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.

About two hours after she arrived, the interview became more and more contentious, Chirco said. Campbell, she said, told her he was getting fed up with her and that "I was no better than the person who pulled the trigger. That this woman had suffered, and that I was a bitch." She said he also remarked that he "wondered what my priest would think of me."

Campbell left the room and returned with pictures of a woman at the morgue. Chirco recalled: "He said, "Take a good look at that.' He said her legs looked like Swiss cheese and the photographer didn't do her justice...." Chirco described a variety of good cop/bad cop tactics used by the officers. Soon, she said, they brought in a series of photographs of men.

"I looked at them," Chirco said, "and said that the man, well, at first I didn't say anything. Then Detective Campbell started slamming his fist on the table ... saying that I nonverbally identified somebody in the photographs." Eventually Chirco told them the man in the first photograph -- Larry -- "looked like someone" she saw on the corner that morning while she was out with her dog.

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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She had asked to leave again, but the detective, Chirco said, told her that her husband was "in bed with another woman right at that time." Throughout the interview, Chirco said, she was subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse. She said the detective, at one point, threatened to pick up her daughter and put her in foster care. She had mentioned a prior miscarriage, she said, and the detective told her she must have been having so much sex that she caused it herself. At one point, she was accused of "screwing" Wolff. Throughout the ordeal, she said, she was not allowed to leave or use the telephone. When she insisted that the most she saw was a man on the corner, they were not satisfied: "When I told them that was all I saw, and that is all I told them that I saw at the time, then as time went on, it got worse. The longer I was there, the worse it got."

Chirco also insinuated that something physical occurred in the interview room. She described how one detective insisted she take off her jewelry, her wedding band, her belt. She asked why. She asked for a female officer. She was told to take it off now, Chirco said:

"Campbell says: "Look at how quick she can get that belt off. She is used to taking her belt off and taking her pants down." He mocked the baby she miscarried, Chirco said, and told her "I didn't deserve a child."

After Chirco agreed to give a taped statement, she was released. It was 11 hours after she had first been brought to the police station. She complained about her treatment to Mayor Clarence Harmon. She filed a complaint with Internal Affairs -- though in February 1998, Chirco was notified by mail that her complaint had been ruled "not sustained."

In the days and weeks after being questioned by police, Chirco said, she was repeatedly contacted by various police officers, asking her to meet with them, asking for more information. One, she said, told her she was "hindering prosecution" -- a felony punishable by 10 years and a $10,000 fine. Another stuck his card under her door, told her of a reward, apologized for what the other officers had done. One, she said, told her police could take away her child and turn the girl over to the state until she cooperated. Chirco refused.

In September, Chirco said, she got a call from a sergeant. She told him she thought she had been followed in her car by someone she believed to be Larry Wolff. She said he told her police couldn't offer her any help: "If you can't help us, we can't help you." She hung up on him. And not long after the murder, she moved out of her apartment on Jamieson.


As police pushed forward with their investigation, the family of Denise Wolff struggled to deal with their grief -- without much success. And their feelings toward Larry began to change.

Sandy didn't want to point a finger at Larry in the early hours of the investigation. "For the first couple of days, we tried to act like, you know, somebody else did it, till we knew. You can't jump to conclusions," Sandy says. "But after a couple of days, we knew. Everything that come out of his mouth was a lie. First he said he was sleeping so sound he didn't hear anything, when people three blocks away heard it. First he said his dogs didn't bark, then he said the dogs did bark, and he went out to see the dogs. Then he told my niece, "I heard it, but I just lay there in bed.' Then he told someone he was under a window air conditioner, but he has central air -- the air conditioner is on his sun porch. He wasn't sleeping out there; he was in his bedroom."

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