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.

Kandi Maier, a friend of Denise's and her co-worker at the President, told detectives that Denise had been seeing a male co-worker, John DeBoer, at the casino for about three months and that he was Denise's first boyfriend since she and Larry separated seven years earlier. Kandi said she had tried to get Denise to date before but that her friend always refused, telling her that her husband "would kill her if she dated another man," according to police reports. Denise had begun complaining to Kandi that Larry seemed to be watching her every move, so much so that she had begun parking at the rear of her home and entering through the back door to avoid detection. She told Kandi she thought Larry knew of the affair; during a recent phone conversation, he walked in and demanded to know to whom she was talking. When she told him it was none of his business, according to police reports, he replied: "It's either Kandi or John."

Another co-worker and friend, Joyce Jeraldine, told police that Denise told her she and Larry argued all the time, though he did not physically abuse her. On one occasion, Jeraldine said, Denise described how Larry put a gun to her head, then pulled the trigger. She told her friend Larry was doing it "just to scare her. The gun was empty." She said Denise told her that if Larry learned of her relationship with John, he would "blow her fucking head off." Denise was falling in love with John, she told Jeraldine, and about two weeks before the murder she had given him an ultimatum: Leave his wife or end the relationship. She said he told her he needed time to decide what to do. And recently, Jeraldine added, Denise's attitude toward Larry had changed. She was bolder. She told Jeraldine: "Fuck him -- I don't care about what he thinks." She said she wished Larry would find a woman and get on with his life.

Detectives questioned John DeBoer, Denise's lover, at length, and he was told he was a suspect in the murder. A former New Jersey police officer who was married with children, DeBoer told police that he had been seeing Denise for about six to eight weeks. During that time, DeBoer said, Denise had spoken at length about Larry and their marriage, how they once had a lot of good times but had grown apart. She told him she wanted a divorce from Larry, that she hadn't loved him in years. She told him Larry lived across the street, which is why she always wanted DeBoer to come in the back door and park his car on Wenzlick. She told him that at times Larry had a violent temper and that he had once pointed a gun at her head.

Larry and Denise around the time of their wedding
Larry and Denise around the time of their wedding

The night Denise died, DeBoer said, he got off work at 1:30 a.m., left a note -- the latest of three he'd written her that evening -- on her car and went home. He said he woke his wife, spoke to her around 4 a.m. and didn't leave home after that -- which his wife later confirmed. He was asked to take a polygraph, which police later told him he failed. DeBoer was surprised. DeBoer, who says he was upset and scared when he took the test, said he was telling the truth, and he denied killing Denise.

Days later, DeBoer spoke to police again. He said he remembered another conversation with Denise, about a month earlier, in which she told him Larry had found her new birth-control pills. He was angry, she had said, and accused her of having an affair. DeBoer said Denise told him that she fabricated an explanation, claiming her doctor prescribed them to regulate her period. For about a week afterward, DeBoer said, Larry drove Denise to and from work.

Through the early days of the investigation, Denise's family, for the most part, stood by Larry. Denise's mother and sisters were reluctant to say anything that might implicate him. They wanted to give Larry the benefit of the doubt.

Over time, that would change.

For police detectives trying to solve a homicide, time is often the enemy. The more time passes, the less likely it becomes that a murder case will ever be solved. In the case of Denise Wolff, police had no murder weapon. They were unable to find the van seen driving away from the crime scene. If there were any eyewitnesses to the crime, none had come forward.

But such a violent shooting was an uncommon occurrence in the neighborhood near Lindenwood Park, and it was an area where many police officers lived with their own families. Numerous detectives canvassed and re-canvassed the area, searching for witnesses and hoping for a break. Detectives Ralph Campbell and Timothy Kaelin were among them.

It was Sunday, July 20, 1997, three days after the murder. As Campbell and Kaelin began a re-canvass of the neighborhood, two other detectives told them that they'd gotten information from a tipster who suggested that they talk to a woman who was known to walk her dog between 4 and 5 a.m. in the area of the murder.

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