For an undercover operation meant to trap a killer, the cover seemed about as secret as the 11 o’clock news.
Two plainclothes officers were waiting in an unmarked yellow Chevrolet to see who was watching a brown-haired 14-year-old girl leaving the Richmond Hill High School on 114th Street in Queens.
And not far down the block, a television news team in a car with New York press license plates was watching the two police officers. At one point two camera men, a producer and a TV reporter got out and interviewed the undercover men.
The story began the night before, when the girl and her father walked into the station house of the 102nd Precinct in Queens. “The father was worried because some guy was following his daughter, “ said Capt. Louis Fortunato. And he was particularly worried because his daughter had brown hair.”
“When we showed the girl a composite drawing of the .44-caliber killer, she said, that’s him, that’s the man following me.” One a wall upstairs in the 102d Precinct station house are four composite drawings of the killer - a different drawing for each murder. In one sketch the killer has a crew cut. In another his hair is long and straight, parted on the right. Another sketch shows his hair parted on the left. And in still another the killer wears a stocking cap.
So the next day the two officers waited across from Richmond High School Annex in the yellow Chevy. And the TV crew waited, watching them. A crowd of students followed the camera man who was following the reporter who was following the two officers. “I’m going to be on the news! I’m going to be on the news!” a young boy shouted as he darted in front of the camera filming the undercover officers. Luciano Ascerra, the assistant principal came out “to see what all the commotion is about.”
“The .44-caliber killer here at Richmond?” he asked. “That can’t be.” But minutes later he changed his mind. “Maybe I’m paranoid but there’s something I should tell the cops,” he said.
Except he could not find the police. They had gone off with the television cameramen.
Excerpt from Howard Blum June 8, 1977