Book excerpt: "Finding Bethany: A Memoir"

Excerpted from "Finding Bethany: A Memoir" (Todd Communications, 2014)

I stared at the evidence paperwork listing the more than 120 items seized from the Lawson residence by Officer Daily and his crime scene team. They took towels from Mike Lawson's master bathroom that appeared to have bloodstains on them. They took raincoats spattered with "blood-like substances." They collected the gas can I saw on Lawson's deck, the one of the same brand and size found in the burned out M Street duplex. They grabbed hairs, fibers, guns and even another vacuum cleaner. In Bob's room they even found a small amount of marijuana and several handguns, but all the firearms checked out as legal. I still wanted to hold onto them and have them tested for DNA and fingerprints, just in case.

Detective (Mark) Huelskoetter walked over and leaned on what little edge of my desk remained. I gestured to the paperwork.

"There is so much stuff to go through," I said. "Hell, I even got a search warrant for the hairs from his dog that we need to have processed."

Mark nodded his head. "How about I take the evidence sheets and start filling out the lab requests for you?"

"That would be a big help," I replied. "Also, could you please have someone bring Mr. Lawson's vehicle to the front of the police station? I think it's time that Mike got his Mercedes back."

"You got it," Mark replied with a grin.

I reached over and grabbed the file marked "Cell Phone Records - Mike Lawson." They showed Lawson's cell phone being used on the morning of Saturday, May 3rd to call Bethany. It was a short call, two minutes in length. I flipped back to Bethany's cell phone records. Listed was an incoming call from Lawson's phone. An hour later she spoke with her boyfriend Ray. And then nothing.

Lawson's records showed additional calls later on that morning. Most of the calls were between the two Lawson brothers, Bob and Mike.

They told me they were together watching NASCAR that morning.

So why were they calling one another?

And what were they saying?

I added a note to my growing to-do list on my large whiteboard: "Get cell tower locations for both Lawson brothers' cell phones." Next I picked up the phone and dialed one of those very numbers.

"Mike Lawson, please," I said.

"Speaking," the voice replied gruffly.

"Hi, Mike, it's Detective Klinkhart here," I said in my nicest voice possible.

"Yes, sir," Mike said with equally fake sincerity.

"I just wanted to call and thank you for your cooperation the other day," I said.

"What's going on with my car and briefcase and stuff?" Lawson asked, his voice betraying a touch of anger.

"Oh, your car? I don't know about your car... hold on a second, I'll check." I put the phone on hold and waited for a few minutes to make it seem like I had to get permission. After a long pause, I took the phone off hold. "Yep, my boss said that we can release your SUV."

"And I want my commercial shop vacuums that you guys took from the detail shop," he said, getting more heated by the second.

"I think we can get that returned to you in a few days."

"Okay, fine. When can I get my car back?" he asked.

"I'll have it here in front of the police station at 4 P.M."

"Fine, I'll see you then," he said as he hung up the phone.

In the meantime, I spent my time listening to more recorded conversations we made between Franko (Besinaiz) and Lawson at both the Lawson residence and the Bayshore construction site.

Between mind-numbing shoptalk, blaring saws and pounding nails, Lawson's true personality emerged in a few telling exchanges. At one point, Lawson tried to gain Franko's sympathy by saying once he was exonerated he didn't expect to ever hear the Anchorage Police Department say that they were sorry for putting him through this "witch hunt." Lawson continued to stay with his story that he only spoke with Bethany on the telephone that morning and she had gotten the problem with the keys fixed. At one point Franko pressed Lawson about Bethany and why the police took his car.

"She was never in your car, though, right?" Franko asked Lawson.

"I never had that (expletive) broad in my car," Lawson shot back. "Damn, (expletive), I've met her twice! Just once to drop off cleaning supplies and the other time to (expletive) sign her lease."

I stopped the recording... I played Lawson's words back again.

"I've never had that (expletive) broad in my car." I rewound it again and then again. Over and over I listened to Lawson describe Bethany as "that (expletive) broad."

I threw down my headphones and rubbed my eyes. I had been up since the crack of dawn. I picked up another file on my desk and began reading, when a few moments later a voice interrupted my thoughts.

"You getting any sleep?"

I looked up. It was (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) Special Agent Rebecca Bobich. She was no longer dressed in her fire gear. She wore a black-colored T-shirt with "ATF" imprinted on it and black cargo pants. She looked like a special agent -- a gorgeous special agent, but a special agent nonetheless.

"Not a lot," I admitted.

"Can I help?" Rebecca asked.

I handed her a new file that had just been tossed on my desk.

"This is the background file on Michael Lawson. Did you know that he is a convicted felon?"

Agent Bobich's eyes widened.

"What was he convicted of?"

"Well, they don't list all of the details, but he did five years in prison outta Chicago for aggravated sexual assault."

Rebecca flipped through the pages. "Do you realize what that means?"

"That he's a rapist?" I said.

Agent Bobich smiled at my attempt at a joke. "Yes, but didn't you guys get some guns and some dope out of the Lawson residence?'

"Just a couple of old handguns and a small amount of marijuana."

With that, Agent Bobich said, "But Mike's a felon and a felon can't be in possession of drugs or guns. You got his DNA, didn't you?"

I nodded.

"Do you mind if I have the guns swabbed for DNA and fingerprints and have a gun purchasing trace done on them? If we can put Mike's prints or DNA on the guns found in the house then we might be able to charge him with something."

"That sounds like a perfect job for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms," I said.

Rebecca smiled and started to leave when I asked her for one more favor.

"What do you think about putting out a press release for me?" I asked.

Agent Bobich smiled.

That night I again arrived home late. It was getting to be a bad habit. It was now nearly midnight as I crept into Evan's bedroom to check on him. I looked over at Evan's bed. A smile and two tiny eyes greeted me.

With the lights still off I walked over and sat on the edge of his bed. Evan turned and he looked up at me with his blue eyes.

"Did you find Bethany today, Dad?"

"Not today, buddy, but I'm still looking." I reached over and gave him a kiss on his forehead. "I love you, buddy."

"Dad, can I ask you something?" Evan said in a sleepy voice.

I nodded and said, "Yes, you can ask me anything."

"If I got lost, would you look for me?" he asked.

I wasn't quite sure what to say to that. I thought for a moment. I looked into his eyes and I stroked his blonde hair. I leaned forward so he would be sure to hear me. I put my arms around him and I said, "Evan, if you were ever lost, I would never, ever stop looking for you."

He looked up at me. He smiled. I knew that he was listening.

I whispered, "And I will find you. Never forget that. No matter where you are, I will always come and I will find you."

Evan smiled again and then paused before asking, "Like finding Bethany, Dad?"

"Yes, buddy, like finding Bethany. That's my job. Now go to sleep."

He closed his eyes completely and rolled over on his side. I pulled his covers up and I kissed him once more goodnight. I sat there on the edge of his bed for what seemed like the longest time. I just watched. I watched and I listened to him breathe as he slept.