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Murdered teacher found next to Challenger 498 launch site...

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luke strawwalker

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A murdered Reagan High School Spanish teacher, reported missing on Thanksgiving, was found in the back of his white SUV recently. The SUV was found abandoned and securely locked in the entrance to the grain sorghum field directly across the fence from the Challenger 498's Needville Launch Site in Fort Bend County, about 45 miles outside Houston, Texas. The vehicle apparently was abandoned sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning before Thanksgiving on the entrance culvert to the grain field, and was reported to the Sheriff's office by the farmer, Virgil Leus, and the landowner, Dennis Wilson. Fort Bend County Sheriff's Dept. sent a deputy to investigate, but finding the vehicle securely locked and no apparent foul play, after having checked the license plate on the TCIC/NCIC database and finding nothing, the deputy apparently advised that he didn't have probable cause to open the vehicle and that since it was located on private property, it would be the landowner's or farmer's responsibility to pay to have it towed off, since it was not on the road right-of-way. The deputy then filed his report, including the license number and description, and the landowner and farmer, not wanting to pay several hundred dollars to have the vehicle towed off at their own expense, elected to leave it sit, hoping the owner had merely broken down or something and planned to return to retrieve the vehicle.

The school had called and reported that the teacher had missed work (presumably Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving) but he was not officially reported missing until Thanksgiving Thursday. At that time, Galena Park Police Dept. apparently ran the license plate and got a hit to the report from Fort Bend County, showing that the vehicle was located in Needville and nothing untoward had been found upon the 'investigation' by the deputy. Galena Park PD apparently dispatched an officer and a tow truck to recover the vehicle from the landowner's and farmer's property. The tow truck operator apparently arrived some time before the Galena Park officer, because he had already winched the truck onto a roll-back towtruck and removed it from the site. The officer(s) returned to Galena Park to find the vehicle had already been dropped off at the impound yard, 50 miles east from the farm. Upon closer inspection, an officer saw the teacher's body concealed under the cargo-area cover of the SUV, through a 1 inch crack between the cover and the inside wall of the vehicle. The teacher had apparently succumbed to mutliple stab wounds.

Around the same time, a Texas Ranger stopped in at the Wharton Police Dept.(next 'major' town west of Needville, about 23 miles away) and discussed with officers information he had received that someone in Wharton had murdered someone over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Ranger and officers investigated, and found blood stains at the residence in question, and found eyewitness accounts placing the white SUV at the home the weekend before Thanksgiving. One 'person of interest' has been linked to the events, with two other 'persons of interest' being investigated.

Farmer Virgil Leus, interviewed in the Rosenberg (Fort Bend County) newspaper "the Herald Coaster" reported that he "had a bad feeling that there was a body inside the vehicle" but that since it was locked and the only thing he could see inside was a cross and a box of books, he presumed the vehicle belonged either to a preacher or a teacher. After being rebuffed by the sheriff's dept., which Mr. Leus chastised because, "I don't understand why we can't get any help from law enforcement on this-- they said it was on private property and so it was our problem" (paraphrased as accurately as I can recall from the article in yesterday's "Herald Coaster"). He also expressed concern that the victim might have still been alive inside the vehicle when they reported it to the sheriff's office, perhaps unconscious or unable to respond, but after 4 days when the teacher was reported missing and police finally took custody of the vehicle, of course it was too late.

This has been a very strange situation and continues to develop...
Of course we all express our condolences to his family, friends, and students at this difficult time.

OL JR
 

ben_ullman

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wow what a story!

Good luck finding this guy!

This is in Texas? Doubt the killer will be alive for many more days in Texas :bangbang:

Ben
 

Mikus

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Ask the investigators if they found my Blue Ninja while searching. :confused2:


Seriously, at what point does "probable cause" allow them to open up an abandoned vehicle?
 

luke strawwalker

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Ask the investigators if they found my Blue Ninja while searching. :confused2:


Seriously, at what point does "probable cause" allow them to open up an abandoned vehicle?
See, that's the REAL question there...

When I was in the police academy years ago, and we were studying the penal code, code of criminal procedure, evidentiary rules, etc. we learned that "probable cause" is most basically described as "an articulable reason". IE "I smelled alcohol on his breath, therefore I conducted a field sobriety test. The suspect's repeated stumbling, slurred speech, and inability to perform the tests led me to believe he was driving under the influence, at which time I placed the individual under arrest. The passenger was acting nervous and making furtive movements as if to hide something, and upon questioning him his answers as to their destination, where they came from, time they left, etc. were inconsistent with the driver's, so I searched the vehicle and passenger and found a quantity of marijuana in his pocket and between the seats. I then arrested the passenger for possession." When conducting vehicle searches, it's always BEST to get permission from the driver or passenger if possible, but not strictly NECESSARY, IF you have probable cause. Again, you just basically need a reason that an "reasonable and prudent person would tend to make the same decision based on the facts available at the time" is how it's stated in law... An officer CAN search a vehicle WITHOUT permission, but he better have probable cause, because IF HE'S WRONG and DOES NOT HAVE PROBABLE CAUSE, then he can get into deep stuff...

Now, given the litigious nature of our society and all, I can't exactly blame an officer for NOT wanting to do something 'borderline' if he didn't feel he had sufficient probable cause. God knows we have plenty of more 'gung ho' officers running around that will do anything they feel like doing with or without reason, and even things that a 'reasonable and prudent' person would consider overstepping their authority or inadvisable, or flouting the rights of citizens. I would say, in this case, that if the officer felt he DID NOT have probable cause to break into the vehicle, then he/she acted correctly. HOWEVER, from the description of events given in the paper, it sounds like it WAS a very perfunctory and poorly executed 'investigation' conducted by the officer in question-- If another officer managed to see the concealed body inside the vehicle several days later through the 1 inch gap between the cargo area cover and the back door of the SUV (this was a Toyota Landcruiser-- I'm not totally familiar with the vehicle except that it has an enclosed back area like a Yukon or Suburban or Bronco, and presumably has a plastic or vinyl extendable 'cover' like our old Escort Wagon had that, much like a window shade, could be pulled over the cargo area and hooked to the sides of the walls by the rear hatch to cover the contents of the rear cargo area) then I think a more thorough investigation by the originally responding deputy would have revealed the body, or at least sufficient probable cause to enter the vehicle and conduct a more thorough search.

I'd chalk this one up to shoddy policework, or incorrect or insufficient knowledge of the law-- and it certainly wouldn't be the first time I've come across it-- I was stopped by Needville PD for not having a plate on my farm trailer, and despite my assertions that the law did not require me to have a plate on a small farm trailer, the officer rather cockily insisted that I DID have to have one, and further insisted in expanded conversation on the subject that farm tractors are not allowed on ANY state highways except Farm to Market Roads, which is patently rediculous... Upon a bit of research on the DPS site when I got back home, I found the reference I was looking for, and printed it off, and presented it to the judge, that farm trailers under 4,000 pounds are NOT required to have license plates. The judge dismissed the ticket and ran a copy off of the printout I gave her and instructed her bailiff to put the copy in the officer's box... Another gung ho young officer with too much enthusiasm and not enough knowledge... Back to the topic at hand, I'd suppose that the investigating deputy felt that unless there were blood stains, a foul odor, signs of violence or a struggle visible inside or outside the vehicle, then he didn't have probable cause enough to enter the vehicle.

In fairness to the deputy, we're all human-- it happens... Sometimes things slip by... I know that if the officer had rather nonchalantly told me that an abandoned vehicle on my property was "not their problem" and I would have to pay to have it removed, I'd probably have retorted, "well, I'll get my tractor and pull it out onto the side of the road, then yall can do whatever you want to with it-- tow it or leave it, but it AIN'T staying on my property." Of course Virgil and Dennis felt that the thing was probably broken down and the owner would return in a day or two to retrieve it... I could easily envision a few buddies going hunting, having trouble with one of the vehicles, and deciding rather than miss their hunting trip, to leave the broken down vehicle on the end of a farm securely locked up, riding with their buddies in the other vehicle, and coming back after it on the return from their trip to limp it or tow it home. I'd presume that Dennis and Virgil had the same sort of idea despite their misgivings and decided to let things lie for a few days.

It's certainly strange... my wife is a bit unnerved by the whole thing. Anyway, it's sad.

Later! OL JR :)

PS... the footage they showed on 11 news from the helicopter orbiting over my house-- they filmed the wrong farm... LOL:)
 

MonsterRockets

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This is such a sad story. My condolences go out to the family.

But what does it have to do with rocketry? Other than the body being found near one of the launch pads?
 

eugenefl

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This is such a sad story. My condolences go out to the family.

But what does it have to do with rocketry? Other than the body being found near one of the launch pads?
It's the "Watering Hole" forum.

An area where general discussions can take place, that don't necessarily fit well into other categories. This can relate to rocketry, general chat, or any other topic not prohibited by TRF rules and guidelines.
 

llickteig1

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Again, you just basically need a reason that an "reasonable and prudent person would tend to make the same decision based on the facts available at the time" is how it's stated in law... An officer CAN search a vehicle WITHOUT permission, but he better have probable cause, because IF HE'S WRONG and DOES NOT HAVE PROBABLE CAUSE, then he can get into deep stuff...

I'd chalk this one up to shoddy policework, or incorrect or insufficient knowledge of the law ... Back to the topic at hand, I'd suppose that the investigating deputy felt that unless there were blood stains, a foul odor, signs of violence or a struggle visible inside or outside the vehicle, then he didn't have probable cause enough to enter the vehicle.
The "deep stuff" you're talking about is first and foremost admissibility of evidence into court. An abandoned vehicle IS NOT probable cause for breaking into and searching the vehicle. Had the LEOs broken into the vehicle, it is possible evidence recovered there would be inadmissable in court because they did not follow the search and evidence rules. Seeing something inside the vehicle to make the LEO suspect a law was broken would validate the search. There is volumes of case law that make this very clear-cut.

It sounds more like poor communication between State and local law enforcement, but depends upon the timeline between the discovery of the vehicle, the missing person report, and the possible Wharton murder investigation. Someone should have also reported the teacher missing immediately. If one of my co-workers doesn't show up for work without calling in, I always try to contact them - usually before noon.

The chances are high that the teacher was murdered immediately, so more timely communication probably wouldn't have helped, however, it most certainly helps to catch criminals if the crime is reported immediately, crime scene(s) are secured, and the collection of evidence begins immediately.

--Lance.
 

tazzdevl1

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The "deep stuff" you're talking about is first and foremost admissibility of evidence into court. An abandoned vehicle IS NOT probable cause for breaking into and searching the vehicle. Had the LEOs broken into the vehicle, it is possible evidence recovered there would be inadmissable in court because they did not follow the search and evidence rules. Seeing something inside the vehicle to make the LEO suspect a law was broken would validate the search. There is volumes of case law that make this very clear-cut.

It sounds more like poor communication between State and local law enforcement, but depends upon the timeline between the discovery of the vehicle, the missing person report, and the possible Wharton murder investigation. Someone should have also reported the teacher missing immediately. If one of my co-workers doesn't show up for work without calling in, I always try to contact them - usually before noon.

The chances are high that the teacher was murdered immediately, so more timely communication probably wouldn't have helped, however, it most certainly helps to catch criminals if the crime is reported immediately, crime scene(s) are secured, and the collection of evidence begins immediately.

--Lance.

Lance, you hit this one on the head. So to speak. As A LEO in Florida we have to go by these rules as well.

According the story as was told above, I suppose a little closer initial inspection of the vehicle on scene would have resulted in seeing the body earlier on since the body was discovered after towing the vehicle in. On the other hand, maybe the cargo area cover moved during the tow-in just enough to expose the body.

Who knows?
 

Mikus

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So what the farmer should have done when he called the cops is say there's an abandoned vehicle in his field with a bad odor coming from it?

That would have generated probable cause?

According to the local news, the victim was reported missing and a crime scene was found at his house. That generated a hit in some database as his vehicle had already been found and the plate logged.

Btw, the movement of the vehicle back to the police station did dislodge the cover hiding the body enough to see the victim - a good deduction there. ;)
 

RangerStl

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From the timeline, there wouldn't have been time for a bad smell to really develop. It's tough to know for sure.

N
 

luke strawwalker

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This is such a sad story. My condolences go out to the family.

But what does it have to do with rocketry? Other than the body being found near one of the launch pads?
"Watering hole" topic...

About 1/6 of our flights end up landing in the field his vehicle was found in across the fence...

Later.. OL JR :)
 

luke strawwalker

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The "deep stuff" you're talking about is first and foremost admissibility of evidence into court. An abandoned vehicle IS NOT probable cause for breaking into and searching the vehicle. Had the LEOs broken into the vehicle, it is possible evidence recovered there would be inadmissable in court because they did not follow the search and evidence rules. Seeing something inside the vehicle to make the LEO suspect a law was broken would validate the search. There is volumes of case law that make this very clear-cut.

It sounds more like poor communication between State and local law enforcement, but depends upon the timeline between the discovery of the vehicle, the missing person report, and the possible Wharton murder investigation. Someone should have also reported the teacher missing immediately. If one of my co-workers doesn't show up for work without calling in, I always try to contact them - usually before noon.

The chances are high that the teacher was murdered immediately, so more timely communication probably wouldn't have helped, however, it most certainly helps to catch criminals if the crime is reported immediately, crime scene(s) are secured, and the collection of evidence begins immediately.

--Lance.
I think we're on the same page... that's pretty much what I said. Had the deputy checked closer, he might have seen the body in the SUV on Monday (IIRC) when it was first called in as an abandoned vehicle. Certainly the officer that saw it on Thursday evening proved it WAS visible to someone attempting to see into the vehicle. I take it from the statements made that this was a rather brief 'investigation' that was more of a brush-off after a quick glance than a real 'look-see' investigation, but then again, I wasn't there so I can't say for sure. The farmer said that the deputy was less than helpful. Take that as you will.

Apparently, the timeline was something like this-- apparently the teacher was killed on Saturday before Thanksgiving. The vehicle was apparently parked on the farm sometime Saturday night, because my Dad saw it on his way to church Sunday morning and thought it a bit strange, because all the houses on that farm a 1/2 mile away on the other end of the farm, and the nearest neighbors on that road from that end of the farm are about 1/2 mile away, myself included. I don't know exactly when it was reported as an abandoned vehicle, sometime Sunday or Monday I believe. The paper said that messages had been left by the school that he had NOT reported for work Monday and Tuesday-- we had the whole Thanksgiving week off here, but the Houston area schools (including one my wife teaches at) had school Monday and Tuesday. Apparently, nobody missed him until Thanksgiving day, presumably when he failed to show up for dinner at a family member or friend's home, and apparently they started checking on him, and alerted authorities. Apparently the Galena Park PD ran the plates as soon as he was reported missing, because they recovered the vehicle from the field in short order-- in fact the tow truck driver had already picked it up and left before the GPPD officer ever got to the farm. The driver delivered the vehicle to impound and it was there an hour or more before an officer discovered the body. The Wharton investigation started transpiring about the same time and was quickly linked to the vehicle by eyewitnesses.

The rest is ongoing... OL JR :)
 

JRThro

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"Watering hole" topic...

About 1/6 of our flights end up landing in the field his vehicle was found in across the fence...

Later.. OL JR :)
That's for sure. I had to go over there at our last launch and at the one before that. And I know other guys' rockets landed in that field.
 

luke strawwalker

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That's for sure. I had to go over there at our last launch and at the one before that. And I know other guys' rockets landed in that field.

Yeah, there's still a Blue Ninja over there-- probably in a million pieces, because Keira and I went over the fence (ok, she went over with my help, I went UNDER LOL:)) and despite pulling a few stray pieces of balloon and stuff out, we never found a trace of it, despite sinking up to our ankles in the mud... :eek: Guess the bush-hog got it... OL JR :)
 

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