04 | Casting Roles

role/1 An actor’s part in a play, film, etc.; fig. the part played or assumed by a person in society, life, etc.

scapegoat/1 In the biblical ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev.16), a goat chosen by lot to be sent into the wilderness, after the chief priest had symbolically laid the sins of the people on it (while another goat was appointed to be sacrificed). 2 A  person or thing blamed or punished for a mistake, fault, etc. of another or others. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

The suffering Duane Frye has been caused is a real tragedy, defense lawyer Leonard Davies said. He noted again, as he had in a preliminary hearing, that the sheriff’s department, in his opinion, had refused to pursue an eye witness, and that the case was dismissed because it was totally improper.

Lt. Robert Sendle of the department has noted in the hearing that while he did not personally check out a report of a witness (a construction worker at a home in sight of the Frye home), he assigned a co-worker to do so. Apparently, the check was made some time after the information was given. Frye claimed he found his wife lying on the ground at 5:30 p.m. after returning from Boulder where he was trying to arrange a wedding reception for his son, who was soon to be married.

The grand jury indictment, according to Davies, was based solely on testimony from Sendle. After Frye was indicted, the grand jury interviewed neighbors and acquaintances of the Fryes. Only one person—a child—had placed Frye at the murder scene around the time of the killing, Davies said. Littleton Independent, November 29, 1973.

When I remarried in 1993, I told my husband, John, about Betty’s murder. He wanted to know why the charges against Duane were dropped. John is a judge. Loose ends and the evasion of justice offend him. He’d also gone to law school with Bob Gallagher, who had prosecuted the case.

Gallagher was avuncular and twinkly-eyed, but his memory of the housewife killed in her garage was hazy. It was blown by an old-timer, he said, a guy from the Colorado State Patrol. They didn’t investigate cases then the way we do now. He sent me a handful of michrofiche reports, mostly fragments, barely legible.

I went to the courthouse for the case file. Attached to a 1973 defense motion was the grand jury transcript of one Robert D. a/k/a Bob a/k/a Bobby Dale Sendle. Was he the old-timer Gallagher described? I’d pictured him as a cross between Broderick Crawford and Barney Fife. Sendle laid out the case, and he was anything but stupid. Leonard Davies had to take him down.

Every story needs a villain and a hero. In a crime the cast expands to three: the perp, the victim and the cop. Like a new director coming on set, Davies recast these roles. He made Duane the victim, Sendle the fall guy, and Betty a bit character in the drama of her own murder. Those roles were so successful they were reprised forty years later in the cold case. And I, too, used Sendle.

Sendle’s 1973 transcript became a basis for Quiet Time, my 2001 crime story about Betty’s murder. But her killer walked. My story had to end differently. I reinvented Sendle as Ray Burt, a well-intentioned bumbler of a cop on the verge of retirement, because I needed to believe somebody cared.

In 2014, I met up with Sendle at an RV resort southeast of Phoenix where he and his wife spend their winters. Sendle was different than I’d imagined: tall, keen-eyed, blunt. He walked me through the crime; unlike Gallagher, he remembered every detail. In 2005, when Duane was interviewed by cold case detectives, he fixated on a cop he claimed had tried to kill him on the stand back then. Now I understood why. No recasting or reinvention could change Bob Sendle.

Who are the players in your story? Have they been recast?

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