When the detectives checked Leasure's files, they saw he had called in sick on the morning of Anne Smith's murder. Leasure was their man, they decided. Assistant Dist. Atty. James E. Koller, by then assigned full-time to the Leasure case, requested a secret hearing, in which Persico was belatedly exonerated.
Despite believing in France, Koller and the detectives knew no jury would convict an L.A. policeman solely on the word of an admitted murderer. Defense attorneys would have a field day ripping apart his story. The police had to find corroboration.
And so an elaborate plan was set in motion to employ France as an undercover agent. Using phone taps and body wires, he would attempt to get unwitting confessions from Leasure and the other suspects.
Winebaugh was the first to fall. His good friend France called him in Oklahoma City, where he had moved shortly after the Cervantes murder. As the tape recorder spun, France got Winebaugh to describe the murder and admit his involvement.
But when France tried to get him to incriminate Leasure, the conversation turned ambiguous. France had said Leasure paid for the hit on Cervantes, but Winebaugh said otherwise. Leasure "turned me on" to Paulette, he said, but "he didn't give me anything."
At one point Winebaugh said, "Bill knows nothing for certain." Later, he amended that, saying, "He knows all, but he can prove nothing. . . . It's our word against his."
Art Smith was targeted next. When France called him and said they had to talk about "the beauty shop," Smith made no direct admissions. But his reaction, Koller would later argue, was that of a guilty man: Smith told France not to say anything more on the telephone, and agreed to meet him. (He never showed up for the meeting, however.)
Paulette de los Reyes was next. In lengthy, secretly taped conversations with a police officer she mistakenly thought was a friend, she eventually admitted--after repeated denials--that she had asked Leasure to kill Tony. Once again, though, France was contradicted on a key point: She said she never paid Leasure a cent. She recalled him saying only, "Paulette, I may need a favor from you some day."
LAPD investigators turned their attention and France's body wire to Leasure's wife as well--but they found no evidence Betsy Mogul participated in any crimes attributed to him. The worst thing investigators could find was a false declaration on a Department of Motor Vehicles form she had signed, which said she had obtained her aging Mercedes from her father, exempting her from sales tax. The "father" was Arthur Smith.
The D.A.'s office filed perjury charges. Mogul was acquitted after her husband testified that he had filled out the form incorrectly--after Mogul signed it. Still, she was fired from the City Attorney's Office. "I think it's a travesty," Mogul said. "The system is supposed to be: You're innocent until proven guilty. "
The linchpin of the prosecution's case came through France's undercover work on Leasure himself--a visit to the Los Angeles County Jail with a video camera trained on the glassed visitor's booth. On the resulting 23-minute video, France and Leasure speak casually about family and jail conditions and other innocuous subjects, while Leasure scribbles on a scrap of paper, erases it, then scribbles a new message. The first note read, "Don't say anything."
France then avoided directly mentioning murders, referring instead to "Avenue 60," and then asking what happened to the gun "from that one." The beauty shop in which Anne Smith was killed stood near the corner of Avenue 60 and Figueroa.
Leasure's written reply: "Melted."
France had previously told Arce and Petroski that Leasure had disposed of the murder weapon by melting it.
Leasure also asked France in writing if police who searched his house in Downey had found "any brass," an apparent reference to bullets. When France asked why that would matter if the gun had been melted, making ballistics tests impossible, Leasure wrote: "They have the one." According to Koller, this refers to the one expended casing found at the scene of the Smith murder.
There were several more notes, but the final one, just before Leasure leaned forward and apparently spotted the lens of the camera protruding from its hiding place above the visitor's window, read: "Dump everything illegal."
When he saw the camera, Leasure remained calm and mild. He sounded sad, not angry, when he bid Dennis France a muted goodby.
A few months later, Leasure secretly petitioned the Superior Court for a body wire of his own, claiming he could get France to admit the charges against him were lies if the two of them were left alone somewhere. The request was denied.