Anatomy of Murder

A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.

Bicycle Shootings - Part 1 (Amaria Grant, Jonathan Overstreet)

Bicycle Shootings - Part 1 (Amaria Grant, Jonathan Overstreet)

Tue, 07 Mar 2023 08:00

Three shootings push West Palm Beach police to catch a killer on the loose before he strikes again.

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I'm in line with him, looking for him. Obviously in hindsight. She's on a bike, she's laying on the ground. When you look back at all these cases, let me just stop somebody. There's a few things you would have done differently. We need you to solve this truth. There are a couple things in this case. We know that you were there, where I would have done things differently. She was shot. He's man. I am a creep. I'm holding it. I've never, I want to get, I want to get the ambulance in around, too. Okay, hold on. But it all worked out at the end. I've got Weinberger, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. I'm Anna Sige Nikolasi, former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of investigation discoveries through conviction. And this is anatomy of murder. In researching today's story, there were the multiple headlines that you would expect in a high profile case. And they had all the details that you're used to seeing as you look at the front page on the news. But one of the things I really appreciate about our podcast is that we are able to go deeper and talk about the things that really go on under the surface in all these crimes. And it's thanks to Scott's contacts down in Florida that we are able to bring you today's story. Today, we're featuring a case from the West Palm Beach Police Department. An agency I covered extensively when I left law enforcement and began my career as a TV reporter at the ABC station in West Palm. I can tell you this, it is one of the premier police agencies in the country. So today's case is a great example on how team work clears cases. A team led by the man you're about to meet. I'm Sergeant Dennis Hardeman with the West Palm Beach Police Department. So West Palm Beach is just about an hour north of Fort Lauderdale. It is a city which sits between an intercoalsel and the ocean. Lots of people know West Palm because right over the bridge is the island of Palm Beach and people may be familiar with the fact that Mar-a-Lago is there and that's constantly in the news these days. But West Palm is a progressive city. Its primary income is tourists. We have sunfest in the summertime. We obviously have spring training baseball here so we do have an influx in February March when spring training is here. But the case we're talking about today didn't happen during the peaks of spring or summer but just days before Christmas. On December 22nd 2012 shots rang out in an affluent part of the city. It was approximately 1pm and our dispatch operations received a frantic 911 call from a mail. Other calls started to come into the 911 center reporting the same murder. We drove by this guy on a bicycle and it was laying out. It looks like he got shot and we heard gunshots. 911, where's your emergency? You can hear the frenzy in the caller's voice and while they're trying to be as specific as possible it is that panic that almost gets in the way of accuracy. Because remember here they first reported that it was a black man that had been shot but ultimately we learned that the victim was a woman. Now the clock really is ticking here and it's not just because law enforcement is responding to a homicide but it's because the witnesses spotted the gunman fleeing. He was able to provide the responding officers and also dispatch the description. Blackmail 20 to 40 years old wearing dark pants. He had on a shiny mid-thigh brown leather jacket. He had a beard a few days growth. I believe he had some type of stocking type hat on the top of his head. The 911 operatist job is to get critical information from the site witness and translate that into action. Watch officers who even before arriving on scene can direct other officers to establish a perimeter and flood the area. You have officers basically going door to door, house to house, looking for someone based on the information that was given to 911 and in this case the description was pretty specific. He didn't seem very tall so I thought I was a kid. Not like a 10 year old or anything but he just needed looking like an older man or anything. The witness still on 911 tried to give the best description. He could. He was visibly and audibly upset. Okay I want you to stay with him. He don't hang up. He's ma'am. I am free. Hold on. I want to get the ambulance in around too. Hold on. So I've personally been the officer on scene establishing a perimeter at a scene of a homicide. In some cases we were able to locate and arrest the offender but in other cases they were able to slip out of the perimeter or were already outside the box before it was even established. As responding officers they set up a large perimeter. We had canine was out there. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office utilized their helicopter to help us search. Obviously after an exhausted search nothing was located at that time. No suspect was located. Now without finding their suspect initially this manhunt quickly turned to a murder investigation and that's where Dennis Hartiman and his team stepped right in. I got a call at approximately one when this happened and I was on scene about 45 minutes later. I have six detectives that work directly under me. If I needed more I could have eight to ten detectives out there at the scene working on the case. Now they know the victim is a woman. She was initially described as an anesthesia said by the 911 operator as a man. The confrontation happened while she was still sitting on her bicycle. She was shot multiple times including in the head. You could tell from the direction of her bicycle she was riding on the sidewalk. She had on a backpack over her back. This suspect had stopped her. Look like they were having a verbal argument and the male pulled out a handgun from the inside of his jacket and shot the female in the head. She was shot three times. There was no physical confrontation where it was lead to any potential fingerprints or DNA. They did have the three spent shell casings and they were nine millimeter cartridges. Well, the early theory was this was possibly a robbery. The bicycle had a basket on it. The basket was empty. We didn't know if maybe there was something she was carrying in the basket or the other theory was that this was somebody she had met got into an argument with. And he shot her. Those were our two main theories in the beginning. In a neighborhood like this, such a heavy residential area, getting out on foot is the best method in the search for leads. Investigators began knocking on doors, talking to neighbors. It could be something as simple as a vehicle that just didn't look like it belonged on that street. We came up with a plan to where we would assign certain detectives, certain streets, looking and trying to see any video evidence that we could collect. And this is 2012, not 2023, but there could be homes on the block where surveillance systems were in place. And in 2012, we didn't have all the city cameras. We didn't have the license plate readers coming in and going out of the city. None of that technology was around back then. It wasn't like all these houses had video surveillance systems set up. Now it's commonplace to have your neighbor if you don't have it yourself, have a ring doorbell or spotlight monitors around their home. Back then you had to ask if and you were lucky if someone had one. We might get a video on one street. The next street there's no video. The next street there might be two videos. We kind of struck out on the whole gathering video evidence to look at and try and see if we see somebody running or somebody that gets this description. But then at a home not far from the scene of the murder, a resident found something lying in their driveway that took this investigation on its first turn. There was a resident, a few blocks south that came up to us and said, hey, I found this driver's license. Obviously, we took that. We started running with that. The driver's license was for a mail out of Arkansas. Just think about that. It's not like you have just a description or you get a partial plate if you see someone driving away in their car. I mean, here you had a photograph of who may very well be your suspect slash attacker, which has their name, their address, basically exactly someplace where you just might be able to find them. So I was thinking, was this a deadly sloppy mistake by the killer or just an incredible coincidence. Investigators would need to find out. The woman on the bike are now homicide victim while she was carrying a backpack so at least it was easy for investigators to identify her. And her name was Amaria Grant. Amaria was a 41-year-old woman from Jamaica who had worked as a live in Nanny for the Fereno family for seven years. Their house to the murder scene was maybe three, three or four blocks. And that family, the Fereno family, had become Amaria's family because she not only worked with them. She cared for their children. She lived in their home and that familial bond grew tight and strong over the years. And it was evidenced by how devastated the Ferenos clearly were from the moment they were notified there at the scene. I spoke to them that day. They were so distraught where you're trying to explain something but you can't because you're crying and just so upset where you kind of like stuttering, talking to actually be there and to see her laying there on the sidewalk deceased. There was so many emotions at the scene at that time. As in every homicide investigation, interviews begin with the people closest to the victim. And in this case, the Fereno family would be questioned and a lot of that would be centered around who the Nanny may have been in contact with and in relationships, former husbands, boyfriends that may have been looking to hurt her. But investigators basically came back with nothing and it wasn't because the Ferenos weren't able to give information. Of course, they had plenty about Amaria. But it didn't give the investigators anyone that may have been looking to hurt her. You know, they told us about the church going. She would ride her bike listening to music. She wouldn't wear headphones when she went bike riding listening to music. She would just usually have her phone out whether it be in the basket or in her pocket, just kind of playing the music over the speaker as she would ride. She never had mentioned to the family about a boyfriend. This homicide happened at 1 p.m. This wasted no time in getting that information out to every media outlet they could think of, including the evening news and bingo. Witnesses came forward almost immediately. The next day we did receive a tip of a male wearing a mid-thigh leather jacket. He was at the 7-11, which was a few blocks away from the murder scene. I went and interviewed that caller. He described black male wearing a mid-thigh leather jacket. He said he threw away a Huckdog container in a waste disposal basket in the park right out in front of his building. So we went, we photographed it, reviewed the CCTV, the video surveillance at the 7-11, about an hour after the murder. There is a black male with a black leather jacket and shorts. If this turns out to be the shooter, just think about it for a moment, how callous it would be to commit a murder like that and then head over to your local store for a hotdog. We processed that for a moment. But this guy was bald. And at least on his face, this really doesn't click because the guy with the hotdog he was described as bald. But remember, the witnesses that called into Nimon One said that the man who shot Amaria was wearing a stocking cap and it would look kind of fluffy as if he had hair. So the two weren't really computing or was it just the callers were mistaken in what they saw. He was having a hard time trying to remember details right there even when he's calling 911 and this is actually happening. The guy was like younger, he had a brown leather jacket, it's kind of like a black, like maybe a day. Hold on, hold on, I'm going to get the call in. He's man, I'm free. Hold on, I've never. We kind of had to look for a general, may not be a brown leather jacket. It could be a black one. Maybe it's not a stocking cap. Maybe it's just a short little puffy afro. We didn't rule anything out at that time. Investigators were able to locate the man seen at the 7-Eleven. He was deemed the hotdog guy and as it turns out, the clothing description did not match nor did anything else and he was quickly ruled out. Now remember, police did have the Arkansas license that the local resident found. We started doing background on him and found out we had just arrested him for going door to door trying to sell magazines without a license. But when they finally located him one day after the homicide, they realized not only did he not match the description, but he had a very good alibi for the day of the crime. And eventually he was ruled out as a suspect in this case. Although they were looking at multiple avenues, the police weren't getting very far. The witnesses they had were iffy, video surveillance, you could almost hear the buzzer going off, hotdog guy from the store, and again, no love interest, no obvious grudges, no forensics, no fingerprints, DNA, not at. They are striking out again and again. I mean, it's sad to say, but we had almost zero. Our kind of worst fears came to mind. Maybe this is just random. The lack of leads started to take on a whole new meaning. Was this a killer in weight getting ready to strike again? The public was on edge and the question for investigators was this just a random crime? And I could tell you, those are the most difficult cases to solve. You know, look, I'm sure this feeds into our biases and our backgrounds, but what normally see. But when I first heard about this, I was like, okay, maybe she had an issue with a former love interest because unfortunately we know how often these cases end up in a domestic violence type scenario or an issue with someone that she had worked with or something. But then to hear that this may very likely be a random. I mean, that could be anyone's street anywhere. And I don't care if you're in West Palm or Wichita, the community must have been absolutely on edge at the idea of this being a random attack. At that point, we said, well, we need to get the witness with a detective from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office who is a forensic sketch artist. A decision was made to generate a composite sketch hoping that someone may recognize it. Remember, we did have several eyewitnesses. So this could be the best opportunity. Now, I'm taking a look at the sketch right now and it is a side profile of the suspect. He's wearing a dark knit cap. He's got a scruffy beard and it's a side profile which doesn't give you a great sense of his eyes, which I normally look for in a sketch. But investigators had hoped that by putting it out, it could generate the leads they needed, the break they needed. You know, Scott, when looking at it, I actually think this is one of the better ones that I have seen of a profile. I mean, you can even see the curvature of the nose, the the pointedness of a chin. And again, it's just a sketch at this point. We don't know if this is going to be accurate or completely far off. But they certainly got a lot of detail from whoever was giving them the information. Yeah, I think the scruffy beard really helps me. It's so detailed. It's the way that the artist drew it if I stopped the person who resembled this sketch. I'd feel pretty confident about it. And now actually you actually had a visual. We wanted this picture to be out there too to see if it would generate more tips. So we held a news conference. We blew up the picture to be, you know, a poster size. We had a reward $10,000 and then we made flyers. We sent detectives to every street, to every house, to every business, and we asked the media to come with us. As we've seen before in multiple cases, we've covered before. I'm thinking right now of the one of you might remember John Doe, Duffelbag. It's usually a completely separate incident that sometimes leads to the arrest of the killer. But rather than looking forward at when he might strike again, detectives are looking backwards. Maybe he has already done something like this before. We started going through all the police reports in that area for the past six months. Started looking at patterns and started pulling all the field interviews that the officers had done that fits that description and tried to see if there was something we could find to try and narrow down who the suspect could be. And while they're pursuing that angle, the Fereno family waged a relentless campaign to get information on Amarie's killer. And then, six weeks later, West Palm Beach's worst fears came true. February 1, 2013, get a call of the shooting, round two, fifteen in the afternoon. So this new call is about six miles away from where Amarie was murdered. Amarie's shooting happened in a highly dense residential area. This shooting happened on a very busy commercial street. We all respond to the scene. They said there was a male riding a bicycle. It was riding in the southbound alongside walk in the lane of traffic. He almost gets hit by a cab. The cab driver pulls up alongside of them, shoots him several times. The victim was Jonathan Overstreet, a father of four children. And while Detective Sergeant Hardiman was overseeing the Amarie homicide, a different investigator Detective Patterson took the lead on the Overstreet case. It was that eerie familiar call. What? Another person on a bicycle was just shot. So it was kind of, let's get out there quick and see if we can catch this guy. So you have a city that's already on edge from Amarie's shooting. And then you have the connection between two victims shot when they were on a bicycle. Now it may not be connected at all, but just think about what happens in a community like that when the news spreads that another victim is shot on a bike. But at least on its face, the similarities seem to stop there. Amarie's gunmen ran up to her and just fired. With Jonathan Overstreet, first there was a cab that came up and now the person is shooting from inside that car. So I don't know. This is an area remember. It's Florida people ride bicycles because the weather is warm much more than they might be doing in Chicago in the middle of the winter. So I don't know that just on its face that they're on bicycles is going to necessarily connect them or at least not yet. I think the important thing here is to assume it's connected, but investigate it like it could be either or. The difference here is over street survive the shooting, but it was left paralyzed. At that point, one detective goes and tries to speak with Mr. Overstreet while the rest of us start to canvas the area and start getting video. Now what's interesting is what Overstreet told police. He said that he's riding along in his bicycle and then he almost gets hit by a cab. So instinctively he starts to yell at the cab. And then the cab comes back, pulls alongside of him and shoots him. So just on its face, it almost sounds like a row of rage type incident because although we know there were some words reportedly between Amarie and her attacker. You can almost just see that person walking up to her and maybe her seeing the gun coming out and yelling or saying something about that when he shoots her. We're here there at least seem to be something that precipitated the shooting. He was able to talk and provide us a brief statement of he almost got hit by a cab. He yelled at the driver of the cab and the cab driver then pulled alongside him and shot several times. And it was the driver of the cab. And I believe it was Mr. Overstreet was able to give us a suspect description of a male 30 to 40 with a small afro style haircut. And there's also one thing that just doesn't line up about these two cases being connected. At the moment, Amarie's homicide had multiple witnesses. We heard from them. But not a single one of them mentioned anything about a cab. So why would the killer be on foot to shoot Amarie when he was capable of just driving up like he did with Jonathan? Is the killer getting smarter? Because if this is just random, there's something deeper going on likely with the psyche of the person committing this crime. And are they honing their skills or perfecting the way that they commit this crime? And just think about for a moment the fear element of what must be now going on. Yeah, just think about the next time you call the cab could this be the shooter. The description is extremely specific, but it doesn't give the name of the cab company nor does it get a license plate. So as helpful as a description of a cab is, they still have to go through the process of eliminating every potential cab that could have been in the area at the time of the shooting. This was a very unique looking cab. When you talk to somebody and you mention a cab, they think of like the Crown Vic style cab, you know, like in New York City, they see on TV. This was a special type of cab, it was a hybrid of a SUV and a van. And this was the first time that I'd ever seen one of these was working this case. It was more geared to carry, say, medical patients that are in a wheelchair. It wasn't for your normal. You wave down a cab, you get inside and they drive you somewhere. This was a cab we find out later. You made appointments for like there was a schedule for this type of cab for doctors appointments and stuff like that. So now police are looking at the area. This attack happened on a very busy street and there are businesses so sure enough they get some cameras. So as we're watching the video, we can see everything play out. You can see the cab come up. You see them come falling off the bicycle and then the cab flees the area. The phone number of the cab was written on the side. So we had that through the video. We had the cab name. Doctors went to the owner of the cab and we come to find out that this particular cab that is in this video, this 59 of them operating in Palm Beach County. Now 59 may sound like a lot, but it's a whole lot better, let's say, than New York City where there's just under 14,000 yellow caps. Either way, it's 59 potential leads which all need to be investigated. We asked the business, can you give us a list of names that people who are driving these cabs or employees? And they supply us with 25 names of employees. So we start to look through the names. We send out a beyond the lookout to all the other agencies about this particular cab and we come up with nothing that night. And of course, you're all probably thinking it's also possible that the shooter is not among the 25 cab drivers who were provided to investigators. So is it someone that's now borrowing someone else's cab potentially or even stealing it to commit the crime? The possibilities you really, your head, can start to spin. Yeah, which makes it even more important to find those 25, interview them and get a determination of where they're working, where they're responding to cab requests in that area. And then three days later, the shooter strikes again or at least it's seen. The cab company owner saying, hey, one of my drivers just showed up with a bullet hole in the cab and he said he was shot at while they were completing a fair, a black pickup truck pulled up alongside and shot into his cab. So this is the first we're hearing about a black pickup truck. Perhaps it's completely unrelated to Ombaury's case. It's still somehow connected to a cab and it's still something that Dennis Hardeman really needed to focus on. The victim in this case was 31 year old cab driver, Rupert Hardy, but he was not struck by gunfire. We ended up sending detectives out there to try and look at this cab and see who the driver was and to see what the detective would see when they looked at this bullet hole inside this cab. Casing technicians would go through the cab to see if they could extract a projectile, a piece of forensic evidence that could tie all of these cases together. And as crime scene technicians are processing the exterior and interior of Rupert's cab, they find something very interesting. It was true that the cab did suffer damage from a bullet, but there's more. So I was still at the police department. The detective called me back and said, hey, looking at this cab, you can see in the passenger side door, there's a dimple on the outside of the car. The bullet hole is actually on the inside of the car of the window frame. The trajectory of this round is from inside, not from outside in. And just picture that for a moment. You're standing outside of a car and you see a dimple out towards the vehicle. So then you determine that that shot had to have been from the inside. You know, Scott, I hear you're a boy. It is nothing that they would have expected, at least when they started to investigate this latest shooting case. Absolutely. This guy has, as I would say, some spleen in the do. On top of that, the driver, Rupert Hardy, was a name the police were already familiar with. The cab driver's name is Rupert Hardy. And that was one of the 25 names that was given to us on February 1, 2013 when Mr. Overskreet was shot. It's connecting the dots in a really solid way. Getting Rupert Hardy in a room to talk would be the obvious next step. Was he working that night? Was he in the area, does he own a firearm? Sergeant Dennis Harteman was convinced they were finally getting somewhere. I'm going to be able to call this family and tell them I found out who killed Miss Grant. Now I just had to start putting all the pieces together of the puzzle to actually make that happen for the Fereno family. What type of coincidence would it be that he is one of the 25 drivers of the cab company that we know that was involved at least in the Jonathan Overskreet shooting? So really it comes down to the where, what, when, and why? The driver shooting Mr. Overskreet, if he's shooting out the passenger window, he shoots his own window one time. So we asked Mr. Hardy if he would come back and speak to investigators at the police department and he agreed to come back with the detective. Many people out there often say like why on earth would anyone ever agree to go down to the police station and speak to them, especially if they're actually involved in these cases. But you know, from doing this from decades at this point, we can certainly tell you yes they do and whether it's because that person again, if this person is actually involved in the crime, so they are indeed responsible. Well maybe they think they can talk their way out of it. Maybe they think they are smarter. Maybe they just want to know what type of information the police have and they look at this almost as a fact-finding mission that maybe they want their chance to put their spin on it if they have to say anything at all. For the various reasons that people choose to speak to police, this isn't uncommon scenario even if he is the one responsible for it all. As an investigator sitting down with somebody that you're trying to gain information, it is a situation where you provide the information that you need to gain information. You ask questions that you know the answers to. So if someone is not being honest, whether you hear them give that answer or whether you see a physical reaction from them, that's what takes these investigations forward. And finding out that the round was shot from inside the cab out is a significant enough lead to question him about it. Now it completely goes against the statement he already gave. So as I said before, he has some explaining to do. Now remember, Rupert doesn't know what investigators know. He is unaware that they found that projectile going from inside the car to outside the car. So they're going to bring them in and they're going to talk to them. And if he's willing to talk, they're going to keep it very conversational until it needs to take that turn. Until it needs to be explained to him, well, that story really doesn't add up. I was there, myself and the detective who took the lead on Mr. Overskreet's case, you know, because we both kind of had an interest in this case just for the mere fact that it was on a bicycle. So we kind of said, the other detective that was working this was also a homicide detective. We said, let's just work it together. So we both decided to go in and interview Mr. Hardy together. Now it comes time for their strategy of how they're going to approach the sky. And so their tact is remember, he tells his employer that he was shot at. So they're going to run with that at least as they sit with him in that interview room. You're here as a victim, a survivor can tell us everything that you can. And again, every bit of information he says whether truthful or not is helpful. He comes into the police department. We place him in an interview room in the criminal investigation division. Everything was audio video recorded. We told him we appreciate you coming down. We wanted to get some more information about somebody shooting at you. So we kind of led into, okay, where were you when you were shot at? We let him give his account big black pickup truck somebody shot at him. Rupert was going down a path of talking about that black truck. Black truck, black truck, it's involved. But there was no evidence of any black truck in that area on that day. And it wasn't hard to have been wanted to dig further into Rupert's facts of the actual shooting. Without letting him know that science is telling them differently. So then we said, were you working on February 1st? He said, yeah, I was. We asked if he was in the city of West Palm Beach. And he said, I almost hit a bicycle list on Broadway Avenue. It's almost as if like, oh, maybe they saw something on video. So I'm going to give an innocent explanation. And then if I have to later say, but I didn't shoot him, yes, that was me. But that bullet came out of thin air. Maybe it was the same person who now shot at him. And then later thought that I was a witness and then shot at me. You can almost see the mind starting to work and race to try to get out from under the facts that the police are slowly starting to put before him. My feeling was this guy knows that we know that he shot Mr. Overskreet. He may know that we think he shot Mr. Grant, but we're not positive. So what also this initial part of the interview is doing, it is serving to build rapport, get him comfortable in the room. And again, what he's saying, it isn't making a whole lot of sense. But who cares? You can use that later. And that's where you also see the conversation start to shift. You said, OK, did you shoot that guy? Remember, there's no rush to ask the question, did you do it? There really isn't a rush. Obviously, in hindsight, when you look back at all these cases, there's a few things you would have done differently. And there are a couple things in this case where I would have done things differently. In fact, the more information, the more you get your subject to talk, the better for the investigation. There is definitely time to ask that all important, did you do a question? He denied any involvement in the shooting. We had him here for maybe about an hour, so talking with him, asked him a few more questions, and then come back to him shooting Mr. Overskreet. But ultimately, he denied any involvement. And he stuck to a story that a black pickup truck shot at him. And here the interview really takes a different turn. So Detective Patterson's talking to him a little bit more in the interview room and I leave, and I'm standing at my desk. And Mr. Hardy comes out of the interview room. And what Dennis sees next? He describes in a way that must have shocked him to his court. And I said, that point, as I'm standing at my desk, I get the profile view of Mr. Hardy. So I see him from the side. And at my desk, I still had, from Miss Grant's homicide, the three foot by four foot poster, and the sketch was a profile sketch. I looked at him, I looked at the sketch, and I kind of got that punch in the gut. Like, that's the guy. And we're letting him walk out the door. On the next, anatomy of murder. We're trying to find out what happened. This guy is going to flee the country, or he is going to go somewhere we're never going to find him. We need you to solve this truth, okay? We know there's more to it than that, but we know that you were there. Tune in next week for part two of this story. Anatomy of murder is an audio chuck original. Produced and created by Weinberger Media and Frisetti Media. Ashley Flowers and Sue Met David are executive producers. So, what do you think Chuck, do you approve?