Death of a Wine Snob (Part 5, The Conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a short story set in Oregon’s wine country about the murder of a wine expert. The previous four parts are found here:

Part 1 Part2 Part 3 Part 4

“People around here take wine very seriously.”

Truman went off to give instructions to the Sargent on duty. I headed for the oversized cubical that served as our office.
“What now?” she said after she returned and sat down.
“I am not sure. Gretchen missing worries me.”
“If it is a setup, Dave Cooper seems solid as a suspect, and that causes me to wonder if a Maserati has enough truck space for a body?”
“Interesting point,” I said. The thought depressed me. “I want you to do the paper to get Werner processed, so they can arraign him tomorrow. Then go get some sleep. I will go look at some things and take some time to think. When you get in, in the morning, keep trying to get in touch with Gretchen. Plan on going to the autopsy tomorrow afternoon. I will call you when I need you.”


I left ten minutes later with the keys to the winery and Peter Joseph’s house and the wine glass from the evidence box. Werner’s comment about drinking Pinot from a flute bugged me, and I needed to check a few things to ease my mind. The first stop was Joseph’s house and then the winery.
I left the winery a little after midnight and, thirty minutes later, pulled up a couple of houses down from Cooper’s place, and parked.
Cooper lived in a nice older neighborhood on the south side that was transitioning into newer construction. The lawns were well-kept, and the street was lined with big trees. The neighborhood was quiet and looked deserted. No lights showed in his house, and no cars were in the driveway. If he was home, the Maserati was likely in the garage.
The case was puzzling, and Truman’s comment about trunk space concerned me enough to want to keep an eye on Cooper. A couple of hours earlier, it looked like we had our guy–Werner, but now I was not so sure.
A host of unanswered questions were bothering me. The big one was, why weren’t there two wine glasses at the scene of the murder if Peter Joseph was serving wine to his murderer? The obvious answer is that the murderer didn’t want to leave something with their prints and DNA behind, so he took it? Did Werner get confused and take the wrong glass? The flute left at the scene didn’t match Joseph’s other glasses in his kitchen cabinet. I checked. It was similar to the flutes used at the winery.
It could be that Werner was being set up. Someone took a glass and a wine bottle that he had handled at the winery and left it at the murder scene to point the police at him. The two likely candidates were Cooper and Gretchen. It could be Gretchen. Maybe we could not find her because she had fled, but I didn’t think so.
If Cooper was the guy, what was the motive for all this murder and mayhem? Was he afraid of losing his job because of Joseph’s article? That was an excellent question to ask Werner.
Cooper was attracted to Gretchen. Maybe he thought he could get Werner out of the way, save his job, and have a shot at wooing Gretchen, but then he found out about the Saturday night tryst and the alibi. Gretchen would be a loose end to tie up if he wanted the plan to work.
What would happen if Werner went to prison for murder? Would that give Cooper job security? Someone would have to run the winery while Werner was doing time.
I pondered Cooper’s mysteries until his garage door rose at about 7:30. Then I followed the sports car to the winery, where he got out and walked up to the front doors of the tasting room and let himself in with a key. After that, I drove home and got some food and a few hours of sleep.
The phone woke me up around 11:30, and I talked with a deputy DA to set up a meeting. She told me that Werner had been arraigned that morning and that a bail hearing was scheduled for Friday.
I got up and showered, and dressed. Then I called Truman, who was on her way to the autopsy. She still had not located Gretchen. I hung up, got in my car, and returned to the winery.
I parked where I could see him come out of the winery driveway and waited to pick up his trail.
While I waited, I called Truman again and got the lowdown on the autopsy. No surprises. It was her first, and she got through it without throwing up. I told her she had the evening stakeout shift at Cooper’s house and that I would relieve her at 10 PM. A little after five, Cooper drove out, and I followed him back to his house. Truman was already in position, so I drove home to eat and get a little rest.


I was back in his neighborhood by 9:45. I parked around the corner and walked to where Truman was parked. I knocked on a window and startled her.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was sitting here creeped out thinking about that autopsy, and you do that.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Anything happening?”
“No. A few people walked by. The only times I have seen Cooper was when he pulled into the garage and later pushed his garbage and recycling bins to the road. I tried calling Gretchen again, but no answer.”
“Okay. Consider yourself relieved. Go get some rest.”
I got out and walked back to retrieve my car. I pulled into the space Truman had just left and settled in to watch. It was another quiet evening without much activity. A few dog walkers passed, and two or three people pushed garbage bins to the street. By 11:30, most of the houses were dark, including Coopers, and I was pondering how to close out the case. It was getting close to midnight when the idea occurred to me. I grabbed my phone and called Truman, and she answered at once.
“Still thinking about the autopsy?”
“Yes,” she said. “Can’t sleep. Anything going on?”
“Just in my magnificent brain,” I said. “I was trying to think of a solution. The Best case would be to get a search warrant. That would be great if we could, but I don’t see enough probable cause here to get a judge to sign it. Another approach occurred to me that might work.”
“What’s that?”
“Meet me at Cooper’s house at 4 AM tomorrow. Wear some old clothes and bring a headlamp if you have one.”
“You are not going to tell me what the different approach is, are you.”
“Nope. Bonus points if you can figure it out before 4 AM.”
“Okay, see you then.”


At a little before 4, she tapped on the passenger side window of my car, and I unlocked it to let her in.
“We are going to toss his trash, aren’t we?” she said. “We don’t need no stinking warrant to do that.”
“Truman, that sounds vaguely obscene, but yes, we will search his garbage. Some gloves and evidence bags are in the back seat.”
We began collecting and bagging the contents of Cooper’s trash bins. I was working on the recycling bin, pulling out bottles, reading the labels, and putting them in one of our bags.
“Well, looks like we have a winner,” I said, holding up the empty bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951.”
We finished quickly, without alerting anyone, and we were back at the station by 4:45. Truman began typing out the arrest and search warrants.
We needed help. I called the Chief and told him the situation. He said he would get our designated entry team moving. Then I called Steve Ward and asked him to watch Cooper’s house.
By then, it was nearly 5:30, and Truman had finished the warrants. I proofread them, suggested some changes, and started calling around to find a judge. Judge Grant Vine was an early riser. I told him the situation and e-mailed scanned copies of the warrants. A few minutes later, he called back, hemmed, and hawed about probable cause. We discussed it for a few minutes, and then he said he would sign them and fax them back to me. They arrived at the fax machine a few minutes later. By then, the entry team had arrived, and Steve reported that Cooper was still at home.
We were ready.
Thirty minutes later, our teams were set up at Cooper’s house. The entry team was stacked at the front door, and others covered the back and sides of the house.
Knock and announce. The lead man pounded on the front door and yelled, “Police. Open up. We have a search warrant.”
No response.
A moment later, someone’s radio crackled, and one of the guys covering the back said, “Runner,” and then, “We got him.”
The entry team guy with the ram hit the door once, twice, and it splintered and sprang open, and everyone rushed in.
Gretchen was in a back bedroom. She was tied up, with her mouth duct taped, but she was alive and uninjured. Once the house was cleared, I chased everyone out and secured it to wait for the crime scene techs.
We had apparently caught Cooper as he was dressing for work. When they arrested him, he was scooting out the back door in his underwear, carrying clothing and shoes. We sent Gretchen off to the hospital to be checked. Cooper was off to the police station for questioning and processing. Truman and I were left sorting out the case, directing the investigation at the scene, and collecting and analyzing the evidence.


By late afternoon, we were back in the office doing the paperwork.
“How did you know the bottles would be in the trash?” Truman asked.
“People are creatures of habit,” I replied and told her about when I had first visited the winery and cooper had been moving the empty bottles from the garbage to a recycling bin.
“Why didn’t he kill Gretchen?”
“Who knows. I think partly because one of his motives for killing Joseph was to win Gretchen. He didn’t kill her because he was torn between his plan and his attraction for her.
He would have had to kill her eventually. I think he was putting it off.
When I talked to Werner, he said he and Cooper had some heated words after leaving the wine shop on Saturday. He had said things he regretted later that may have led Cooper to believe his job was in jeopardy. Cooper isn’t talking, so we don’t know exactly what happened, but it looks like this. Cooper had a thing for Gretchen, who resisted his advances. Cooper apparently found out that Werner and Gretchen had a thing going. Cooper was worried about losing his job. He is angry and resentful at Joseph because someone he viewed as a dilettante was sitting in judgment over his professional standing.”
“So, he goes over and murders Joseph to solve three problems. He keeps his job and gets a clear field to pursue Gretchen by getting Werner out of the way, and he gets revenge on Joseph for the professional slight.”
“He got a bottle and a glass that he knew Werner had handled from the winery, as well as Werner’s gun, and goes over to Joseph’s house and murders him and plants the evidence. The Gretchen alibi derailed his plan. His big mistake was taking the Penfolds.”
“Why did he do it?”
“It could have been that he wanted to make it look like a robbery. I think it was an act of contempt. Drinking Joseph’s expensive bottle of wine was the equivalent of dancing on his grave. People around here take wine very seriously.


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