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Sergeant as Suspect : Police Officer Investigated in Wife's Slaying Tells His Side

February 28, 1993|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was just before dawn last Christmas Eve that Culver City Police Sgt. Harvey Bailey delivered a batch of his wife's homemade cookies to fellow night-shift officers at the station, then came home to find her bludgeoned and strangled.

The oven was still warm, the scent of chocolate chip cookies still filled the West 99th Street bungalow, and the couple's 8-year-old son still slept.

Now the 34-year-old officer, twice named Culver City's Officer of the Year, is a suspect in Jan Bailey's slaying.

Harvey Bailey says he is innocent. And he says he is taking the unusual step, as an uncharged murder suspect, of going public about the case in hopes that someone who saw something suspicious that night--in a neighborhood distrustful of police--will come forward. The killing itself received scant media attention.

"I'm real scared of what's going on right now--it's taking way too long, and too much is at risk," Bailey said in an interview. "I want to find for my peace of mind who did this to Jan and why. . . . I don't know if my family's in danger."

Los Angeles Police Detective Philip Vannatter confirmed that Bailey is a suspect in the killing but declined to discuss the status of the investigation. "We have not eliminated anybody as a suspect or settled on anyone as the prime suspect," he said.

But, he added, "If your spouse had just been murdered and you didn't have anything to do with it, would you run get an attorney?"

Bailey said he decided to seek legal advice several weeks after the killing, when he realized from the changing tenor of police questions that he was under suspicion.

Bailey acknowledges that his alibi is weak: He says he spent part of the night out skating alone. He admits that the marriage was troubled and that he was involved with another woman. He knows the police found no sign of forced entry, and that the money he stands to gain from his wife's life insurance and pension plan--less than $100,000--could be seen as a motive.

Bailey, who is not privy to details of the investigation, said he fears that Los Angeles detectives may be taking a shortcut to solving "just another South-Central slaying" by focusing on him.

"They're spending an awful lot of time on me. But if they're investigating other avenues as carefully, then they're doing a hell of a thorough job." He said police have also questioned his girlfriend.

Bailey's lawyer, Joel Isaacson, said he has advised his client not to answer further questions or submit to a police polygraph test, both of which the lawyer considers harassment.

"He has already given a full statement," Isaacson said. "I think lie-detector tests are hocus-pocus and they're inadmissible in court anyhow. But we would consider taking a polygraph administered by a neutral party."

Isaacson said last week that police told him the case may be submitted to a grand jury, an avenue often chosen in cases with weak evidence or reluctant witnesses. But a spokesman for the district attorney's office said the case has not yet been formally presented by police, and grand jury adviser David Guthman said the case has not yet crossed his desk.

Explaining his decision to agree to an interview, even though it meant disclosing his marital difficulties and his affair, Bailey said, "Sometimes you only have one shot (at finding a murderer), and we are trying to take that. I live in a decent neighborhood, but in South-Central police are not our favorite people."

Neighbors have told police of seeing a gang member dubbed Kojak in the vicinity around the time of the murder, Bailey said. And two other in-home robbery-killings occurred nearby within the same month, one less than a quarter-mile away on 108th Street, another on 73rd Street. Bailey said he is also asking himself whether his wife's slaying might be connected to several major narcotics arrests he made.

Police are tight-lipped about the weapon used in the killing. But Bailey said a telephone cord is missing from the house, along with a small tapestry jewelry box of keepsakes that Jan Bailey kept on their dresser and some loose chains she wore daily.

A man of few words who cracks his knuckles as he talks, Bailey said that at the time of his wife's slaying, he was working the 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as a uniformed patrol officer. Although he did not work the night of Dec. 23, he said he generally kept the same hours even on his day off, staying up at night and sleeping during the day. His wife, also 34, had worked as an administrative assistant for a tax firm in Torrance for 14 years.

"We were getting ready for the (holiday) weekend," Bailey recalled. "Jan was baking cookies and doing the wash because we knew we'd be running around visiting and going to parties."

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