Case of the Broken Nails
12/16/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
JACKIE GALLOWAY WAS THE SORT OF person who could find something to like about everyone. "Be compassionate to all living things," read a poster of frolicking dolphins in her apartment in Sarasota, Fla. "She had more friends than normal," says her sister Kim. "She had at least five best girlfriends." On the afternoon of Wednesday, June 12, Jackie, 36, was supposed to meet an elderly friend, Harry Dean, for lunch. A onetime hairdresser who was working as a waitress and house-cleaner, Jackie had cut Dean's hair as a favor the previous day. But when Dean arrived at her apartment that Wednesday, he found the front door unlocked, the television and a curling iron on and a dead stillness everywhere else. Nothing was out of place, not even Jackie's purse, which lay unrifled on the sofa. But Jackie herself had vanished.
A full-scale search by police and Jackie's family and friends that lasted through the night failed to turn up a trace of the missing woman. Then, the next afternoon, sheriff's deputies found Jackie's decomposing body wrapped in a beige bed sheet in a lot 10 miles from downtown Sarasota. A white braided-nylon cord that turned out to be the kind used with draperies and traverse rods had been fashioned into a noose around her neck, and her wrists showed signs of having been bound. Though Jackie was fully clothed, it was unclear whether she had been sexually assaulted. Most horrifying, however, was the sight of her fingers: Her false nails had all been torn off, leaving nothing but the raw cuticles. "Jackie either put up a fierce fight," says Sgt. Bill Sullivan of the Sarasota County sheriffs office, "or she was cold-bloodedly tortured by her attacker."
In either case, police still had no answer to the critical question: Who had committed the crime? The investigation was going nowhere until the late evening of July 16, when Det. Don Wenger, also of the Sarasota County sheriff's office, who was assigned to the case and who lived in the same neighborhood as Jackie, noticed a man lurking suspiciously near an empty house in the area. Wenger approached the man, who identified himself as John Waterman and said he was thinking of buying the place. Since the house wasn't for sale, Wenger had Waterman, 25, arrested for prowling.
Later, though, Wenger began thinking about two strange things that had come up during his brief interrogation of Waterman. The first was that Waterman, without prompting, had mentioned that he lived next door to the murdered Jackie Galloway. The other was that the trunk of the car Waterman was driving, a Buick Park Avenue that belonged to a woman for whom Waterman worked as a chauffeur, was open; Wenger could see that the interior was gray and black, the same colors as fibers that had been found on Galloway's body. That night Wenger mentioned his hunch to Sergeant Sullivan. At 2:30 A.M. they went down to the Bay Plaza, an upscale condominium complex where Waterman worked as a parking valet and security guard, and looked into Waterman's own car, a 1985 Renault Alliance that was parked in the garage. On the floor next to the driver's seat they spotted a length of cord similar to the kind used on Jackie Galloway, with a loop fashioned at one end.
Several hours later, the deputies got warrants to search both cars and Waterman's house. In the Buick they found a .45-cal. semiautomatic pistol. At Waterman's home they discovered three pieces of cord, also similar to that found on Jackie, one of them with loops at one end. They also turned up a beige sheet and two beige pillowcases, as well as a gray bag containing a black hood, plastic gloves and gray driving gloves.
The most arresting item, however, was a paperback novel, Postmortem, by Patricia Cornwell, the title of which caught Sergeant Sullivan's eye. When he picked up the book, one of the few in Waterman's house, and began to thumb through it, he was immediately struck by the lurid plot, which revolved around a serial killer who delighted in trussing his victims with nooses and torturing them. "It appeared the killer used the cord from Venetian blinds, and the knots, the pattern, were joltingly familiar," read one passage from the book. Elsewhere, the thriller described how a victim had her fingers broken one by one by the killer. "He had no reason," Cornwell had written, "except to cause her excruciating pain and give her a taste of what was to come."
Not knowing the exact circumstances of Jackie's death, the investigators were reluctant to jump to the conclusion that Waterman had necessarily engineered a copycat killing. "There were similarities. She was bound in more than one place, and the cord, drapery cord, was the same kind the killer used with one of the victims in the book," says Sullivan. "But Jackie could have been bound to some other object and her hands tied behind her back, which wouldn't be the same as in the book at all." Still, under questioning, Waterman said that he liked mysteries and had started to read Postmortem but that he had not gotten far in the text.
Now in jail awaiting the start of his trial on a charge of first-degree murder, to which he has pleaded not guilty (no sexual assault charges were brought), Waterman has no prior arrest record. He does, however, have a long history of personal troubles. As an infant he was adopted by a couple in Centralia, Mo. The couple divorced when John was 3 years old, and he lived with his mother; she remarried two years later and quickly divorced again. At about the age of 15, John started having problems with his family, which now included his mother's live-in boyfriend and the man's daughter. The solution to the difficulty was Jerry Waterman, a hairdresser and friend of the family's who offered to take John in and become his legal guardian.
Six years ago, Jerry Waterman moved to Sarasota with John and bought the Masters of Hair Design beauty salon. Up until a year ago, when he moved to the modest house next to Jackie's, John lived in a bungalow, while Jerry and a male companion shared a house on the same property. (As far as the deputies know, Galloway and Waterman only knew each other to say hello.) For the past three years John had been dating a local woman, a student named Noel Strickland, whom he was engaged to marry. He had been less successful in finding steady employment. After working briefly as a hairdresser, a supply clerk and a medical aid, he had recently gotten his job at the Bay Plaza. He quickly earned a reputation among fellow employees as a man with some unsettling habits. "He gave me the willies," says another valet at the complex. He says that Waterman once brandished a gun at a fellow employee, liked to carry knives and enjoyed capturing pigeons and drowning them.
Despite the weight of the circumstantial evidence, the case against Waterman is far from airtight. To begin with, the jurors will not hear about the fact that Waterman owned a copy of Postmortem or about the cord found in the Renault, both of which were ruled inadmissible on technical grounds. Also, prosecution experts say that while they are 100 percent certain that the nylon cords from Waterman's house match that found on Jackie's body, the cord in question is fairly common. And while the loops tied in all the cords are similar, the double half hitch that is used is not an unusual knot. Experts are expected to testify that the carpet fibers retrieved from Waterman's house and the Buick match some of the fibers at the murder scene but not all of them. Perhaps most damaging to the prosecution case, Waterman's sheets do not exactly match the one Jackie was found in, and hair samples from the suspect do not match those found on the body. Prosecutors are convinced that they have their killer, but the defense is optimistic that Waterman can heal the rap. "This is a prime example of police over-zealousness," says Tobey Hockett, Waterman's lawyer. "I don't see anything that says they've got the right guy."
MEG GRANT in Sarasota