Angels & Demons
The police investigation was already hurtling in a dozen different directions. And already running into a dozen different complications.
Nothing in the case was to be easy. To begin with, it had not been clear which city's police department should have jurisdiction over the murders. The bodies had been recovered in St. Petersburg waters, but Jo and her daughters had disappeared from a motel room in Tampa. So a special task force was formed, made up of more than two dozen investigators from both cities' departments and from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Marine Patrol.
Of course, since the bodies had been found in the water, the task force was being asked to solve a crime without the wealth of information and evidence that a murder scene typically provides.
"We absolutely have nothing to go on," one Tampa homicide detective told a reporter. "And we're just hoping someone saw something."
No suspicious fingerprints had been identified so far in Room 251 of the Days Inn at Rocky Point. Most of the prints in the room that had been checked belonged to the Rogers women or one of the maids. No unusual prints had yet been identified on the exterior or the interior surfaces of the family's car, either. In fact, the Calais was remarkably clean; the technician who processed the vehicle for prints said the car looked like it had gone through a car wash. There was the Clearwater Beach brochure, however. Found inside the car along with other personal items, the back of the brochure showed a map of Tampa Bay. The map was marked with directions, written in a hand different from Jo Rogers', that described how to get to the Days Inn.
Obviously the Rogers women had met someone on the day they were killed, probably when they first reached Tampa, and this person had helped them find their way to the motel. But who this person was, or how the person met up with them, was unknown.
Even the question of how the three women were killed could not be answered with precision. The autopsies showed that they had died of asphyxiation, but the medical examiner could not determine whether they had drowned or been strangled by the ropes around their necks. Because the bodies had been in the water for several days, it was no longer possible to tell if there had been any sexual assault. Still, the most likely scenario appeared to be that the women had been tied and gagged, raped and then dropped into the water, one by one.
As for how many assailants had been involved, that was anybody's guess. Some theorized that it would have likely taken at least two attackers to subdue three victims. Others pointed out that one person, pointing a gun at a mother and her daughters, would have had no trouble compelling one of the victims to gag and tie up the other two before she was restrained herself. However many assailants there were, the nature and scope of this crime made it seem unlikely that the killer or killers were novices. It also seemed probable that the killer had derived some sadistic pleasure from forcing each of the women to witness what was happening to the others.
Using credit card records and receipts found in the motel room, the investigators reconstructed the itinerary of the Rogers women in Florida. They developed the rolls of film discovered in the motel room and examined the snapshots for clues. The Nikon One-Touch used to shoot the film, however, had not been found in either the motel room or the car. This suggested that the killer may have used the camera to take photos of the attack and then kept the film and the camera as souvenirs of the murders.
Fanning out across Florida and northward into Georgia, investigators compiled lists of all the guests and employees at the motels where Jo, Michelle and Christe had stayed. Then they began the long process of talking to as many of these people as possible.
They interviewed the employee at the Days Inn who had helped Jo Rogers register for the room.
They interviewed the businessman who had seen Jo and the girls at dinner the night they were killed.
They interviewed boaters at the boat ramp where the family car had been found.
They searched construction sites near the boat ramp, looking for concrete blocks that matched those found tied to the bodies.
They consulted with agents at the FBI's behavioral science unit, hoping to develop at least a preliminary profile of the kind of person who could kill three people in this fashion.
They spoke with tidal experts at the University of South Florida, who confirmed that, based on the flow of Tampa Bay waters and the locations where the bodies had been found, it would have been impossible for the bodies to have been dropped from land or from a bridge. In other words, there was growing evidence to support the theory that the three women had been invited to the boat ramp by someone who took them out in a boat and killed them.
This led investigators back to the directions Jo Rogers had scribbled down and left in the car, the ones that suggested she and her daughters had been meeting someone with a blue and white boat. The detectives combed the boat ramp, asking if anyone had seen a blue and white boat on the day the women disappeared. They took the lists of the guests who had stayed at the same motels as the Rogers women, then cross-checked them against the names of more than 700,000 boaters registered in Florida as well as the names of thousands of others from Ohio.
Day after day, they described the boat in news releases and in fliers, appealing to the public for help. They offered a $5,000 reward to anyone providing information leading to an arrest and conviction.
In the following weeks, the task force received more than 800 tips. Keeping track of so much information was a struggle. Unable to follow up on every phone call, the investigators logged the tips and graded them, assessing which ones appeared the most substantive. One by one, these leads were checked out. One by one, they were eliminated.
"We've worked it hard," said Sgt. Bill Sanders, the St. Petersburg officer overseeing the case. "But we just haven't gotten anywhere."
Early on, one promising lead involved a Hillsborough County man who owned a blue and white boat and who had been seen offering a ride on the boat to a couple at the same ramp from where Jo and her daughters had disappeared. The man had given the couple his name and phone number, and the police soon discovered he had been charged in years past with burglary, grand theft and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Detectives went to the man's home. The boat was parked in the driveway. On the ground behind the boat were two concrete blocks, one with a dark stain on top of it; inside the boat was some yellow rope and white rope, similar to what had been used to tie up the Rogers women. When the detectives knocked on the man's door and questioned him and his wife, he told them that on the day of the murders he had been out in his boat with some friends. A few moments later, though, the man pulled one of the detectives aside, out of earshot of his wife.
He hadn't told the investigators the whole story yet, he whispered.
On the night of the murders, the man said, he had been out with a girlfriend. His wife did not know about her, he said.
Inquiries followed. The man's alibi checked out. He agreed to take a polygraph examination and was judged to have had no knowledge of the murders.
Another dead end.
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