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California and the West

Jobless Lawyer Solved Writer's Disappearance

Mysteries: Douglas Crawford says no one believed him after he found debris from Ford Explorer where Antelope Valley Freeway crosses California Aqueduct.

July 10, 1998|SCOTT GLOVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — An unemployed attorney with an engineering degree and a taste for true crime novels is the mysterious armchair detective who, on a hunch, led authorities to a section of the California Aqueduct where divers recovered what is believed to be the body of Gary Devore, the screenwriter who had been missing for more than a year.

While now an instant celebrity, Douglas Crawford said nobody believed him at first. "They told me that unless I killed the guy, call back Monday," he said.

Crawford recounted in an interview Thursday how he read a newspaper story marking the one-year anniversary of Devore's disappearance and was reminded of the case of an Orange County woman who disappeared several years ago and was found to have crashed into the aqueduct.

Crawford, 35, hypothesized that Devore suffered a similar fate and set out to retrace Devore's path the night he disappeared traveling through the Mojave Desert to his home in Santa Barbara County.

When Crawford arrived last week at the spot where the Antelope Valley Freeway crosses the California Aqueduct, he said, he got out of his car, climbed down the embankment and found debris from a white Ford Explorer--the same model Devore was driving.

Crawford said he called Santa Barbara County sheriff's investigators with his findings Friday, July 3. But authorities were skeptical.

He said he faxed a 30-page report of his findings to the Sheriff's Department but still got no response. Authorities became interested in his theory, he said, only after he sent an e-mail message to Devore's publicist, who passed the information to sheriff's investigators.

"I had to put the fire under their feet to get them to do something," he said.

When investigators finally become interested, Crawford said, they treated him like a suspect rather than an informant.

"They really put me through the ringer," he said. "I felt like I did something wrong."

Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department Sgt. Mike Burridge denied Crawford was ever a suspect and, in fact, pursued Crawford's information as soon as it was received.

"You can't have a suspect if you don't have a crime," Burridge said. "We don't have any evidence to suggest there is a crime."

Authorities have not yet ruled out foul play. But Rhett Price, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, said a special team of officers is investigating Devore's apparent death as a traffic accident.

"They are eventually going to go back and try to reconstruct the puzzle," Price said. "They'll use the vehicle to try to put the puzzle back together and determine how he ended up in the aqueduct."

Meanwhile, Capt. Dean Gilmour of the Los Angeles County coroner's office said the body pulled from the aqueduct has not yet been identified as Devore's, and that the results of a dental examination are pending. But he said a wallet with Devore's driver's license was in the back pocket of the blue jeans found on the body.

Gilmour said the cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy, which could be done as early as today.

"It looks like a straight accident," he said. "There are no obvious signs of trauma."

Devore, 55, who had screen credits for the films "The Dogs of War" and "Running Scared," was returning to his Carpinteria home from a visit to Santa Fe, N.M., when he disappeared early on the morning of June 28, 1997.

His disappearance spurred several theories among friends and family. Some believed he was carjacked and killed for his 1997 Ford Explorer. The most farfetched theory had him accepting a covert assignment with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Authorities, however, had little else to go on until Crawford took up the case.

The amateur sleuth graduated from law school in 1996, passing the bar on his first try. He then promptly sued his school, California Western School of Law in San Diego, alleging he had received a substandard education.

"I investigated them and they are making representations that are not true," he said. The case was dismissed, but Crawford is appealing.

That same year, Crawford sued Continental Airlines after he missed his flight from Honolulu to San Diego. The airline, which contended that Crawford was late to the gate, settled for $500.

Crawford said he is so far disappointed with his 15 minutes of fame.

For starters, he said, producers from the television program "Extra" reneged on a promise to pay him for an exclusive interview on the show--a charge "Extra" officials deny. Show executives say the program does not pay for interviews.

Crawford said he is also bothered by people questioning his motives, as well as his ability to solve a case that had stumped law enforcement.

For example, he said, he has been accused of being "Dr. Find It," a secret Internet entity who allegedly approached Devore's publicist, Michael Sands, inquiring about a reward for finding Devore. He also was upset by Devore's wife, Wendy Oates-Devore, who reportedly demanded during a TV interview that he take a polygraph test about his role in finding her husband.

"I'm a harbinger of bad news," Crawford said. "What's that saying? Kill the messenger?"

Crawford said he still worries about police considering him a potential suspect. He said he had recently been digging through credit card receipts to prove his whereabouts on the night Devore disappeared.

"I was right here," he said from his San Diego home. "I didn't go anywhere."

The one thing Crawford won't talk about is how he makes a living.

"I just like to say I'm unemployed," he said. "I have plenty of things to do, I just don't have a job."

Times staff writers Tony Perry, Robert W. Welkos and Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.

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