Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department may have solved a 14-year-old murder mystery--the roadside slaying of one of their fellow officers.
And they believe the killer was also one of their own: a now-retired deputy allegedly caught up in a love triangle.
In a Teletype sent out to his department’s rank-and-file Tuesday, Sheriff Lee Baca said an arrest warrant--alleging a special circumstance--has been issued for retired Deputy Ted Eugene Kirby, 54, who disappeared from his Spokane, Wash., home last month after homicide investigators using newly obtained DNA evidence had linked him to the crime.
Kirby is suspected of killing Sheriff’s Sgt. George Arthur, 37, who was shot in his van on a downtown freeway onramp minutes after he left work at the Men’s Central Jail. Although the Teletype does not disclose a motive for the crime, department sources say sheriff’s and LAPD investigators are looking into the possibility that Kirby and Arthur were involved with the same woman.
After detectives arrived at his house with a court order allowing them to obtain a saliva sample, “Ted Kirby put his wedding ring on the table, walked out on his wife and hasn’t been seen since,” one department source said. According to the LAPD, Kirby left his home at least a week before investigators returned to Spokane.
“Supposedly he has taken off for the mountains to commit suicide,” the source said. Kirby left his wallet and his car, but took his gun, another source said.
For years, the slaying of George Arthur has been one of the Sheriff’s Department’s most vexing mysteries.
At first, investigators thought that Arthur--a popular deputy who had been with the department for 14 years--had been killed in a crash on the Mission Road onramp of the southbound Santa Ana Freeway shortly after 10 p.m. June 1, 1985. He was badly injured after his van hit a 12-foot-high retaining wall head-on. But a coroner’s investigation later revealed that the sergeant had, in fact, died of a gunshot wound.
Further investigation also determined that Arthur had been engaged in struggle inside the van before the crash. Police found traces of another person’s hair and blood on the broken windshield. Witnesses reported seeing an injured man--apparently bleeding from the head--crawling from the wreckage.
Following early tips about the romantic entanglement, department sources said, police suspected that Kirby might have been involved in the crime. At the time of the slaying, however, they lacked the technology to link him to the death.
In 1992, the Board of Supervisors tried to revive the case by offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information leading to an arrest. Television’s “America’s Most Wanted” even did a segment on the crime. Still, there was nothing.
Finally, with new detectives on the trail and improved DNA technology, police were able a few months ago to better analyze the blood and hair samples taken from the van.
In June, they called Kirby, who had retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 1996 and moved to Spokane. They told him that they were coming to Washington to obtain a saliva sample to determine his DNA.
At first he agreed, sources said. But when police arrived, they were greeted by Kirby’s attorney. After obtaining a court order, they took the sample and left.
Detectives determined that Kirby’s DNA matched that of the blood found on the windshield. They went back to Spokane on July 7, according to an LAPD press release. That is when they discovered that Kirby had disappeared a week earlier “in the early morning hours,” the statement said.
“Kirby left his vehicles at his residence and seemingly walked from the residence,” according to the news release. “Kirby was described as being depressed, emotional and possibly armed with a handgun.”
Putting out the word to department members this week, Baca asked deputies who knew Kirby to contact detectives. The LAPD, meanwhile, launched a nationwide search.
“Ted Kirby is assumed to be armed and dangerous,” according to the LAPD press release. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the crime.
The motive for the killing was the center of much discussion around the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday. Officials said the crime appeared to be motivated by some sort of romantic jealously.
Both men were married at the time of the homicide, sources say. “There was some sort of love triangle there,” said a department source. Another source said: “It’s a very bizarre case.”
Kirby joined the department in 1970. He worked patrol out of the East Los Angeles station until 1984, when he transferred to the Hall of Justice Jail. In 1986, he transferred to the Men’s Central Jail, where he remained until he retired in 1996.
In 1997, Kirby and his new wife purchased a home southeast of downtown Spokane.
Kirby’s wife appeared to have been crying when contacted by a reporter outside her home Tuesday afternoon. “I won’t talk to you,” she said, before closing the door.
Times staff writer Evelyn Larrubia in Los Angeles and researcher Lynn Marshall in Spokane contributed to this story.