The Color of Puke
A Girl Dies in Baltimore
by Mary Jane and Dan McCann (updated January 2016)
A person of interest, seen with Annie McCann in a pastry shop in Baltimore
“Don’t worry,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said as he embraced us in his crowded executive conference room on August 23, 2013. “I’m a parent, too, and you’re doing exactly what I’d be doing in your place.”
What were we doing? We were trying to galvanize the Baltimore police department, his police department, to investigate the death, the sinister death, the apparent murder, of our 16-year old daughter, Annie, five years earlier.
Seven years now…
…and less than two years before Batts was sacked for his role in the tragic death of Freddie Gray, and the riots that later rocked Baltimore.
Ironically, Batts did a lot better by Freddie Gray than he did by Annie McCann.
Annie McCann, on a school field trip a few days before her death
On Sunday, November 2, 2008, we received the worst news imaginable. After apparently running away from our home in Northern Virginia on Halloween morning, our Annie had been found dead, stuffed behind a dumpster in Baltimore. We were devastated. Utterly loving, happy-go-lucky, artistic and devout, with an extraordinary sense of humor, Annie, along with her older brother Sam, was the light of our lives.
Lost in a suffocating fog of grief, we struggled to learn what had happened to our dear girl. We pushed the press away, and placed our full faith in the authorities, in the Baltimore police department. We trusted them to bring justice for Annie. Who knew? This was our first murder.
And this was our first descent into the bowels of the Baltimore criminal justice system. It’s a very dark place. Behind the Inner Harbor — the theme park that is Baltimore’s cash cow — lurks a brooding, purple monster, the Baltimore of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s uglier than a Ray Rice shiner.
The Purple Heart of Darkness
Rather than cherry-pick from Baltimore’s brimming catalogue of criminal perversion — a gang that runs prisons, imports Maine lobster and Cuban cigars, and impregnates jailers; a Baltimore Cannibal; a standing mayor who embezzles thousands of dollars from a toy drive for needy children; a standing governor’s teenaged daughter who was, horrifyingly, about one bad break away from Annie’s fate; poor, dear, beautiful Phylicia Barnes; Freddie Gray — we’ll confine our observations on Baltimore’s criminal justice system to our own bitter experience. For example:
· It’s against the law to litter in Baltimore. But you can dump a body anywhere you please. It’s OK. Really.
· The same State’s Attorney’s Office that prosecuted teenagers as adults for burning a pit bull to death flatly refused to try as adults the thugs who dumped our daughter’s body. “You don’t understand Baltimore,” we were told. Indeed.
· Two juvenile thugs who admitted to dumping Annie’s dead or dying body, and then going for a joy ride in our car, were sentenced to counseling and mandatory school attendance. While on probation and occasionally attending school, one of them chased a girl screaming from the classroom. No consequences. No worries.
· At the close of juvenile proceedings, the presiding “Master” (judge) had this to say: “Well, Mrs. McCann, one good thing came of this — this young man has earned his GED.”
· It’s worth amplifying on a peripheral aspect of the preceding observation. In Baltimore’s juvenile justice system, with a predominantly African-American population of defendants, and without a hint of self-awareness, the judge is referred to, officially, as Master. No kidding, straight from the plantation, “Master.”
· Another thug — an adult at the time of Annie’s death — was reliably placed at the scene, dumping Annie’s body and going for a joy ride. Untroubled and unquestioned by Baltimore homicide detectives, he later murdered another dear young woman, Lakeisha Player, and stole her car. Pending his trial for Lakeisha’s murder, authorities refused to question him about Annie. It might harm their prosecution, we were told. Since his confession, and his conviction for first-degree murder, authorities have steadfastly refused to question him about Annie.
· Without apology or explanation, the Medical Examiner lost Annie’s organs, including her heart and brain. Unknowingly, we buried our Annie without her very essence.
We could go on. This is a tiny slice of our seven years in a Horrifying House of Mirrors. We’d invite anyone curious as to the accuracy of our observations to simply spend a day in the Victim’s Room of a Baltimore courthouse. They are guaranteed a torrent of fear and suffering, of unremitting grief and horror, tales of a criminal justice system turned on its head, of a Baltimore that not even Edgar Allen Poe could have imagined. Nevermore.
[A note on our use of the word “thug.” We understand it can be a racially charged term. We do not identify the race of the “young men,” “boisterous youths,” “alleged delinquents” involved. It’s not material. We just cannot come up with a more accurate but still printable term for the thugs who dumped our daughter’s dead or dying body behind a dumpster, and then went for a joy ride. If they’d called 911, she might still be alive.]
A False Start
On Day One, we were told by Baltimore homicide detectives that Annie’s case was a “red ball” case — Baltimore police jargon for all-hands-on-deck, a police blitz involving every available resource. Since then, they put us on a sickening roller-coaster ride. After our first, oh-so-late press conference in March 2009, the police press spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, hugged us and said, “We’ll give it everything we’ve got.” Barely a week later, in private, a red-faced police Colonel John Bevilacqua was pounding the table, roaring at us, “This case is CLOSED!…I mean suspended…” Later that day, Guglielmi mumbled to The Baltimore Sun, “We gave it everything we had.” In fact, they gave it nothing.
The original chief of homicide, Terry McLarney, whose judgment stalled the early investigation, was later sacked for, well, flawed judgment. But the department clung to his premature call. For years, Commissioner Fred Bealefeld simply hid under his desk. His successor, Anthony Batts, proved to be a charming but ultimately empty suit, hiding himself behind what emerged late in 2013 as a clearly clownish compound theory, one that wouldn’t pass muster on Murder, She Wrote, let alone The Wire. More on that compound theory later.
The original police theory? Annie left a runaway note saying she had considered suicide, but dismissed that idea, and wanted “to live, love, learn, grow.” Annie died of lidocaine poisoning, and a container of Bactine, containing lidocaine, was found near the scene. Bactine is an over-the-counter disinfectant and anesthetic. Annie had used Bactine daily for three months, as recommended for her newly pierced ears and her earring posts. In November 2008, the police quietly concluded that Annie killed herself by drinking Bactine. They didn’t tell us that until March 2009.
On October 31, 2008, when Annie first went missing, Fairfax County police characterized the note Annie left at home as a non-suicide note. Despite our desperate pleas, they flatly refused to issue an Amber Alert. Five years later, the FBI dismissed Annie’s notes as not at all conclusive, pointing out that many teenagers write such notes and the vast majority do not take their lives.
It was sound of the Baltimore police to consider suicide. It was — is! — reprehensible to conclude suicide. And to cling to that wrong-headed conclusion, and shut down any investigation, in the face of an emerging mountain of contradictory information, and contrary to the medical examiner’s official ruling on the manner of Annie’s death as “Undetermined.”
Beginning in 2009, when we finally learned the police theory, and saw them doing nothing, we assumed their role — searching for the truth, employing detectives, consulting with forensic experts. The police? Bizarrely, they took the grieving parents’ role. Rather than looking for the truth, they went into denial. They’re still there.
On top of the original sin of silently strangling the investigation in its cradle, Baltimore’s police hierarchy carefully piled lie after dirty trick after lie. A sampler:
· On the Friday we announced our first press conference, and in a transparent effort to wrong-foot us, the police leaked the results of Annie’s autopsy to WBAL-TV’s Jayne Miller. That’s how we first learned the cause of death, lidocaine poisoning. That’s how we learned Annie had a .03 blood alcohol content. A reporter knew that, and broadcast it, before the lead homicide detective knew it. And the leaked autopsy? It took us four painful months to get that from the Medical Examiner, and then only by going through Maryland’s Secretary of State for Health Affairs.
· In late 2009, the police told The Washington Post that the reason they hadn’t arrested the thugs for stealing our car was that Annie might have given them permission to use the car. This was a year after the thugs had admitted to dumping Annie’s body and taking the car for a joyride. Why in the world would the police manufacture flimsy alibis for the perpetrators of such a barbaric act?
· Around that same time, homicide chief McLarney told The Post that the police had checked with the makers of Bactine, who supposedly told them there is more than enough lidocaine in Bactine to cause death. The makers, Bayer HealthCare, deny making any such claim. They report that they merely told the police how much lidocaine is in Bactine — essentially, they read the label to the police. Additionally, Bayer HealthCare told us that “the amount of lidocaine in a single 5 ounce bottle (of Bactine) would not be expected to produce death.”
· The other two medical authorities the police cite as to the lethality of Bactine are the then-chief state toxicologist, and the Maryland Poison Center. Each denies offering any such opinion, with the toxicologist telling us that he “cannot say whether the contents of the bottle does or does not constitute a lethal dose.”
· Press spokesman Guglielmi dismissed a sketch we had commissioned of a person of interest as unreliable, claiming it had been done by a psychic sketch artist. In fact, it was sketched by a retired homicide detective, one of the most experienced and respected sketch artists in the Nation. We provided the police with his resume, and his several pages of rich notes from the two-hour sketch session. That was a crafted lie by the police. Honestly, how could Guglielmi accidentally say, “psychic sketch artist?”
We could go on.
Through a good friend of ours, a highly regarded detective on a major metropolitan police force learned of Annie’s case. This detective called Baltimore’s homicide squad in late 2012, to inquire into Annie’s case. Our good friend described the detective’s encounter:
“To say he got a poor reception would be an understatement. They essentially told him to f*** off and stay out of their business. He said this sort of friendly inquiry happens all the time so to get such a response really took him back. For the record, this guy is a leader in the (state’s) Homicide Investigators Assn and teaches all over the world. Real class guy…He thinks that…with the attention this case has gotten, they seem to have circled the wagons and it will take a strong outside entity to get anywhere. If they are actually covering something up you can bet they will fight to the end as jobs would be on the line.”
The Color of Puke
While the police, in denial, deployed a bodyguard of lies to defend their crumbling theory, we were doing, well, police work. Or commissioning it. In late December of 2008, through Beau Dietl and Associates of New York City, we hired Jim Kontsis, then a recently retired detective from the Baltimore City Police Department.
Hiring Jim was the best move we made. He’s a bulldog, a Greek curse on the Underworld of Baltimore. Principally through Jim’s dogged detective work, we began to gain some traction in learning what happened to Annie.
Pounding the pavement in late January 2009, almost three months after Annie’s death, Jimmy struck gold at Vaccaro’s Pastry Shop in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood, not far from where Annie’s body was dumped. Two Vaccaro’s employees — one a busboy, the other a waitress — instantly and independently recognized the photograph of Annie that Jim showed them. Annie had been in the shop on Halloween weekend, probably Saturday, November 1, midday, with a female companion. They recalled where Annie and her companion sat. They recalled Annie as being lively and animated, sampling cannoli. Neither reported any facial bruising on Annie. (Hours later, Annie would be found dead, reportedly soaking wet, with a lethal amount of an obscure poison in her engorged stomach, with ante-mortem wounds to both sides of her forehead and a vicious bruise on her backside.)
The waitress also recalled Annie’s female companion with remarkable detail. The companion, estimated as being 18–23 years old, was tired and listless. She wore a hoodie, was heavily made-up, with dark circles under her eyes, and distinctive yellow-brown fingernail polish — “the color of puke,” reported the waitress.
The color of puke. That’s a pretty vivid memory, and a pretty vivid description of nail polish. And a pretty fair characterization of the quality of the police investigation into Annie’s death.
In time, and despite obstacles created by an increasingly obstructionist Baltimore police department, we were able to get a composite sketch of this female companion. We shared the sketch with the police, along with the resume and detailed notes of the sketch artist, a retired Montgomery County (Maryland) homicide detective. The police have never interviewed the sketch artist or the two witnesses from Vaccaro’s. Years later they did, falsely and sarcastically, dismiss the sketch as the unreliable work of a psychic.
Thanks to Jim Kontsis, the sketch, elicited in Baltimore, has been recognized by several persons in Northern Virginia. At our neighborhood Costco, for instance, employees recognized the sketch as a former patron, name unknown, who would use the store’s restroom to change clothes. (That Costco was one of the few “drive-able” destinations for Annie, a novice driver and terrible navigator.) In October 2011, in Alexandria City Jail, we interviewed a habitual criminal who instantly recognized the sketch as a named person from our local Catholic parish church, but we are uncertain as to the reliability of that identification. The police remain incurious.
Over the years, with the initial non-investigation and again with a 2013 cold case non-investigation, incuriosity has been the hallmark of the Baltimore police in this terrible case. In March 2009, more than four months after supposedly investigating Annie’s death, the lead detective asked us in writing for a photograph of Annie. That was two months after Jim Kontsis, using an actual photograph of Annie, had found the eyewitnesses at Vaccaro’s. Lord knows how swiftly the case would have been wrapped up if Jim had led the police investigation from Day One.
With Jim’s help and through our own searching, we have been able to identify several persons of interest, besides the woman in the sketch. Baltimore police have scarcely disturbed any of these people:
· A man in Gainesville, Virginia with whom Annie exchanged texts a few days before her disappearance. The man was unknown to us, and has an extensive record of arrests and convictions for narcotics production and distribution. Neighbors report he has deep family ties to Baltimore.
· A classmate and friend of Annie’s, whom a stranger in downstate Virginia identified to local and state police as an Internet predator, stalking another 16-year old girl with a distinct resemblance to Annie.
· Two priests at our parish church. Annie had attended morning mass a few times in September and October, and, by her report, had given her confession at least once. With the shock of Annie’s death, and with the terrible knowledge of Catholics living in today’s world, we wondered — wonder still — if a predator priest might have manipulated Annie at her most vulnerable moment, in the confessional. The police? Not so curious.
· A young woman with a young child who attended those morning masses in late 2008. Reportedly an illegal immigrant from Honduras, she was a dentist who would have been well familiar with lidocaine. She may be the actual subject of the sketch.
· And, of course, the thugs reliably placed at the scene, dumping Annie’s body and taking our Volvo for a joy ride. (Many savvy investigators have remarked to us that most street kids would steer well clear of a car with a dead or dying girl in the back seat.)
There are a few other persons of interest. We do not believe all of these people were involved in a vast conspiracy to murder our daughter; perhaps only one, or two, or none. The thugs? Lidocaine wouldn’t be their weapon of choice; they were probably hired to dump Annie’s body. But these, and other persons of interest that would emerge in a vigorous, open-minded investigation, should be investigated and closely interviewed.
According to one of those persons of interest, here is how their 2013 phone interview with the cold case lead detective began: “The McCanns won’t face facts, so I have to ask you a few questions…” Really, is that the mark of a serious investigation? Or is that a lazy and incurious detective, checking the box?
Based on his prior training as a nurse, that same cold case detective cavalierly dismissed the opinions of a small army of experts we’d assembled over time, with respect to the lethality of Bactine and lidocaine. Among those experts was Dr. Michael Baden, perhaps the most celebrated and respected forensic pathologist in the world. In the summer of 2014, Dr. Baden was handpicked to conduct an independent autopsy into the racially charged slaying of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. But the cold case detective with some training as a nurse knew better than Baden.
Years before Michael Brown’s family hand-picked Baden for his expertise — as we struggled with dirty tricks by the authorities, struggled even to get a copy of Annie’s autopsy report that had already been leaked to the press — we hand-picked Dr. Baden for that same expertise. Surveying the universe of experts, we identified him as the forensic pathologist we wanted to review the report of autopsy, whenever we might get it. Along with hiring Jim Kontsis, it was our soundest move.
We had to wait for months, until October 2009, but Michael Baden was worth the wait. “In no way can this case be considered a suicide,” he told us in simple, crystallizing terms. “There is far more lidocaine found at autopsy than could possibly be produced by a single container of Bactine. It would take several containers of Bactine to produce those levels.”
Over time, we have gained similar expert opinions. Notable among those experts are Dr. Keith Ablow, Dr. Harry Bonnell, and the uniquely qualified makers of Bactine, Bayer HealthCare. Dr. Bonnell volunteered that Bactine has a “vile” taste, and questioned whether a human could drink it.
Indeed, a human tested that theory. A former Maryland assistant state’s attorney claims to have tried to drink a container of Bactine. Despite her apparently remarkable resolve, this unusually determined researcher couldn’t stomach Bactine. Even cutting the vile liquid heavily with cranberry juice, she suffered terribly from nausea and diarrhea. Ultimately, she was rushed to the Emergency Room and then to a psychiatric ward. Our point here? Not her sanity, but her humanity. Under the most bizarre circumstances, she drank an entire container of Bactine. And she didn’t die.
Separately, through a committed criminologist, we learned that benzalkonium chloride (BACl), Bactine’s other active ingredient (besides lidocaine), is a caustic, corrosive agent. The briefest “accidental or intentional ingestion of BACl orally leaves very significant mouth, lips, tongue, esophoge and alimentary tract injury.” There are no such findings in the report of autopsy for Annie. BACl “is not present in Annie’s autopsy and it is not present in her tox screen of ANY sample.”
The Long Con
In early 2013, the Baltimore police hierarchy quietly launched a charm offensive. In March, authorized by new commissioner Anthony Batts, police Colonels John Skinner and Dean Palmere invited us to their offices. They listened to us carefully, asked thoughtful questions, nodded sympathetically at our bitter complaints. They assured us that the homicide cold case squad would tackle the case anew, “with new eyes.” And they told us that the FBI was reviewing the case.
We couldn’t have been more excited. A few days later, we were back in Baltimore, meeting with the cold case squad. They interviewed us separately, on tape, for hours.
And then…nothing. Unbelieving, in a reprise of the initial mockery of a non-investigation, we watched weeks go by with virtually no activity. We flagged the lack of activity for newly promoted Deputy Commissioner Skinner, telling him that the check he and Colonel Palmere had written was bouncing. He assured us we were wrong. More weeks went by, and still no investigation.
We detailed the inactivity for Skinner. The lead detective not interviewing Jim Kontsis, retired from their own force, with years on the case, and working just a few blocks from police headquarters. Weeks with the cold case detective trying flaccidly to reach the new principal of Annie’s high school, who never knew Annie and was in fact gravely ill. That detective substituting his medical expertise for Baden’s. Visiting our parish church and interviewing only the janitor, who didn’t recognize Annie’s photo, but was “a really nice guy.”
There were many more clear examples of lethargy and a lack of any direction or interest in the investigation. Probably most telling was the fate of our family computer from 2008. We were told for weeks in 2013 that the hard drive was being scrubbed for evidence. Until, shockingly, we were told the hard drive was missing. Not scrubbed, not being scrubbed, it was lost. Never mind the bureaucratic slow-walking, ascribing weeks of inactivity to computer problems. How does a police department lose a hard drive retained as evidence? It got the same treatment as Annie’s heart and brain. Lost. Oops. Sorry. Stuff happens.
In August 2013, we met with the Baltimore police hierarchy to review the cold case investigation. Batts gave us that hug and reassurance — “You’re doing exactly what I’d be doing…” The meeting was cordial, but showed clearly that virtually no work had been done in the cold case investigation. We were told that the FBI analysis was nearly complete, and the course of further investigation, if any, would rest on that analysis.
It sounded ominous. It felt like we were being set up.
The Oracle of Quantico
It went down like a contract hit, a coup de grâce administered by the FBI on behalf of the Baltimore police department. In late September 2013, we received a letter from Steve Vogt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. We were invited to meet with the FBI at their Field Office in suburban Baltimore on the night of Monday, October 7, 2013.
An after-hours appointment felt strange, covert. Furtive. Sordid.
We drove up the evening of the 7th, another terrible trip on our trail of tears to and from Baltimore. At the appointed hour, we turned off Lord Baltimore Drive into a parking lot, dark and deserted. A hulking block building glowered menacingly in the gloom. Holding hands lightly, nervously, we walked slowly into its darkened lobby. Doomed.
After a whispered exchange with a shadowy security guard, we took a seat. An escort appeared. We were led to Special Agent Vogt’s office. The Baltimore police were a no-show. But in the middle of the federal government shutdown-furlough, Vogt and his team were on the job — working overtime, even. In the dark, literally — and, as it proved, figuratively.
After exchanging pleasantries with Vogt, the ugly charade began. It was an embarrassingly clumsy execution.
We were introduced to two young-looking “senior” analysts from the FBI’s vaunted Behavior Analysis Unit, the BAU . The profilers! The young man and woman had come up from Quantico, Virginia, driving past our home in Fairfax County so that we could all meet in suburban Baltimore.
Sweating profusely, with a discernible tremor, the young man — we’ll call him Mark — took the lead. “First off, “ Mark started, “we don’t think the young men who took your car killed Annie.” Huh? Neither did we. Oh, it was possible, it still needed to be ruled out. But lidocaine was not likely the weapon of choice of those thugs. What was needed was aggressive interviewing by seasoned investigators. (“Why didn’t you boost the next car? Why in the world would you steal a car with a dead girl in the back seat? How’d you find the car? Who sent you? TELL US WHO SENT YOU!”)
After the opening clunker, things spiraled rapidly downward. Remarkably, we were ordered not to take notes, or the session would end immediately. As Mark, nervous and defensive, advanced increasingly wobbly views, we challenged him. And he got more nervous and defensive and wobbly.
“The Bactine bottle was broken open,” Mark declared nervously, “and Annie’s DNA was found on the neck. That shows us that she drank the Bactine.”
We’d been handling that garbled interpretation for years. “It was Annie’s Bactine,” we countered. “She used it at least once a day for months, in the bathroom, when she was brushing and flossing her teeth, brushing her hair. Her DNA should be on the bottle. And the bottle was almost empty. And don’t you see how easy it is to plant DNA? It’s easier than planting fingerprints. And what about fingerprints? There are no fingerprints on the Bactine bottle. Her prints and our prints should be all over the bottle. Who wipes fingerprints while killing themselves?”
Nervous ourselves, we’d overloaded young Mark. Blinking rapidly, he went to his happy place. He babbled about his training as an expert fingerprint analyst, and expounded on how unreliable fingerprints are, and how our prints might not even be found on the very conference table at which we were sitting.
Through most of the painful session, as we were being slowly and clumsily disemboweled, Vogt sprawled at the end of the conference table, looking more like a bored eighth grader than an FBI Special Agent in Charge. Or maybe more still like a small-time mobster, irritated with his gang’s bungling. “Just get the job done, get it over with!” his body language shouted. “My dinner’s getting cold.”
In the end, this was the FBI’s opinion. This was the “job” the clumsy BAU gang got done for Vogt. The Baltimore police were wrong — terribly and hurtfully wrong — to conclude that Annie killed herself. Those notes Annie wrote? They meant nothing, or next to nothing. They were hardly conclusive. Teenagers write notes like that all the time.
After dueling for over an hour, we were suddenly nodding like bobble heads.
Then came the clumsy head shot. “The manner of death,” Mark continued, “is either suicide or accidental.”
“What?” we exploded. “How do you rule out homicide? How in the world can you say accidental?”
At this, Vogt managed to rouse himself. “They’re here just like expert witnesses at a trial, giving an expert opinion,” he barked. “They’re not here to explain it or defend it. They know these things better than you or me, and we have to accept their opinion.”
Oz…has…spoken! Pay no attention to the young man babbling in front of you!
“Aren’t expert witnesses subject to cross-examination?”
“We’re not going there tonight!”
They also weren’t going into human trafficking. Desperately, we raised that possibility, citing FBI testimony and statistics we had memorized. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing illegal activity in the world. Traffickers use increasingly sophisticated protocols. Two weeks before our meeting with Vogt, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Joseph Campbell testified on Capitol Hill, citing the FBI’s efforts “to combat the scourge of human trafficking” that targets “the most vulnerable among us, including our children.” Campbell detailed recruiting efforts that “lured” victims to work in prostitution “through false pretenses followed by violence.”
Very possibly, that was exactly what had happened to our dear battered Annie.
But Vogt knew better than Assistant Director Campbell. And he was still animated. “Don’t lecture us about human trafficking!” he snapped.
We were escorted briskly out of the building. The FBI left us at the curb. The only thing missing was the actual kick to the curb.
In the dark autumn chill, our hands found each other. We walked slowly, numbly through the parking lot, looking for the…for the…oh, yes, we were looking for a car…we were looking for our car. It wasn’t easy, with the dark and the tears and the shock and all. But we found it.
We got in the car and started it up. The radio was playing. Oh, finally, something nice. Distracting. Distraction was good. It was Eric Clapton, later Clapton, unplugged. Beyond the door…We pulled away from the ugliness. There’s peace I’m sure…We turned right onto Lord Baltimore Drive…And I know there’ll be no more…Too late, we each lunged to turn the radio off…Tears in Heaven.
Driving on in silence, we resumed our earthly trail of tears. We raced to our empty home.
Through a Glass, Darkly
Since that Kafkaesque encounter with federal authorities, with the Flaccid Bureau of Incuriosity, we’ve been able to piece together more of our terrible mosaic. We’ve been able to absorb most of what happened to us at that gruesome FBI ambush on Lord Baltimore Drive, and come to reasonable conclusions as to how and why certain bizarre things were done, and how and why certain necessary things were not done. Additionally, as agreed months earlier with the Baltimore police, we eventually received a copy of what they said was their entire case file, heavily redacted. It was somewhat helpful.
In the Fall of 2012, not long after Anthony Batts was newly installed as Baltimore’s police commissioner, there was a small flurry of interest in the then four-year old “investigation” into Annie’s death. That flurry flowed from our launch of a website, JusticeForAnnie.com, and an associated letter-writing campaign to public officials, including Batts. New on the job, Batts could commission a fresh look into the irritating old case, with no personal or professional liability. We believe he did that. We know that in December 2012, in response to a specific request, the original lead detective wailed to PI Jim Kontsis, “There’s nothing I can do, it’s outa my hands, the FBI has the case!”
The police file shows that the BAU did nothing for months. According to one extremely reliable source, the unit was going through some considerable turmoil at the time. Meanwhile, early in 2013, Batts and his command staff slowly rolled out that charm offensive. Occasionally, they actually returned our calls asking about FBI involvement. They sounded sympathetic. We met with Deputy Commissioner Skinner and Colonel Palmere in March. They seemed sympathetic, and committed to launching a vigorous cold case investigation. Like the original “red ball” investigation, it never actually took off.
Running more than 1,600 pages, the copy of the police file provided to us in late November 2013 is enormous. Enormous and empty, like a sinkhole in Siberia. In a letter sent to Batts and the FBI jointly in January 2014, we noted:
Well over 1,500 of those pages are just about useless, except to confirm, Anthony, what we told you and Deputy Commissioner Skinner in August: “…let’s not pretend that Annie’s death has been investigated by the police with any vigor, or rigor. Five years ago, (the original lead detective) never had a photograph of Annie when he “investigated” Annie’s death. Five years later, (the cold case detective) is taking a statement from the church janitor (not any priest of interest), and prepping an alleged cyber-stalker with his opinion that the McCanns “won’t face facts, so I have to ask you a few questions.” That, rather than contact the Virginia State Police to discuss those allegations of cyber-stalking reported to them… We went on in August to express our concern that “the BPD may have poisoned the well with the FBI, the same way (the cold case detective) did with (the alleged cyber-stalker).”
One thing we did gain from the police file is some pretty clear insight into how the BAU tackled Annie’s case. First, it languished for months, an orphan at the BAU. When it was finally assigned to “Mark” in late July 2013, he promptly went on vacation for at least a week. According to an internal Baltimore police e-mail dated July 23, “It appears that everyone (at BAU Quantico) knows about the McCanns and aren’t thrilled about the thought of being involved in this case.”
How pathetic. In theory, it’s for challenging cases such as this that the BAU exists. In reality? Not so much.
By September 5, 2013, three named members of the Baltimore police department and six named FBI agents or analysts participated in a 2–½ hour teleconference (Subject: McCann Investigation). After that extraordinarily long teleconference, what emerges the next day is this police e-mail: “The overall message from the FBI is they believe that maybe the investigative results are not being explained/communicated to the McCanns by the BPD in a way that they can accept/understand. This is what they (FBI BAU) agreed to do for us (BPD), which I accepted.”
So the BAU would not investigate or analyze. They wouldn’t even check with the boys at the lab, their own lab, across the way in Quantico. What would they do? They would do a better job of explaining things to us.
On September 13, “Mark” sent an e-mail to BPD. The subject was “Summary of consult.” There was one attachment, titled “Communications Strategy.” That short e-mail is followed by 14 wholly redacted pages — clearly, an exhaustive communications strategy from BAU to the police on how to “handle” the McCanns…so that “they can accept/understand.”
Part of the redacted communication strategy probably followed these lines. “How can we satisfy the McCanns? Shut them up? Why are they so persistent? Why won’t they go away? Y’know, I bet it’s that suicide angle…if we can give them some sort of fig leaf, that maybe Annie didn’t kill herself, that’ll shut ‘em up. Remove the stigma of suicide and what-not. Yeah — it’s a win-win! Ease the parents’ pain, and make Baltimore happy at the same time! We can pitch it this way…”
So, the focus of the FBI’s BAU, for the month or less they reviewed the case? No actual criminal analysis, no real profiling, no lab analysis, but hours and hours, pages and pages, of communications strategy and schmooze-ology. How amateurish and flimsy! Dr. Phil would have been ashamed to go there.
All we’ve ever asked for was the truth, for an honest go at the truth. We didn’t need “handling,” we needed real diligence by the police and FBI. Instead, we got police leaping to the wrong conclusion and clinging to it, in denial. And an FBI afraid of its own shadow. Let alone, ours.
We’ve never learned how the FBI claims to have ruled out homicide. (Perhaps because it’s not possible to rule it out.) We did learn how they bizarrely ruled in accidental death. We learned it from the Baltimore police, when they delivered their case file to us.
In late November 2013, by appointment, the lieutenant heading the cold case squad gave us the thumb drive containing the police file. Head down, he quietly accepted our furious tongue-lashing. When we reached the FBI’s clownish compound theory, that Annie’s death was either an accident or suicide, we demanded, rhetorically, “How can they say it was an accident?” At that, he looked up, brightening instantly.
“Oh, it’s amazing,” he interrupted. “They really are brilliant. I never even thought of this. They figured out that Annie might have drunk the Bactine just to induce vomiting.”
“That’s BS, Chris!” we blasted back instantly, without abbreviating. “Look at your own records! No vomit in the car or on Annie’s clothes. No signs of vomiting at autopsy, no raw throat, no petechial hemorrhaging. And her stomach was full. It had 900 milliliters in it, almost a full liter, at autopsy. Dr. Baden said that would be the volume of a large man’s stomach after Thanksgiving dinner. Your stomach, Chris, last Thursday! Yes, Bactine makes you throw up. No, Annie didn’t drink Bactine and didn’t throw up. The lidocaine that killed Annie came from somewhere else!”
Very weakly, “Lieutenant Chris” suggested that maybe Annie ingested a fatal amount of Bactine and died before she had the chance to vomit…
What we didn’t think to say to Lieutenant Chris was this: That’s just the sort of anomaly — an engorged stomach in a slender girl — that an engaged BAU or cold case homicide squad should have pounced on. Along with the absence of fingerprints on the Bactine bottle. And the clear signs of violence — albeit non-lethal violence — found at autopsy. Blunt force trauma to opposite sides of Annie’s forehead. A bloody sports bra, with blood correlating to wounds found at autopsy.
As Annie’s parents, it’s painful for us to dwell on this, but to any objective and curious observer, it’s clear that our daughter suffered from violence between the time she was seen at the pastry shop — lively, animated, and unbruised — and the time she was found dead, bruised and bleeding, stuffed behind a dumpster, with a massively lethal dose of an obscure poison in her stomach.
These and a hundred other anomalies were ignored by the BAU, as they crafted a 14-page “Communications Strategy” on how to “handle” Annie’s parents.
In November 2009, before he was sacked for poor judgment, Baltimore homicide chief McLarney told us that the police theory rested soundly on a tripod. Here were the three legs:
1. Annie’s note alluding to suicide
2. Expert opinions that Bactine has enough lidocaine to cause death
3. Annie’s DNA was found on the Bactine container.
To which we say:
1. Even the police department’s co-conspirators, the FBI, sawed away the first leg. They agreed with what we’ve been saying for years. Many teenagers write notes of despair. Mercifully, the vast majority of them do not take their lives. That teenagers write such notes, or have them scripted by increasingly sophisticated human traffickers, should not constitute a warrant for their death.
2. The police completely garbled the three expert opinions they cite. (Unless they are consciously lying about them.) Each of their three sources denies ever offering the opinion attributed to them by the police. Beyond that, the police and FBI flatly ignore the expert opinion of perhaps the world’s greatest forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden, and other echoing experts.
3. We would expect Annie’s DNA to be found on the Bactine bottle she used daily for months. It’s hardly surprising. Furthermore, finding such DNA “evidence” should never be conclusive — it’s patently simple for a murderer to plant DNA evidence.
The police theory, their tripod, is actually a non-pod. It collapses completely under the slightest scrutiny. Not that anyone but us has scrutinized it.
A Failure of Leadership
We never met FBI Behavior Analysis Unit Chief Terri Patterson. We did meet two of her subordinates, Mark and his silent female colleague. Not long after that terrible meeting, Patterson was lecturing at the Hamilton Hotel in DC, not far from our home. She was lecturing on Juvenile Sex Trafficking. If she were a better leader, she might have been able to brag about how her team cracked the challenging cold case of Annie McCann. Or at least tackled it. Instead, she likely just prattled on with abstract platitudes. Later in the fiscal year, she probably gave Mark a performance bonus for his work with the Baltimore police and “that poor McCann family.”
Steve Vogt, a career dilettante with the Bureau, wouldn’t be lectured on human trafficking. We wonder if he could recognize human trafficking outside a Department of Justice seminar. His eagerness to wash his hands of adult responsibility and critical thought, his rush to hide behind the Kids from Kwantico was disgraceful. And his expectation that we would do the same was just plain dumb.
Finally, Anthony Batts is a cipher. When he called in the FBI, what was he hoping for? The truth? Or a whitewash? In the end, he bought the whitewash, joining Vogt and Patterson. Sure. In Vogt’s words: “They know these things…and we have to accept their opinion.” Even if it’s patently absurd.
On August 25, 2013 — after the hug and before meeting with the FBI — we wrote Deputy Commissioner Skinner, copying Batts:
…The challenge of leadership, John, is not to preside over a crappy consensus, or a muddling mediocrity, or “the process.” “Oh, this is what my people say, so this is what I say.” Leadership, to be worth a damn, has to be exercised occasionally. A real leader uses his judgment, applies discretion, makes decisions. Tells his staff, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense…why do you say this? Did you think about that?”
We met with (the assistant medical examiner) on September 30, 2010. When we pressed him on lidocaine, he volunteered that he didn’t know anything about toxicology. “But I have to believe,” he added, “that our guys in Annapolis are the best in the world.”
Forgive us, John, but we think you’re better than that…that you won’t place perfect confidence in faceless bureaucrats, or detectives going through the motions.
Please share this e-mail with Steve Vogt…
We hadn’t met Vogt yet, but we saw this storm coming from a long way off. We saw it even more clearly six weeks later, when we limped, eyes wide open, into that FBI ambush.
Batts and Vogt and Patterson — one of them hiding behind another, their feckless actions were ripped right out of the playbook of the Pontius Pilate School of Leadership. Individually and collectively, they perfectly validate Edmund Burke’s cautionary maxim: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In this terrible matter, they’ve proven Burke. In this terrible matter, they’ve proven themselves — good for nothing.
They could teach NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a thing or two about willful ignorance of ugly Baltimore violence.
As bitter as we are, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that none of them actually killed Annie. But Lord knows — in their sustained weakness, in carrying out their sworn and sacred duty — they failed her. Terribly.
Annie deserved better. But what she got was the Baltimore Trifecta: Garbage-cubed, garbage to the third degree. Her dead or dying body stuffed behind a dumpster. Her heart and brain thrown in the garbage. And the investigation into her death quietly trashed.
Diana and the Embalmer
Meanwhile, we claw through the wreckage of the scuttled investigation. Scrabbling. Scavenging. In the Spring of 2015, we unearthed hideous new debris. We learned that the medical examiner had photos we had not seen, that had not been provided with the report of autopsy or the police file. In April of 2015, for $238.00, we bought them. The six photographs are black and white. They’re grim and grainy and gruesome. And painfully revealing.
One photograph shows a wound new to us, a circular wound near Annie’s left eyebrow, skillfully covered up by the undertaker. The autopsy report describes the wound: “An old abrasion was on the lower left forehead above the medial left eyebrow (dry, red, crusted, ¼ by ¼ “).” Annie had no such “old abrasion.” We can document that through contemporary photographs, through classmates and teachers and pastry shop witnesses. It’s a new wound, starkly and painfully similar to what you see if you Google “cigarette burns.” And yes, the diameter of a cigarette is just about exactly ¼ inch.
Another photograph, blown up, clearly shows a stylized capital letter “J” on Annie’s left ankle. It’s followed by a stylized banner, or another letter, perhaps a capital “D,” distorted around the natural curve of Annie’s ankle. But there’s nothing natural about that “J” or “JD.” Anyone can plainly see — it’s man-made. Not livid and red. Clear and white. It looks like a tag or a pre-brand, commonly used by human traffickers,
In November 2015, we got another horrible shock. In a long letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, pleading that authorities investigate Annie’s murder, the funeral home director for Annie’s funeral noted, “Our staff at the funeral home always believed that Annie was raped (sodomized) and beaten…”
We were stunned. We called the funeral home director. “We know why you believe Annie was beaten, Diana,” we said. “But what makes you say she was sodomized?” We got the answer we half-expected and completely feared. Haltingly, struggling to find the least painful words, Diana said, “Annie’s…rear end…was…really…really…open…”
We called the embalmer, the man who had noted that Annie’s heart and brain had not been returned to her body. Seven years on, the poor man didn’t miss a beat. He still had hideous recall. He shared the funeral home director’s opinion. And he added another detail, an insider’s detail. It seems the “A/V plug” — sometimes used to block leakage of body fluids; the “A” stands for anal — didn’t fit Annie’s rear end, he had to use extra “packing.” He said he sees that only rarely, and then only with extremely elderly decedents.
And then we went back to the medical examiner’s crude photographs. For the first time, we studied our dead daughter’s rear end. And we understood.
We have been asking for years for the rape test results. During the isolated intervals in which the police would speak with us, they pointed to the medical examiner. During other isolated intervals, in which the medical examiner would speak with us, he pointed to the police. For more than seven years, following the death of our 16-year old daughter under the most sinister circumstances imaginable, after the administration of a rape test, we, her parents, still do not know the results of that rape test. And now, from the only group of professionals with more experience with dead bodies than a medical examiner, we learn: our beautiful daughter was sodomized shortly before her death.
We could provide the photographs here, cropped, as further proof of the cigarette burn, of tagging, of a grossly distended rectum. But they’ve been available to law enforcement authorities for years. They still are. And to post them here? It’s our daughter. It’s painful. It’s personal. And it’s probably pointless.
Because, really — who cares?
If you care, please promote this article on social media, and contact any or all of the following:
· To express concerns over the willingness and ability of Baltimore police to protect citizens, tourists and businesses; and to honestly and vigorously investigate major crimes:
o Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — firstname.lastname@example.org
o Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce President Charles Owens — email@example.com
· To express concerns over the integrity of FBI personnel and programs:
o Senator Chuck Grassley; Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — firstname.lastname@example.org
o Representative Bob Goodlatte; Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary — http://www.goodlatte.house.gov/contacts/new
For further information, visit www.JusticeForAnnie.com