Just How Was Bill Macumber Framed for the 1962 Desert Killings of Two People?
By John Kays
Unsolved Cold CasesAn interesting hobby of mine, is to look back at unsolved cold cases, which for some reason, still get our attention, or remain in the news. One such fascinating case, which never did fade into obscurity, is a 1962 Scotsdale, Arizona double homicide, of Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop, both just 20 when they died in a solemn stretch of sand in the Sonoran Desert. I just discovered this fifty-year-old double homicide (of two innocent young people, soon to be married) yesterday, from an On the Case with Paula Zahn, titled: Mystery in the Desert, shown on the Investigative Discovery HD cable channel (1623).
I thought to hit the record button, was mesmerized with the story, then watched it two times more this morning, puzzled (as I was) over just a few aspects of the evidence. My curiosity motivated me to further research the 'Arizona Plight' on the internet, where I was pleased to find a wealth of information. I thought to myself, while I'm so happy off playing amateur detective, and pondering just how poor Bill Macumber was framed, Macumber himself withers away in jail.
Why did Bill Macumber come home covered in blood around the time of the double homicide in the Sonoran Desert? Did he ever tell Carol he was the one who killed the two kids from Mountain Bell Telephone?
Three Well-Researched Articles
Well, another item not so surprising really, is that a writer has beat me to the punch in penning three well-researched articles on this most complicated case, which has a depth of dimension to it and variety to boot. Anyhow, I don't really have enough time to get too much in the thick of this winding web of contradiction, already having enough good material on my plate to last me for a while, so I'm most grateful for John Faherty's three recently published pieces in The Arizona Republic. I picked up some details here that aren't so obvious in the ID special, but the two complement one another well, I might add.
Several questions came up for me when studying what I could find out on the evidence. How did the shell casings found in the desert clearly match Bill Macumber's .45? The FBI specifically matched ejector marks on three of the four shells, as having been made by Bill's semi-automatic .45. The question is, whether the FBI proved forensically that these shell casings came exclusively from Bill's gun, or whether they merely looked like they had come from this specific gun, from a cursory eyeball examination?
Palm Print Evidence
I feel a little more confident with the palm print evidence. Clearly, the original detective (I'd like to know his name) thought not to send this unclear print to the FBI, since he knew they wouldn't be able to match it with some known criminal's fingerprint. Somewhere along the line, this smudged thumb print (I believe) becomes a very clear palm print. I'm convinced that Carol Kempfert planted her estranged husband's fresh palm print in an open Sterrenberg/McKillop evidence file. You can understand how she could have done this, since she worked right at this police station.
As hard as it is to look at these crime scene photos of two dead young people, lying still in the desert next to their white Chevrolet Impala, it's necessary if you want to get a grip on what really happened here, on May 24, 1962.
What's not so clear, however, is why didn't the original detective scream foul when he saw this clear palm print suddenly emerge (from a cold-case file), twelve years after the lifts were taken? Once again, I need to know the name of the detective who dusted the white Chevrolet Impala for fingerprints on May 25, 1962. He had to know this was a plant and a frame-up of Bill Macumber. Did he testify in the second trial? I realize now, I have a lot more research to do, but it's helpful for me write down some of the problems I'm having squaring what happened, specifically, the tampering of coveted evidence, I mean to say.
As for eyewitness, Linda Primrose, I wonder why she backed down from her original story about the real killer, Tico. Why did she not want to tell what she knew at the second trial? Linda saw Ernie Valenzuela kill these two kids for no reason at all, other than just for the thrill of it. It was so shocking to Piojo (a second mysterious eyewitness), that she pulled out some of her black hair and left it for detectives to find, lying on desert sand, fairly close to the bodies. Yet (I keep asking myself), why didn't Piojo ever come forward with her version of that harrowing night in the Sonoran Desert? Too afraid, I suppose!
Another Loose End
Another loose end for me, is Bill coming home soaked in blood, around the time of the murders. Bill says he was attacked by some punks and one had a pipe, but Bill got the better of these punks, since he is a big fellow, six feet, seven inches tall. I do believe his account, but still find it to be an odd event, or coincidental to the double murder (a better way to say it, perhaps) when he supposedly sprung a confession to Carol, 'He'd killed the two kids from Mountain Bell Telephone!' Or did he really ever provide this confession to his wife?
One has to think, if Carol Kempfert really did conspire to frame Bill for this horrendous crime, it may have dawned on her, Bill had come home bloody one night around the time of Sterrenberg/McKillop, and so she knew she had him. Also, then she knew Bill had a .45, and used reload-able ammunition, similar to the type used in the desert killings, so she knew she could get him on the gun too. The final touch, is the lifting of one of his palm prints (the art of which she learned in a community college class) and replacing an original smudged print left in the pristine file.
Still, I wonder where she lifted Bill's palm print from? Maybe from his car, or perhaps one latent print that remained in the house they once lived in together? That's a good question. Her tampering with the evidence file was done very craftily, very stealthily, I astutely observe, since no one noticed (the alterations) until many, many years later. Is this because the Scotsdale police are oh so stupid, or is this a result of a very clever fingerprint forgery switch-a-roo on Carol's part?
A mug shot of the real killer of Joyce Sterrenberg and Tim McKillop. Was his motive nothing more than a Thrill/Kill, just as detectives suggested at the time of this baffling double murder? This appears to be the case!
Maybe a little bit of both, I'll opine. As for this Ernie Valenzuela character, who died in a prison knife fight in 1967, what was his motive for killing these two kids? The original opinions of the detectives who worked on the case, said it was a Thrill/Kill. There were news stories reporting this random killing theory of motive, published in papers just after the discovery of the bodies. It's somewhat ironic that this theory is seemingly spot on, in light of all the weird twists and turns the case has taken, after more than fifty years of relentless head scratching.
If Bill had done it, he would have to have a significant motive. But what could it be with him? A Mafia contract killing? Was he working for the CIA? None of this makes any sense! These two kids had absolutely no surreptitious connections whatsoever! They went out looking for a dream house that night, then out for a malt, then maybe out in nowhere to do some romantic parking. Valenzuela had no motive either. He was just a killer who wanted to kill someone, so that's what he did.
A serial killer was an unknown entity back in 1962! The fact that there was no motive here, is what conceivably threw the original investigation off the rail tracks, I sense. As for the cards falling in such an arbitrary fashion, the cruelest ways the stars lined up against Bill Macumber, the insensitivity of Jan Brewer, the Primrose waffling, the (rightfully) sealed lips of Tom O'Toole, or even the alleged, clever scheme of Carol Kempfert, the likelihood of events occurring in just the way they did, must be one in a million odds, at best. But it did happen.
John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations. Read more stories by John Kays.
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