Chapter 18: Election fraud
Hammond and Bell decided they would try and find Steven Stewart and interview him. The second man of interest was not hard to locate at all; the thought was that his wife had an affair with Hillary.
It took mere minutes for Bell to set up a meeting with Stewart. He was advertising in the local paper as a consultant. Bell had found a lot of information about Stewart on the police computer. It would seem that Stewart had several previous run-ins with the law. None of his crimes had been violent ones. The man seemed to be nothing more than a scam artist.
“He’s just the sort of guy you would expect Hillary to be doing business with,” Bell said chuckling.
“Did Stewart ever do jail time?” asked Hammond.
“No, his crimes always seemed to always revolve around money, so he paid hefty fines, but no jail time, yet.” Replied Bell.
Hammond and Bell parked in front of the address that they had obtained for Steven Stewart. It was an old storefront in a run-down part of town. The front door was unlocked, so the detectives entered. As soon as they got inside a colossal man confronted them. This guy had to weigh four hundred pounds, he was six foot five and was the furthest thing from an Adonis as you could get. He was dressed like a lumberjack and hadn’t shaved or combed his hair in about a year, or so it looked.
“Steven Stewart?” Hammond said.
“Who’s asking?” Said the behemoth.
“We are from the police department,” Hammond answered.
With that, the behemoth went to the back of the room and with one hand opened a curtain that hung over a doorway and yelled inside
“Steve, there’s a couple of cops out here to see you.”
A few seconds later, a man appeared from the back of the unit. The man was as close to the opposite of the first guy as you could get. He was only five foot five and weighed no more than one hundred and fifty pounds. He was well dressed but in a tacky sort of way.
“How can I help you, gentlemen?” The man said.
“Your Steven Stewart?” Asked Bell.
“Yes, that’s right,” Stewart answered.
“I’m detective Bell; this is Detective Hammond. We’re investigating the death of Hillary Bush. Is there somewhere private we can talk?” Asked Bell.
“Hillary is dead, imagine that. Follow me.” Answered Stewart.
The two detectives followed Stewart to the back of the unit into a small office. There were a desk and three or four chairs in the room. The three men sat down, Stewart sitting in his office chair.
“Who is your large friend out front?” asked Hammond.
“Oh, that’s Bosco, he works for me now and then.” Replied Stewart
“We want you to tell us everything you know about Hillary Bush, and before you start, be aware this is a homicide investigation.” Said Hammond.
“I was her election manager, that’s all, she’s dead? How did it happen, who did it?” Replied Stewart.
“Yes she’s dead, let us ask the questions. When was the last time you saw her?” Asked Bell.
“Well, I guess it was about a week ago, but I called her almost every day,” Stewart said.
Over the next hour, Hammond and Bell hammered Stewart with questions. The officers had experience in questioning people like him. The only way you could get a straight story out of a guy like this was to be relentless in your questioning. Eventually, Stewart’s version of the truth came out.
He told the officers that Hillary was a crooked woman. She had him doing things that he usually wouldn’t do. As soon as the election started, she wanted it rigged, so she was assured to win. The two had cooked up a scheme where people on the voting list were called and asked if they were going to vote. When people said they weren’t voting because they were sick or disabled, they went on a particular list.
The people were told not to worry about voting that it would be taken care of for them after being asked whom they wanted to vote for. There were a lot of people that said they weren’t voting because they never voted, they went on the list as well. Once the file was compiled, and it was voting day it was a simple matter of having someone show up at the polling station and cast a vote for someone on the list. Hillary and Stewart had fifteen men and women who were paid to go to various polling stations around town pretending to be one of the absentee voters.
Hillary also had Stewart get someone to phone in threats to the ex-mayor to try and throw his concentration off. Stewart said it all worked, look who won the election. Stewart had been around long enough to know when to lie and when it was time, to tell the truth. He recognized that Hammond and Bell weren’t rookies. If he had lied to them, he would pay for it in the long run.
As for the relationship that Stewart and Hillary had, it was strictly business. Stewart didn’t like Hillary nor did he trust her. He did tell the officers that she was involved in other unethical practices even before the election. She was a counselor then.
According to Stewart, Hillary bragged about getting payoffs from construction companies, electronic equipment suppliers as well as garbage contractors. She tried to get her fingers in every pie she could. If one of the other councilors made any noise, Hillary would have her strong-arm boys visit them. Stewart said she was a real piece of work. He also told Hammond he knew nothing of her love life. It didn’t surprise him that someone killed her, but Stewart had no idea who could be responsible for it. Bell advised Stewart he could expect a call from the feds regarding his part in the election fraud.
Next on their list to be interviewed was Robert Pender. He was an accountant and husband of Rebecca Pender, one of Hillary’s girlfriends. The two detectives discussed the possibility of Robert Pender being the first real suspect in the homicide.
Bell had called Pender earlier, and they had agreed on a time the two detectives could drop into Pender’s office and interview him. Pender’s office was in a more affluent area of the city. Most of the buildings were either newly built or renovated into a chic modern facility.
Once the introductions were over, Bell and Hammond got right down to business.
“We are here investigating the homicide of Hillary Bush,” Hammond said.
“Oh my God, when did this happen?” Asked Pender.
“Two days ago. Tell us how you knew Hillary?” Asked Hammond.
“That woman was making moves on my wife. It’s true I hated her, but I would never have harmed her.” Replied Pender.
Hammond and Bell drilled their suspect with questions. At the end of the questioning, the detectives were sure this man could not have killed Bush. Pender and his wife had repaired their marriage and were moving on with life. Pender had admitted calling Hillary’s office several times to warn her to stay away from his wife. He said that he had never threatened to harm her but did advise her to stay away, or he would go public with the affair. Emotions ran deep with Mr. Pender, so he could not be ruled out as a suspect just yet.
Hammond had received a call from Berta Lewis. She had found the phone number of the woman who had been calling Hillary. Bell made a call to the station and was able to obtain the reverse listing on the phone number. It belonged to a person named Rhonda Redman who lived in the same part of Lindsiville as where Pender had his accounting office.
Before long Bell and Hammond found themselves at the door of Rhonda Redman. A beautiful middle-aged woman answered the door.
“Yes, can I help you? Said Redman.
“ I’m Detective Troy Hammond, and this is Detective Dave Bell, we’re from the Lindsiville Police Homicide Squad.” Said Hammond.
“And to what do I owe this honor? Said Redman.
“I guess you better come in so we can talk.” Said Redman.
The two men walked into an exquisite townhouse. The rooms were; tastefully decorated, and very modern. From the lack of family photos in the living room, Hammond deduced this was a single woman.
“Please have a seat, would you care for a drink of some kind?” said Rhonda Redman.
“No, that’s ok Miss Redman, or is it Mrs.” Asked Bell.
“I’m not married, and please call me Rhonda.” She replied.
“We are here as part of our investigation into the murder of Hillary Bush.” Said Hammond.
“Would you tell us what your relationship was with Hillary Bush?” Asked Hammond.
Ms. Redman seemed a little upset as she told the officers how she knew the murder victim. Rhonda Redman owned a company that supplied the city with office equipment including computers, printers, desks, filing cabinets as well as installation services for all the computers and related equipment.
She told the officers that when she won the contract with the city, she had to deal through Hillary Bush. At the time Hillary was a counselor. Hillary had proven herself to be a very dishonest person.
For Ms. Redman to win the contract, she was forced to pay Hillary a large sum of money on the side. This kickback was paid to Hillary every year that the deal was in effect. Rhonda said this was just the cost of doing business with the city. She went on to say that Hillary also hit on her more than once. Rhonda explained to her that she was straight and wanted no part of a relationship with a woman especially Hillary. Hillary was insulted and became very difficult. At one point Hillary had told Rhonda she would regret not taking her up on her offer.
The reason Rhonda started calling Hillary’s office was to try and talk sense to Hillary. Hillary had demanded more of a kickback since Rhonda had refused to get involved with her, and she was becoming very nasty. Heated words exchanged between the two women on more than one occasion.
“I hated that woman, but would never try and harm her.” Said Rhonda.
“Do you know anyone who would try to harm her?” Asked Hammond.
“Try anyone else who had to deal with her.” Said Rhonda.
“If the contract with the city had not been as lucrative as it was I would have terminated it.” Advised Rhonda
While talking with Rhonda, Hammond caught her checking him out several times. It seemed she couldn’t keep her eyes off of the handsome policeman. Hammond could also be found guilty of noticing how beautiful Rhonda was. At one point Hammond winked at her after asking her a rather personal question.
The interview had served its purpose as far as the investigation was concerned. Although Ronda Redman could not be ruled out as a suspect, Hammond felt it was doubtful that she was responsible. She was, however, involved with the city in a business transaction worth millions of dollars and therefore could not be ignored.
As Bell and Hammond were leaving the townhouse, Hammond made sure he was the last of the two officers to thank Ronda for her cooperation. Hammond shook Rhonda’s hand with an exaggerated pause while looking into her deep blue eyes. This apparently impressed Rhonda. She whispered come back soon to the dashing figure at her door. Hammond thought to himself that after this investigation was over, he would return to Rhonda for another “interview.”
The two detectives went back to the station to do a little more checking and to return several phone calls left on their c-phones. One of these calls was from Ed Reynolds, the previous mayor. Hammond called him and seemed a little upset. He requested they meet for coffee again.
As Hammond entered the restaurant, he saw the mayor sitting in the corner booth. It was a little odd because the mayor was wearing sunglasses and seemed to be acting strangely.
“Hey Ed, what’s up? Asked Hammond.
“Oh, I’m glad you’re here Tony, I don’t know what to do.” Said Reynolds.
“What’s the problem, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Said Hammond.
“I got a strange call, and it’s shaken me.” Said Reynolds.
After calming down, a little Ed Reynolds told Hammond what had happened. He said that he had been in his office when he received a phone call. It was a male caller that had never called or spoken to before. The caller asked Reynolds why he was talking to the cops. Reynolds asked the man who he was and why would he ask him a question like that. The caller then started yelling at Reynolds and told him that if he talked to the cops again, he would be sorry. Reynolds asked the man who he was and got told that if he didn’t want to end up like Hillary, he would keep his mouth shut.
“I didn’t know how to handle this; I’ve been threatened before Tony but never like this.” Said Reynolds.
“That’s odd Ed, why would someone threaten you and link himself to the Hillary Bush murder as he did?” asked Hammond.
“I don’t know, but he’s obviously watching me.” Said Reynolds.
“Don’t get paranoid about this Ed, if he calls again can you record the conversation?” asked Hammond.
“Yes, I have a machine that will do that. I use it when I’m talking to clients.” Replied Reynolds.
“Good, call me right away if this guy calls again, in the meantime I’ll have a plainclothes officer follow you for the next few days, just in case.” Said Hammond.
The two men chatted for a while longer and then went their separate ways.
Back at the office Hammond and Bell reviewed the day’s events and as a result, planned their next moves. Hammond told Bell he was more than a little confused as to why someone would threaten the ex-mayor. It made no sense to him.
The two men talked about what possibilities could exist to cause a threat like this. What was the link between the ex-mayor and the murder? Maybe the mayor saw or heard something that he hadn’t told the police about the homicide. Bell made the point that whoever the caller was he had been involved in the murder. Hammond agreed and described this as being the first substantial lead the two had received.
Hammond was sure there was something to all this. He placed a team of plainclothes detectives on the case. Their orders were to tail Ed Reynolds around the clock. Hammond also applied to the local judge to have wiretap surveillance put on the ex-mayors office and home phones. This without the knowledge of the ex-mayor. These taps would be installed at the main terminal and would be in place within the hour.
“Now we should be able to get to the bottom of this little mystery, eh Dinger.” Joked Hammond.
Confident that the actions taken would show results, the two officers left for the day.
The next morning saw another meeting of Hammond’s team of detectives. Hank Patlowski and Barry Anderson had finished interviewing Hillary’s business acquaintances and had started to concentrate on those people who had run-ins with Hillary.
Hillary’s crew had manhandled several people, and two, in particular, had died under mysterious circumstances. Although both parties killed as a result of natural causes, they were still nonetheless strange.
One man, Bill Herbert, had died of an apparent heart attack. The other, a woman named Carol MacDougal, killed when her car left the road and slammed into a tree. Both of these people were involved in a conflict with Hillary before their deaths. At the time of each of their investigations, Hillary was never a person of interest.
Hank and Barry had found out that the first man, Bill Herbert, had learned about some of Hillary’s more shadier business transactions. According to family members, he was going to report this to the police but never got the chance. The last person to see Mr. Herbert alive was none other than Steven Stewart. Later that same day family members found Mr. Herbert in his home, dead from apparent heart failure. Because there were no signs of foul play, the death was ruled “natural causes.”
Steven Stewart had met with Bill Herbert at his home just hours before Herbert’s death. At the time police had their suspicions about this visit by such a petty thief as Stewart. There was however absolutely no evidence to link Stewart with the death of Herbert.
The death of Carol MacDougal was also suspicious. Carol was a beautiful woman according to family members. She was seeing several men before her end, none seriously. She had been a city councilor at the same time as Hillary, before the election for mayor. The detectives thought it wouldn’t be much of a stretch of the imagination for Hillary to hit on Carol and be rejected by her.
At the accident scene, Carol was in possession of a half-empty liquor bottle. She smelled of liquor and at autopsy was found to have a minute trace level of alcohol in her blood well under the legal impairment limit. The cause of the accident was determined to be a result of the driver falling asleep due to the consumption of alcohol. The family rejected this finding. Carol was a non-drinker and always had been.
At the time of her death, Carol was suffering from a rather nasty cold. The family contended that the trace amount of alcohol in her blood was from over the counter cough or cold medication, which may have contained a small amount of alcohol. The coroner refused to consider this for some reason.
An inspection of Carol’s car was done by the police and found to be in good condition. All the major systems of the car were in good shape, things like brakes and tires checked out fine.
The only damage to the vehicle that was not caused by the accident was dents and scrapes along the driver’s side of the car. The family insisted these were new and that Carol would have mentioned them to family members. The police however never considered the further damage. The family had declared that Carol was forced off the road. The police maintained it was an alcohol-related death.