Killer Triggers by Joe Kenda: New Excerpt
By Crime HQMarch 5, 2021
Plus: watch a trailer for the new crime series American Detective starring Lt. Joe Kenda, available to stream now on discovery+.
THE COMING UNDONE OF A GOOD MAN
THE TRIGGER: DEMENTIA
The human mind is an immensely complicated piece of machinery. Nobody knows how it works and why people do what they do. If I did, I’d write a psychological bestseller, retire, and move to the south of France.
I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have been a witness to every bizarre behavior you can imagine. I can tell you from a wealth of haunting experience that there is no limit to the level of violence or depravity in humans.
I saw it day in and day out. Even so, this case was a startling event that stands out in my memories after a long career working deep in the mines of madness.
A .357 Magnum is incredibly loud. When fired, the sound is like that of a field howitzer. The explosion reverberates and echoes for miles. On this occasion, around eight a.m. on August 20, 1987, the blast triggered 911 calls from a wide radius on the north side of the city of Colorado Springs.
Everyone heard something, but no one saw a thing; except for one caller who had heard a woman shout, “What do you want from me!” The caller then looked out a window and saw a man and the victim arguing. Seconds later, she heard a loud gunshot and saw a young woman on the ground, with blood spewing from her head.
She then called our department. Our 911 operators dispatched all available units to a well-kept 1940s-era one-story apartment complex that had rarely been the scene of a crime.
Except on this day, when it was the scene of a slaughter.
Our officers arrived and found a female victim in the parking lot near a maroon Pontiac Grand Am parked in a spot reserved for guests of the apartment residents. She had been shot in the head at close range. Lucinda “Linde” Moore, thirty, was still hanging on to life, but barely. She died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Linde Moore would prove to be only the first of far too many victims in this bizarre and tragic case.
I was at police headquarters, meeting with detectives about another murder case, when the call came on a possible fatal shooting in a north-side apartment complex. A quiet morning suddenly became very busy.
Our officers were interviewing neighbors when we arrived. They filled me in. Upon arriving, they learned from one neighbor that the victim was the daughter of residents Hank and Ola Mae Waller, who managed the apartment complex.
This witness, Sarah Spann, had been our 911 caller. She had identified the man she saw arguing with the victim as Linde’s father. Ms. Spann said that Linde, a registered nurse, sometimes dropped off her son to stay with his grandparents while she went to work at St. Francis Hospital.
Mrs. Spann provided their apartment number to our first guys there. Our officers had found a rear door unlocked, announced their presence, and entered with guns drawn. They were aware that a shooter might be inside.
They found a kitchen table set for a family breakfast that had not happened and never would. Glasses were full of orange juice, but no one was there. No sights or sounds of activity.
Our guys had moved through the apartment cautiously, prepared to shoot as they opened closet doors and checked rooms. Down a hallway, they found the master bedroom—and a heartbreaking, deeply disturbing scene.
In that moment and many times afterward when my mind flashed back to that case, I asked myself, Why do I do this for a living?
Hank Waller, fifty-six, was on the floor, dead from what appeared to be a close-range gunshot to the head. Our officers earlier found a male child in his arms, as if he’d had the boy in a headlock. The child had also been shot in the head at close range. The first responders found him still breathing, so they had taken him to the hospital.
We would learn later that this was Waller’s seven-year-old grandson, Brandon Moore, whose mother, Linde, had been found in the parking lot. The boy died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
On the floor, next to the Waller’s hand, was a blue Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum Model 19 with wood handgrips. The weapon was then standard issue for our department and most other law enforcement in our area. There were three spent rounds and three remaining rounds in the chamber.
While checking out those two bodies, our officers had found another body, a middle-aged woman, under the covers on the bed. An upended walker lay on the floor by the bed.
Her chest was bloodied. She had been stabbed repeatedly, not with a knife, but, as we later discovered, with an awl—a tool about five inches long, used for punching leather. She was still there when I arrived. I touched her neck, and her body was cold.
We had three killed in the house, and another in the parking lot. At first inspection, Hank Waller appeared to have taken his own life after murdering the three others. But there was one nagging question.
The kitchen table was set for five. Who was missing?
Just then our crime scene guys reported that they’d found a note inside Linde Moore’s car. It said, “I’m still having trouble with Bob.”
The victim’s husband was Robert Moore.
I turned to one of my detectives, pointed at the glasses on the table, and said, “Find that missing m-f.”
NEXT OF KIN
Word had spread of multiple murders in the complex. Television satellite trucks, including CNN, were lining up outside. From photos in the house, I could see that there was at least one more daughter, Mary Elizabeth Waller, whom we had not yet located.
I called over another detective. “We need to find out where this woman and any other immediate family members are, so we can get to them before they see it on their local news.”
Our guys identified and located the missing daughter. She was a registered nurse working in a hospital in New Mexico. I did not want her to be in a patient’s room and look up at the television to see her parents’ house labeled a murder scene.
I called the hospital and asked for the director of nursing.
“Hello, I am Detective Joe Kenda with the Colorado Springs Police Department. We are investigating a multiple-murder case involving the family of one of your nurses, Mary Elizabeth Waller.”
I explained that she had lost her parents, her sister, and a nephew. I wanted to make sure she did not learn it from CNN while making her rounds.
“Oh, my God, I can’t be the one to tell her,” said the nursing director, her voice breaking.
I said, “Find her best friend on the nursing staff, tell her what happened, and then have her bring Mary to the phone for an urgent call. I want to tell her privately before she hears it somewhere else.”
“Okay, I will do that.”
I waited a good ten minutes on the phone while my gut did somersaults and jumping jacks.
“Hello, Mary, this is Detective Sergeant Joe Kenda of the Colorado Springs Police Department.”
“Yes,” her voice was cracking already.
“I regret to inform you of a multiple homicide involving several of your family members. We are investigating a case in which your mother, sister, nephew, and father have all been killed. We are early into it, and we have no solid suspects at this point. I’m sorry, there is just no pleasant way to break that news to you. I assure you, however, that we are determined to find whoever did this, and bring them to justice.”
She was a nurse, so she was emotionally tough, but nothing prepares you for a call like that. She broke down. Then she had several questions, which I answered as best I could at that point. I would never be able to answer all the questions that would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life.
As I completed that call, promising to keep her informed, one of my detectives notified me that he’d called Memorial Hospital looking for Linde Moore’s husband, Robert, who worked there as a radiology technician.
“They said he wasn’t working today,” he said.
We already knew from a neighbor that the couple had recently separated.
“He might be the guy mentioned in the note found in the victim’s car,”
I said. “And maybe he’s the missing person at the breakfast table. Find him!”
Just then a patrol officer brought an older couple to me. He introduced them as the Sampsons, owners of the apartment complex.
“What can you tell me about the Wallers?” I said. “Any idea why this might have happened?”
“They were very nice people, happily married for thirty years or more, and we felt lucky to have them as resident managers,” said Mr. Sampson.
Hank Waller was a retired junior high school social-studies teacher and former wrestling coach, a physically fit “gentle giant” who was beloved by students and fellow teachers. He was active at the Sunrise United Methodist Church and well liked by other residents of the apartment complex, where he also served as manager and handyman.
Later, I would learn that for twenty-six years, Hank had a second job in the summers as a special patrol officer on the Pike’s Peak Highway. That explained the city-issued .357 Magnum. The city of Colorado Springs employed these special patrol officers to assist tourists traveling to and from one of the area’s most popular attractions.
The nineteen-mile Pikes Peak Highway toll road climbed from an elevation of about seven thousand feet, just west of our city, to more than fourteen thousand feet, at the summit of Pikes Peak. The steep, winding drive took a couple of hours, and there were no gas stations on the route, so tourists were often running out of fuel or getting stuck because they wandered off the road.
We checked, and Hank Waller had still been working that part-time job, where he was highly regarded and often commended. His supervisor described him as “compassionate” and an excellent employee, whose only issue in the past few years was stressing out over little things too much.
Waller had been recognized for giving fifty dollars of his own cash to a needy couple whose vehicle broke down and stranded them. He had also been called a hero for stopping a car with failed breaks headed down from the mountain. He’d maneuvered his patrol vehicle in front of it and allowed the out-of-control car to ram the back of it as he braked, probably saving lives in the process.
A fellow patrol officer called him “the strongest man you could ever meet.”
The Sampsons also held Waller in high regard, which made this case all the more baffling. In fact, they said their respect for Hank Waller had grown over the years, especially after Ola Mae was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and confined to a wheelchair.
“Hank always called Ola Mae ‘my bride,’ ” Mr. Sampson said. “He took really good care of her, serving as her primary caregiver. He had to lift her out of the chair to put her to bed or go to the bathroom. He never complained about it. He continued to care for her even after he had his stroke a couple years ago.”
“A stroke?” I asked.
“Yes,” Waller’s employer said. “That’s why he retired from teaching, which he missed a lot. For a while, his speech was slurred and he had trouble concentrating, but he recovered and continued to work, even though he still had some paralysis on his left side and couldn’t use his left arm for much. We had noticed that recently he slowed down some. He talked slower, too, but he was still a good worker and always pleasant.”
The Sampsons said they couldn’t imagine why anyone, especially Hank Waller, would kill his wife and daughter and grandson.
But they did note that Waller, a very traditional Christian who did not believe in divorce, had become distressed over Linde’s split with her husband. He and Ola were such doting parents that they had moved into the apartment complex after giving their own home to Linde and Bob.
“He was the type who would do anything to make a marriage work, and he couldn’t understand why his kids wouldn’t work harder to save theirs,” Mrs. Sampson told a local newspaper.
At that point, I thought it was entirely possible that Hank Waller had killed his daughter, his wife, his grandson, and himself. We had the neighbor’s report of seeing him arguing with his daughter just before the shot was fired. We’d found him in the room with his gun and his murdered wife and grandson.
At that point, we had two big questions: (1) Why would this seemingly normal and well-liked guy kill his loved ones and himself? (2) And where was Bob Moore, the estranged husband of Linde and father of Brandon, and what role, if any, did he have in their murders?
I had detectives digging into Waller’s background, looking for any clues to what might have driven him to commit these murders. So, I headed to Memorial Hospital with two of my guys to see what else we could find out about the one missing family member, Bob Moore.
We went to the hospital administrator’s office and said we were looking for information on him since we couldn’t find him.
“But Bob is here, working,” the administrator said.
“We called, and they said he wasn’t in,” I said.
“Yes, apparently the person who answered your call had the impression that he wasn’t scheduled today, but he came in around eight a.m.,” the administrator said.
“Well, we’d like to talk to him right away,” I said.
Word had not yet reached Moore about the killings, so we had the unenviable task of breaking the news to him that he’d lost his wife, son, and in-laws.
“There’s no easy way to tell you this,” I said. “Your wife and son were murdered early this morning. Linde’s parents are also dead, and we are conducting a homicide investigation.”
You never know how people will respond in these cases. I always prepare myself for the worst, which can include them attacking me or going into a rage. I’ve also seen people turn ice cold and show no emotion at all.
Bob Moore had a classic grief-stricken response. He broke down, first in disbelief and then in deep sobs. He was an emotional wreck.
I’ve learned that this response doesn’t necessarily mean that the person was not involved in a murder. You never know until all the facts are gathered. But he certainly seemed both shocked and torn apart. He kept breaking down throughout our talk.
He admitted that he and his wife had been separated for a week due to strains in their relationship, and they had discussed divorce. He said Linde’s parents, especially her father, had been upset about their marital problems and was opposed to a divorce.
“They want us to get back together, and we’ve talked about that, too,” he said. “Her father has tried to get us back together. In fact, he asked me to come over for breakfast this morning, and Linde called to see if I could make it. But I had to go in to work, and really, I didn’t want to get into it with her father.”
Well, that explained the fifth place setting at the breakfast table. Bob was invited but had decided not to come. Still, I wasn’t ready to eliminate him yet.
“Would you submit to a gunshot-residue test?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said.
I told him to forget it. He had an alibi. He’d clocked in at work around eight a.m., which was about the same time Linde was shot. A bunch of coworkers and supervisors backed that up. And he was being cooperative despite his obvious grief.
The estranged husband appeared to be off our very short list of suspects. That left us with Hank Waller, but we still had no idea why the apparently decent and loving guy would have killed his wife, daughter, and grandchild and then himself.
A TORMENTED MIND
Bob Moore had said his father-in-law was tortured by the potential breakup of his daughter’s marriage, but as it turned out, even Bob did not fully grasp the torment that Hank Waller had been going through.
In their interviews with family friends and neighbors, our guys were hearing that Waller’s normally upbeat state of mind had darkened considerably in recent months. One of his close friends said that Waller even blamed himself for his daughter’s marital problems.
Bob Moore and others noted that Waller had suffered a stroke two years earlier and had bouts of depression ever since. Some suspected that he had then suffered a series of ministrokes. The wiring in his brain was shorting out, and he became tortured.
He had sought therapy to help him handle dark thoughts. Moore said his father-in-law often became distraught, despondent, and even paranoid, due to sudden mood shifts.
“It’s almost like he’s become a manic-depressive,” Moore said. “He has these big mood swings, and the slightest thing can set him off, even if you just look at him wrong.”
Moore added that his father-in-law had treated him like a son and that they had always gotten along well until the recent separation.
“He called me the other night, and he was crying about our marriage issues. He said I should call him if I ever needed someone to talk to, but then he added something I found strange,” Moore said.
“What was that?” I asked.
“He said, ‘When one of us bleeds, we all bleed.’ ”
I have to admit, hearing that gave me the screaming willies, and I’m not a guy who gets creeped out easily. But this case soon grew even creepier.
Our crime scene team found the leather awl believed to be the murder weapon used on Ola Mae Waller. It was in a tray of keys in the Wallers’ living room. More disturbing were the strange notes discovered around the Wallers’ apartment. All appeared to have been written by Hank.
In one scrawled note that seemed to have been written just after, or even during, the killings, he apologized “for what has happened.” He also provided the name of his attorney, who had written his will, and a phone number for his other daughter, living in New Mexico.
We couldn’t say for certain if this qualified as a suicide note, but we soon found other notes that seemed to support the theory that Hank Waller had gone mad.
The “kill list” notes were especially chilling. I’d never seen anything quite like them. We found some tucked inside magazines around the house, and others in trash cans.
There were notes to kill the president, the governor, and the mayor, as well as more personal “kill” messages that named Bob, Ola Mae, Linde, Brandon, and Hank as the targets.
All these appeared to be in Hank Waller’s handwriting, which certainly cast him in a darker state of mind than the “compassionate” husband, father, and grandfather we’d heard about.
Most observers, in law enforcement or otherwise, might have homed in on the son-in-law, Bob Moore, as the likely suspect in this case. And certainly, I’ve worked many homicide investigations where the estranged husband or boyfriend did turn out to be the killer.
But that is why I always preach to my detectives and others I train that you cannot jump to conclusions on any case. You have to follow the evidence to wherever it leads you, without making assumptions.
The evidence in this homicide investigation kept leading us to the far more unlikely but undeniable conclusion that Henry “Hank” Waller, a respected former teacher, a part-time lawman, and an admired family man, had murdered three family members and then taken his own life.
Now, throughout this investigation, we certainly kept in mind that perhaps someone had set Waller up, using very elaborate measures. However, we did have an eyewitness neighbor who looked out her window and saw the complex manager arguing with his daughter in the parking lot just seconds before the fatal shot was fired.
That would be hard to fake. Not impossible, but very difficult.
On top of that, we had the “kill lists,” with handwriting that matched an unsent letter to Mary Elizabeth Waller, which talked about “a bad thing” that Bob Moore had done, and other family issues. It was signed, “Love, Dad.”
We talked to Mary Elizabeth about that letter and her father’s state of mind. She said that her mother had been telling her for months that there was something wrong with Hank. The sister in New Mexico also told us that her father had called her recently and seemed despondent over Linde’s separation from her husband.
“He was saying really, really irrational things like ‘I can’t allow this to happen.’ And ‘They’ll never stop me from seeing my grandson.’ ”
We also had multiple reports, from others who knew Waller well, that his mental state had become increasingly darker and more volatile since his stroke four years earlier. Waller had broken down while telling his pastor that he was depressed about his wife’s advancing multiple sclerosis, their financial challenges, and his daughter’s marital problems, especially if the breakup would mean less time with his grandson.
Another friend told us that Hank was so upset about Linde’s breakup that he was planning to take her out of his will and leave only his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and Brandon as his beneficiaries.
We did talk to a psychiatrist about Hank Waller’s stroke and the impact it might have had on his mental state. The shrink told us that strokes have been known to dramatically alter the personalities and behaviors of their victims.
I concluded that Mr. Waller felt he’d lost control of his family and his life and that he had decided to kill not only his wife, daughter, and grandchild, but also his son-in-law, Bob Moore. That is why he had invited him over for breakfast on the morning when all the killings occurred.
Who knows what might have happened if Moore hadn’t gone to work? He might well have died, too, or he might have prevented at least some of the deaths.
We surmised that Linde had declined to sit down to breakfast, and her father had confronted her as she went to her car. They argued briefly, and he shot her. Then he returned to the house and did the rest of the killings.
Including his innocent grandson—a true act of depravity, and perhaps one that Waller could not live with on his conscience, so he put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.
From Killer Triggers by Joe Kenda. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright © 2021 by Joe Kenda.
About the author: Lt. Joe Kenda, a twenty-three-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department, spent twenty-one years chasing killers as a homicide detective and commander of the major crimes unit. Kenda and his team solved 356 of his 387 homicide cases, getting a 92 percent solve rate—one of the highest in the country. After retiring from law enforcement, he starred in Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, an American true-crime documentary series that ran for nine seasons on the Investigation Discovery network and was aired in sixty-nine countries and territories worldwide. At its peak, Homicide Hunter averaged 1.9 million viewers in the US. See Lt. Kenda on his new crime series, American Detective, available to stream now on discovery+.