Now You See It, Now You Don't

Laurie Chirco helped make, then break, a high-profile murder case. She's still struggling to explain herself.

City plumbing inspector Larry Wolff was accused of killing his estranged wife, thanks in large part to an eyewitness account by neighbor Laurie Chirco. Nineteen months later, the prosecution's case disintegrated and charges were dropped -- again, thanks to Laurie Chirco.

Today, Laurie Chirco wants you to know she has "no faith in the system."

In an interview broadcast last week on the Steve and DC show on KHITS (96.3 FM) -- a program aired in 12 markets -- Chirco sought to explain a bizarre series of events that had her seeing Wolff near the murder scene in 1997, claiming police threatened her and then refusing a subpoena for tapes she said she made of police interrogations. Chirco called the radio station after an account of the murder case was published by the Riverfront Times ["See No Evil," RFT, Jan. 10].

Rick Sindel, Larry Wolff's attorney: "Laurie Chirco's story didn't seem to make sense."
Jennifer Silverberg
Rick Sindel, Larry Wolff's attorney: "Laurie Chirco's story didn't seem to make sense."
Angie Erickson, Denise Wolff 's daughter, would like to know why Chirco would go on a radio show if she is so upset and afraid.
Jennifer Silverberg
Angie Erickson, Denise Wolff 's daughter, would like to know why Chirco would go on a radio show if she is so upset and afraid.

In the lengthy appearance, during which she answered questions from the family of murder victim Denise Wolff, Chirco said she had paid a heavy price for coming forward as a witness. She said she had been followed and her phone calls monitored. She said she lives in constant fear. As for the murder, however, Chirco shed no new light and, if anything, may have bolstered defense arguments that she never was a credible witness.

She certainly never was an eager witness. In the days after the July 17, 1997, murder, police officers going door to door went to Chirco's apartment building and asked her whether she'd seen anything. She said she had been out walking her dog that morning but that she had seen nothing. She reluctantly agreed to go to the police station for more questioning, and, after 11 hours -- including some time spent handcuffed to a table -- she told detectives she had seen a man standing on the corner around the time of the murder, and she identified that man as Larry Wolff.

Alleging verbal and physical abuse by police, Chirco refused to cooperate further until nearly a year later, when she called and met with detectives, describing in detail how she saw Larry Wolff get into a van parked outside Denise's South St. Louis home, then witnessed gunshots coming from the van. Her testimony led to Wolff's arrest for murder in the fall of 1998. Then, in May 2000, Chirco refused to comply with subpoenas ordering her to turn over a tape she said she had made of her initial interrogation by police. Because of her refusal, a judge agreed to strike her as a witness in the case. Without Chirco's testimony, the circuit attorney's office decided to dismiss all charges against Wolff.

After the case fell apart, Chirco was content to slip back into obscurity. That changed with the RFT story. During her Jan. 16 radio appearance, the hosts were sympathetic to Chirco. But one of them did ask why she neglected to call police immediately after witnessing the crime.

"It was a combination of being scared and not believing I would ever see anything like that, not even in the area I lived in," she said.

She told listeners she felt she'd been stalked by Larry Wolff and followed by members of Denise Wolff's family. She claimed a man in a yellow car with long hair tried to run her off the highway. She described being threatened by three men, including Larry Wolff, outside her apartment building, saying one of them told her he would "kill my kid in front of me" if she talked. She claimed someone put a note under her door reading "I know where you are." She said police officers contributed to her torment -- one detective, she says, threatened to tell the prime suspect where she lived, and another called to tell her the suspect was "looking for me."

She told listeners she continues to live in fear for her life, that she has given up custody of her daughter out of concern for the girl's safety and that, even now, she believes her phone lines are tapped.

But, as compelling as her story seemed, Chirco offered few straight answers to members of Denise Wolff's family, who prodded her with questions, essentially asking her: If you saw what you say you saw, how could you let the killer go free? Chirco never directly answered.

Said Sue Doetzel, Denise's sister: "I want to ask Laurie, after 18 months of hell for everyone, why did you just uncooperate with the police? Why? Why did you go through this for 19 months and then, in the end, it just fell apart?"

At first, Chirco skirted the issue of the tape she refused to turn over -- which ended the criminal case -- instead talking about demands by the defense for personal information: "What they had subpoenaed and ordered was that I tell ways my daughter, myself, my friends and family could be found. I don't know anyone that would want to give that information."

Doetzel was undeterred: If Chirco had taped the exchange with the police, as she said she had, why not produce it?

"I don't think my daughter needs to hear that," Chirco said. "I still have it."

If you had turned over the tape, Doetzel pressed on, the case would have gone forward.

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