Posts tagged “Gary Amaya

Circumstantial Evidence, Homicide, and the Wrongfully Accused


                Brian Dorian                                                                                              

  In Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. I, I profiled the case of the so-called “honey-bee shooter”—a lone gunman who murdered one man and shot another. Based on a physical description of the shooter and his vehicle, authorities in Will County, Illinois, later arrested Lynwood Police Officer Brian Dorian. A few days later, prosecutors charged Dorian with the homicide of a 45-year-old construction worker in rural Beecher.

The case against Dorian was circumstantial. At the time, I warned readers that “misidentifications are the primary cause for wrongful convictions.” Charges against Dorian were later dropped after a forensic examination of Dorian’s computer indicated that he was logged-in to a password accessible Web site at the time of one of the shootings.

Some, however, including “Louis 31,” who posted a comment on the Spingola Files Web site, insisted that the circumstantial evidence strongly implicated Dorian.

“Anybody could have been on the computer,” Louis 31 wrote. “Same truck, same clothes, got new tires the day after, 2nd sketch looks exactly like him [Brian Dorian], cell phone ping in cedar lake (about four miles from where the shooting occurred) from his phone. Pulled over in Scherillville, IN about 12 miles from the shooting in Indiana.”

Challenging Louis 31’s claims, I pointed out that Dorian—a police officer at the time of these shootings—would possess significant knowledge of the methods used by law enforcement to gather evidence. Why, I asked, would Dorian leave his cellular telephone on to ping off a tower during an unprovoked, thought out attack and go on a shooting spree in a vehicle that detective’s might easily identify as his own? Regardless of the circumstantial evidence, the case against Dorian didn’t pass the smell test.

And, sure enough, after spending more than a week in a Joliet jail and having his named dragged through the mud, the cloud of suspicion surrounding Dorian’s involvement in these shootings came to an end almost a month later when an armed man attempted to rob an L.A. Tan Salon in the Chicago suburb of Orland Park.  A customer, who entered the business during the commission of the crime, disarmed the would-be robber, and then shot the perpetrator—later identified as a 48-year-old rural Rankin, Illinois, man. The deceased, Gary Amaya, matched the physical description of the honey-bee shooter.  Amaya also drove a blue truck, consistent with the description of the vehicle leaving the homicide scene. Ballistics proved that the firearm recovered from the Orland Park salon matched the gun used in the honey-bee shootings.

“Circumstantial evidence has mistakenly convicted innocent people of serious crimes,” I noted at the time. “Over the course of the past year, reports abound of persons released from prison due to DNA testing.”

The 12-year anniversary of an unsolved homicide in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, bears a strong similarity to the pursuit of Brian Dorian, although, in this instance, the individual who committed the homicide(s) likely remains at-large.

On February 26, 2000, the body of 38-year-old Kathy Thompson was discovered on Laurel Avenue, not far from downtown Eau Claire. News and legal sources note that Thompson was strangled with a ligature—most likely a belt; her shirt and bra were pulled over her head exposing her breasts. Her sweater was located just a few feet from her head. Based on evidence at the scene, detectives believe that Thompson’s body was dumped after the woman was strangled to death at another location.

Thompson’s remains were found less than three hours after she was released from an Eau Claire jail at 3 a.m. She, along with her new husband, had been arrested after a bloody domestic brouhaha. Thompson’s husband—still behind bars during the commission of her murder—was obviously excluded as a suspect. Eau Claire detectives then focused their attention on those who might have an axe to grind with victim.  In short order, they found an individual with a plausible motive, 57-year-old former cop Evan Zimmerman.


                      Evan Zimmerman

A chronic alcoholic, investigators learned—to no surprise—that Zimmerman was highly intoxicated during the time period when Thompson went missing. Eau Claire detectives spent nearly a year attempting to debunk Zimmerman’s explanation for his whereabouts and believed a jury would see through the inconsistencies in his alibi. Moreover, one key witness, while under hypnosis, described a white van with a woman inside moving through the area that matched a vehicle owned by Zimmerman.

Only one key piece of evidence linked Zimmerman to Thompson: a hair belonging to Thompson found in a hairbrush inside Zimmerman’s van.  However, since Zimmerman and Thompson once dated and shared the van, finding Thompson’s hair would not necessarily include or exclude Zimmerman as a suspect.

The shaky circumstantial evidence aside, Zimmerman was charged and a jury later convicted him of murdering Thompson.

Soon afterwards, the Wisconsin Innocence Project began scrutinizing the evidence used to convict Zimmerman.  Investigators alleged that Zimmerman used a phone cord as a ligature to strangle Thompson, although Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, who examined the ligature wounds, noted that marks on Thompson’s neck were likely made by a belt buckle. Zimmerman also owned a dog that he frequently transported in his van. While dog hair was found throughout Zimmerman’s van, not a single such hair was discovered on Thompson’s sweater. DNA located at the crime scene—from cigarette butts, hairs, and from Thompson’s fingernails did not belong to Zimmerman.

After examining the evidence, an appeals court vacated Zimmerman’s conviction. Absent the testimony of a key witness, prosecutors declined to retry the case.  A short time thereafter, the freed Zimmerman died of cancer.

Yet if Evan Zimmerman did not murder Kathy Thompson, then her killer—a person whose DNA is not a match for samples maintained in state or federal databases—remained at-large.  If so, a possibility exists that Thompson’s killer might be linked to the January 2001 homicide of Angelina Wall.

Wall left her job at McDonald’s on Hastings Way, less than a half-mile from the Laurel Avenue location where Thompson’s body was discovered, en route to her residence on Birch Street. Wall’s body was discovered near Highway J in Fall Creek, about 10 miles southeast of the McDonald’s.  

This table, contained within a brief filed on Zimmerman’s behalf by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, highlights the similarities between the two cases:

Thompson Homicide                                                                   Wall Homicide

Last seen 2:30-3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, February 26, 2000. Last seen 2:30-3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, January 6, 2001.
Last seen walking home alone. Last seen walking home alone.
Lived in north-central Eau Claire Lived in north-central Eau Claire
Ligature strangulation (likely a belt) Source suggests ligature strangulation (belt possible)
Body discovered dumped along city street in plain view, miles from her home. Body discovered dumped along rural road in plain view, miles from her home.
Body discovered about 5:45 a.m., meaning perpetrator had at most three hours to commit the crime. Body discovered about 5:45 a.m., meaning perpetrator had at most three hours to commit the crime.
Body partially undressed. Body partially undressed.
A few personal items, but not all valuables, were missing. A few personal items, but not all valuables, were missing.

 According to this brief, specific details from the Wall homicide, which remain under seal, contain even more similarities.

As to possible theories, absent a review of specific police reports, it is difficult to accurately speculate. Using my background in criminal investigative analysis (i.e. profiling), however, a hunch says that both of these homicides were crimes of opportunity. The suspect is probably an individual who had fantasized about sexual domination and control. Since the Thompson and Wall homicides occurred on a Saturday morning after bar time, the suspect probably has the ability to suppress his homicidal thoughts until he is under the influence of alcohol.  The killer(s) probably patronized nearby taverns prior to the attacks and feels comfortable in the north-central area of Eau Claire.  Since strangulation, even with a ligature, requires some strength, the suspect probably works with his hands.  He may have been in the area for a relatively short period of time laying cable or a working a detailed construction project. Since it is apparent that the suspect’s DNA has no match in CODIS—the national DNA databank—he is likely deceased, severely disabled, or simply stopped consuming alcohol.

Homicide investigations are typically more complex when the crimes are perpetrated by strangers. The timelines of the investigations, DNA evidence, and the use of criminal investigative analysis when appropriate, can produce a handful of suspects for detectives to evaluate and still exclude the innocent.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, is available at

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, please visit:

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

Police Believe Actual “Honeybee Shooter” is 10-7

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to’s Kindle in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders.  Spingola also travels to present The Psychology of Homicide, a riveting program concerning high-profile homicide investigations, to groups and organizations.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010