Category: Short Story

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.


Death of Wine Snob (Part 3)

This is the continuation of a short story about the murder of a wine expert. Parts one and two can be read here and here.

“Nice job perk,” I said as I circled the car and admired the lines and the rich interior. “What does one of these cost?”

Forty-five minutes later I pulled into the parking lot of the Timber Ridge Winery. The building was large, with a modern design with lots of steel and glass. I followed a sign to the front door that led to a reception area and tasting room. The place smelled like wine and wood polish. The room was spacious, with wood paneling and floors, and a long bar. Some nicely finished wooden tables and chairs dotted the space. One wall had an interpretive display of photos and text under a big headline that said ‘How Wine is Made’.

A stunning, tall blond in an expensive dress and high heels near the bar spotted me and walked over. She had a small brass name tag pinned to her dress high on her right breast that said ‘Gretchen’.

“May I help you?” she said with a vaguely European accent.

“Yes, thank you,” I stammered. “I am a Detective from the Newberg Police Department. I am here to see Mr. Dobson.”

She moved closer and laid a hand on my arm. She smelled good and I began to feel as awkward as a 7th grader at his first school dance.

“Is Mr. Dobson expecting you?”


“May I tell him your name?” she said.

“Yes, it’s Detective Manley.”

“Really,” she said with a wry smile. “The name suits you. If you would follow me.”

She motioned to a door at the back of the room and led the way. The door opened into a large room lined with shelves and counters. At one end, near French doors that opened into a garden, was a large desk with a couple of side chairs in front of it. Wine racks, stuffed with hundreds of bottles of wine took up most of the shelf space. Other shelves held a variety of wine glasses of different shapes and sizes.

As we walked in, she said, “This is Mr. Dobson’s workroom. We call it the lab.”

To our left, a man stood in front of some trash containers pulling bottles out of one and dropping them into another marked “Recycling”. He gave us a baleful glare and then left through the door we had come through.

She watched him go and said, “Can’t have glass in the regular trash. It drives Dave crazy. He is so adamant about recycling.”

“That was Dave Cooper?” I said.


“Could you tell him I would like to talk to him after I am done with Mr. Dobson?”

“Yes, I will,” she said.

She led me over to the desk and offered me a seat and said, “Werner will be right with you Detective Manley,” and then glided out of the room the way we had come in. I watched her go. Couldn’t help myself. Then I sat and looked around the room and a few minutes later the door opened and Werner Dobson made his entrance.

Werner was an intense-looking, middle age man, a bit below average height and a bit above average weight, with thick, well-barbered dark hair and handsome, dignified features. He greeted me politely enough but there was no friendliness in it. He sat down behind his desk.

“What is this all about, Detective?” he said.

“I am investigating the homicide of Peter Joseph. He was murdered last night, and we are trying to interview those who may have had contact with him recently to see if they know something that might lead us to a killer. Do you know Mr. Joseph?”

“Peter is dead?” He seemed surprised but not particularly saddened by the news.

“So, you know him?” I said.

“Sure. Not well, but everyone in the local industry knows Peter. He writes about wines, sometimes well, so he was one of those on the edge of the wine industry around here that it paid to know and to suck up to from time to time. “

“Sounds like you didn’t like him,” I said to see if I could get a reaction.

“I didn’t dislike him enough to kill him if that’s what you are looking for. I would say I was more ambivalent when it came to Peter. I had some respect for his opinions, but he was often a little wrongheaded and reckless.”

“Have you been in contact with him in the last few days?”

“You know I have, Detective. Why else would you be here? You have probably been talking to Boyd Schantz.”

I acknowledged it with a nod and a shrug in hopes he would keep talking.

He did, “Peter came out here last Friday. He would showcase local wineries in his column, and he came out to take a look at our operation. He came. He got the tour. Then we met with Dave Cooper and tasted some of the stock from the cellar. He arrived after lunch and left around 4:00 PM. Then I talked to him on the phone Saturday and then ran into him at a tasting room in downtown Newberg that night.”

“What was the phone conversation about?”

“He was basically letting me know what he was going to say in the column and wanted to get my reaction.”

“Is that what led to the confrontation at the tasting room that night?”

He smiled for the first time, “So that’s it. You think I am a suspect because he was going to pan my wine in his column. Well, you are wrong. Sure, we disagreed about what he was going to write about the latest vintage, but it was nothing to murder someone over. More of a difference of opinion. He had influence but not that much.”

I told him about the circumstances of Joseph’s death and his face went pale.

“That’s horrible,” he said, looking shocked. “If that were to get out…”

“Any ideas on who might have been angry enough to do something like that?” I asked. “Or why they would pick a wine from your winery?”

“No idea. I assure you it wasn’t me. Maybe it was someone who overheard our discussion at the tasting room, and they want to embarrass me. I don’t know.”

“Where were you last night?” I asked.

“At home. All night. With a friend.”

“Does this friend have a name? I might need to check your story.”

He pursed his lips and looked at the floor for a moment, thinking. Then he said, “She does, but I would not want to embarrass her unless I have to. If it comes to the point where I need an alibi, I will tell you who it was.”

“Fair enough,” I said. I didn’t like it. I would have preferred to strike him off the list of suspects sooner than later if I could.

“Okay,” I said as I rose from the chair. “Thank you for your time. If anything occurs to you, give me a call. Here’s my card. I’ll find my own way out.”

He took the card and I turned and left.


I left the room through the same door that I came in. Gretchen and Dave Cooper were standing near one of the front windows talking. He was tall and slim, wearing work clothes, and boots. He had a full head of longish dark hair. He moved closer to her and tried to put his arm around her waist, and she brushed it aside and moved away. I walked toward them, and they both turned as I approached.

“Ah. Detective Manley. This is Dave Cooper.”

The man looked disconcerted, offered a handshake, and said, “I am Dave Cooper. How can I help you?”

I shook his hand and then badged him and said, “Detective Manley with the Newberg Police. I am investigating the death of Peter Joseph. He was murdered last night in his home. Do you know him?”

“Sure, I know him,” he paused and blinked absently for a moment as he seemed to process the news. “What? He was murdered?”

“Yes. Someone shot him in the head.”

“Good God. Why would someone kill Peter?”

“Well, that is the question isn’t it, or at least one of them. When was the last time you saw him?”

“It would have been Saturday night. I was at a tasting room downtown with Werner, and we ran into Peter there. Werner and Peter got into a little verbal altercation over something Peter was writing about the winery.”

“Do you remember what it was about?”

“Sure, I do,” he said, his voice becoming a little more strident. “Peter came to the winery on Friday for a tour and a tasting, and he apparently didn’t think much of our latest Pinot. He planned to write about it in his column as if his opinion counts for anything.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“What do mean?”

“You don’t seem to think much of his opinion. How did it make you feel that he was taking that slant on a wine that I suppose you were at least partly responsible for producing?”

“Well, it made me angry,” he said, his face reddening. “The man was a dilettante—a poser. He seemed to think that since he owned a forty-thousand-dollar bottle of wine, he was an expert. In fact, he didn’t know squat.”

I said, “Did it make you angry enough to kill him?”

“Good heavens no,” he said without hesitation. “Sure, he could sway the opinions of some weak-minded people but certainly not enough to make a difference, or enough to make it worth killing him.”

“Where were you last night?”

He gave me an insolent look and said, “At home. I got home early and read until around ten and then went to bed. No, no one was here with me if that is your next question.”

“Okay,” I said. “I think that covers everything. If you can think of anything that might help the investigation, please call me.”

I handed him a card.

“I will,” he said, “but I can’t think what that would be.”

I shrugged and nodded at the card in his hand, and said, “Well just in case. By the way, someone I talked to said you and Werner drove off in a Maserati. Was that your car?”

“Yes, we were driving mine on Saturday. Werner also has one. They’re company cars. They are supposed to promote an affluent image for the winery.”

“Do you have one here?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Do you want to see it?”

I nodded yes, and he led me out to the parking lot and over to a dark blue, convertible sports car parked in a reserved space nearby.

“Here it is,” he said. “A Maserati GranTurismo convertible. The winery owns two of them. This is mine and Werner drives the other.”

“Nice job perk,” I said as I circled the car and admired the lines and the rich interior. “What does one of these cost?”

“About $150,000. They make great chick magnets, but they also tend to attract traffic cops and door dings.”

“Mind if I take a picture?” I said holding up my phone.

“Go ahead.”

I did and then thanked him for his time and left.

Link to Part 4