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BEHIND THE MASK (Chapter 1: The Scene of a Crime)
Librarians are a helpful lot. Dedicated, responsible, and eager to assist, they’re counted on by the young and old for their patience, broad knowledge, and resourcefulness, though they’re also often characterized as uptight. When 100 people were surveyed on the TV game show Family Feud and asked what a typical librarian’s characteristics were, they responded: Quiet, Mean or Stern, Single/Unmarried, Stuffy, In Glasses. Admissions officers interviewed in several college library programs had a different take. They stated that the finest librarians have excellent communication skills, are eager to provide service, and have an outstanding ability to organize knowledge. Male librarians, by far the lesser-represented gender in the group, are considered equally resourceful and just as competent as female librarians. They are typically mild, civil, and intellectual. “Macho” men need not apply; eccentrics may. And one did.
William E. Coday Jr., 38, fit most of the characteristics offered by Family Feud contestants and the admissions officers. He was quiet, meek though occasionally stern, single, sometimes stuffy, bespectacled, eager to help, well organized, widely read, and highly intellectual. In 1995, Coday applied for the prestigious job of supervisor of the International Languages Collection at the Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and was hired on the spot. Among other duties he was expected to perform, he was put in charge of expanding the library’s international language collection, which brought with it the special perk of travel abroad. It was a plum position—$33,000 per year—and Coday was a natural for it. Fluent in Spanish, German, French, and, of course, English, he was also proficient in Italian, Hindi, and Farsi. He held three degrees: a bachelor’s degree in history and literature, a master’s degree in library science, and a law degree. Plus, he had lived abroad in Germany and India for several years. What better person to fill the position?
The library, located on South Andrews Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale, was a bustling place—and a breathtaking site. Ultramodern, with a stepped glass façade that was punctuated with lush, landscaped terraces, the building was both eye-catching and inviting. From a reflecting pool on the first floor, an atrium rose six stories, allowing the Florida sunshine to brighten the central hall for the over 600,000 individuals who visited the library every year.
By all accounts, William Coday was a model employee for the two years that he worked there. Library official Steve Kerr called him an “intelligent, laid-back person…a very charming, bright, interesting, attractive young man,” who was also “personable and very witty.” Punctual, helpful, and resourceful, Coday was admired by his colleagues for his vast knowledge, and counted on by library-goers for his self-effacing assistance. Kathleen Imhoff, assistant director of Broward County Libraries stated, “He was an employee in good standing,” and noted that he had been promoted the year after he arrived. Records indicated that he never missed a day’s work without calling in ahead of time, and that missing work was an infrequent occurrence.
So when, on Saturday, July 12, 1997, Coday failed to appear for work at the front desk of the library, or call in sick, several staffers became concerned. Marjorie Moorefield, a co-worker, took it upon herself to cover the desk until he arrived. After all, Coday was her good friend, and friends help out friends in time of need. She wondered if perhaps Bill was hanging out in the back room, chatting with colleagues and enjoying a cup of coffee, and had somehow lost track of the time. But after making a quick check of the room, she knew for sure he hadn’t shown up. In fact, no one she spoke to had seen him at all that morning.
Feeling uneasy, Moorefield asked one of the staffers to give Coday a call. Her first thought was that “he was reading one too many books and some car hit him.” That’s because the previous week, as she and her husband were driving home from Borders bookstore, they had spotted Coday crossing a street, deeply immersed in a book, blithely unconcerned and perhaps unaware of cars. She had said to her husband then that she feared for his safety.
The staffer called Coday and reported back to Moorefield that no one had answered his phone. She said she’d left a message on his machine. By 10 o’clock, Coday still hadn’t shown up, and according to several librarians, Moorefield became “a nervous wreck” because “it’s just not like him at all.” Moorefield asked a fellow librarian to take her place at the desk so she could take a ride to Coday’s apartment to check things out. By that time, three different messages had been left on Coday’s machine, and still, there was no word back from him.
If it had been any other staffer besides Coday, Moorefield and others at the library might not have blinked an eye. But because “Bill had been meticulously on time and reliable as an employee,” his absence was unusual. Plus, recently, things about him had begun to change. For one, he had lost a great deal of weight. For another, he had become extremely quiet, barely looking up from his desk to speak to his colleagues. And several times in the previous weeks, he had disappeared into the elevator without telling anyone where he was going, an act that was against library policy—staffers were not supposed to leave their desks without first telling someone where they were going, and making sure their post was covered. Plus, he often seemed oblivious to what was going on—out of it, in fact—and that was not like the Bill they knew. At one point during the previous week, Moorefield had realized that she was the only person at the library Coday was still speaking to. Other staffers also noticed that something was definitely out of whack with Coday. His appearance, which had been meticulous and appropriate, and his demeanor, which had been dignified and engaging, had deteriorated. It seemed that showers and clean clothes were a thing of the past. Some days, he even arrived at work unshaven and with stains on his shirt. Talking among themselves, some co-workers expressed fear that he might be suicidal. They all knew that he had recently broken up with a girlfriend, and had been very unhappy about it.
After a fellow librarian agreed to cover the desk for Moorefield, she and a colleague drove to Coday’s corner apartment, 1B, at 1701 Northeast 5th Street, in the Victoria Park neighborhood. Perhaps Coday was sick. Perhaps he was too depressed to get out of bed. Perhaps—and they could always hope—he had reconciled with his girlfriend, and the two were having some fun.
As the librarians drove along, they agreed to each look at a different side of the street to see if Coday was walking to the library. After all, he had no car, and either walked or biked to work every day. It could be that he had simply forgotten what time he was supposed to show up that Saturday. His co-workers scanned the road, but Coday was nowhere to be seen.
By that time, it was around 1 p.m. As the two women pulled up in front of the apartment, their spirits soared. There, in the front yard behind the wooden fence lined with bursting, bright pink bougainvilleas, was Coday’s trusty bicycle. Probably, he was still asleep. They were ready to tease him: sleeping in on a Saturday morning when he was supposed to be at the front desk. Shame on you! They knocked on the door. The air conditioner was on and condensation formed on the windows. Moorefield joked that “nothing could be alive in there, because it was too cold. You would be frozen stiff, [she] thought—at least I would have been.” They knocked again and again and again.
With no response, Moorefield decided to locate the manager. Maybe he’d be able to help. She saw a note taped to the mailboxes giving the name and phone number of an acting manager who was on duty that weekend. After jotting down the information, a worried Moorefield and her colleague returned to the library, where they and staffer Donna Donzune immediately called their supervisor, Esther Roberts, and left a message on her machine. Library rules required that in cases of emergency in the library, supervisors must be called first. After a few minutes, Roberts called back. Donzune told her, “Marjorie is about to have a nervous breakdown. She just knows something happened to Bill.” Roberts said she would call the acting manager of Coday’s apartment complex right away.
Esther Roberts, department head of the reference and information services divisions, first tried Coday’s number. Like the others who had phoned him before, she got no answer. Roberts then called the acting manager of the apartment complex. She identified herself as a library employee who was concerned about a fellow worker, a William Coday of apartment 1B, who had seemed depressed lately, possibly even suicidal. Would he mind checking on the situation? Thaddeus Janik, an electrical contractor who had worked in the complex, stated that he was not on site at the time, and although he didn’t know Coday personally, he assured the caller that he would look in on the gentleman when he finished his project.
Around an hour and a half later, Janik stopped by apartment 1B and knocked on the door. No one answered. He peered through the window, hoping to see some movement, but saw instead only a messy apartment. Just to be sure everything was okay inside, he decided to get the master key from the owner. With key in hand, he returned to 1B and knocked again before opening the door. “Hey there,” he yelled. “Anyone home?”
When Janik first entered the apartment, everything looked perfectly normal. Immediately to his left was a very small kitchen area, and to the right was the living room. It wasn’t all that tidy, but hey, a guy living alone isn’t always the neatest housekeeper. The apartment was small, so Janik had a sweeping view of all of it—except the bedroom—and as far as he could tell, everything was just fine. Most likely, he thought, the librarians who’d called him were in a tizzy for no reason.
Janik took a few more steps into the apartment, past the refrigerator and into a hallway. On his left he saw a bathroom, and to his immediate right, a bedroom. Maybe the guy had gotten drunk and was deep in sleep. As he approached the bedroom door, he noticed some blood—a smear on the door. Perhaps he’s a bigger slob than I thought, mused Janik. Then he peered inside the room. What a mess! This guy must’ve been in some kind of rush to leave his bed in such disarray! But then, as his eyes scanned the rest of the room, he froze. There, sprawled on the floor, lay a body. A female body. A dead body. A body in a pool of blood.
For a split second, Janik was confused. He’d thought he was entering a man’s apartment, a Bill Coday, who was, quite possibly, suicidal. Quickly reviewing the telephone call, he decided that perhaps the name “Bill” actually belonged to a female—people have all kinds of crazy names these days—and that the caller’s worst fears had come true. But then he saw a phone cord wrapped around the body. This was no suicide.
As soon as he could get his legs to move, he raced out of the apartment to get to a phone. Seeing a roofer across the street, he yelled to him to call the police. “Someone’s dead in there!” Kevin Moore immediately put in a 911 call and gave the operator the details that Janik fed him. Then Moore and Janik walked back to the apartment. When they stood at the bedroom door and Moore saw the body, he, too, knew immediately that this was no suicide. It looked like murder to him. The two knew not to touch anything, and quickly left to await the police’s arrival.
Meanwhile, Officer Chris Reyes, a Fort Lauderdale Police Department veteran of twenty years, was on patrol in the Victoria Park neighborhood. While cruising around at 2 p.m. that afternoon, he got a call from Dispatch stating that there might be a sick, injured, or possibly dead person at 1701 Northeast 5th Street. Reyes responded that he’d head right over. It took him less than a minute to get there. When he arrived, Janik and Moore directed him to 1B. Once inside, Reyes took out his flashlight because areas of the apartment were dark and he wanted to have a clear view. As he approached the bedroom, he saw what Janik and Moore had reported. There was a body, that of a white female, face up on the floor, lying in a pool of blood. She was wearing a dress that had several puncture marks. In the blood pool, Reyes saw a knife.
Reyes immediately turned around and left the apartment, making sure not to touch anything on his way out. He notified Dispatch of what he had seen. Dispatch told him detectives would be on their way. Reyes then secured the area with yellow tape.
A little after 2 p.m., Sergeant Timothy Bronson, a twenty-one-year Fort Lauderdale Police Department veteran and the detective sergeant in charge of the Homicide and Forensic units, received a call that a homicide had occurred at 1701 Northeast 5th Street. He contacted Detective Mike Walley, whose rotation it was. It would be Walley’s case to pursue, as lead detective, along with his partner that day, Detective John Curcio. At 2:30 p.m., Walley arrived on the scene. Officer Reyes, Sergeant Bronson, and Detective Curcio were already there, along with several patrol units. From Reyes, Walley determined that the apartment indeed belonged to a William E. Coday. A police officer since 1976, a detective since 1979, and in Homicide since 1981, Walley was a veteran of many heinous crimes, and he knew his job well. He needed a search warrant prior to entering the place, so he began putting the wheels in motion. He then called Detective Tom Scott Hill, a fourteen-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale Crime Scene Investigation Unit and one of the top forensic detectives in all of South Florida, to document the crime scene through still photographs, video, and diagrams, as well as to collect and process evidence. At 3 p.m., Hill arrived. After Walley informed him that they were still waiting for the search warrant, Hill left and waited for a call alerting him that the paperwork was complete. At around 5:30 p.m., all the necessary papers were in order, and the search warrant was issued. Hill returned at 5:50 p.m. and, as lead crime-scene person, he first evaluated what needed to be done. After securing the area, he processed the kitchen floor extensively with a protein dye stain, looking for blood that wasn’t readily apparent. According to Hill, someone had to have left footprints, and the stain would make them visible. He knew there would not be any shoeprints in the bloodbath in the bedroom, where the person had rolled around and obscured any possible prints. After processing the floor, with his Canon in hand, Hill began to photograph every inch of the scene from every possible angle, and to collect evidence.
The detectives began canvassing the immediate area to see if anyone could shed light on what had happened. None of the neighbors knew much about the quiet man in 1B. When Moore, the roofer, was asked what he knew about what had taken place, he told an officer that he had entered the apartment after Janik told him what he had seen and he “took one look and just knew there was nothing I could do.” Although he had been trained in CPR, he realized that the situation was beyond help. “She was motionless and there was blood everywhere,” he said. “I knew it was too late. It was like something out of a movie. I didn’t know how or why it happened, but it was savage.” He went on to say, “I feel bad for her to be left alone to die like that. I wish I could have done something for her.”
The “her,” it turned out, was not some mysterious stranger. After Hill sifted through the contents of a pocketbook found on the living room couch, they learned that the bloody body was that of William Coday’s ex-girlfriend, Gloria Matilde Gomez.
And where was William Coday? the detectives wondered. No one interviewed that morning had seen him during the previous twenty-four hours.
BEHIND THE MASK Copyright © 2009 by Stella Sands