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Death Sentences

A gruesome triple murder puts a Boulder publisher and its how-to-kill book in the crosshairs.

The remainder of the scene was a puzzle. The killer "made a futile attempt at some ransacking," Wittenberg says, but police never took seriously the prospect that the home had been burglarized. "[Millie Horn] had furs, jewelry, TVs, VCRs, common things that would be stolen, but nothing was missing," says Wittenberg. "Things were just dumped over and tossed. For one thing, the family room had [sofa] cushions thrown on the floor. What would a burglar do that for? Was he looking for popcorn seeds, maybe pennies between the cushions? Some of it was almost to the point of being ridiculous."

The only things that had been taken were some of Millie Horn's credit cards and the family van. Wittenberg says he believes that the killer took the vehicle "merely to get away and drive back close to where he'd parked his rental vehicle." The credit cards were found later that same day, scattered along the roadside leading away from the Horn home.

Dean says the search also turned up a file with flecks of gunpowder on it. Investigators think it was used to alter the barrel of a gun.

Two weeks after the murders, a canine officer and his dog discovered the trigger to an AR-7 rifle not far from where Millie Horn's credit cards had been found. The serial numbers had been completely drilled through and were impossible to read.

"At that time," Wittenberg says, "the trigger did not mean that much to us." But it would become a crucial piece of evidence months later, after detectives bought a copy of Hit Man.

Wittenberg and his partner James Leasure (now retired) suspected soon after they'd been assigned to the case that Lawrence Horn was somehow involved. Horn, however, had an ironclad alibi. When the murders were being carried out, Horn was at his home in California. And he had a videotape to prove it: While taping pictures of himself and his girlfriend at their apartment that night, Horn had allowed the camera to linger on the television set, which just happened to show the date and time of the broadcast.

Murder for hire then seemed a reasonable assumption to the detectives. A search of Horn's California apartment--conducted ten days after the slayings by Los Angeles police officers at the request of Maryland investigators--turned up a treasure trove of evidence. The LAPD found a videotape Horn had made that showed him driving along the route from a Rockville, Maryland, Days Inn to the suburban neighborhood where his ex-wife lived. The officers also recovered a hand-drawn map of Millie Horn's street and the houses along it. Detectives believe that Horn shared this information with the hired killer. Feral suggests similar methods of preparation in Hit Man.

Maryland investigators also began checking Horn's phone records. Wittenberg discovered that approximately two hours after the murders, Horn had received a call made from a Montgomery County pay phone just a few miles from Millie Horn's home.

The detectives then began the painstaking task of checking hotel registrations in the area near the pay phone. "We compiled a list and looked at everybody who'd been at the hotels that week," Wittenberg says. Perry immediately stood out. He'd been registered at the Days Inn in Rockville for only six hours--from midnight until 6 a.m. the day of the murders. (Investigators believe the killings occurred about 3 a.m.)

In registering at the hotel, Perry had ignored one of Feral's bits of wisdom. Feral advises using a fake ID and registering under a false name, but Perry signed his own name and presented his own driver's license for identification--and the hotel clerk made a photocopy of the Michigan license.

"Once we came up with Perry's name," Wittenberg says, "things started snowballing."

By November 1993, detectives had gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant of Perry's Detroit home. And though they didn't find a smoking gun, they did find some interesting reading material. Perry had hardback books on evidentiary issues and police investigations, among them Management of Gunshot Wounds and Interpretation of Blood Stain Evidence of Crime Scenes. Officers also found a copy of the Paladin Press catalogue. (Feral suggests that professional assassins bone up on investigative techniques.)

"What happened basically after that," Wittenberg says, "was that we got the magazines and brought them back here and I ended up calling the individual publications to see if he'd purchased anything or subscribed to anything, and lo and behold, Paladin Press called back and said he'd bought two books"--Hit Man and a volume about making silencers.

"When I heard that," Wittenberg says, "I was stunned. We had been inching along with the investigationR>, and getting the news that day was pretty much a highlight. Or one of the highlights. Just knowing he had purchased it and written a personal check for it was a dream come true."

Detectives figured from the title alone that they were on the right track, though they had to order the books for themselves before they knew for sure. "Then I had to sit down and had the pleasure of reading the whole book," Wittenberg says. "It's pretty incredible, the information that's contained in there."

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