Sensing an important clue copy
Sometimes, looking for a suspect isn't enough. You have to listen.
By JONATHAN ABEL
Published June 14, 2007
Genevieve Myers shows up at work every day at 7:30 sharp, flips on the computer and pops open a Mug root beer - her lone indulgence of the morning. Her bloodhound, Weezer, looks out from a photo on the wall as Myers begins typing up details of other people's tragedies.
Myers is 46, married, the mother of a 19-year-old son. She has dark hair, dark nail polish and rings on six of her fingers.
She puts in a nine-hour day at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, transcribing 911 calls and interview tapes, just in case a detective or prosecutor needs to refer to them later.
It's slogging, anonymous work, but she does it well - which turned out to be bad news for the killer of Niccole Halpin.
* * *
On Jan. 8, 2004, about 9:30 p.m., Halpin, 32, came home from dinner with her two sons, ages 7 and 9. She sensed that someone was already in her Safety Harbor home.
She called her boyfriend, Chris Catuogno. As they talked, she encountered a man in a ski mask and dark clothing.
Halpin screamed and told her kids to hide. Her boyfriend kept the land line open and called 911 on his cell. He held both phones to his head.
The intruder started beating Halpin. The sounds from the house carried from one phone to the other and onto the 911 tape. Halpin died a few days later.
From the beginning, detectives were suspicious of her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Welch. He had been harassing her ever since she had rejected his marriage proposal.
The investigators knew the killer had entered without breaking in. Welch had a key. What he lacked was an alibi.
So deputies called him in for two long, recorded interviews. They also secretly taped his phone conversations. In all, they made five to seven hours worth of tape.
Five to seven hours of Daniel Welch talking. It took Genevieve Myers 100 hours to transcribe it.
* * *
On a quiet Friday morning in February 2004, a month after the murder, Myers transcribed the 911 tape from the night Halpin was attacked.
She heard screaming. Beneath it she heard a man's voice:
"Niccole, calm down."
Myers took off her headphones and looked around. She knew that voice: the arrogant tone. The way he said Niccole when everyone else said Nikki.
"It was the loudest thing I had ever heard, " she says.
The detectives working the case were out of the office, so Myers had to contain her excitement all weekend. On Monday morning, she rounded them up and played the tape.
"What are we supposed to listen for?" they asked.
She wouldn't say.
All they could hear was "Calm down." Or maybe it was, "No. Calm down."
But Myers said the word was Niccole. And she insisted it was Welch's voice.
After so many hours of transcribing, Myers said, she had no doubt.
* * *
The detectives cleaned up the tape and played it for other people. Even Welch's sister said it was her brother's voice.
Myers' discovery - just three words - was critical because it put Welch at the scene of the crime. Without it, the case "most likely would not have been solved, " said Sgt. Tom Klein, head of the homicide unit at the Sheriff's Office.
The investigation went on, with detectives putting in 1, 000 hours and interviewing 150 people.
In January 2006 - two years after the killing - Welch was charged with first-degree murder. Last month, he pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder. Halpin's children were spared the trauma of testifying, and Welch was sentenced to prison for 25 years.
The victim's family thanked the lead detective for all his hard work. Myers went unnoticed outside the department. Ask her about what she did and she says modest things like, "I'm glad I was able to help."
But then, she's not much of a talker. She's a listener.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at email@example.com or 727 445-4157.
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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)892-2924.