Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Ups, Downs of Tracking Crime That Shocked City

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Ups, Downs of Tracking Crime That Shocked City

Article excerpt

LIKE PILOTS flying in the eye of a hurricane, the cops leading the investigation into the murder of Melissa Aptman were maintaining their calm late Thursday afternoon while the storm raged all around them.

They had just released a 19-year-old suspect who had earlier confessed to being one of the two carjackers who had killed Aptman and shot her friend.

Because the second suspect, a 16-year-old, had reportedly confessed and named as his accomplice the 19-year-old, who happened to be his cousin, there was a sense - at least from the outside looking in - that the case was rapidly unraveling.

Somebody in the media called the Aptman family in Miami to tell them the case was falling apart. Naturally, the family wanted to know what in the world was happening.

Robert Oldani, the commander of the homicide unit, assured the family that the investigation was on track and proceeding smoothly.

In a strange sort of way, it was.

"It's like a roller coaster ride," said Joe Mokwa, the chief of detectives. "You're up and you're down."

The first leg up came Monday. An anonymous tipster called the homicide division and gave the detectives a name. If you want to know about the murder, you ought to talk to this person, the tipster said.

The detectives did just that, and the person gave them two names. One was a real name. It belonged to the 16-year-old. The other was a nickname.

The cops decided to put the 16-year-old under surveillance.

This decision showed remarkable patience. Murders catch the public attention in direct proportion to one thing - the degree to which people can say, "That could have happened to me!"

Melissa Aptman and her friend had gone to a nice restaurant in a nice neighborhood. They were jumped when they returned to their car. It could have happened to anybody, and so the public attention was very high.

A quick arrest was tempting.

But the cops took their time, and watched the 16-year-old for almost 24 hours. They learned what they could, and then they grabbed him. He was carrying a revolver when they got him, and that seemed like a good sign.

"Because the crime was so damned brutal, we figured we'd be dealing with some real hard-cores, and the 16-year-old didn't seem to fit," said a detective. …

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