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Murder in Ritzy Neighborhood Plays Like Classic Mystery Novel : Crime: Circumstantial evidence indicated that Jack Koslow killed his wife. Then Ft. Worth police got a telephone call.

April 19, 1992|MIKE COCHRAN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

FT. WORTH, Tex. — At 3:41 a.m. on March 12, Jack Koslow stumbled to a nearby home. Dazed, bloody and wearing only boxer shorts, he begged the neighbor to call 911.

Police and firemen entered the Koslow home through a rear door they found pried open. They climbed the stairs and discovered Caren Koslow's body in a pool of blood on the master bedroom floor.

Her face was mangled, her throat cut.

Blood was spattered on all four walls. There was an empty shotgun on the bed, and a bloody knife on the floor, across the room.

Both belonged to her husband, who gave police murky accounts of what had happened--and no clear explanation of how he had escaped her grisly fate.

All the evidence seemed to point to Jack Koslow. But this case, like any classic mystery novel, had an enormous surprise in store.

The Koslows' townhouse embraces the fringes of Rivercrest, an area of stately mansions occupied by many of Ft. Worth's oldest and richest families.

Caren Courtney Koslow, 40, qualified.

Her grandfather was colorful and wealthy Ft. Worth oilman H. L. Brown. Her uncle, Sonny Brown, is a widely known Midland, Tex., oilman.

Both she and her husband were active in the Ft. Worth Ballet, and Caren had become increasingly involved with the glitzy Jewel Charity ball.

Jack Koslow, 48, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, is a former vice president of the bank where Caren once worked. She quit her job soon after they married; he was laid off in 1990, and had been working on setting up his own company.

The two lived comfortably, not at the center of Ft. Worth's social whirl, but at its periphery. He's stocky and fastidious, with chiseled features. Friends described her as "a Yuppie American thoroughbred"--blond, beautiful skin, given to wearing Ralph Lauren.

Kristi Koslow, Koslow's adopted 17-year-old daughter by an earlier marriage, said she could think of nothing that would explain the attack.

"We were as close as a stepdaughter and stepmother could be," she told reporters. "I don't think anyone truly hated Caren. . . . It's really scary."

Koslow told police two intruders, carrying flashlights, kicked in the locked door of his bedroom and attacked him and his wife.

But why?

The house was not ransacked and robbery did not appear to be a motive, though Homicide Detective Curt Brannan and Sgt. Paul Kratz, among the first at the scene, later determined that Koslow's watch and billfold were missing.

Although severely beaten and slashed, Koslow suffered no life-threatening injuries. Bruises and abrasions were visible on the backs of his hands.

Early on, police spotted inconsistencies in Koslow's story. The most puzzling involved the security system, which Koslow said was armed but did not sound; police said it had been deactivated.

Meanwhile, Koslow provided vaguely conflicting, often fuzzy versions of the assault. And police were puzzled by details they found at the murder scene, like the .32-caliber bullet the assailants fired through the bedroom floor, the empty shotgun and unspent shells scattered on the floor.

Investigators also considered it strange that Koslow did not dial 911 from his own home.

The medical examiner's office indicated injuries on Koslow's hands were bite marks, presumably caused by his wife. And an autopsy report suggested that Caren Koslow may have died before midnight.

If so, that would leave nearly a four-hour gap in the time Koslow said the attack occurred and the time he appeared at his neighbor's home.

Finally, a Tarrant County grand jury subpoenaed records of a therapist who counseled the Koslow family, fueling speculation the Koslow marriage was shaky and possibly doomed before the attack.

"Pressure inside the police department was building from the top down," said a source close to the investigation. "Jack Koslow was tried, convicted and sentenced."

Publicly, police denied that Koslow was the prime suspect in his wife's death, though privately they confronted him with their suspicions.

Still, Koslow did not hire a lawyer--hardly the response investigators would expect from a murder suspect. And on the Monday after the attack, a weakened Koslow--his neck and throat bandaged, stitches visible in his head wounds--attended his wife's funeral.

As the circumstantial noose tightened, police received a telephone call from a frightened young man. He said he had a story to tell and wondered why police had not contacted him.

"I've got some things you need to take a look at," he said.

Those items included a bloody tire tool and bloody clothing.

The informant, 20, said a friend had asked him to dispose of them nearly two weeks earlier. He said the tire tool was used to bludgeon the Koslows.

Acting on the March 24 phone call, police converged on an Arlington video store at midnight and arrested a bright, quiet, hard-working 19-year-old from suburban White Settlement.

His name was Jeffrey Dillingham, a kid with a good job, adoring parents and a fiancee whom he intended to marry this summer.

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