Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Bob Crane Case

A Speck of... What?

For 14 years, John Carpenter lived under a shadow of suspicion. He and his wife Diane, who reconciled after Crane's death, went from neighborhood to neighborhood, often seeing hard stares and hearing whispers about his possible role in his friend's death.

He was arrested for murder in June 1992. "Believe it or not," his wife said, "he's relieved. He's tired of running. I know he's absolutely innocent and he will prove it."

Carpenter's attorney, Gary Fleischman, seconded Diane's claims. Carpenter would not fight extradition. "My client is eager to speed his return to Arizona to clear his name," Fleischman declared. "I can see no useful purpose to keeping him in jail here. He wants to get this behind him. This has been hanging over his head for 14 years. He's glad that this has finally come to pass."

The lag time between the murder and an arrest led some to ask, "Who was in charge of the investigation — Colonel Klink?"

About a year before the arrest, Carpenter gave an interview in which he claimed, "I never even had a fight with Bob. He was my friend. And he was the goose who laid the golden egg for me, in terms of meeting ladies."

Carpenter was finally charged because someone noticed a speck, about one 16th of an inch in diameter, in a photograph of the door panel in the rented Cordoba he drove on the night of Crane's murder. The speck itself no longer existed but experts believed it could be positively identified as a piece of human tissue, probably brain matter.

Bob Shutts, Maricopa County deputy attorney, argued to the jury that Carpenter, "fed off the fame and energy of the actor. Bob Crane became a source of women that he could never obtain for himself." The prosecutor said that Carpenter feared or knew that Crane would break off their friendship and murdered him in retaliation. The weapon, according to Shutts, was a camera tripod that has never been found.

Bob Crane publicity photo
Bob Crane publicity

Inevitably, some of the evidence was lurid. At one point, the prosecution wanted to show the jury a 16-year-old, black-and-white video of Crane, Carpenter and a woman engaged in a sexual threesome. The defense objected that the film would "inflame the passions of the jury."

The objection was overruled and the tape was shown. Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin instructed the jury that they should not regard the video as showing the defendant as a "bad person" but evidence that he and the deceased had a relationship.

The genitals were electronically blurred. The tape lasted about 10 minutes. Most of the jurors watched without expression although one man briefly looked away.

Experts testified for the prosecution that the photographed speck on the door of Carpenter's rented car was tissue from a brain. The defense put on experts who said that could not be proven. They also pointed out that there was a blonde hair found in the victim's room that had never been identified. Crane's sexual exploits meant that he could have easily infuriated a sexual partner or jealous boyfriend or husband. They asserted that there was no solid evidence of any estrangement between the actor and Carpenter.

The jury came back with a verdict of not guilty.

The foreperson explained the acquittal by saying the most important evidence was inconclusive. "What was the speck?" juror Marine Sgt. Michael Lake asked. "Nobody knows what it was, not even the doctors."

John Carpenter, then 66, was jubilant. "My life is back together again after 16 years," he said. As the verdict was read, Diana Carpenter burst into tears and said, "It's over, it's over."

Four years later, in 1998, Carpenter died of a heart attack.

Filmmaker Paul Schrader released Auto Focus, a movie about Bob Crane's life and death, on October 18, 2002.

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