AN UNSOLVED MURDER IN MADERA: Part 8
MADERA - Twenty-eight years after the death of Glenn Reitz, the case remains unsolved. Over the last eight weeks I have tried to lay out the entire case in all its detail hoping that maybe someone might remember something significant and call the Madera Police with tips, and several people did. A few of the tips were about the same individual that was already cleared in the murder 28 years ago and some of the tips brought new names to the case.
From the information in the police report, at the time of the murder, Madera Police turned over every stone to find a lead in the case. However, most of the reports that were provided to me were written in March and April of 1985. Not a lot of time to find the person that took away someone that did so much for so many. A man like Glenn Reitz deserved more. He deserved justice.
We still don't know for sure if the police gave up on this murder because the victim was gay. I do know that during the week Madera Police Detective Dale Padgett retired in 2004, this case was on his desk and he was still reviewing it. I do know this case is now on the desk of Madera Police Detective Robert Salas and he has definite ideas of who is responsible. So if former Madera Police Chief Gordon Skeels pulled the plug on the investigation because of the sexual orientation of the victim, the case was still on the minds of many in the department.
While motivation for this series started eight years ago on the 20th anniversary of Reitz death, I never expected the Madera Police to give me access to the case file. I, like others, believed there was some sort of cover up in the investigation because someone highly connected was involved. After three months of digesting the file and two months of writing, its clear that Reitz was not a victim of a local killer or a cover-up.
I personally believe that Reitz was the victim of a serial killer that now sits in a Louisiana prison for another 1985 murder. This killer was a drifter, who killed gay men from Florida to Arizona stealing their cars and wallets. In Shreveport, Louisiana he and his brother bludgened a man to death and left his victim with a towel over his head, the same way Reitz was killed. The investigator of the Shreveport killing said he believed that over time more murders would be linked to his killer and the man was in California at the time of Reitz's death.
According to Shreveport Police Detective Gary Alderman, Darrell E. Crider (25) would solicit homosexuals at truck stops and when the opportunity arose, rob them of their cars and money. In Tucson, Arizona, Crider had killed a man after the man's roommate had given the killer a place to stay for the night.. According to his brother, Russell Crider (19), to Darrell it was all about transportation and money. Darrell didn't even see the victims as people.
Alderman believes that Crider was sexually molested as a youth and that he might have even been homosexual. The detective believes that the molestation may have manifested itself as a hatred for gays that became a catalyst for Crider to kill, to commit a series of brutal murders whose victims Crider believed to be gay.
Alderman also said that while Crider did not match the composite drawing Madera Police received from the El Paso Police, the killer did travel with a younger, smaller man that did. Crider had also ditched cars in gravel pits in the past, and Reitz's license plate was found in a gravel pit in the same county, just a few miles from where his brother was sitting in jail on charges from the January 1985 murder.
Darrell Crider is serving a life prison term in Louisiana and if he ever does manage to be released, he has prison terms in Florida and Arizona to serve. At the time of the Reitz murder he was in the Riverside area of California with a young companion. It's not to far a stretch of the imagination to think that Crider could hitchhike into the Central Valley and possibly come in contact with Reitz. While Crider was never interviewed by Madera Police, Detective Alderman believes that Crider should not be ruled out as a suspect in the teacher's murder.
In researching this case I realized that I missed a great opportunity in not appreciating a teacher that truly put his students first. I wish my 40 something year old self could go back in time and knock some sense into my 13 year old self.
I am amazed that my laziness in the classroom didn't get pasted on to my kids who are "A" and "B" students. My oldest daughter is entering Thomas Jefferson Junior High next year and she is already starting to talk about college. My only concern at her age was when the new Kiss or Ted Nugent albums would be released.
One of the classes offered at Jefferson today now helps students stay on their path to college. The class includes field trips to different colleges and universities to expose what is available after high school. My daughter has already signed up for this and I think its a class that Glenn Reitz might have taught.
Reitz was particularly proud of his affiliation with Stanford University. This is where he received his masters degree in education in 1973. He was a graduate of California State University, Fresno prior to that with a degree in English. Soon after receiving his masters, Reitz began teaching at Thomas Jefferson Junior High in Madera, where he spent his entire career.
"His caring for the students went far beyond what we would ordinarily expect from a teacher. It was part of his character", said then Thomas Jefferson Vice Principal David Vegas after the teacher's death.
Reitz was known to take Jefferson students to his alma mater for sporting events. On one such occasion, former student Jeff Floyd attended one of these trips with fellow students Ryan Virgo and Robert Wilson. The three students, along with Reitz, attended a Stanford University/Arizona State basketball game at the Palo Alto school. Before the game, Reitz showed off his school with a personal tour of the campus.
Before the overnight field trip, Reitz would visit the families of those that would attend and give a presentation that Floyd said impressed his parents. The teacher offered a slide show of past trips to the school and laid out the itinerary of nearly every minute of the trip. "It was a very professional presentation. You could tell he was very proud of his school and he wanted to share that with his students", Floyd added.
The former student insists that at no time did Reitz ever act inappropriately towards the boys. At the hotel, Reitz had one room to himself and the three students shared another room. Floyd, who is a self admitted fan of the University of Southern California, said Reitz made one joke about their marching band, calling them a "Rubber Band".
Floyd remember a prank the three boys played on their teacher when he left them alone in the car to get the basketball tickets from will call. "We turned up the radio and air conditioner to full blast and turned on the windshield wipers. When Reitz came back and started the car, everything went off and he jumped out of his seat. It was funny".
When asked if Reitz were still alive and he knew what he now knows about the teacher, would he allow his fifteen year old son to go on such a field trip with the teacher. He said without hesitation, "absolutely yes".
Outside the classroom Reitz's passion was the Boy Scouts Thunderbird Drum and Bugle Corps. Reitz was not a drummer but in 1981 he saw what a drum-line could do, he knew he needed to bring this to Madera. He learned everything he could about creating a cohesive drum and bugle corps, found the best equipment he could afford and recruited kids that loved drumming. By the 1982 school year the drum and bugle corps began with the help of Jefferson band instructor Patrick Arvizu.
The corps was sponsored by the Boy Scouts of American, Thunderbird District and the Saint Joachim's Catholic Church's Knights of Columbus. Each of the members wore Boy Scout uniforms when they performed. Reitz would raise the money for the equipment and this group of teenagers (boys and girls) would practice at his home, the junior high and at the Catholic church itself.
After some time passed the brass section of the corps was dropped and the group became excessively a drum-line. Reitz took the brass instruments and sold them to raise money to by better drums for the group. With the help of rancher Sherman Thomas, over $10 thousand was raised for the new equipment.
Former Thunderbird drummer Joey Rios remembers playing for Mr. Thomas on the front lawn of his Madera County ranch in 1983. "Mr. Reitz worked his butt off looking for supporters for the drum corps and we performed for anyone that donated. He was ecstatic when he would watch us perform. I think it was the highlight of his life", Rios said.
Current Madera High School Band Director and former Thunderbird Bret Cappelluti credited Reitz with opening his eyes to all the possibilities of drum corps. "He raised our awareness of the activity and he is a part of the reason I became a band director", said Cappelluti.
Michael Tamberi was also a former member of the Thunderbirds that remembered Reitz fondly. Tamberi remembers that he had never met any of Mr. Reitz' family or friends before his death. Even so, he felt about the teacher the way he would for a surrogate big brother.
"My sisters were older than me and Glenn was someone who I could talk to and he would listen. Whatever he may have done in private was never a part of our friendship", Tamberi said. "Glenn was a huge influence on my life. He gave me the foundation and discipline for practicing with the drums and setting life goals. He made sure we had the best equipment, uniforms and places to perform. He gave us the opportunity to succeed."
Ronnie Correa was a founding member of the Thunderbird's and was grateful for the support Reitz would have for the kids in the group. "He would always have sodas and granola bars at his house. He just loved the drum-line and was amazed at what we would come up with. He did everything he could do to support what we were doing", remembered Correa.
Reitz also had a slightly devilish side to his support of his drum corps at the time. Reitz was dissatisfied with the level of instruction and creativity his drum corps members were receiving in then MHS band director Ty West's classes. He wrote a series of critical "Letters to the Editor" to the Madera Tribune about his concerns using the pseudonym "Melvin P. Thorpe", a character from the musical "Best Little Whore House in Texas". While the letters would outraged West, it is believed by all who know this story that West never learned the identify of the author.
One thing that has bothered me in this case is how family members said Reitz's mother didn't want to learn anything new about the case, that she in fact had hoped that no new information would come out. After the first article was published I received a call from the victims brother, Mark Reitz.
He was very upset that this case was being revisited in the media and wondered what my motivations really were. He was the only person to raise negative comments. While other family members were very supportive of these articles, it was clear that Reitz's younger brother was not. He questioned how we could say for certainty that the murder victim was homosexual.
I think this all goes back to how well Reitz kept his secret life, secret. Who knows what his life would have been like had he just came out to his family? Would that have been possible in 1985 without risking being shunning in his Roman Catholic family? From the anger I faced from his brother about reviewing and publishing information in a twenty-eight year-old police report, I'm afraid I would say 'no'.
As for his colleagues in Madera, none would speak about this case. The people that were the most interested in finding out the truth about the murder were the teacher's former students and drum-line members. Maybe this is because my generation, the generation of his students, is the first generation to see a large segment of society accept homosexuality as a lifestyle, rather than see it as the perversion our parents and grandparents tried to convince us it was.
My generation has seen the closet doors open up and familiar people come out. People who were close to us, people that we all knew. It was no longer a case of knowing someone that knew a homosexual in another town. Now we knew people who were gay in our family, neighborhood, service club or lodge, health club, in our every day life. People are no longer afraid to publicly be who they are in their private lives.
Reitz's younger brother asked me if I was trying to make the murder of his brother a "Gay Rights" issue? My answer was simple, I believe Glenn had the right to justice and to have his murder solved. He had the right to live his life in what ever manner he wanted, as long as it hurt no one else. In speaking to the kids (now adults) that were inspired by Reitz, it is clear that he had nothing but the best interests of his students in his heart and in his death he deserved more that he was given.