Vet Comes Clean: Don’t Lie on a Murder Investigation

At some point, one supposes, it was inevitable that either the vet would come clean or his  wife would become involved. And so it was that the latter scenario came to be. His wife had skin in the game — a life to protect, a reputation to defend. A man to stand by. Take it away, Tammy Wynette


Walter J. Gilmour

“The vet’s dutiful wife — overly dutiful, in my opinion — was insistent that her husband was innocent and pressured Lucking into giving the poor man a polygraph to prove it. Lucking agreed, and the vet showed up for the test accompanied by a woman who could be counted on in times of trouble.

“Apparently she had come to hold his hand.

“It didn’t do any good. He failed the polygraph. The polygraph technician, moreover, said that the readings were particularly strong when the vet was asked if he ever had sexual relations with the deceased.

Polygraph exams are not the most refined, or reliable, of tests. A pathological liar can pass them with ease. On that basis, the vet was again administered the polygraph. Once more, he failed. Finally, he decided to come clean.

“‘I was having an affair with Joanna,’ he admitted. ‘But I didn’t kill her. I mean, it’d be a lot easier just to divorce my wife if she found out than to kill Joanna.’

“The veterinarian was ultimately cleared of suspicion, but not before a great deal of time had been wasted. With him out of the picture, moreover, Lucking found himself in an unusual position. He had started with a multitude of possibilities. And when all was said and done, he was left with none.”

vet
John Lucking (l) and Walter Gilmour (r)


One of the earliest lessons I learned about criminal investigations centered on this case. Gilmour was very clear about it: Don’t lie on a murder investigation. Even the smallest of lies leads investigators to one — and only one — conclusion: the suspect is lying because he committed the crime.

The way Walter explained it was: “How do I separate the times you’re telling me the truth from the times you’re lying? I can’t. If you lie to me once, how do I know you’re not lying about the nine other things you told me?”

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

Craig

Talk, Talk, Talking to the Veterinarian

With a new lead pointing to a local veterinarian as a promising suspect, it came down to one thing. Interview the vet. Let him tell his story. Get to the details. 


Walter J. Gilmour

“We questioned the veterinarian at length. Throughout it all, he stuck to his story. He did not deny knowing her or helping her out.  But, he insisted, that’s as far as it went.

“Yes,” he said, “I did do some veterninary work on her dog free of charge — I repaired a torn paw.”

“No,” he said, he had not been having an affair with Joanna Messina.

“Lucking was nevertheless convinced that the informant was telling the truth and that Joanna Messina, moreover, had not lied about her affair with the vet. It appeared, then, that the doctor was violating the cardinal rule of homicide cases: he was lying to investigators, which meant he was likely guilty of Joanna Messina’s murder.

“The reason, we figured, was pretty simple: the vet had gotten tired of having his rent paid in sex and demanded that Joanna vacate the premises. The affair was over, finished. Joanna had only one choice, as far as the vet was concerned. Move out and move on.

“Joanna had other ideas. She didn’t want to live in a campground.

veterinarian
Campground on Kenai Lake, near where Joanna Messina’s body was found

“Joanna says, ‘Wait a damn minute, doc. I’m gonna tell that wife of yours that you’ve been examining my body in a most unprofessional manner in exchange for my monthly room rent.’

“So the doctor figures why throw away my career for the sake of this woman? He takes her on a nice little vacation to the local gravel pit. Problem solved. And as a vet, he probably knew how to handle her dog. That helped solve the mystery of the missing dog, too. It was, in fact, a neat little package of explanations. Almost too good to be true.”

veterinarian
Kenai Lake, near Seward, Alaska

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

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Back to the Source: A New Lead Emerges

With the various threads of the story leading them into a morass of leads, it seemed logical to get back to the source. That meant interviewing the woman who had reported Joanna missing. She knew her well enough to be concerned about her disappearance. Maybe she knew something else too.


Walter J. Gilmour

“As things would have it, Joanna had stayed with the woman who’d reported her missing. Had, in fact, stayed with her just before making her move to the campground. This woman told us that she had essentially kicked Joanna out of her house. She was, in fact, a source who had a lot more to report.

“She informed us that, prior to staying at her house, Joanna had been booted out of the rooming house by the veterinarian. More intriguing, she told us that Joanna has been having an affair with the vet. The informant was fairly sure, moreover, that Joanna hadn’t merely been fantasizing, although the relationship seemed to have reached mythic proportions in her mind.

source
Sled Dogs, Kenai Glacier near Seward, Alaska

“This is the kind of lead that is just too damned good to neglect. Lucking pursued it with vigor. One of his first contacts was the vet’s secretary. She laughed at the thought when Lucking suggested it.

“Wny do you laugh?” Lucking asked.

“It’s just absurd, that’s all,” she replied. “The doctor would never have an affair.”

“How do you know?” Lucking persisted.

“If you knew him, you’d see what I mean,” came the secretary’s reply.

source

“After several more interviews like this, Lucking decided it was best to reinterview the informant, who was the source of — and only support for — the allegation. No one but her seemed even remotely convinced that the vet was having an affair with the victim. On reinterview, however, she stuck to her story. She was able to convince Lucking. The vet became a prime suspect in the murder of Joanna Messina.

Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.

Craig