from Blinded by the Sight by S.L. Smith
We have with us today Lt. Peter Culnane with the St. Paul Police Department. Lt. Culnane, please tell us about yourself.
Most people call me Pete … or a number of other names that don’t bear repeating. I’m a lieutenant on the St. Paul Police Department. Incidentally, in St. Paul we’re called investigators, not detectives. I’ve been with the St. Paul PD for nine years.
Pete, tell us about this case. What made it so special?
This case was special right out of the chute. The murdered man was believed to be homeless, but he was wearing a ring with a huge diamond. That made no sense. The body was reported by two young boys who disappeared a short time later. Attempting to determine the reason for their disappearance and whether they were safe became another priority. The lack of cooperation from some members of the victim’s family made
parts of the investigation difficult and revealed they were a splintered and secretive group. When all was said and done, I was amazed by the ways an attempt to help someone can go awry, ruining many lives.
Did anything make this case hard to solve?
Two words sum it up: loyalties and fear. The victim’s family was torn by conflicting
loyalties. Those loyalties were long-standing and divisive. In addition, poor communication meant family members were afraid of implicating each other and themselves. Fear also dictated the actions of others critical to solving the case. This fear wore many faces: the rejection of one’s cohort, the retribution of a parent or an employer, and betrayal to name just a few. Interestingly enough, each time fear was a factor, loyalty was always a part of that equation.
Did anyone outside of the police department help you solve this case?
The two boys who reported the body and a homeless man were key. Although I’m not in a position to discuss the boys, gaining the trust and cooperation of the homeless man was essential. Also, out of necessity, I solicited the cooperation of another police department. The cop with whom I worked was a real team player.
Has this case affected your personal life in any way?
During this investigation, I gained a glimpse into and appreciation for both the plight of the homeless and the absurdity of the stereotypes attributed to this group. It’s now impossible for me, as a regular citizen, to ignore a request for help from one of these people. I’m enough of a realist to know that the money doesn’t always go for the stated purpose. Whenever possible, I provide for the stated need in lieu of cash.
We all assume things, and we often act on those assumptions. This case provided an excellent example of the tragedy that can result. Several people acted on assumptions they either failed to verify or were afraid to verify. They went off half-cocked and made
tragic mistakes—and the tragedy touched many lives. What a waste! I wish I knew of a way to get people to think more and react less. Yes, that includes me.
The last thing is more difficult to share. Since my wife’s death, I’ve avoided the opposite sex by hiding behind my job. Having run into a former acquaintance during this investigation, I feel like I’m ready to pick up and carry on. And I love kids, want some of my own, but I want to do it the traditional way. My job makes my hours irregular and unpredictable, so I think it’s even more important for someone like me to ensure the stability of a traditional life foe my future.
Pete, we wish you well with future investigations. I'm glad that you are ready to move forward in your personal life.
S. L. (Sharon) Smith was born in St. Cloud and moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul. For Blinded by the Sight, S. L. drew upon her education in psychology, a career with vast amounts of law enforcement interaction, and her thrill for the investigative hunt. She is a member of the National Writers Union and Sisters in Crime (an organization that supports mystery writers). Blinded by the Sight was released on September 1, 2011 and is available at many St. Paul and Minneapolis bookstores. For more information visit her website www.slsmithbooks.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.