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Officer is again under scrutiny in wife's death

December 13, 2006|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Culver City police officer Harvey Bailey returned home from his office early on Christmas Eve 1992 to find his wife strangled and bludgeoned to death in the bedroom of their South Los Angeles bungalow.

Not long after, the police sergeant and two-time officer of the year became the main suspect in the slaying. Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives repeatedly questioned him, and prosecutors convened a grand jury to examine the case.

In the end, he was never charged in his wife's death. Bailey remarried and was promoted to lieutenant after working a series of assignments with the Culver City Police Department.

But 14 years later, the LAPD is again examining the slaying of Jan Bailey -- and the focus again is on the 28-year police veteran.

LAPD detectives served search warrants at Bailey's two homes and his locker at Culver City police headquarters.

As a result of those searches, Bailey has been charged with two felony counts of illegal possession of assault weapons and faces formal arraignment Thursday in criminal court.

The guns, including two semi-automatic rifles, were seized by LAPD detectives March 31 in connection with a warrant served at Bailey's 99th Street home, which he was renting to his in-laws.

LAPD officials declined to discuss details of their investigation, and search warrants in the case have been sealed.

But law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said that cold-case homicide detectives were assigned to reexamine the case earlier this year.

Investigators were aided by agents from the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, which develops suspect profiles.

Bailey's defense attorney, Joel Isaacson, said the current charges, which he characterized as "hyper-technical firearm violations," are part of a calculated effort by detectives to harass and pressure his client in connection with the cold case.

"He hadn't heard anything to speak of all these years," Isaacson said.

The lawyer said reopening the case has been wrenching for his client, reviving unpleasant memories of his wife's murder. The Baileys' 8-year-old son, Christopher, was sleeping in the house on the night of the crime.

"He's a very quiet, soft-spoken man, and it's a real nightmare for him," Isaacson said of his client. "He's cooperated at every turn and answered every question that has been asked of him. He told everyone around him to do the same. It's very disappointing that it's come to this."

Culver City police officials refused to comment on the Bailey case, saying it involved a private personnel matter. Isaacson confirmed that his client was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

In a 1993 interview with The Times, Bailey acknowledged that at the time of the slaying he had been having marital problems and that he was involved with another woman and stood to inherit upward of $100,000 of his wife's life insurance policy and pension plan.

Bailey insisted that he was innocent and said that police had taken shortcuts in their investigation.

Neighbors told police that they had seen a gang member dubbed "Kojak" nearby around the time of the killing and said that two other home robbery-killings had occurred in the same month as his wife's murder, one of them less than a quarter of a mile away, Bailey said.

Tom Lange and Philip Vannatter, who later gained fame investigating the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, told a different story.

According to their investigation, Bailey regularly worked the night shift as a sergeant but was at home with his wife the night of Dec. 23.

She had baked chocolate-chip cookies for upcoming holiday parties and for her husband's colleagues. They went to bed about 9 p.m.

Bailey told the detectives that he awoke four hours later, now early December 24, and left to go roller-blading in an area near the Culver City-Los Angeles border, which included the Fox Hills Mall.

Between 3:45 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., he stopped by Culver City police headquarters to talk to fellow officers on the night shift and deliver his wife's cookies.

He told detectives that he arrived home about 6 a.m. Bailey walked up to the bedroom and found Jan Bailey lying face down, bleeding from a head wound. He tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation and dialed 911.

She was pronounced dead a short time later at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital. Bailey said a telephone cord was missing from the house, along with a small tapestry jewel box of keepsakes from his wife's dresser and loose chains that she wore.

At the time, detectives said that Bailey aroused suspicion by failing to submit to a polygraph test and immediately hiring a criminal defense attorney.

Police said they were also puzzled because during interviews, Bailey never expressed concern about the safety of his son, who was home at the time of the slaying.

In the short term, Isaacson said he would challenge whether detectives had probable cause for the search that resulted in the weapons charge.

But the lawyer said he was also developing a defense if Bailey is charged with murder.

"We have developed new information regarding the person who is responsible for this murder," Isaacson said without elaborating. "These charges will bring the investigation to a conclusion. That's my sincere hope. It's gone on too long."

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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