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Commentary: Murder or science - follow the evidence

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 23, 2009 - The first girl went missing the week before Thanksgiving. The 9 year old left her school friends a block from her home and vanished in broad daylight. Her body would later be found in a forest preserve by a deer hunter. The case received extensive local media coverage.

The second girl disappeared four days after the hunter's gruesome discovery. Ten years of age, she was last seen walking through her neighborhood en route to a friend's house to decorate a Christmas tree.

While the search was on for the latest victim, a third girl reported that a man had tried to force her into his car as she was walking home from school. She managed to escape and was able to give police a detailed description of her assailant and the vehicle he was driving. This was now a national story.

All three girls were close in age and answered to the same basic physical description. Each of the incidents occurred in the north county region of suburban St. Louis and took place on a weekday in the after school - before dusk hours.

Prior to the third incident, violent offender profilers from the FBI had furnished cops with a perp straight out of Central Casting: white male, 25-45 years old, lives alone or with an aged parent, no close personal friends, unemployed or works at a menial job: the stereotypical portrait of a total loser.

When the third victim described her attacker to the cops, he matched the physical profile of the FBI perfectly. It was obvious that a serial killer was on the prowl in North County. Press coverage was unremitting as the investigation intensified.

Then, the body of the second victim was found swaddled in blankets in an alley in the west end of the city. My mother called from Chicago to advise that she'd seen me on the evening news, as did an uncle from California. Only an idiot could deny that a serial killer was at work in St. Louis.

The panic was now full-blown. Normally bustling after-school streets were deserted as terrified parents kept their children under lock and key. Lame Christmas decorations rang a hollow note of holiday cheer, belying the primal fear that gripped the households they adorned.

At the time, I was both a detective sergeant on the city police and the father of four young daughters who lived with their mother in the suburbs. My interest in this matter was thus both professional and personal -- and I was not alone.

The one characteristic shared by virtually every cop I've ever known is an abiding hatred of those who would harm children. Cops despise bullies, and there's no greater bully than an adult who preys on a defenseless child.

We worked on a massive inter-jurisdictional taskforce, pulling 12-16 hour shifts while relentlessly pursuing every lead. In the course of the manhunt, I began smoking again after a seven year hiatus. We were determined to get this son-of-a-bitch come hell or high water ...

Though we would eventually solve two of the three cases, we never did find our serial killer. That's because he was a figment of our imagination.

When lab technicians examined the blankets in which the body of the second victim was wrapped, they found a hair sample that was subsequently identified as coming from an African-American male.

That incongruous finding -- which clearly did not fit our profile -- along with tire tracks from the scene of the body's recovery ultimately led us to a recently paroled black ex-con. He's now on Death Row awaiting an execution date and, with it, the attendant opportunity to become a liberal celebrity.

The pervert who tried to grab the third girl turned out to be a family man from Texas who was in town on a business trip. He went to the penitentiary.

The first girl's killer has yet to be found, although we know he wasn't the ex-con or the businessman because neither man was in the metro area at the time of her abduction.

So there you have it: Three completely unrelated crimes came together to cast the shadow of a phantom. Our serial killer certainly appeared to pose a clear and present danger, and we were passionate in our resolve to find him.

But just because we were truly sincere in our beliefs, it does not follow that our beliefs were sincerely true. Had we ignored contradictory evidence and clung to our original theory at all costs, we'd have solved nothing and two dangerous predators would still be at large.

I mention all of this to illustrate the inherent folly of so-called "settled science." Once you believe something exists, you can always find evidence to bolster your case. Only by following the empirical data where they lead you, can you hope to distinguish fictions of the intellect from reality.

Secondhand smoke crusaders tout the dangers of environmental smoke as established fact. In doing so, they conveniently overlook the fact that OSHA already has the authority to outlaw smoking in the workplace -- including every bar and restaurant in the U.S. -- if only it could find one credible study that proved that anybody had ever been harmed by somebody else smoking a cigarette. No such study exists, so true believers rely on local propaganda campaigns, such as the one we're currently undergoing in St. Louis, to advance their case.

Similarly, global warming alarmists dismiss reports published in the National Geographic that space probes have detected climate changes on Mars; Saturn's largest moon, Titan; Neptune's largest moon, Triton, and the former planet Pluto that mirror recent patterns on Earth. Former NASA climatologist Roy Spencer likens these hysterics to primitive peoples who thought storms were God's punishments for their personal transgressions.

Cap & Trade proponents respond to critics by asserting that there's no time left to consider the issue before passing economically devastating legislation to remedy a problem that may not exist.

As the pursuit of the imaginary serial killer demonstrates, when somebody tells you there's no time to think, it's time to start thinking ...

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.