Bag of Tricks: The Murder of Roland Kuster
Too Many Suspects
Kuster may have lived in an unsafe neighborhood, but it was also possible that the killer was someone he knew. And his active social life offered detectives a myriad of prospects. Four people were at his house the night before he died: his girlfriend, two friends and a man named Brandon whom he had never met before.
After interviewing all these people and taking their DNA samples, the detectives talked to two women who said they saw a black man scaling the fence the morning after the murder, clutching a pair of shoes in his hand and wearing a green shirt and red hat. The women were shown a series of photographs of similar looking black men and picked out Brandon as the person they saw jumping the fence.
Detectives really thought they were on to something, so they obtained a search warrant and went to Brandon's house. There, they discovered a green shirt and red hat. Over the next week they zeroed in on him and discovered that he misplaced his shoes that night and went to work barefoot the next day.
Brandon was interviewed and gave several different accounts of that night and what he was doing. He also had a criminal record and didn't know the victim very well. Unwittingly, he agreed to take a polygraph test and failed it. The detectives arrested him for murder, but the district attorney wanted more proof before filing charges, such as a DNA match or bloody prints.
Detectives still continued to look at others. Another friend of Kuster's was known to have a quick temper. He was with Kuster the day before the murder and had fresh scrapes on his body. They also learned that Kuster's best friend was murdered a year earlier. Did a killer strike twice? Both leads were eventually ruled out.
Detectives were looking for a needle in a haystack — trying to run down possibly dozens of suspects.
"There was just too much evidence to process," Detective Small said. "We weren't totally focused on one individual. We were trying to keep our focus rather broad so that we could whittle it away and eliminate people."
Besides, this is Los Angeles. Detectives here don't have the luxury of working one case at a time. They have hundreds.