Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Next Generation


It’s a strange thing to read about retirement parties for people you remember as youngsters. When I read John L. Smith’s column about the retirement of Las Vegas Metro Homicide Detectives Jimmy Vaccaro and Tom Thowsen, I shook my head in disbelief.

I was working in Metro’s Crime Lab in the early 1990s when Vaccaro and Thowsen were the new guys in Homicide. We were used to the old-timers like Tom Dillard, Don Dibble, and Dave Hatch, none of whom had a spare word for the office help like me, unless they were barking orders. None of us thought much of it. Cranky, short-tempered cops were common, and those who had chosen a full-time assignment to cover Death in all its violent, brutal, and tragic forms were forgiven for skipping the niceties. When these two young, handsome detectives took the assignment in Homicide, in the office we tsked a little to ourselves. It would be a shame, my office mate Martha and I agreed, if Vaccaro and Thowsen succumbed to the stresses of Homicide, an assignment that we watched wring the life out of several detectives. Vaccaro and Thowsen were fun to talk to, and that was important. There were plenty of details about our job that were never, ever going to be fun.

A steady stream of cops trickled in all day to our office to pick up crime scene pictures and lab results. One detective, Roy Chandler, wore irresistible aftershave that made Martha and me swoon; he was also a sweet-talker. Since Chandler, like Vaccaro, had started out in Vice/Narcotics and later moved to Homicide, we reasoned that there was a chance Vaccaro might retain some of his charm. When I left the Lab in 1994, both Thowsen and Vaccaro were still charming, upbeat, and speaking to the office staff.

Smith’s column covered some of their big cases; I remember them all. Smith muses over whether or not either man can put his time with Death behind him. I suspect that Smith knows the answer, since reporters see many of the same horrors as cops. The case I never forgot was Stephanie Isaacson, a 14-year-old girl whose body was found in an empty desert lot just blocks from where my in-laws lived. She was just a couple of years older than my nieces. Someone brutally assaulted her and left her a bloody mess in the dirt with her textbooks scattered nearby. I wasn’t at the scene – I merely saw the photos and read the file. Many deceased bodies remain in my memory, but it is her name that always floats to the top.

Over the years I worked in the Lab, I was often asked if I ever wanted to become a Crime Scene Analyst (now they’re Hollywood-ified and are officially CSI – Crime Scene Investigator). Thanks, but the pictures and occasional dead body in a car in the Lab’s garage was enough for me. The men and women who agree to accept the challenge of unraveling murders are a rare breed. Justice and consequences may be concepts for some, but for them both are day-to-day reality. “If you’ve ever said you’d never kill someone, then you don’t know people,” Martha used to say. I think she’s still at the Lab, where I imagine she’s sizing up the next generation of Homicide detectives.
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Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1807

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am Stephanie Isaacson's Mother and my wish is that some day someone will be able to solve this crime. My instinct told me right from the start that it would never be solved, but hopefully someday someone will find out who did it or maybe the coward that murdered her will come forward. I believe for every crime that is committed, there is someone out there that knows something, but obviously doesn't feel it's important enough to come forward. I can only hope that whoever took my daughter's life is living a miserable existence for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

I was one of Stephers close friends when this tragic event changed my entire world. With all these new technical advancements, I can't understand why they can't find this B*stard who could take the life of such a wonderful, innocent, kind person and have no regard for taking her life.He has had to screw up again. There has to be DNA, SOMETHING. I guess I watch to much TV and no matter the show, the "bad guy" is caught (and not those made for TV shows, the real life accounts). I know it's been 23 years, but just know, Stephanie has never left my heart, mind or thoughts. I pray as you do (Mother), Whoever took Stephanie away from us all is living a sad, miserable existence for EVERY reason. Just wanted you to know you're not alone with these wishes and I do think of her often, Stephanie will always be "The Wind Beneath My Wings"...

Anonymous said...

I to was friends with Stephy when this horrible tragidy took place. I remember being told she was raped and strangled, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I read this article. Recently I called Las Vegas Metro Cold Case Division and found out that they are still investigating the case and they DO have DNA from an "unidentified male", but there are no matches in the database. Most offenders that do this type of crime often do it again, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Stephanie. Which leads me to believe that it was someone who knew her, stalked her and wasn't just a random act of violence. It's been 26 years now and I would love nothing more than to see this monster caught, but I'm afraid it'll never happen. Please everyone that reads this Call LVMPD Cold Case Division and don't let them ever forget Stephy and stop working this case...

Anonymous said...

June first 1989 Changed my life forever, I was Stephanie's Best friend. 27 years ago this year someone shattered the lives of a lot of people. "Wind Beneath My Wings" was our song.. I still to this day think of her often. they say time heals all wounds.. I will tell you it doesn't!! As a mother of 3 now I don't know how you (Sharon) have gone on with life. Today just like everyday I pray that whomever took this beautiful life from us Gets what they deserve. I talk to her often and believe in my soul she was & is my guardian angel. The bible is clear on the 10 commandments... #13 is thou shall not commit murder.. Don't think for one moment that Justice for her is not coming because it is. Maybe not in the timing we think it should happen. However,God knows and whoever did this will pay.

TH Meeks said...

To all of Stephanie's friends and family: thank you for your comments and for keeping Stephanie's memory alive. I sincerely hope that the person who took her away from you is caught and brought to justice.

Anonymous said...

Today we would be celebrating Stephanie's birthday if she were still with us. I am her Mother and I can tell you that "time does not heal all wounds." This tragedy will always be an open wound for her family and friends. I miss her everyday. I wish the low life her stole her from us could be brought to justice. I still believe there is someone out there who knows who did this. I just wish they would have the decency to come forward and tell who committed this horrible crime, but I don't believe it will ever be solved. I love you Stephanie.

Kelly Bell (Ruden) said...

I was living with Stephanie's father and his fiancé at the time of her murder. I was an intern with NAFB from Penn State and they were my host family. I find it odd that many posts about her death say she was strangled. Although strangulation may have occurred, I remember the details to be quite different and note the above post mentioning she was found in a bloody mess.....far closer to the details I recall. I also find it odd the number of girls around Stephanie's age that were strangled in an approximate fifteen to twenty year time span. Has the possibility of a serial killer ever been looked at? I also found it odd that, as the possible last person to see Stephanie the morning she was killed.....I was never questioned. I don't believe I would have been able to give any insight but who knows, there may have been something I would have remembered her saying or doing that morning that would have shed light on the situation. I also remember a man at her viewing that was in his twenties whose behavior seemed very odd and out of place to me but, knowing the family for such a short time, I don't remember who he was. There are other tidbits of info that have been shared with me through the years that sound like definite clues to the identity of her killer and even speculation as to a very possible POI that I dont know if the police ever even looked at. I emailed the MPD years ago to see if there were any breaks in the case and I received a generic response back but never got the feeling they had a clue as to who did this. I remain friends with her father and his close friend and I know there is frustration with the way it all was handled. I so wish they would find who did this to bring closure to her family. I was in our apartment on the phone with Stephanie's best friend trying to update her when the police brought Stephanie's mother in after they had found her body. If I live to be 100 I will never forget the look of grief and shock on her face. She deserves answers.