A Private Man

MDCC English professor Wade Harris didn't share much about his life. But he might well have shared his murderer.

The only damage to the three-bedroom house was a broken living-room window, outside of which Hellman found a twelve-pack of beer and a VCR. He noted that shards of glass from the pane were littered outside, which suggested the robber had broken out through the window, rather than in.

Another possible clue: On the carpet a few feet from Harris's body was an overturned shoebox full of photos, some depicting young black men, shirtless and posing for the camera.

Though he had handled homicides for only two years, Hellman was versed in what some cops call "homosexual murders." He had investigated them before. The victims are usually older men who live alone. They are killed by someone they invite in, and often with a weapon of opportunity. Then robbed. A street hustler taken home by a closeted gay man considers his companion easy prey, Hellman knew, because the hustler is virtually guaranteed anonymity. The john, after all, doesn't want any of his friends or neighbors to know he has a visitor.

Wade Harris's death scene had the trademarks of just such a scenario. In his reports, Hellman also noted that Joe Kostick's son John told investigators that Harris had young black male visitors over to his house from time to time, visitors he did not mention when he came to dinner at Joe Kostick's residence. (In a subsequent deposition, John Kostick denied having told this to police, insisting it must have been his father who had passed on the information.)

A day after discovering the body, Hellman received a call from David Gosoff, who was a long-time colleague of Harris at MDCC and also his landlord. According to Hellman's report, Gosoff said he believed Wade Harris was homosexual, unbeknownst to his friends and family. Gosoff stressed that he had never observed his friend involved in such a relationship. Harris was too private for that.

The most telling information came from Joe Kostick, who related how he visited Wade Harris Friday afternoon and briefly met the young black man who shared the professor's last name. Wade Harris had identified the man as a "friend," Kostick recalled. He had seen no vehicle other than Wade's outside the house.

In those first few days, there were other leads, as well. A friend from MDCC told Hellman that Wade Harris had been complaining for two weeks about hangup phone calls. Hellman also discovered that Harris had been having financial problems and had bounced a series of rent checks to Gosoff. Still, the detective remained suspicious that Harris's killing was related to his alleged homosexuality.

Two days after the murder, an anonymous caller had advised police that he had seen Wade Harris with a young Latin male prostitute in front of the Cactus Lounge on Biscayne and NE 20th Street, shortly before his death. By this time, however, Hellman had zeroed in on a suspect named Tyrone Harris, whose name and phone numbers had been found on an envelope in Wade Harris's kitchen. Like the man Kostick had met on the day Harris was murdered, Tyrone Harris was a black man in his thirties.

On July 14, Hellman interviewed Tyrone Harris, who explained that he and Wade Harris had been casual friends since they met at an NAACP meeting six years earlier. Yes, Tyrone Harris said, he had called Wade Harris on the night of his death, to tell him he and his newlywed wife had moved in with her mother, and to give Harris the new phone number. His wife had returned home a half-hour later, Tyrone stated, and they'd gone out to dinner. He spent the following morning with friends. Tyrone Harris concluded the interview by informing Hellman that he was not sure if Wade Harris was a homosexual but that he considered him to have effeminate mannerisms.

When Hellman interviewed Tyrone Harris's wife and friends, the alibi checked out. He showed Joe Kostick a photo of Tyrone Harris. Kostick said he didn't think Tyrone was the man he had seen working on the VCR.

The detective spent the next week trying, with little success, to learn more about Wade Harris's veiled social life. Wade was a very private man, came the refrain from friends. Hellman spoke with two bartenders at the Cactus Lounge, which he knew to be a pickup spot for male prostitutes. One staffer described Harris as a frequent customer, the other had seen him around. Hellman even went so far as to track down one of the men whose photos Wade Harris had kept in a shoebox. The man said he was not a homosexual but he believed Wade Harris was. While the information buttressed Hellman's theory of the case, it did little to help him locate a suspect.

With nearly two weeks passed since the murder, and the victim's body laid to rest in his hometown of Guntersville, Alabama, Hellman's investigation appeared to have stalled.

On May 22, 1984, Metro-Dade homicide detective John Parmenter was summoned to the North Miami apartment of an IRS agent named Liston Smith. His body had been discovered in a bedroom, his head under a pillow, his underwear peeking out from blood-stained sheets. Smith, 29, had been stabbed 58 times, at least once in the genitals. Two large, bloodied knives lay on the floor. "As soon as I saw Liston, I said, 'This is a homosexual killing,'" recalls Parmenter, who later found a variety of gay-oriented singles magazines around the home.

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