The other night I was sitting out by the pool enjoying an iced coffee and indulging in my only remaining vice, a Rocky Patel Premium cigar (Connecticut Vintage, 1999), listening to the local “oldies-but-goodies” radio station. Suddenly, my mind came out of my usual vegetative state when a song by The Eagles came on: “Hotel California.” I’ve probably heard that song hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the course of the last 35 years. Hell, it came out in 1977 and was one of the group’s biggest hits. But this time, my mind raced back to a case my partner and I worked late that year.
Ron and I were working Physical Crimes, investigating a series of daylight abductions of young boys from a strip mall close to one of the local high schools. The MO was such that a nondescript suspect in a nondescript vehicle would pull up to a teenage boy and stop presumably to ask directions. When the kid would lean in to converse with the driver, the driver would display a knife and force him into the car.
After about 10 – 15 minutes later, the suspect would park in a secluded spot and force himself sexually on the terrified youth. When the act was completed, the suspect would drop the boy off very close to where the abduction took place and drive off. We had four of these incidents recorded over six months with no discernible pattern other than the time of day being late afternoon after school. Stakeouts came up empty. The car was described only as a “sedan,” no make or model, with the color being beige, tan, gray or silver. Male white driver, 30 – 35, with dark hair.
Looking for Answers
One afternoon, I decided to try and narrow down a more precise pattern. So I called one of our record clerks and asked her to pull all the reported daytime abductions or attempts for the last six or seven months that involved young male vics. After relating my request, the clerk, Sue, replied, “Oh, you mean the full moon kidnappings.”
When I asked what she meant, she said: “They all occurred on days there was a full moon.”
“But they happened during the day, Sue.”
“Yes,” she replied. “But on that night there was a full moon. I thought you knew that already.”
“Yeah, well.” It was worth a trip down to her desk to get a quick lesson on the lunar cycles even with my red face.
At the risk of getting too technical, there are several phases within the lunar synodic cycle. Most folks know about the New Moon (no moon visible) and the Full Moon (whole). But there are gradations within those cycles. In short, I learned from Sue that the full moon is really three days (or nights) long. Besides being an excellent records clerk, Sue was a budding novice astrologer. Unbeknownst to us detectives, she had been plotting the dates of these abductions on a calendar and found that all four occurred on one of the three-day cycles of a full moon.
“When is the next full moon, Sue?”
“The 14th, 15th and 16th of next month, Detective.”
We had our pattern: school days within the full moon cycle.
With the four crime reports pulled, we started our stakeout. Day one was a Sunday. Day two (Monday) was a bust. But on day three (Tuesday), we saw a gray sedan cruise the plaza a little too slowly. We had marked units in place out of sight in case our guy either decided to rabbit or did the dirty deed. Sure enough, he hit on a 17-year-old boy and tore out of the parking lot and onto the road before we could stop him.
We had him pulled over with help from two marked units. An inventory of the vehicle prior to impound revealed a wooden handled kitchen knife.
Back at HQ we started contacting the prior vics and during the course of one of the interviews, learned that one of the earlier victims remembered hearing The Eagles song “Hotel California” on the car radio while stuffed on the floor of the passenger side of the vehicle.
Another trip out to the impound lot found the radio on the suspect’s car tuned to the local “light rock” station. A call to the Program Manager revealed that on the date of that abduction, they played “Hotel California” at preciously the time our vic was on his way out to the secluded location with our mutt behind the wheel. We had our case.
Not to be outdone by a couple of Physical Crime detectives, Records Clerk Extraordinaire–Sue the Astronomer–did a telephone canvas of all the surrounding agency’s crime analysts and found that two other sexual abductions were reported on the two months we had nothing noted in our crime reports, and that both of those crimes fell within the three-day cycle when the moon was full.
Needless to say, our guy pled out.
Myth or Truth?
Fast forward three years. When given my research project Crime and Its Causes at the FBI National Academy, I decided to do it on “The Lunar Effect: The Real Deal?” What I learned is that there’s anecdotal evidence on both sides. If you ask ER docs and most cops, they’ll say that without a doubt, more crime reports and ER admissions occur during a full moon.
However, others with a few more letters after their names say there is no documented evidence to suggest that the full moon causes abnormal or criminal behavior. But for two now-retired police lieutenants, we say, “We couldn’t have done it without you, Sue!”