Detective Yolonda Pryor read to the suspect a list of Constitutional rights printed on a Voluntary Waiver form. She looked at the suspect’s Arizona Driver’s License and wrote ‘Larry Pickering’ on the first line of the form, added the date, pushed it across the desk, and handed Larry a pen.
“You didn’t think I would talk,” Larry said as he signed his name at the bottom of the form.
“Why do you say that?” Detective Pryor asked.
“You were talking to the other police officer,” Larry said as he returned the pen.
Yolonda looked at the suspect and said, “When did you hear that?” She knew that nobody in the interview room could hear a normal conversation in the hallway or adjacent offices.
“Sorry, uh . . . It doesn’t matter,” Larry murmured.
An hour earlier, there was a bank robbery in the Wallingford area of Seattle. Bank employees reported two men came in just before closing and demanded cash. One of the robbers was described as a white male, in his late 30s or early 40s, medium build, brown hair, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. He passed a note to the teller saying he was armed and demanding cash. The other man diverted people at the door from entering the bank. The teller did as instructed; the robbers ran from the bank and fled in a red Honda.
Minutes later, Larry Pickering was driving his red 2010 Honda Accord south on Wallingford Avenue and was pulled over by an SPD patrol officer. Larry was wearing a Seattle Mariners baseball cap, sunglasses, and virus protection face mask. At the Wallingford precinct building, Detective Pryor removed the handcuffs and asked Larry if he would answer some questions.
“Do you know why we pulled you over, Mr. Pickering?”
Larry sat with his arms folded tightly across his chest and nodded.
“Tell me why,” Yolonda continued.
“My car matches a . . . well, something to do with a bank robbery,” Larry replied. The Detective stopped taking notes and looked at the suspect.
“Mr. Pickering, the only way you could know that is if you were involved in the robbery.”
Realizing his mistake, Larry pulled his cap down over his eyes and looked at his hands, “I heard you talking with the other officer,” Larry said. “But It wasn’t me,” Larry added, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Twice, you have said you heard me talking to another officer. That is not possible, Mr. Pickering. People are talking right now in adjacent rooms and down the hall, and we cannot hear those conversations,” she explained.
“I hear things other people cannot hear,” Larry replied as he squirmed in the chair. “That is why I’m in Seattle with an Arizona license. I was hired by the Mariners because I can hear . . . things,” he said and paused. “They signed me during Spring Training before the MLB stopped everything because of the COVID-19,” Larry continued. “You want my address?” he added, not sure how much to explain.
“You want me to believe you work for the Seattle Mariners?”
“Sure, call them,” he blurted out.
Yolonda hesitated and then asked, “Call who, where?”
“Call Mark O’Dell, at the front office,” Larry said and gave the phone number.
“Who is Mark O’Dell?”
“He is in player development. I met him during Arizona Spring Training and showed him I could hear signs . . . things.”
Detective Pryor left the interview and walked to the room where Lieutenant Randy Brooks was sitting before a monitor watching Larry. He removed his headset when Yolonda walked into the room, and the two officers just looked at each other.
“Did you hear all that?” Yolonda asked. “He was right about our thinking he would not make a statement and the match of his car to the bank robbery.”
Brooks nodded and said, “I’m going to call that phone number. This guy is either crazy, a con artist, or both.” Brooks confirmed with the Mariners front office that Mark O’Dell was an employee, then called O’Dell.
“My name is Lieutenant Randy Brooks, Seattle Police Department, and I was given your name and number by a man from Arizona who is in our custody, Mr. O’Dell. He says he works for the Mariners and we — “
“Larry Pickering; arrested for what?”
“So, you do know him?”.
“Yes, he works for the Mariners or will whenever we get the season started. Is he OK?”
“He is fine,” Brooks replied. “Can I ask you some questions about him? He claims he was hired because he hears things if you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” O’Dell replied. “I can explain, but I more worried about what trouble he is in right now.”
An hour later, Mark O’Dell was sitting with the two SPD officers in Lieutenant Brooks’ office. He told them how he had discovered Larry’s remarkable ability to hear the signs delivered by hand gestures between catcher and pitcher. He described how skeptical baseball management was even after they saw him correctly pre-describe pitches without even seeing the players. “He hears agreement between the players based on the signs, and when they don’t agree, he hears distraction. What he hears is agreement,” O’Dell explained.
“He says he can hear our conversations when he is in a sound isolation room,” Lieutenant Brooks said. “No hand signals involved.”
“We have not tried to explain his powers or have experts diagnose Larry. We know he does this with no apparent effort, and it was a power he had as early as high school,” O’Dell advised. “When two people mentally agree, he hears it like it was verbalized. In baseball, he does not have to see the signs; he hears the agreement between the pitcher and catcher.”
The phone rang on Lieutenant Brooks’ desk, interrupting the conversation. After listening, he thanked the caller and looked at Detective Pryor, “The Washington State Patrol stopped a red Honda going south on I-5 through Olympia, and they have two suspects and a suitcase full of cash in custody.” Turning his attention to O’Dell, he said, “We can release your friend.”
“Thanks, and may I ask if there is any reason SPD has to tell anybody about Larry and why he works for the Mariners?” O’Dell asked.
Brooks said, “No reason to say anything about him. He was a suspect only because of his car, and he fit the general description and location. But I’m curious how the Mariners plan to use his superpower, so to speak.”
“Is it a crime to steal signs in baseball?” Yolonda asked.
“That topic was much debated because it came up shortly after the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. Stealing signs in baseball is called ‘The Dark Arts.’ The Astros used electronic equipment to steal signs, and that violates baseball rules. Larry doesn’t even have to see the signals to know what ball will be pitched next. Our challenge is how to legally get his knowledge about the next pitch to our batter. We were working on a solution when Spring Training was canceled.”
“Did you find a solution,” Yolonda asked.
O’Dell stood up, smiled, and said, “I’ll wait for Larry in the lobby.”
Detective Pryor walked O’Dell to the lobby. As they shook hands, she asked whether the Mariners had an exclusive on Larry Pickering.
“Right now, we do,” O’Dell responded. “He has a contract with us and cannot work for another team.”
“I’m thinking more along the lines of working for us in special cases.”
“I suppose he could help on his days off,” he said and paused. “Detective, Larry is a special person. He is shy, and at the same time, has confidence in his power to hear things the rest of us cannot hear. Because he loves baseball, he has focused his power on the signals between players and coaches. I was surprised when you described Larry hearing conversations between police officers here in the station. I think you will find that he is reluctant to stretch his power beyond what you saw today.”
When she returned to the interview room, Yolonda asked Larry, “Did you hear our conversation with Mr. O’Dell?”
“I heard him tell you about me.”
“Larry, we are going to let you go, and thanks for your cooperation. I have one question if you don’t mind. When we have difficult cases, we need to find creative investigative methods. Can I call upon you in a situation where we think your power to hear things could be used to solve a crime?” she asked.
“You mean I would become a police officer?”
“No, I’m thinking that we would consult with you about situations where your power could help us. This would be in the off-season or on days where you are not working for the Mariners.”
Larry looked down at the floor and hesitated. “I don’t think the things I hear would help you very much, Detective.”
“And that would be OK if it didn’t work out. I just want to know if you would be willing to try,” Yolonda replied.
“I’d have to think about it.”
“Thanks, Larry. You may be hearing from me sometime.”
Elsewhere In Seattle
“Grandma, please don’t tell mom. This is just between you and me, please. She won’t understand, and I knew you would, Grandma,” the female caller explained after telling the elderly woman that she was Allison, her granddaughter at the University of Oregon. “I need to pay tuition for next quarter, and I can’t tell mom I loaned the money to my former roommate. She would make me come home and quit my education. I knew you would understand, and I promise to pay you back when my roommate repays the loan,” said the caller.
“Oh, Allison, how much is tuition? How much do you need?” Mary Ellen Sanchez asked.
“Grandma, you are the best. I need seven thousand dollars, and I need it in two days, or I cannot take classes next quarter.”
“I can send a check to the university, but I don’t know if it will get there in two days. Give me the address, Allison,” the old woman replied as she looked for her glasses.
“No, Grandma, this is too important, and there is a deadline. My friend Sylvia is in Seattle right now and driving to Eugene tomorrow. She will pick you up and take you to the bank to get cash tomorrow morning.”
“Oh dear, this is happening too fast, Allison,” Mary Ellen said. “Can’t I just write a check to the university? I’ll have it ready in the morning for your friend.”
“It has to be cash, Grandma. The university does not take third-party checks. I promise to pay you back. Please don’t tell anybody about this; I’m so embarrassed. I know mom talks to the staff at your senior center, so please don’t mention this to the staff.”
The next morning a young woman who said she was Sylvia came to Room 144 at the Avadon Senior Living Center, picked up Mary Ellen Sanchez, and took her to her bank to withdraw seven thousand dollars. The woman confirmed she was driving to Eugene that very afternoon and would deliver the money to Allison.
Two days later, Mary Ellen called her granddaughter’s cell phone to make sure the tuition money was paid to the university. Allison had no idea what her grandmother was talking about, denied she called her about any money problems, did not have a friend named Sylvia, and told her grandmother to call the police.
Detective Pryor arrived at Room 144 to begin the phone scam investigation. She quickly determined upon examining Mary Ellen’s cell phone that the call from Allison was a spoof. Yolonda asked the woman for more details that might help the police solve the crime. While answering questions, Mary Ellen started to cry, and Yolonda held her hand. “I understand you feel betrayed, and you lost a lot of money. I’m sorry, and we will do our best to get your money back,” Yolonda promised.
Mary Ellen shook her head, “Nana, I’m Nana,” she explained between sobs. “Allison has always called me Nana, not Grandma. I should have known better!”
When Yolonda returned to precinct headquarters, she met with Lieutenant Brooks to discuss what they were calling Grey Scam, which now involved multiple investigations. “These all fit the same pattern,” Yolonda said, placing her hand on the stack of files. “All the phone scam victims are elderly widows or widowers, living in senior or assisted living centers, with grandchildren living outside the Seattle metro area. The Sanchez case may be our first break,” she explained.
“Glad to hear it. What information do we have?” Brooks asked.
“We know how the phone scammers got information about the Sanchez family, which they used to make the phone call sound believable,” she said. “A housekeeper at Avadon saw family photographs in Ms. Sanchez’s apartment and started a conversation about her family. She got names, locations, and enough to create a fictional scenario for a scam phone call two days later,” Yolonda explained.
“Have we questioned the housekeeper?” the Lieutenant asked.
“I don’t think we have to right now. We are keeping her under surveillance, and the manager at Avadon is cooperating. Over the past week, the housekeeper has twice met with a man at the Northgate Mall after work. She brings what appears to be handwritten notes, and he gives her cash. After paying the housekeeper, he goes to the food court at the mall where a woman is waiting for him. I believe she is the principal operator. I sat at a table far enough away that they would not be suspicious, but the background noise made it impossible to hear their conversation. That means they are planning to scam more victims at the Senior Center and probably other places where minimum-wage employees are paid for information. These people are not novices,” Yolonda concluded.
“It doesn’t sound like we have probable cause for a search warrant. Do we wait for another victim with the hope more evidence will develop?” the Lieutenant suggested.
“Do you remember Larry Pickering with the Mariners?”
The Lieutenant thought for a moment, “Sure, you mean the guy who hears people’s thoughts if I remember correctly. What about him?”
“I plan to have him be our listening device the next time the man who probably recruited the housekeeper meets with the woman who appears to be the operator of the phone scams. He can be anywhere in the food court and listen from a distance,” Yolonda explained.
“He would be a confidential informant?”
“Except we have to keep him out of the process. We cannot use what he tells us as the basis for an arrest or search warrant. If you agree, I will give him a call,” Yolonda said. Brooks approved the plan.
Yolonda found Larry’s number and called him, “Larry, this is Detective Pryor, SPD. We met a few weeks ago. Do you have a minute to talk right now?”
“Well, I guess — is this about the bank again?” he asked.
“No, that matter is resolved. Larry, we need your help on an important matter. Can we meet at the same Wallingford precinct office we first met, and I’ll explain why we need your help?”
Later that afternoon, Detective Pryor met with Larry in her office and explained how SPD had been investigating Grey Scam, having come to the point of needing information beyond the reach of conventional law enforcement techniques. “We want you to sit at the Northgate Mall food court and listen to a conversation between people we will identify when the time comes. While you are there, you can eat lunch, drink coffee, read or follow social media on your phone. Are you a reader?” she asked.
Larry confirmed that he liked to read, but mostly books about sports. He agreed to help, and the Detective said she would be back in contact with him in a few days.
Three days later, Detective Pryor called Larry. “Meet me at the food court in an hour,” she said when Larry answered his cell phone. “We think the people we are watching are going to meet soon.”
Larry walked into the crowded food court and saw the Detective at a table drinking coffee. She motioned for him to take a seat and handed him a copy of “The Boys In The Boat” and explained that it is mandatory reading for anybody who lives in the Northwest and likes sports.
“Larry, there is a woman alone at a table one row to your left and back behind me three tables. We expect a man to join her, and when he does, focus on their conversation,” Yolonda explained. “Can I get you some coffee?” When Yolonda returned with the coffee, Larry was reading the book, and they waited.
“A man is joining the woman at the table,” Larry said ten minutes later. He continued to read, which made Yolonda nervous, afraid it would interfere with his listening.
After ten minutes, Larry looked up from the book, “All I hear is their agreement on a number.”
Yolonda turned around and saw the couple leaving the table in different directions, “What number?” she asked, looking back to Larry.
“I hear 154. Sorry, that is all I could hear.”
Yolonda thought about 154, but it made no sense. She opened her iPad file on Grey Scam, searching her notes for a clue about the meaning of 154. Suddenly she said, “I got it! That is a room number at Avadon down the hall from Ms. Sanchez, where the same person does the housekeeping. They are talking about the next victim.” Yolonda stood up and said, “I have to go there now. Larry, you are a superhero, thanks.”