"I'm not very good at making a long story short," begins Douglas Pichon. "I am, however, really good at making a long story longer."
This quickly becomes clear. The first thing you notice about Douglas Pichon, though, are his startling lettuce-green eyes, which makes it understandable why the police picked up on them, too, and helps explain why Pichon felt a police revolver poke into the back of his head--although it turned out the cops were wrong. Twice.
But he's getting ahead of himself. "For a real brilliant man," Douglas Pichon starts again, "I've done some pretty stupid things."
Pichon is a former Army brat--Tokyo, Germany and all the required stops to further the career of his father, who ended up in Colorado Springs, a full-bird colonel. He retired, and died soon afterward. "As with most career Army guys," says Pichon, "retirement basically just means they can start drinking earlier."
Pichon graduated from high school in 1970--a star hockey player, written up in Sports Illustrated for scoring three goals in fifteen seconds--and dabbled in college (five of them, actually) before beginning a life of labor. These days he lays gas pipe through the IBEW Local No. 111, attends an occasional class and messes with his home computer, although his entire hard drive went kaput recently and erased most of his important police correspondence, which caused some problems during the second arrest.
But he's tumbling ahead again. Pretty stupid things? "Oh, I'm no angel," Pichon explains. "I've been in some trouble before, but it was all minor stuff--vandalism, shoplifting." There was also the car theft, which he didn't really do, but that's another story entirely. This story begins in 1985, in a Colorado Springs bar.
"It was Super Bowl Sunday, 1985, and I was cruising several of the bars," Pichon begins. "I was drunk," he adds. "I definitely got drunk that day." As the day wore down and San Francisco put the finishing touches on its 38-16 rout of Miami, Pichon put the finishing touches on his buzz at the Lair Lounge.
A local hangout on the city's west side, the bar was undergoing a transition. A nearby biker bar had just closed down, and some of its seedier traffic had begun showing up at the Lair Lounge. On that particular Sunday, for instance, Pichon recalls seeing William Winfrey, whom he held in poor regard.
"I knew the name," Pichon says. "I heard that he dealt drugs. I heard that he carried a gun. Basically a real scumbag. A hoodlum. But I never gave him a second thought."
That's because it was at the Lair Lounge that Pichon noticed his wallet was missing. He can't remember how much money he lost that day. Frankly, a lot of it had been spent by the time the wallet disappeared. But he does remember the hassle of replacing all of his pieces of identification. Eventually, he got a new driver's license, "and that," he concludes, "was the end of that."
Until almost exactly a decade later--November 12, 1994, to be precise.
It was Saturday, about eight in the morning. Snow had fallen. "I was driving through Denver, on 16th and Franklin, in my 1983 Chevy Blazer," Pichon recalls. "I was on my way to a friend's house to do some shingling work. I had picked up another guy--I knew him only by his initials--who was down and out and who I thought could help me with the shingling. And this police car came up behind. It flashed its lights for me to stop and pull over."
Pichon was nervous, although not unduly so. Like it or not--and he's made some mistakes, no one's trying to hide that--he was no stranger to law enforcement situations. "The officer walked up behind the car and asked for my license, and I gave it to him, and he returned to his car," Pichon continues. "Then, all of a sudden, before I knew it, there were five or six Denver police cars there. One of them blocked my car in the front, and one blocked me in the back."
This was cause for more concern, but not panic. Not yet. "I thought it might have something to do with the other guy in the car," Pichon remembers thinking, which, he also remembers thinking, is the danger of giving a ride to someone you know only as "C.J."
Next he heard the bullhorn: "You, in the driver's side, out of the car." He was told to lie on the ground. With his ear to the pavement, he heard the click, click, click of crisp police shoes advancing to his side. "And then," he says, "I felt the gun to the back of my head."
He was yanked to his feet, tossed across the hood of the car and handcuffed. Which is when Pichon asked why he was being arrested. "And they said something about an aggravated bank robbery in Kansas.
"My first thought," he continues, "was to be smart-assed about it, because it was so ludicrous--to say something like, `Kansas? No, that's not me. I robbed a bank in Wyoming, but not Kansas.'" He didn't, though.
The police asked if he used any aliases and read off a list of names. "I hadn't heard of any of them," Pichon says, "until they came to the name William Winfrey--and that's when it all clicked. `William Winfrey?' I yelled. `I know that lowlife scumbag from Colorado Springs!'"
In 1985, in Sedgwick County, Kansas, Douglas Pichon was convicted on one count of aggravated robbery. "He was sentenced to ten years to life," says Bill Miskell, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections. "He was then convicted in 1989 for one count of aggravated escape from custody from Leavenworth County, for an escape which occurred from the Lansing Correctional Facility on December 6, 1988."
He was eventually caught and returned to prison. He was paroled in 1991 but incarcerated again in January 1993 for violating that parole. Paroled again in January 1994, he still wasn't very good at it, and a warrant for his arrest was issued on January 31, 1994.
But the Douglas Pichon wanted by Kansas was not the Douglas Pichon arrested in Denver. In fact, he was not Douglas Pichon at all.
He was, Douglas Pichon says, really William Winfrey--who stole Pichon's wallet at the Lair Lounge in 1985, robbed a bank soon after, was arrested, and identified himself to police as Douglas Pichon using the goods in the stolen wallet.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Miskell says, sighing. "It sounds to me like we're looking for a guy named Douglas Pichon. And there's a guy in the Denver area who's named Douglas Pichon, and he keeps getting arrested. But the real kicker in all this is William Winfrey. Is that right?"
When the Denver police learned Douglas Pichon was a Kansas fugitive, they took him downtown and put him in a holding cell. "Ten to fifteen minutes later," Pichon says, "this guy comes up and starts asking questions. First he says, `What color are your eyes?' I said, `Green.' Then he goes, `Do you have any scars on your stomach?'
"And I said, `Thank God.'"
In retrospect, Pichon agrees that lymphosarcoma of the intestines is an out-of-the-ordinary thing to be thankful for. The disease had hit him as an infant. "The doctors started to suspect something was wrong when I began projectile vomiting," he says. One year and several surgeries later, Pichon had seven scars on his belly.
"`Good,' Pichon remembers thinking. "`This'll clear things up.'"
But he hadn't seen the description on the Kansas warrant. It read:
Name: Pichon, Douglas Karl
Hgt: 6 Wgt: 193 Eye: Green
It also read:
Armed & Dangerous, offenses are aggravated robbery and aggravated escape from custody.
"I have seven scars, not one," Pichon points out. "But apparently it was more than close enough." Pichon's measurements weren't too far off, either: He is 5'11", 170 pounds. And he, like the Kansas fugitive, has green eyes.
"On paper," Pichon concedes, "Winfrey sure looks like me."
His mind turned over. "For a moment," he says, "I thought it was me they were after. I was not rational. I mean, people were telling me, `Don't worry--they'll get it all straightened out when they extradite you to Kansas.' And I was saying, `Kansas! I've got a wife and kids here!'"
In fact, back at Pichon's northwest Denver home, his wife, Beth, was becoming fairly frantic herself. "At first it was, like, `Well, jeez, honey, we know you didn't do this,'" she recalls. "But when they didn't release him, I just couldn't imagine what had happened. I tried to call some lawyers. But you know how difficult it is to raise anybody on the weekend."
Pichon spent the weekend in jail. At 8:40 a.m. Monday, in preparation for shipping Pichon back to Kansas, Gene Gugli, a detective in Denver's division of fugitives and warrants, sent a telex to the Kansas Department of Corrections. He requested that the department fax a photograph and copy of Pichon's fingerprints--"to make sure it wasn't some Joe Schmoe who didn't belong here," Gugli explains.
At 9:16 a.m., Gugli dashed off another telex to Kansas. It read, "Subject jailed by our department, Douglas Pichon, is not your wanted party. Fingerprint comparison is not the same. Our subject knows your wanted party as `Butch' Winfrey. Our subject claims Winfrey stole his ID and went to your prison as Douglas Pichon. We are releasing our subject."
"I took a taxicab home," Pichon says. "It cost $30, but I didn't care. I just wanted to get home. I hadn't slept or eaten for 48 hours."
The next day he telephoned the DPD's fugitives division. "I just wanted to make sure this wouldn't happen again," Pichon says. The secretary there recognized his name and said she'd run a background check to see if the outstanding warrant in his name reappeared. A moment later she said the computer scan had come up empty; he was safe.
"And that," Pichon says, "was that. I forgot about it. It was just a horrible nightmare, and it was over with."
Until last month.
"I responded to this shoplifting call at Cub Foods," begins Officer Ken Manzaneras of the Edgewater Police Department.
"It's more than embarrassing," says Pichon. "It's humiliating. Self-debasement. I don't know what to say."
What he eventually says is this: On the evening of December 30, 1995, he tried to lift some food from the Cub Foods store at 20th and Sheridan. He got caught.
"When I got Mr. Pichon's name," Manzaneras continues, "I made the standard call to records to have them clear him. And that's when the fugitive warrant from Kansas came up--something to do with a bank robbery there."
"The officer said, `Have you ever been arrested before?'" Pichon recalls. "And I said, `Yeah.' Then he asked, `Do you have a scar on your stomach?'
"And that's when I thought, `Oh, no. Not again.'"
"Everything matched," says Manzaneras. "It was to a T, just about: Social Security number, green eyes, the stomach scars--everything. Records radioed back and said, `Sure enough, that's the guy.' So I had him stand up and turn around. And I cuffed him."
Douglas Pichon showed up at the Jefferson County jail just before midnight December 30. "The first thing they did," he says, "is put me in one of those little orange suits, which was way too tight, and the foam slippers. And it's demeaning, because they check to see if you're carrying anything inside you, if you know what I mean."
"Next," he continues, "they took me to a counselor, who's supposed to figure out if you can handle incarceration. I said, `Young lady, none of that is my concern. My concern is that I shouldn't be here. I'm sure that you've heard that a lot. But this has happened to me before.' She told me she'd tell her supervisor."
On Sunday, December 31, the jail's acting supervisor was Rick Lang. "I've been around, and I've learned a lot from it," says Lang. A Marine Corps veteran, former phone company employee and Radio Shack salesman, Lang signed on with the Jeffco sheriff's department six years ago. "It's not my job to judge people," he says. "It's up to the little guy with the robe up on the hill." So he doesn't mind that most of his work is at the county lockup.
"Pichon came in from Edgewater on this fugitive warrant from Topeka, Kansas," Lang recalls. "He kept on saying, `It's not me! It's not me!'
"But, of course," he adds, "we hear that quite a bit."
Still, something about Pichon was compelling. "I don't know--maybe it was his demeanor, his manner. But he didn't sound like he was pulling anybody's legs," says Lang. "I was busy, though, and I didn't have a chance to look into it. It wasn't until about 4:30 that afternoon that I began getting involved." For starters, he requested Pichon's fingerprints from Kansas.
Lang's first clue that Pichon's story might not be jailhouse schlock came via the return teletype from Kansas. It listed a fingerprint classification that didn't match. And when Lang ran Pichon's local record, the Denver arrest turned up.
"In the process of looking at that," Lang says, "it became clear that we now had the same person that Denver had last year."
Lang remained cautious. At the very least, he figured, the Denver cops would have given Pichon some sort of document explaining that he wasn't the man Kansas wanted. (Pichon says he had exactly such a paper but that he had lost it. And when his computer crashed, he lost all the names of the Denver cops he'd dealt with.)
Lang also had to concede that if the man wanted for the bank robbery in Kansas and the man in the cell down the hall weren't the same person, they sure had a lot in common. Their Social Security numbers were nearly identical, the name and birthdate matched, and then there was the physical description: green eyes and a stomach scar.
Lang requested photos from Kansas.
While he waited, he decided to go talk with his prisoner. "I deal with people on a very light tone, to take the tension down," he explains. "I can walk into a location in the jail where the tension is high, and just by the way I deal with people, turn that level from high tension to low tension. I've got a lot of little cliches I use to break the ice. So when I entered Pichon's cell, I decided to say `Good morning' in Japanese. Of course, it wasn't morning."
The funny thing, Pichon says, was that he understood him. "Remember--I'd lived in Tokyo for four years," he adds. "He made me laugh. He told me it would take a little while to get me out."
"I didn't want to give him any promises," says Lang. "Just in case."
But Lang's doubts dissolved when the pictures arrived from Kansas. "They sent a 1985 photo and a 1993 photo of the guy they were looking for," he says. "Even though they were eight years apart, the two photos were definitely the same person."
They were not, however, the Douglas Pichon residing in Jeffco's jail. Says Lang, "I thought, `We have a problem here.'"
He placed another call to the Kansas Department of Corrections, as well as one to the on-duty assistant district attorney. "I wanted to resolve it that day," Lang says. "You know--the last good deed of 1995."
He made his deadline, but barely.
"Lang came in," Pichon recalls, "and said, `Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news is that there's no bad news.' Then he said, `You know, you shouldn't be here.'
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"I said, `Thank God.' So I signed this paper saying that I wouldn't hold Jefferson County responsible for false imprisonment, and they let me go." It was 10:50 p.m.
"I gave him a quarter to call a cab," says Lang, who two weeks ago received a commendation for his work on the case. "I didn't even ask if he already had one. I figured it was the least we could do."
But that late on New Year's Eve, no cab was available. Pichon didn't want his wife to pick him up, either--a random sobriety stop and another check on his identification could have proved problematic. So he started walking east along Highway 6. After about twenty minutes he was picked up by two men who'd been drinking and gambling in Central City. They dropped him off on Sheridan Boulevard, and Douglas Pichon walked home.
"I'm not sure I understand all of this," says Miskell, still looking at his computer screen at the Kansas Department of Corrections. "All I know is that we still have an outstanding warrant for a guy named Douglas Pichon. And it's obvious there's a Douglas Pichon living in the Denver area who we're not looking for. So do you know where we can find William Winfrey?"
According to Denver police records, William "Butch" Winfrey, who has a rap sheet approximately nine pages long, has most recently been going by the alias Kenneth Gunkel. He was arrested in Denver on June 11, 1995, for disturbing the peace and loitering. Unaware the man was wanted in Kansas, Denver police released him the following day.