Wed, March 30, 2005
Botched case dies with Terry Arnold
By TOM BRODBECK
Terry Arnold not only fit the description of the person who killed doughnut shop waitress Barbara Stoppel in 1981, he fit it better than Thomas Sophonow -- the man wrongfully convicted of the murder and who spent four years in jail for a crime he did not commit. Arnold, a suspect in the case from the beginning of the murder investigation, was found dead on the weekend.
The death, a suicide, all but puts the brakes on any future prosecution in the Stoppel case.
Arnold was really the only suspect in this case from the outset. And when you read the commission of inquiry report into Sophonow's wrongful conviction, it's stunning to think police didn't arrest and charge Arnold back then.
Arnold was first interviewed by police shortly after the attack when he visited Stoppel in the hospital.
He told the family he was a truck driver who frequented the Ideal Donut Shop where Stoppel worked.
The constable who interviewed Arnold noticed he resembled the composite drawing of the killer.
Arnold had pimples and acne, just like the killer.
Sophonow did not have pimples and acne.
Arnold wore dark framed glasses, another feature described by witnesses.
The constable thought Arnold was "somewhat strange" and noted that Arnold lived only five minutes from the doughnut shop.
About the same time, a friend of Arnold called police to say Arnold bore a striking similarity to the composite sketch of the killer in the newspapers.
The friend also said Arnold regularly wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots -- just like the killer.
Arnold was interviewed again by police. This time he told them that at one time, he had a crush on Stoppel.
Despite this, police -- amazingly -- didn't pursue Arnold further. They even had his fingerprints on file but didn't bother to compare them with the ones found at the murder scene.
"It is unfortunate that the investigation of Terry Arnold did not proceed further," commissioner Peter Cory wrote in his report. "This is a very sad and telling conclusion."
That's putting it mildly.
There was even more compelling evidence against Arnold that never came out at the time of the murder, according to police, who re-opened the investigation in 1999.
In a warrant application to obtain palm prints from Arnold in 2001, police claimed they had two unnamed witnesses who testified in 1985 that they knew and saw Arnold in the doughnut shop the afternoon of the murder.
Police also interviewed a waitress who provided a bogus alibi for Arnold in 1981. She admitted to police that she lied.
She told police Arnold came to her hours after the murder "shaking and appearing nervous," urging her to tell police -- if they asked -- that he was in the restaurant at the beginning of her shift, even though he wasn't.
Fortunately, much has improved in policing since 1981, including the science of profiling suspects.
Also, there is now a senior officer in charge of each major crime, something that didn't exist back then as work overlapped from one day to the next with no single officer handling the file.
That doesn't help the Stoppel family today, though.
Arnold's death means they will never have real closure in Barbara's murder.
And for that, all those involved in the botching of this case should be hanging their heads very low today.