John Henry Carpenter became a suspect in the slaying of actor Bob Crane almost immediately, when he called the Scottsdale, Ariz., apartment where Crane's body had just been found and caught police Lt. Ron Dean's attention by failing to ask if anything was wrong, authorities said Tuesday.
"He returned to the scene of the crime--by phone," said Dean, now retired. The lieutenant spent a decade investigating a case that became one of the entertainment industry's longest-running, most provocative murder mysteries.
This week, Carpenter was arrested for the June 29, 1978, murder of the wisecracking star of "Hogan's Heroes." Though it took 14 years for prosecutors to charge the 63-year-old Torrance resident, Dean and other authorities said the case has always centered on the squat electronics company employee and his puzzling friendship with the Hollywood actor.
Sex and videotape are what linked the two men, according to Dean, his collaborator on a book, Robert Graysmith, and other sources.
Before video cameras became a common household item, Crane enjoyed recording his numerous sexual encounters with women, and Carpenter became an informal technical assistant--selling him state-of-art equipment, helping him set it up, sometimes appearing on camera, investigators said.
When Crane traveled to appear in local theaters--his reason for being in Scottsdale--Carpenter would follow, basking in Crane's celebrity and his ability to pick up women, Dean and Graysmith said. Many remembered Carpenter for his jet-black hair.
"Everybody said he was pretty much a hanger-on," said Graysmith, who has written a book on the case with Dean. Crane introduced Carpenter "variously as his manager, videotape maintenance man--things like that," Graysmith said.
Over the years, rumors about Carpenter's connection to the case have followed him from the nightspots of Scottsdale--where he had been seen socializing and arguing with Crane days before the actor's death--to the tidy, blue-collar Torrance neighborhood where he lives with his wife, Diana.
Carpenter has worked for the last 4 1/2 years at Kenwood USA, a Carson electronics company where he is national service manager. Before that, he worked at the Sony and Akai electronics companies.
"Everyone around here talked about the rumors--behind his back, of course," said Donna Waag, a neighbor of Carpenter on Doty Avenue. She described Carpenter as friendly.
Carpenter's attorney, Gary B. Fleischman of Beverly Hills, said after the arrest Monday that Carpenter is anxious to return to Arizona and finally prove his innocence after years of suspicion.
Carpenter's arrest after so many years has elicited skepticism not only from his attorney, but from one of Crane's friends and the Arizona Civil Liberties Union.
Actor Werner Klemperer, who played Col. Wilhelm Klink on "Hogan's Heroes," said Tuesday he was not impressed with what Arizona prosecutors are calling new evidence and was troubled by their refusal to discuss a possible motive.
"I have grave doubts about the validity of what is happening today," Klemperer said. "I personally am not sure whether this will ever be solved."
Louis Rhodes, the ACLU'S executive director in Phoenix, said Tuesday the arrest came with Maricopa County Atty. Richard Romley facing reelection in November. Rhodes added that Romley suffered a grave political embarrassment last weekend when a highly publicized, state-run raid on nude dancing clubs led to the arrest of a cousin and several contributors to his 1988 campaign.
"It's right on top of really bad news for him and just before the time when someone could be deciding to go against him," Rhodes said of Romley's timing.
Romley was not available Tuesday, but a spokesman said the case against Carpenter has been developing for two years and had nothing to do with politics.
"We would have arrested Carpenter early last week if not for the fact that he was out of town," said spokesman Bill FitzGerald.
He and Romley have declined to discuss evidence in the case. But court records indicate that three forensics experts have linked blood and human tissue samples discovered on Crane's pillowcase to those found in the car Carpenter leased in Scottsdale.
The tissue samples, originally overlooked, were discovered two years ago after Romley convened a task force to review Crane's death and other unsolved crimes. Charges were not filed sooner, FitzGerald said, because investigators re-interviewed as many as 30 witnesses and explored what turned out to be many false leads before they were confident of their case.
The alleged murder weapon--one of Crane's two camera tripods--has not been recovered, FitzGerald said.
He declined to discuss a possible motive, but Dean and Graysmith said they believe Crane had grown tired of his friendship with Carpenter.
Graysmith said he has seen Crane's appointment book and "all his future meetings with Carpenter after June 29, 1978, were crossed out."