lois once said in an interview that Kait was a good kid who liked to live life on the edge.
Kait from what I have been able to learn did like to live life a little on the edge but was a sweet kid who really didn’t get into trouble. If she in fact did anything having to do with a staged car accident she did it in the name of love for Dung. Love causes one to do just about anything at times. I think that we have all traveled that road a time or two ourselves.
Did the police have something to do with it? Did they screw up the investigation by making rookie mistakes or was it purposeful? Was someone on the APD payroll getting kickbacks from the staged car accidents? Did Dung do it or know who did? Was Kait somehow part of a circle that had anything to do with Mexican Hitmen?
Dung is the key that fits into the lock. I have to revisit some of his questionable behaviors.
He called a close friend of Kait’s yelling into the phone that Kait was dead. It’s been established that the friend was way more close to Kait than Dung and that Dung really would have no reason to call her. The call was also placed before the police were in touch with Dung.
Then we have the note. Most normal individuals who have nothing to hide would not even consider creating a fake note supposedly from our murdered loved one as a way to explain a few things like, why we were arguing or not together during the time of the murder.
Before anyone suggests it, I wouldn’t buy that he did it because he was afraid he’d become a suspect. Again, most normal individuals who have nothing to hide simply don’t think of that. In fact if it were a typical, non guilty individual we wouldn’t be thinking much our minds would be numb after learning our loved one had died.
Besides that, what is the amount of time from initial contact detectives had with Dung to the time they actually saw him, searched the apartment and found the note? Did he have time to write said note after initial contact or not?
Either way, the note was not written by Kait which has been confirmed and I trust considering the amount of time and effort her own mother put into investigating this case.
Lastly, after Dung’s “Suicide” attempt Lois had one simple conversation with him while he was in the hospital. She basically told Dung she knew that he did not murder Kait but felt that he knew who did and that he needed to decide if he loved Kait enough to come forth with that information.
His response was simply that he was deciding.
Rumors aside, I know deeply that Dung could answer the questions as to who killed Kait and why. He holds the key, he could unlock the door and give a grieving mother the peace she deserves after having traveled such a long road only to come up empty handed and with no answers.
I get that he was afraid of losing his own life at the time by coming forward and now has a family of his own. Would he rather carry this indiscretion into the next life or give a mother who has searched high and low for the answers that truth finally? Dung must know that only the truth will set you free, for no matter what you do in this life, the past can and will haunt you into the next should you not tell the truth.
Cristal M Clark
For a more detailed account of Kait’s murder and Lois’s search for the killer read “Who Killed My Daughter” By Lois Duncan