See No Evil

Denise Wolff was gunned down in front of her home in a quiet South St. Louis neighborhood. Police thought they had the killer until their star witness wrecked the case.

"We knew something fishy was happening the month before [Larry] was let off when the chief prosecutor decided he was under stress and took six months off," Sandy says. "I don't know what's going on. Something's just not right with all this. You get a couple of judges that refuse him bond and then you get another couple judges who do give him bond. Why would you give a murderer with an eyewitness bond?

Angie is equally troubled: "A prosecuting attorney that wants a murderer locked up behind bars doesn't work on a case for a year-and-a-half and then decide the case is "really starting to make me have nightmares at night, I think I need to take a six-month leave and leave the country.' That's what we were told. We kept calling him and calling him, and he wouldn't call us back. Then they told us he's leaving the country, and two or three weeks later, the whole case is dropped -- the man is a free man."

Postawko will not discuss the facts of the murder case, saying, "There is no statute of limitations on murder." But he denies that his leave of absence, or its timing, had anything to do with the Wolff murder case. As head of the sex-crimes/child-abuse unit, he handled sex-crime cases -- including that of the South Side Rapist -- as well as domestic-violence cases. With such an emotionally taxing caseload, he says, he needed a break so badly he planned to quit the office but was offered the chance to take a seven-month leave instead: "I get very involved in my cases, and there were certain things I wanted to get resolved. Some I did, some I didn't. The Wolff case was not one I was able to see through to its conclusion."

Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).
Jennifer Silverberg
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).

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Angie believes other factors led to the case's being dismissed. Jeannette Graviss, the prosecutor who took over the case when Postawko took a leave, once told them she was "really worried about badgering the police department" on the witness stand, because the key witness in the case gave a completely different version of her interrogation than did the two detectives who initially questioned her. "She did not want to make the police department look bad," Angie says. "Not only do they regularly work with them, but here she's working against the police department and for the witness. She didn't want to do that." Graviss has not responded to repeated phone calls seeking her comment on the case, nor has outgoing Circuit Attorney Dee Joyce-Hayes, who left office last month.

Like her grandmother, Angie does not blame Chirco, who, she believes, was treated "roughly" by police officers. "It is so hard to say what happened to get this dismissed," she says. "I don't think it was Laurie. I don't think it had to do with how good Rick Sindel is or how flaky Laurie was. No one will ever convince me that's what it was. Something else went on ... I guess the [police and prosecutors] don't care. Their opinion is, probably, "So this guy killed his wife. He's not out every day murdering people -- he murdered her for a reason -- so we're just going to drop it. We're done. Case closed.'"

Lt. Ron Henderson, the homicide commander for the St. Louis Police Department, says he understands the family's frustration but also says the stalling of the case was "definitely not due to a lack of effort. There is not a detective up here that, if you mention Denise Wolff, doesn't know exactly what you're talking about, and this happened back in 1997 -- July 17, 1997; I even remember the date. We've done quite a bit. We've had different teams of investigators to give it a fresh look. I don't know what else we can do until we get a break."

Henderson says 18 officers were on the scene the morning of the murder and, contrary to what the family believes, trash cans were searched. He says Larry Wolff wasn't tested for gunshot residue because those tests are not reliable, with high rates of false positives and false negatives. "I was at the scene, and we did quite a bit trying to locate items of physical evidence," Henderson says. "I understand the family's frustration. This has been an ongoing thing. They believe Larry did it. People are entitled to their opinion, but we have to get enough physical evidence and corroborating evidence to take a man to court."

Henderson would not discuss details of the case, though he acknowledges police had a "witness problem." He says Denise's murder remains an "ongoing investigation." Even though the case against Larry was dismissed in May, charges could be refiled against him at any time, but only if new evidence surfaces. Henderson says detectives considered several suspects but that "Larry was our strongest suspect. We have looked at more than one person, and, no, we did not have tunnel vision because he is the estranged husband. He was a suspect, and he continually remains a strong suspect. My responsibility is to prove this. I want the responsible person. We're not dead set on Larry, but he does remain a likely suspect."

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