Toothpaste and murder. Not a combination most people would ever see, but then most people aren’t highly trained investigators like Thomas Martin. And in the case of a murder investigation, things usually are always unusual.
When he took a case looking into the disappearance of a client’s nephew in Southern California, Martin approached it with his usual style, knowing anything he found would have to stand up in front of a judge and jury. As the head of an elite team of investigators who are former federal agents, Martin knows that training and experience can be the keys to opening closed doors. Above all, he notes that private investigators should never overlook the obvious.
He frequently visits murder investigation scenes, even after law enforcement has done a crime scene analysis. “I’m not always looking for evidence since they’ve already taken photos and fingerprints,” says Martin. “I’m looking for a vibe, a story the room can tell me about who lived there, what happened. And sometimes, the story is surprising.”
In this instance, as Martin looked around the house where his client’s nephew had lived, the story was indeed surprising. Noticing smears of what appeared to be toothpaste on the wall of the nephew’s room, Martin’s instinct whispered that it wasn’t quite right.
It was very wrong. Upon closer investigation, Martin discovered a bullet lodged in the wall under the innocuous smear. And six more just like it, each hidden under a dab of toothpaste.
He spent a few minutes questioning the roommate. “Every interrogation skill and instinct I had immediately told me he was lying,” said Martin. He could have blown things wide open. But he didn’t. He calmly called the local police and gave them a chance to come back out and gather the evidence he had uncovered.
When police arrived, they along with Martin questioned the roommate who confessed to killing the nephew in a rage after discovering his dog had not been fed.
He loaded a .22 rifle that had a clip of 14 rounds in it, and shot the victim eight times, spraying seven of those bullets into the walls. He then loaded the body into a bag, put it in the trunk of his car, drove to the dessert and buried it. He led authorities to the dessert burial site, and the body was recovered.
Martin said that obviously the outcome wasn’t what the uncle had been hoping for, but at least he had answers, and his nephew’s disappearance and murder didn’t go unsolved.
Most of the time, toothpaste simply leads to dental hygiene. In this case, it led to covering up a violent murder. Knowing the difference ultimately came down to the kind of investigative experience, instinct and training of a private investigator with Martin’s credentials. The ability to completely assess a scene and interrogate a suspect solved the case instead of leaving it a mystery forever.
A transcript of the video above follows below.
One of the very hard lessons for private investigators to learn and understand is that you never overlook the obvious. If you think it’s obvious, question it. Understand that everything you do will be in front of a judge or jury someday, so make sure you’re very careful.
One of the cases that I learned how to be even more careful was a murder case in Southern California. I was hired by a family member whose nephew was missing.
The first thing we did was to go to the house where the nephew was last seen. There, I was able to go into the person’s room, I was able to interview his roommate, and see the general conditions of how he lived.
The roommate was nonchalant and not very cooperative to begin with, but he did let me into the house, and I got a feel of the room, etc. I noticed something very odd in the room – that [at first] I wasn’t paying much attention to – because the police had already been to this room, had done a crime scene analysis, had taken fingerprints and photographs – everything. So there wasn’t much more for me to do other than maybe a little bit of the karma that might be in the room that might lead me.
On the wall I saw what appeared to be toothpaste, smeared. So I took my pen out, and I pulled out the toothpaste and on the other side of the wall was a bullet. I said, that is very odd.
I found 6 more holes with toothpaste and bullets, which led me to think, this is probably where this person at least was shot, and maybe died.
So I went to the roommate, and I started to question him, and my instincts told me – the interview and interrogation skills immediately told me – he was lying and there was much more to it.
Instead of making a grandiose plan, which some investigators might do, I wanted to give the police department out there a chance to clean their own linen. So I called them back out and told them, You guys might want to re-do this crime scene, because there are bullets here.
After they came out, we both (together) questioned the roommate who advised us that when he came home from his trip, my client’s nephew had not fed his dog. He became enraged, loaded up a .22 rifle that had a clip of 14 rounds in it, and he shot the nephew 8 times, and in so doing he sprayed 7 bullets in the walls. He then put the body in a bag, put in his car / in his trunk, and took it out to the desert and buried it.
He then led us out to the desert, where the grave was dug up by professionals and the body was recovered.
Not a great ending to a case where the uncle was hoping his nephew would have a better outcome, but it’s always stuck with me. Always look at something that looks black and white, but it’s not black and white – and there’s always a chance that you’ll solve a crime if you’re just a little more diligent.