Rufus E. Adams faithfully kept a diary, recording matters that ranged from the most mundane--what he purchased at a local grocery -- to highly explicit descriptions of his sexual encounters with women and men.
The 540-page diary, written in a cramped hand on yellow legal-size paper, was cryptic and filled with coded symbols. When police deciphered it, they became convinced it was a road map to the brutal slaying of a prostitute named Alfreda Garner. Late last month, a jury in D.C. Superior Court agreed. It found Rufus Adams guilty of murder.
Oct. 22, 1980: D.C. police homicide detectives began investigating the death of a woman whose decomposing body was found in the basement of an apartment building at 704 Third St. NW, just blocks from the Capitol.
The woman was naked but for knee-high stockings and a pair of high-heeled shoes. The rest of her clothing--a pink pantsuit and black blouse--was folded neatly at her head. She was lying face down in a pool of blood. There was no identification in her clothing. She clearly had been dead for several days.
She appeared to have been stabbed at least a dozen times. There was a peculiar wound around the front of her neck.
They searched the area. It seemed her body had been carried to that isolated corner of the basement. The basement was locked, indicating she had been killed inside the building. But the basement was clean. The detectives could find no trail of blood and no weapon.
They took fingerprints to try to identify her. They removed the body a few minutes after 4 p.m.
Four floors above, in his small efficiency apartment, Adams was writing in the diary: . . . Then I walked home / To find that ripples have been made / . . . 4:20 pm It's gone / There is a bad smell comming from down stairs . . .
At police headquarters later that day, homicide detectives Michael Helwig, McKinley Williams and Larry Williams got a crucial, lucky break: The woman's fingerprints were on file. They had been taken only a month before, when she had been arrested for soliciting for prostitution. It was the only time she had ever been arrested.
Her name was Alfreda Garner, according to the police criminal file. She was 24 years old and lived in an apartment at 1536 Independence Ave. SE.
McKinley Williams called the apartment. He was lucky again. A close friend of Garner's, Beverly Butler, answered. She had dropped by because she was worried about her friend, and was just leaving when Williams called.
The detective arranged to meet Butler at the apartment the next day.
No visits yet / . . . voices and keys--a white sound / still no knock . . . , Adams wrote the next morning. He also wrote that he aired out the apartment rugs, which he had washed a few days before.
Adams left the apartment to go shopping. He took a cab home. Driver said it was on the news last nite / . . . no ripples but vibes say they are watching . . . He went to an ice-cream store and ate two sundaes.
Helwig went back to the apartment building to talk to residents. It was an unproductive visit.
Adams returned from the ice-cream parlor and updated his diary, which he did several times a day. They were here when I left out to go to Baskin Robbins But only 1. / Gone when I got back.
While Adams was working on his diary, McKinley Williams was across town in Garner's apartment on Independence Avenue, talking to Beverly Butler. Butler told him that the last time she saw Garner was the previous Thursday, Oct. 16.
"What was she wearing?" Williams asked.
A pink pantsuit and a black blouse, Butler recalled.
She also told Williams that Garner used the name Rita when she worked the streets.
Williams walked around the dead woman's apartment. He saw an address book and a small pile of notes with names and phone numbers on a night stand in the bedroom. He scooped up the notes and the address book. Late that night, Adams wrote: No spotters seen . . . I know they are coming.
Monday, Oct. 27, 1980: Helwig went through the notes McKinley Williams had taken from Garner's apartment. There were dozens of names and numbers, but one caught his eye.
Garner had written the name "Kevin" and a phone number. She had also written, "Call Thursday." That was the day the detectives believed she was killed. The first three digits of the number were an exchange in the same downtown area where the body was found.
Helwig checked the cross-listings. The number was unlisted. He got a subpoena that day to get the listing from the telephone company.
The number, Helwig learned, was listed to Rufus E. Adams, Apt. 42, 704 Third St. NW.
The next morning, Adams wrote: No visitors yet . . .
Helwig, who had spent three years investigating sexual crimes, was certain the killer was a sexual psychopath. He checked Adams' name in the sex-offense branch files and in the central records. The police records showed a history of brutal knife assaults on women. Adams had several prior arrests and convictions, court records showed, including a 1972 conviction for two armed rapes. He had served seven years in Lorton reformatory after that conviction, and was paroled in late 1979.
The detectives were certain they had their man. But there was one problem. Garner's note said she was to call someone named Kevin, not Rufus.
On Tuesday, Oct. 28, they got a search warrant for Adams' apartment.
Adams answered the door. He was 35 years old, trim, of medium height. His hair was short and he was partially bald. He had piercing dark eyes and sharp features.
The detectives decided not to use the warrant. Instead, they asked Adams if they could "have a look around."
The efficiency apartment was not merely clean. It was, Helwig later testified, "immaculate."
Adams, friendly and apparently eager to cooperate, said they could search. But they took no chances, wanting to eliminate the possibility of an appeal after a trial on the grounds that the search was illegal. They had the building manager witness that Adams had consented to a search and consented to talk with them.
Larry Williams noticed a sheet of yellow legal paper with notations on it.
"You keep a diary?" he asked. Adams said he did. Williams asked to see it.
Adams went to a kitchen closet and returned with a stack of papers. "No," Williams said after he glanced at the pile. "I want to see the diary for Oct. 16." Adams retrieved another stack of papers. Williams looked again but the date was not there. He asked again. This time he got the entry for Oct. 16.
7:15 pm Rita calls / We make a date / . . . Then I ran into Rita / we rap catch a cab to my place / . . . I got $50 / Time is 11:30 p.m. / I start cleaning up / No eyes / But Shorty--Miss Chink--Dude next door Diana and Mrs. Briscoe all heard noises. Time now is 1:30 a.m.
Helwig showed Adams the police mug shot of Alfreda Garner, taken when she was arrested. "You ever seen her?"
Adams said he never had. He wrote the denial on the back of the picture.
I walked down 14th to L / . . . I spotted two angels . . . talked to light brown one convinced her to come home with me / we catch a cab / I fix drinks . . . / she posed / legs excellent / hairy / . . . a beginner excellent/ $50.00 + 2.20 + 15.00 (over time) + 1.00 toward return cab trip $67.20 / . . . I help her catch a cab after 1/2 hr. / I should have completed it / But I did not / . . . Rita Wms / an angel / . . . I discovered that Rita may know my real name because an ad for some novels was in plain view on my dresser which I overlooked . . . -- Diary entry for Oct. 11-12, four days before Alfreda Garner was killed.
While Larry Williams read the diary, Helwig and McKinley Williams walked through the apartment.
Helwig opened a footlocker. He found a plastic shopping bag. Inside the bag he saw two wooden handles connected with a wire. It was a garrote. Helwig remembered the strange wound on Garner's neck. "Hey, look at this," he said to his partners, holding up the garrote, stretching the wire out.
They asked Adams to come down to headquarters for a voluntary statement. He agreed, saying he wanted to help clear up the murder.
Larry Williams typed Adams' statement, which included his denials that he knew the woman. Adams initialed the typographical mistakes Williams intentionally made at various points so it would be clear that Adams had read the statement closely. "Det. Larry Williams bought me a Coca-Cola," Adams wrote at the end of the statement.
The detectives held a brief meeting while Adams sat in the headquarters homicide office. They decided to arrest him for the murder of Alfreda Garner.
In the next weeks, Helwig studied the diary, day after day. It started in 1979, shortly before Adams was released from Lorton. Some of the scrawls were illegible. Adams used symbols frequently, apparently as a shorthand for various sexual acts.
Helwig read Adams' recollections of stalking women he had seen coming out of office buildings, watching them at bus stops and following them home. Helwig noted how Adams meticulously described how much he paid prostitutes for sex and how and when they left his apartment. The only time Adams did not describe how much he paid or how a prostitute left his apartment was the second time he met "Rita Williams." That was when Adams wrote: I got $50.
On page 463, Helwig read that Adams had called a woman but noted, She has made other plans . . . I used the wrong name / Kevin instead of Rufus.
"Bingo!" Helwig said aloud.
Feb. 8, 1982: Fifteen months later, assistant U.S. attorney Steve Gordon sat in his office reviewing the evidence and preparing for trial. Adams had written that there were "no eyes"--no witnesses--but that "Shorty" and several other neighbors had heard noises.
Apparently Adams was wrong on one count. His neighbors did not hear any noises. Gordon had a completely circumstantial case.
Gordon had the slip of paper from Garner's night stand with Adams' unlisted phone number and the name Kevin on it. He had a garrote that had two tiny traces of blood on each handle, but the traces were so small the FBI laboratory could not say whether they were animal or human.
There were bloodstains on the box springs of Adams' bed, and the blood type was not Adams' and could have been Garner's. But that too was inconclusive.
Former D.C. medical examiner William J. Brownlee would testify that Garner had been stabbed and that the garrote alone had not killed her. Brownlee would explain why the garrote was not immediately lethal. It did not sever the neck arteries.
No knife had been found that could be linked to the murder. No other blood had been found in the apartment, none on the stairs down to the basement or in the elevator.
In the end, what Gordon had was the diary -- cryptic, garbled, rambling, filled with vague references to people and events.
D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I had allowed Gordon to present most of the diary as evidence, despite strong objections from Adams' court-appointed lawyers, W. Gary Kohlman and William Traylor.
Gordon knew he had to prove that the diary was a true account by Adams and that it was not, as Adams' lawyers maintained, a "manuscript, part real, part imagined." And, because Adams was also charged with two counts of sodomy, Gordon had to prove that a symbol in the diary -- a circle with short dashes coming out like sunrays -- was the symbol for that act.
FBI expert Richard Williams read and deciphered the diary as best he could, preparing a typewritten version for the jurors so they could follow it without difficulty. Williams also concluded that the diary was written by one person, and that person was Rufus Adams.
Gordon had Murray Miron, a professor of psycholinguistics at Syracuse University, do a computer analysis of the diary. Miron concluded that the symbol did stand for sodomy, but he could not be certain about other symbols Adams had used.
The homicide detectives rounded up a dozen men and women who knew Adams and would testify that his entries in the diary were accurate descriptions of their encounters with him. The witnesses ranged from other women with whom Adams had had relationships to the landlord who would testify that Adams did in fact pay the rent on the days the diary said he did. A D.C. General Hospital staff member testified that on July 8, 1980, as Adams had written, he was treated at the hospital.
Still, it was a circumstantial case. "You will have to put on detective's caps," Gordon told the jurors in his opening statement on Feb. 9, "while we recreate the evidence."
Ten long days later, Gordon summarized his case, asking the jurors to read the copies of the diary he had prepared for each of them. "You are inside the mind of a murderer," Gordon said. The diary makes it "clear he was . . . prowling, stalking, looking for a victim," he argued. He noted a passage where Adams had written that he wanted a woman he "can hurt."
Throughout the trial, Adams, who until a few months before his arrest had worked as a temporary city employe in the dairy at Lorton, sat expressionless, staring at a middle distance between himself and Judge Moultrie, a dozen feet away. Adams was neatly dressed each day in a three-piece suit.
He sighed and rested his forehead in his right hand, shaking his head slowly, when the jury foreman read the verdict on Feb. 25 after three days of deliberation.
"Guilty" on all counts of murder, sodomy and robbery, the foreman said.
Just before Adams was led away, Moultrie informed the jurors that they would have to return on April 14, to begin a second phase of the trial. The jury will have to decide whether Adams was legally insane when he killed Alfreda Garner.