Authors: Barry Siegel
He gives a long history of a pattern of aggressive behavior involving carrying a gun and disturbing lovers in various lover’s lanes in this area. For example, he carried a .22 rifle to a lover’s lane in Laveen, held the gun to a chap and a girl who were involved in some romantic act, found himself quite enjoying the confusion that ensued. He did not at this time shoot. He reports on another occasion having his cousin’s pistol or revolver and aimlessly wanting to shoot someone. This suggests a rather cold blooded and emotionless individual with little concept or value for human life. Needless to say the officer who apprehended [Valenzuela] and reported this statement to [me] recognizes the potential homicide capacity in this individual. [I] emphatically agree.
In the end, on the basis of a limited one-hour interview, Tuchler felt unable to rule out, with certainty, the possibility that Valenzuela was just fantasizing or projecting. The doctor nonetheless had a definite judgment of Ernest Valenzuela: “This is an exceedingly dangerous young man and whatever possible legal means are available to keep him under observation, such means should be evoked.… [If] released on bond, we are dealing with a potential homicide in a lad who is rather devoid of conscience and feels little or no remorse. This case deserves intensive investigation.”
Despite this warning, authorities—on the very day Tuchler wrote his letter—released Valenzuela after just five days in jail. The records document no follow-up or evidence that detectives ever connected Valenzuela with the statements made by Linda Primrose two years earlier.
As the months passed, investigators still chased odd tips, always in vain. In May 1969, seven years after the killings, another clue of sorts emerged. The Sterrenberg and McKillop families notified the sheriff’s office that at times when they visited Tim and Joyce’s side-by-side graves, they found roses placed on them. For a while, deputies staked out the cemetery to see if they could catch a remorseful killer, and the lovers’ lane killings became known as the Rose Petal Case. Journalists once again came to interview Tim’s and Joyce’s parents. “Neither Cliff nor I bear any malice against whoever did it,” Jim McKillop told them. “We’d just like to know why. That’s the question: Why?”
Memories of Days Now Gone
AUGUST 1935–AUGUST 1974
When Bill Macumber thinks back to his years of freedom—to what he calls “memories of days now gone”—his mind fills mainly with images of his three young sons and the fun things they did together. The ball fields, the lakes, the forests, the desert. Hunting and fishing, hiking and climbing, swimming across ponds, the boys tied to inner tubes, his youngest tiring and rolling over so that Bill had to pull him the rest of the way. One summer, he built them a full replica of the
space capsule, right in their backyard, and wired a remote-control panel in the house. The boys had space suits and knew all the stages of liftoff. Bill liked to say,
Being a dad
ain’t nothing like it.
He came from Davenport, Iowa, born there at Mercy Hospital in August 1935. He had one brother, Robert, two years younger, and a first cousin, Jackie, who was always at their house, living with them at times. The extended family—Grandma and Grandpa, Grandma’s sister, uncles and aunts—took driving trips together. Tomahawk Lake, the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore, Wild Bill Hickok’s saloon and a whole bunch of fishing cabins that quickly filled with pounds of bluegill, bass, walleye, northern pike and pickerel. The year after Pearl Harbor, Jackie came down from Cedar Rapids for an extended stay, and Bill’s father, Harold, bought all the children silver World War I–type helmets with American flags painted on the front. Harold went to work at the Rock Island Arsenal around then and joined its marching band. On weekends, he also played in a small dance band, handling the sax, clarinet and banjo, and the whole family would accompany him to performances—at the Lions and Elks Clubs, Turner Hall, all over Scott County during the Christmas season. Bill and his brother would sometimes get up and dance, and one or both together would often sing with the band. On V-J Day in 1945, Harold’s band set up at Third and Harrison in Davenport and played all afternoon and night, the streets barricaded, everyone wildly celebrating, beer and liquor flowing, drunks everywhere but no one arrested. Bill, age ten, watched with wide-eyed wonder.
The Macumbers, like everyone else they knew in the Midwest heartland, were avid hunters. Bill’s dad began taking him pheasant hunting when he was six years old. For his twelfth birthday, Harold bought him the finest present he’d ever received: his own, brand-spanking-new Stevens 16-gauge shotgun. The gun kicked like a Missouri mule, but Bill never said a word, despite his black-and-blue shoulder. That October, when squirrel season opened, his dad took him to the Sanger farm, which featured two large patches of timber chock-full of fat juicy fox squirrels. Bill bagged four of them, his dad six. The next month, at the start of pheasant season, Harold took the whole family to Fred Wessles’s farm outside of DeWitt, Iowa, where Bill brought down his first ring-necked pheasant. Back home, Harold bragged to all the neighbors, and his dad’s pride meant the world to Bill.
By junior high school, he already stood six foot seven, which served him well on the basketball and football teams but set him apart from his classmates. In high school he continued to play despite a crowded schedule—he also was on the student council and had a job at the new service station his father had opened in the spring of 1950, a forty-five-minute bus commute from school. On weekends Bill worked fourteen-hour days there alongside his dad. Despite their efforts, the station, really a twenty-four-hour truck stop, did not do well, and they struggled to keep it going. Together they traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to woo large trucking companies, but the only one they won over, a produce operation, ran up large charges it couldn’t pay. In the fall of 1952, when Bill was seventeen, Harold filed for bankruptcy. You have to accept the bad with the good, he reminded his son. Harold quickly landed a fine job with a car dealership in Davenport, and Bill began working nights at a dairy company, where he washed the delivery trucks, rarely finishing before 11:00
Both also joined the Ground Observer Corps, which, as part of the country’s national civil defense system, watched the skies for large multiengine aircraft.
The next summer, the Macumber clan drove to Arizona to visit relatives. Bill loved the high desert and the mountains, the smell of orange blossoms, the sway of real palm trees, and he celebrated when his father decided to move the family to Phoenix. There Harold found work as a mechanic and—with Bill’s contribution—bought a home on West Highland Avenue. Bill could not land a job, though, so after searching for half a year, he decided to enlist. On Valentine’s Day 1955, he was sworn into the U.S. Army and sent off to Fort Ord for basic training. There he got to shake hands with the commanding general after becoming one of only eight men ever to fire a perfect score on rifle qualification. They offered him the chance to attend Officer Candidate School, but he declined, not sure he wanted to enlist for another two years. In the spring of 1957, his tour of duty over, he returned to his parents’ home in Phoenix. He and Harold began working together at Firestone Tire on North Central Avenue, where they ran the brake and front end department. In May 1960 they once again went into business for themselves, opening a new filling station on the corner of Twelfth Street and Missouri.
That year Bill met the woman who would become his wife. Carol Kempfert was dating his brother Robert at the time, Bob still in the army then, stationed down at Fort Huachuca. Bob Macumber and Carol Kempfert were part of a group: four servicemen and their high school girls, teenagers infatuated with men in uniform. They all liked to party and drink—sometimes running liquor up from Mexico—but Bob quickly realized that he didn’t click with Carol. She felt like flypaper to him—too close, too demanding. When he told her they were done, she started dating Bill, still living at his parents’ house. He was twenty-five and not overly experienced with women. Growing up, he’d worked most of the time, rarely going out on dates. Even his brother had to allow that Bill, gangly and angular, wasn’t real handsome. Being so tall didn’t help, either. Back in Iowa during his senior year at high school, there’d been one girl Bill truly loved, an accomplished pianist who often accompanied him when he sang somewhere. They once made a record together, of “The Lord’s Prayer” and “Bless This House.” And one year, they performed “The Lord’s Prayer” and “The Holy City” over WOC radio for Easter sunrise services. But she didn’t feel the same about him; she just wanted to be friends. When she dropped him, he was devastated.
Bob Macumber warned his brother about Carol’s nature and later tried to dissuade him from marrying her, but Bill had fallen very much in love with this outgoing, vivacious young woman. They got married on July 20, 1961, in his parents’ backyard. She was eighteen, he about to turn twenty-six. After a three-day honeymoon in Yosemite, they moved into a new home Bill had bought at 3317 West Wethersfield Road—the first house he owned and the first he’d occupied apart from his parents. Not long after, Bill and his father leased a second gas station, this one at Seventh and Missouri, and began working long hours, from 7:00
or later. In May 1962, Carol learned she was pregnant.
Their first son, Scotty, was born in January 1963; their second, Steven, in April 1965; their third, Ronnie, in December 1967. By then Bill had gone to work at Honeywell as an assembler and inspector of computers; he and his dad had closed their last gas station in October 1964, the victim of repeated gas wars in the Phoenix area. With three young boys to support, Bill needed to make more money, and to do that, he needed more education. In the spring of 1967, he enrolled at Glendale Community College, taking night classes while working full-time. Two years later he transferred to Arizona State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in business management in 1973. At Honeywell, he soon won promotion to a position as process-control engineer, his salary $12,000 a year.
His three boys—he invariably called them his three “wonderful boys”—were, by all accounts, the joy of his life. Those who knew their family in those years, friends and neighbors who visited their home, would recall his devotion to his sons, the many hours he spent with them. In the spring of 1971, when Scotty became eligible to play, Bill volunteered with their local Deer Valley Little League, ending up as team manager, coaching his son. The next year the community elected him president of the Deer Valley Little League. Under his supervision the league solicited donations, upgraded the playing field, improved the bleachers, put in lights and built food stands. Two or three days a week, he’d be out at the ball field, dragging screens to clean the base paths. He’d become a leader in the neighborhood, recognized and respected, always talking about how to get things done, how to make things better.
That same year, 1972, Bill decided to form a volunteer search-and-rescue team, the Desert Survival Unit, in association with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. He’d been haunted by a tragedy near Bartlett Lake two years before, when four young children and their grandmother died out in the desert after getting lost. Bill thought the sheriff’s department had responded a little too slowly. He took his idea to the department and received approval, though little direct support. On his own he sent out notices to local companies—among them Honeywell, Sperry, and AiResearch—seeking funding and volunteers. Within two months he had nearly one hundred recruits to train. Besides ground searchers, he organized a mounted search unit, an air search unit, a radio operation and a medical staff. Under his command the Desert Survival Unit participated in dozens of searches, more than once preventing loss of lives, and collected an “Operational Excellence” award from the sheriff’s department.
Neighbors in the community came to Bill regularly with their concerns, turning to him as a sounding board. They found him open and friendly, full of suggestions, always willing to help. Years later, what they mostly remembered was his presence. Paul Bridgewater, who lived nearby, had a strong sense that Bill would never speak falsely to him. He stood by his words.
* * *
Boxes of court records can only suggest how Bill and Carol’s marriage started to founder. As usual in unhappy marriages, there are competing narratives. In Carol’s version, Bill was possessive and jealous, wanting to shut her off from all friends; in Bill’s version, Carol grew selfish, particularly about caring for the boys. Their troubles apparently deepened in 1971, when she began attending night classes at Glendale Community College in criminology and law enforcement, including two courses on the detection, classification and lifting of latent fingerprints. She soon befriended the various recruits and officers sitting alongside her, some from the Phoenix Police Department, some from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. After class, she’d go out with them. Other evenings, she’d sign up to do ride-alongs with officers on patrol. In this way, she met a good number of men wearing the uniform of law enforcement. Among them: Dennis Gilbertson of the Phoenix Police Department and Sergeant Ed Calles, head of the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s detective section.
Carol took classes with Ed Calles over three semesters. They seemed to become fairly well acquainted, for she listed him as a reference, and he provided a recommendation, when she applied in January 1973 for a position in the sheriff’s office. She landed a job as a clerk in the department’s identification section, then transferred eight months later to the detective section, working for Calles as a secretary in a detail he supervised. There, she took to browsing through old case files. “Carol’s work and her studies in police work dominated almost all her time,” Bill would later testify. “Even when she was home she would spend her time going through old case files that she would bring from work. She had little or no time for me and the most minimal time for the boys. This latter fact was the basis for many very heated arguments between us.”