Sergeant as Suspect : Police Officer Investigated in Wife's Slaying Tells His Side

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was just before dawn last Christmas Eve that Culver City Police Sgt. Harvey Bailey delivered a batch of his wife's homemade cookies to fellow night-shift officers at the station, then came home to find her bludgeoned and strangled.

The oven was still warm, the scent of chocolate chip cookies still filled the West 99th Street bungalow, and the couple's 8-year-old son still slept.

Now the 34-year-old officer, twice named Culver City's Officer of the Year, is a suspect in Jan Bailey's slaying.

Harvey Bailey says he is innocent. And he says he is taking the unusual step, as an uncharged murder suspect, of going public about the case in hopes that someone who saw something suspicious that night--in a neighborhood distrustful of police--will come forward. The killing itself received scant media attention.

"I'm real scared of what's going on right now--it's taking way too long, and too much is at risk," Bailey said in an interview. "I want to find for my peace of mind who did this to Jan and why. . . . I don't know if my family's in danger."

Los Angeles Police Detective Philip Vannatter confirmed that Bailey is a suspect in the killing but declined to discuss the status of the investigation. "We have not eliminated anybody as a suspect or settled on anyone as the prime suspect," he said.

But, he added, "If your spouse had just been murdered and you didn't have anything to do with it, would you run get an attorney?"

Bailey said he decided to seek legal advice several weeks after the killing, when he realized from the changing tenor of police questions that he was under suspicion.

Bailey acknowledges that his alibi is weak: He says he spent part of the night out skating alone. He admits that the marriage was troubled and that he was involved with another woman. He knows the police found no sign of forced entry, and that the money he stands to gain from his wife's life insurance and pension plan--less than $100,000--could be seen as a motive.

Bailey, who is not privy to details of the investigation, said he fears that Los Angeles detectives may be taking a shortcut to solving "just another South-Central slaying" by focusing on him.

"They're spending an awful lot of time on me. But if they're investigating other avenues as carefully, then they're doing a hell of a thorough job." He said police have also questioned his girlfriend.

Bailey's lawyer, Joel Isaacson, said he has advised his client not to answer further questions or submit to a police polygraph test, both of which the lawyer considers harassment.

"He has already given a full statement," Isaacson said. "I think lie-detector tests are hocus-pocus and they're inadmissible in court anyhow. But we would consider taking a polygraph administered by a neutral party."

Isaacson said last week that police told him the case may be submitted to a grand jury, an avenue often chosen in cases with weak evidence or reluctant witnesses. But a spokesman for the district attorney's office said the case has not yet been formally presented by police, and grand jury adviser David Guthman said the case has not yet crossed his desk.

Explaining his decision to agree to an interview, even though it meant disclosing his marital difficulties and his affair, Bailey said, "Sometimes you only have one shot (at finding a murderer), and we are trying to take that. I live in a decent neighborhood, but in South-Central police are not our favorite people."

Neighbors have told police of seeing a gang member dubbed Kojak in the vicinity around the time of the murder, Bailey said. And two other in-home robbery-killings occurred nearby within the same month, one less than a quarter-mile away on 108th Street, another on 73rd Street. Bailey said he is also asking himself whether his wife's slaying might be connected to several major narcotics arrests he made.

Police are tight-lipped about the weapon used in the killing. But Bailey said a telephone cord is missing from the house, along with a small tapestry jewelry box of keepsakes that Jan Bailey kept on their dresser and some loose chains she wore daily.

A man of few words who cracks his knuckles as he talks, Bailey said that at the time of his wife's slaying, he was working the 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as a uniformed patrol officer. Although he did not work the night of Dec. 23, he said he generally kept the same hours even on his day off, staying up at night and sleeping during the day. His wife, also 34, had worked as an administrative assistant for a tax firm in Torrance for 14 years.

"We were getting ready for the (holiday) weekend," Bailey recalled. "Jan was baking cookies and doing the wash because we knew we'd be running around visiting and going to parties."

Bailey said he and his wife had been seeing a marriage counselor as part of an effort to deal with problems that caused them to separate briefly in 1990. "Our biggest problem was learning how to talk to each other. . . . But there was never any violence, no big fights. We didn't even have an argument that night."

Bailey said he "went roller-blading about 2 a.m.--I use a parking structure and some streets over in Culver City where it's safer--then came home to pick up the cookies." He said he did not go into the bedroom or see his wife then.

"I got to the (police) station about 4 a.m., talked with co-workers about the upcoming holiday and got back home at 6 a.m.

"I came in through the back and saw the door open," he said. "That's when I found Jan."

He said she was lying on their bed with blood seeping from a head wound. "I didn't know she had been strangled until I saw the death certificate."

Bailey said he tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation, then dialed 911. Paramedics rushed the woman to Daniel Freeman Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 7:04 a.m.

Bailey said his neighborhood is considered a relatively safe pocket of South-Central Los Angeles. His parents live across the street, he has lived in the 1500 block of West 99th Street for 26 years, and he brought his bride there when they married 12 years ago.

"The house had a lot of security--bars and all--and Jan was super security-conscious," he said. "No one knows my hours and, since our cars are generally in the garage, it would not be apparent if I'm home or not.

"I left the car in the drive that night, and it is possible that I may have left the door unlocked. When my wife was doing the laundry, it was not uncommon for her to leave the door unlocked as she went back and forth to the laundry room across the driveway."

Bailey said his family has been supportive, but he senses "a certain amount of distancing" by his fellow police officers. He had been scheduled for a stint as detective in robbery-homicide, but after the killing, he asked for and received a transfer to car theft detail.

"Jan's family (in New Orleans) and my mom and dad and brother have been there for me through the whole thing," Bailey said. Both he and his son, Christopher, are undergoing grief counseling.

Bailey said he first sensed he was under suspicion in early January. "As they asked me to go over and over things, I realized that the questions were no longer designed to eliminate me. . . . They took a different slant: 'Is there a reason you might have done this?' 'Ever consider you have anything to gain?' 'Had you had a big fight?' "

Bailey said he might have aroused suspicion because he doesn't appear appropriately sorrowful. He took a week of bereavement leave and then returned to work.

"I'm not one to give myself to strangers," Bailey said. "I cry--with my son. That part of me is too private. I've been numbed. There's a ton of feeling inside of me, (but) I'd just as soon keep myself locked down. I have safe places to go and do my grieving."

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