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Fiction. © Copyright 2002, Jim Loy
Sergeant Mary Phillips was in charge of the murder investigation. Harrison Chevy had been shot and killed in his home, while he was watching television (channel 6). He was shot twice in the back of the head. The firearm was not found at the scene. One mangled bullet was recovered, apparently 38 caliber. Clues. There were thousands, maybe millions of clues. Which clues were important? Sergeant Phillips could only guess at this early stage. There were hundreds of hairs (some apparently not human, and there were other signs of a dog in the house), thousands of fingerprints, discrepancies in the checkbook (missing check numbers and arithmetic errors), people who were not friendly with the deceased, the doors had probably been unlocked, no obvious signs of robbery. In time the clues would begin to make sense.
Had the deceased been aware that he was about to die? Had he even been aware that the murderer was in the room? Who? Why? It was too soon to tell. So far, it made little sense.
The next afternoon, Sergeant Phillips was making telephone calls, tracking down leads, when Lieutenant Riley appeared at the door to her office. "Get in here, quick!" They trotted to the briefing room where the TV was showing a news program. A man was being interviewed. His face was blurred out with a square mosaic pattern, and his voice was distorted. Riley said, "He just confessed to your murder."
The mystery man was cocky. But he didn't really give any information. Sergeant Phillips said, "Let's go get him."
Riley shook his head, "It's on tape."
"How do you know?"
When the interview was over, and the football game had begun, Phillips called the TV station. They were not cooperative at all. They wouldn't divulge who the murderer was. They wouldn't provide a tape of the interview. They wouldn't help at all. "We have to protect our news sources. If we don't, then the sources will dry up."
"This guy's a murderer."
"Yeah. Well, at least that's what he claimed. Sorry, we have to protect our source."
"Well, I'm trying to protect the public..." She was about to blow her top. Calm down. No threats. That doesn't work. "Can you help me at all?"
"Uh, the interviewer was Franklin Kirk. It was taped sometime last night; I don't know where. No record of a camera man, so Kirk probably handled the camera himself. That's all I got."
"Thank you." She hung up. Gotta subpoena their recording and their records. Interview this Franklin Kirk. It won't work. They won't tell me anything. They'll fight the subpoena. The judge won't even help, will he? She looked at the TV screen, football. "Riley, are you taping this?"
"Who do you know's a football fan?"
"Football? Uh, I don't know, Peterson? Smith? Willis?, Uh, Adams? I don't know." Phillips was already out the door.
After several phone calls, she contacted patrolman Barry Willis, in his patrol car. The dispatcher radioed, "Car 298, are either of you taping the Denver football game?"
"That's a roger."
"Great. We need to have you phone the station ASAP, extension 34. It's important."
"Ah, patrolman Willis, thank you for calling. I'm investigating a murder, and the TV station is not cooperating. Your recording of the football game may contain valuable information. Can you get that to me right away? Uh, I'll make a copy for you."
"Yeah sure, it'll be a few minutes." They both hung up.
To his partner, patrolman Archer, "Turn on the lights, no siren." He gave his home address. And away they sped.
Both Sergeant Phillips and patrolman Willis (who was off work for the day and the weekend) studied the tape with great intensity. "Not a lot here. He just brags that he committed the crime. And he appears to know that a gun was involved."
"Seems to be a man."
"Yeah. Can't even tell what color hair he has, or if he has any hair at all."
"Have you talked to the interviewer?"
"No. That's uh, Franklin Kirk. I'll be talking to him in, uh an hour and a half. I don't expect anything from him. Freedom of the press. Too bad we can't make the recording better, like NASA did with those pictures of the planets, Neptune, whatever."
"I know somebody at NASA, JPL actually, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, computer guy. He might be able to help."
She handed the phone to him. "Call him!"
They drove out to JPL. Dr. Stein said, "It's called Image Enhancement. That's my specialty. Essentially boost the signal to noise ratio." He was silent for a while, obviously thinking hard. "It might work on your tape. No individual instant of the tape has much detail. But as the man moves in front of the camera, we will get more and more detail. Over the course of the entire interview, we may have enough information to make a clear computer model of his head, and maybe his voice too. It would help if we had the original recording."
"We're working on that. The TV station doesn't want to give it to us."
"OK, I'll see what I can do. Give me a day or two." He took the tape.
"We need that tape back. It belongs to patrolman Willis here. I forgot to make a copy."
On the phone, "I've made some progress. I've been able to eliminate all of the accidental noise, so the original recording won't be an improvement there. I haven't begun to work on the audio portion yet; the original may still help me with that.
"Uh, the man is partially bald. He has a grayish mustache, no eye glasses. He's overweight. I'll fax you a picture, but it's pretty crude yet. It'll improve, so don't get discouraged. I've created a virtual wireframe model of the head and I'm deducing shading and small adjustments to its geometry. It's an iterative process. I'm essentially zeroing in on a three dimensional model of this man's head and shoulders. Uh, so far there is no indication of how good an image I can eventually get.
Another day later, and they had what appeared to be fifteen slightly blurred photographs of their man, from fifteen slightly different angles. And they had a clear recording of his voice, with some occasional garbling, through the entire interview. Sergeant Phillips said to herself, "I know him." They had their man.
Sergeant Phillips told Dr. Stein, "We have a recorded confession, which won't stand up in court. We have photos of him confessing, which won't stand up in court. The good news is that we know who he is. We got lots of work to do. But we've taken a giant leap for humankind. Good work."
Jimmy the Toad was convicted of first degree murder. JPL and image enhancement were never mentioned at the trial.
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