History So Interesting
It's Criminal

From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Murder in Pleasanton: Interview with Joshua Suchon (Part 3)

Murder in Pleasanton: Interview with Joshua Suchon (Part 3)

In this grand finale, Tina finally gets the justice she deserves!

Steve is arrested, convicted, and sent away all the while still claiming his innocence. Ten years later there is a breakthrough that will send chills down your spine!

Benjamin Morris:
Previously on Crime Capsule.

Joshua Suchon:
This person's DNA was not yet in the system. If they had tested it immediately, they would not have gotten a hit. But they had to wait over two years because there was more pressing cases. And then by the time they did examine the evidence, now this person's DNA was in the system because of this arrest for drug charges and a parole violation. So by having so many other backlog cases and having to wait two years, it ultimately led to the hit. And the person who did it was the person who lived across the street, Steve Carlson.

Benjamin Morris:
Welcome back to the final part of our interview with Joshua Suchon. Something he said last week stuck with us that among the students at Foothill High, everyone had a Steve Carlson story. It's hard to measure the implications of that. Not necessarily the sense of foreboding at the time, but later of vindication. It's a feeling you wish you didn't have being right when you wish to God you'd been wrong. In one sense, Tina Faelz's story already ended in April, 1984. But in another sense, her story was simply interrupted and would need to wait just a little longer before its true conclusion. In the meantime, we have to follow Steve's trail a little further before we can finally reach the destination that Tina's family and all of Pleasanton has been searching for. Back in the studio is Joshua Suchon to fill in those missing years. Josh, thanks again for joining us. Catch us up on what Steve was doing in the years that the case went cold.

Joshua Suchon:
He moved from Pleasanton to Davis. Davis, California is near Sacramento. It's about an hour and a half away. There was hope that by living with his grandparents, that that could help him. It did not. Any types of people who came into his life that were quasi friends were mostly also drug users, or it was friends of the women who he had children with and were kind of forced to be around him. So there might have been people who cared about him and maybe loved him, but he certainly was not the type of individual that would make you try over, and over, and over again to help. He was an individual who you just wanted to go away.

Benjamin Morris:
You know, it's funny because you write that even one of his former good friends from school days Todd Smith had this really disturbing encounter with him. Two disturbing encounters with him actually a little later on in life.

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. So Todd Smith is someone who knew Steve Carlson very well. They lived on the same street. They weren't best friends, but they were friends. They hung out. Todd Smith is somebody who the police interviewed. The police interviewed Todd and Steve together. There was a lot of people who wondered whether those two were involved. Todd's story ended up changing over the years. And as the years went along, Todd became more and more not just suspicious, but adamantly believed that Steve must have done it, and was really tortured by this belief. So there was a time there in the late 2000s that Todd, and his wife, and another couple go to Santa Cruz. They just want to go have a good time on the boardwalk and get something to eat, just have fun at Santa Cruz. And they run into Steve Carlson of all people. This crazy guy from the neighborhood who Todd thought probably killed Tina Faelz, and they run into him.

Joshua Suchon:
And Steve is pretty wild. He's covered in tattoos. And he basically says, "Hey, let's party. Let's have a good time," and starts posting about things that he has done in the past and things that he wants to do. And Todd is completely freaked out. And his wife and his friends are wondering, "Who is this guy? Do you actually know this weirdo?" And he's just saying, "Go away. We do not want to be around this person. We do not want to be around this person at all."

Joshua Suchon:
And a second time that Todd goes to Santa Cruz, a very similar thing happens. Not just once, but twice. At this point, Steve is homeless and he's living on the streets of Santa Cruz, basically just bothering people. Looking for his next fix. And Todd Smith runs into this guy from the past that has truly tormented his brain about what happened in 1984 and how that has changed Todd's life in the years that have followed.

Benjamin Morris:
Let's jump back to the first part of the 2010s. So the purse is speaking. The DNA has come back. We've got a name. But it's not enough just to have a name, is it? The investigators need plausible connection to the event, and they need enough of a match to rule out that it could have been anybody else to the best of scientific acknowledge. Here you have Keith Batt who's one of the investigators. And James Knox, who of course had been on the case many times over the past 30 years. They are at the top of their game here. Can you revisit that for us?

Joshua Suchon:
Once the DNA hit comes back and it's Steve Carlson, now Pleasanton Police still up to put the case back together. And the primary detective who's in charge of this is Keith Batt. And the first thing that Keith needs to figure out, where is Steve Carlson? Okay. He's in jail in Santa Cruz. Okay. When is he going to get out? Okay. It's going to be sometime in August of 2011. Is there a chance that he's going to get released early? Well, now he has to call his colleagues in Santa Cruz and see if he can ask questions without telling them specifically why. Because it turns out no, he's probably not going to get released early.

Joshua Suchon:
Okay. So now I have basically five months here to put this case back together. I need to re-interview people who have talked over the years. I can't tell them that there is a DNA hit that matches Steve Carlson. But I need to still be able to go back and talk to them and explain that, "There's some type of new evidence, and we need your cooperation." So Keith has to work tirelessly trying to find additional evidence that goes along with this DNA hit.

Joshua Suchon:
They also need a new sample from Steve Carlson. So now they need to go to visit Steve in prison in Santa Cruz. The police don't want to tell Steve exactly why they are there, but they need to talk to him. So this is actually really brilliant investigative work that these guys do. And these guys are Keith Batt and James Knox.

Benjamin Morris:
So how long had Steve been in jail at that point?

Joshua Suchon:
Less than a year.

Benjamin Morris:
He's eyeing his exit. He's looking at the door.

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. He knows that he's going to get out soon enough. He's been in jail enough over his life to know how this works. You're in for a certain amount of time. You get out. Then he gets caught, then he's back in. And now there's this exit date for him.

Joshua Suchon:
So when Keith Batt and James Knox arrive, they don't say that they're from Pleasanton. They just say that they're just old dope cops. And they just want to talk to guys who are in jail about what it's like being a user. They just want to get information. They just want to learn.

Joshua Suchon:
And as they talk to Steve, it's very casual. It's fun. Steve is very comfortable. He's talking a lot about all the different things that he has done in his life life. At one point, he makes this comment about how you do a whole bunch of meth and your child could die right in front of you. And you're like, "Oh well, just clean it up." And from his body language, it is clear that he is comfortable, that he's engaging with these two police officers. And he is not worried about what he's saying.

Joshua Suchon:
And then maybe 30 or so minutes into this interview, the officers tell Steve that, "We are from Pleasanton, California, and we are investigating the murder of Tina Faelz." And immediately, Steve's body language changes. He starts to choke. He reaches for a trash can so that he can literally spit into the trash can because he realizes what is happening.

Joshua Suchon:
From that point on, Steve's answers are short, limited. Suddenly doesn't want to talk, has very little to say. But this whole thing has been videotaped. So you have the visual of Steve talking in general, then being told that the police are here from Pleasanton for this murder of Tina Faelz. And the draft change in his body language where he literally reaches for a trash can to spit into it because he knows what's happening.

Benjamin Morris:
You saw the footage?

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. Most importantly, the jury saw the footage. And while they were there, they were able to get another DNA sample where you put the buckle swab in the mouth. So now they have a new DNA sample, a fresh DNA sample in which you can testify. And Keith Batt can say, "I, Keith Batt administered this buckle swab in this mouth. And I put it in this container with the urgency of immediately testing this in order to once again prove that the blood that was found on the purse matches the DNA of Steve Carlson from jail. And this is absolutely Steve's blood that is on the purse."

Benjamin Morris:
That interview took place in July, 2011. He was set to be released in late August, 2011, right? There was about a three or four week buffer.

Joshua Suchon:
It might have been even less than that. It might have been even early to mid August when he was set to be released.

Benjamin Morris:
So they're really racing against the clock here. Can you describe what the arrest actually looked like? You talk about it in your book, and it's extraordinary.

Joshua Suchon:
And now they go back on the morning in which they know that he's going to be released. They stopped and had breakfast in Santa Cruz, knowing about what was going to happen. And Steve is discharged from Santa Cruz Jail. He's given his belongings. And as soon as he walks through the doors as a free man, they immediately arrest him for the murder of Tina Faelz.

Benjamin Morris:
They pop him like that?

Joshua Suchon:
Immediately. James Knox said that out of his entire life in law enforcement, that was the most satisfying moment of his entire law enforcement career. And when they arrested him, Steve knew what was coming. And Steve simply said, "Okay." And as they were driving Steve from Santa Cruz to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Steve slept for most of the way.

Benjamin Morris:
There was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to say. That was it.

Joshua Suchon:
He knew that day was coming. He knew from the time that he spit into that trash can that when he was going to get released, he was not going to be a free man on the streets.

Benjamin Morris:
Do you think that up until that day, he thought he got away with it?

Joshua Suchon:
Yes. Until James Knox and Keith Batt arrived to interview him the first time, he absolutely thought that he got away with it. He had gotten away with it. The murder happened in 1984. There was probably times that he had convinced himself that he did not really do this. That enough time had gone by, the police had not arrested him. The police had not solved this case. He had moved away. And maybe he started to think, "I didn't really do this. Or because I've gotten away with it for so long, it doesn't really count."

Benjamin Morris:
Yeah. I mean, you can see a version of his mental state in which he was already drunk that day. He was already out of his own mind. It wasn't really him that did it, right? Even on the day. And then that narrative over time becomes the narrative by which he lives or the narrative that more or less he can live with.

Joshua Suchon:
That's the classic Jekyll and Hyde, right? That it's kind of a multiple personality. There's this one person that did this horrific thing, but that person's gone. That person lived in Pleasanton, and that person isn't here. This is this other person who is now in Davis, or is now in Sacramento, or is now in Santa Cruz. And this is this different person.

Benjamin Morris:
He is arrested and charged in August of 2011. And it's a little while before the trial actually begins. There are quite a few preliminaries that have to be taken care of beforehand. Aren't there? The first one was whether he would be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. And that's huge, because that also involves what type of sentencing there would be. Because he was 16 years old when this act occurred that he was charged for. So yeah, that was one of the first things that needed to be determined. And ultimately, the judge felt that because Steve had committed so many other offenses and spent so much time in and out of prison, that previous attempts to rehabilitate him had not worked. So the judge ruled that he would be tried as an adult. I think that if Steve had lived a life without any crimes during those 27 years, he probably would've been charged as a child, as a teenager. But because of all of the other, the lewd and lascivious act against a 14 year old, because of all the drug charges, because of all of the parole violations, there were some other violence things that were involved as well. Because of all those things, he ultimately was going to be charged as an adult.

Benjamin Morris:
One of the other aspect of the preliminaries was the admissibility of testimony from so long ago. And in fact, one of the early star witnesses for the prosecution Todd Smith, he had a pretty tough time of it under oath. Didn't he?

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. So let me give you some more detail about Todd Smith. When Keith Batt first went to put this case back together, he went to the house of Todd, and knocked on the door, and introduced himself. And Todd said basically, "Go away. I don't want to talk to you. I've been trying to tell my story for 20 something years. And none of you would ever listen to me. Go away. I'm not going to help you now."

Joshua Suchon:
Keith left, but he didn't go too far. He said that he just waited his car down the street for about 20 minutes and let Todd kind of cool off. Then he came back to the house and he knocked on the door. And through the door, he said, "This isn't about me. This isn't about you. This is about Tina. Talk to me about Tina." And that's when Todd Smith decided okay, and he tells his story.

Joshua Suchon:
So now we get to the preliminary trial. And for those who don't know, including myself at the time, the preliminary trial is to establish that there is enough evidence for this to go to a courtroom with a jury. So you don't need to prove that Steve Carlson did the crime. You just need to prove that there's enough evidence to go forward with the case.

Joshua Suchon:
Todd Smith is one of the two star witnesses. The first star witness involves all of the DNA, because the DNA was ultimately the star in this. And the supporting actor so to speak would be Todd Smith. And Todd gets on the stand. Todd later told me that he has had lots of health problems over the years. He believes that a lot of his health problems have had to do with his emotions about this case, about how much he has been tormented over the years about Steve Carlson and feeling that Steve Carlson had done this.

Joshua Suchon:
That morning, he didn't think that he was going to be able to make it to the courtroom. He had so much stress and anxiety, and so much pain in his body, that he wasn't sure if he was going to make it. So he is nervous as can be and in poor health.

Joshua Suchon:
And he gets up on the stand and he tells his story, in which he makes it very clear that in his mind, Steve Carlson did it. Then comes the cross examination, and that's when things get totally different.

Benjamin Morris:
Right. What happened?

Joshua Suchon:
The lawyer that was representing Steve Carlson at the time was a pretty high profile lawyer from the South Bay that Steve's father and older sister had hired. And he has all of the different statements that Todd Smith has made throughout his life. He has the statement from the day of the murder, from a couple of days after that, from a few days after that, from a few more days after that, for weeks after that, for a month after that, for two years after that. And Todd Smith's story changed drastically over the years, over the months.

Joshua Suchon:
So for me sitting in the courtroom and for others in the courtroom, this is what you observe. You first observe Todd Smith laying out this scenario of what happened on the day of the murder and how and why he believes that Steve Carlson did it. Then you have the cross examination when the lawyer hands him a piece of paper. And this piece of paper is Todd Smith's story from 1984. It's what the police wrote down as his statement. That piece of paper is handed to Todd. He reads it and Todd says, "I don't remember this." Then comes another piece of paper, then comes another piece of paper. And this happens over, and over, and over again for probably the next hour. So the court including myself is not reading these pieces of paper. But what is clear is that what Todd told police and all of these various different times was much different than what he is testifying.

Benjamin Morris:
You're in the courtroom? You're watching the proceedings?

Joshua Suchon:
Yes. I remember at one point, the lawyer sits back down next to Steve, and I can read Steve's lips. And Steve looks at his lawyer and says, "That was awesome." It was a bad day for Todd Smith in court. And as a result, it was a bad day for the prosecution because of that. And Steve's lawyer did a very thorough, convincing job of telling the court, "Why should we believe this now? It makes no sense," is what he said over and over again. "This is what you said on this date, and on this year, and on this year, and on this year. And now we're hearing some totally different version of what happened."

Joshua Suchon:
The only good news for the prosecution is that the DNA was rock solid. And the DNA was enough for the judge to rule that the case will go forward. But what the prosecution also learned is that we cannot put Todd Smith on the stand for the actual court case. We just have to focus on the DNA and only the DNA, because his testimony became problematic based on what he had told investigators in the '80s.

Benjamin Morris:
So the trial gets underway, and both sides lay out their opening arguments. What were the strategies of the prosecution and the defense?

Joshua Suchon:
The prosecution's strategy was just to completely narrow in on the DNA. Just go all in on the DNA. There were so many different people who, "I heard this. I heard about that." They weren't sure if that was really going to be reliable. And then after that, it was the various different people who could testify that they made this 9-1-1 call. The truck driver came back to testify to how he saw this body and what he did. There was other police officers who could testify about how they got this purse, and looking at the ID, and going to the school. And how they were able to identify who the murdered girl was. They had one of Tina's friends testify. They had a wood shop teacher by the name of Gary Hicklin who could testify because he was the one who opened up the dumpster on the day of the murder and let Steve out when there had been this fight that had occurred. But overwhelmingly, it was the DNA.

Joshua Suchon:
The defense had a totally different strategy. The defense constantly said to the jury, "We don't have to prove that Steve Carlson is innocent. They just have to prove that he did it beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Benjamin Morris:
Now you write that based on the amount of evidence on the purse, the odds that the blood stain came from someone other than Steve Carlson were, and I quote, between one and 4.6 quadrillion and one and 15 quadrillion, depending on the race of the assailant. Stacie Pettigrew, Alameda County Prosecutor, she lasers in. And her claim is it doesn't matter that it doesn't matter how Steve's blood got on the purse. The fact is it's on there. The end. How risky is that strategy?

Joshua Suchon:
Well, there is two other key parts. So yes, there is that Steve's blood is on the purse. Number two is police were able to testify that they heard rumors of Steve confessing to the crime. And they interviewed him in juvenile hall in January of 1986, in which Steve said, "Yes, I have been saying this, but I did not do it." So they were able to establish in the courtroom that Steve was saying these things, even though he would be adamant in that, "I'm just kidding."

Joshua Suchon:
And also, there's the interview from Santa Cruz. Where you can see Steve relaxed, having a conversation, smiling, talking about his drug use, and then see his reaction when told that these police officers are from Pleasanton. And they see him choke, and reach for the trash can, and spit into the trash can. And in the mind of the jury, that might have been even more important than the DNA. Or maybe those were 1A and 1B. If it's just the blood, maybe that's a tough conviction. But that video evidence of his reaction was enormous.

Benjamin Morris:
The classic recipe for murder has three ingredients. Means, motive, and opportunity. The means are established here. We know how she was killed. The opportunity is too. You have described this murder as a fluke. It was a fluke, but the window was open. What did the prosecution seek to establish as Steve's motive?

Joshua Suchon:
They didn't. They did not establish what his motive was. You don't need motive. That's something that when we watch TV shows and movies, we always hear about motive. We always ask about motive. Why did they do it? It doesn't matter why somebody did it. It does not matter in the court of law why somebody did it. You do not have to prove motive. All you have to prove is that they did it.

Benjamin Morris:
So a little over three years after Steve Carlson is charged with crime, on October 30th, 2014, jury met for about two hours in the morning. When they walked back into the courtroom, what did they say?

Joshua Suchon:
They said that Steve Carlson was guilty of murdering Tina Faelz.

Benjamin Morris:
What sold it for them? Why did they reach that conclusion?

Joshua Suchon:
The video in the Santa Cruz jail, and the DNA. Those were the two primary things that sold it for them. And it took 30 years, but Tina Faelz's family finally got their justice with the conviction.

Benjamin Morris:
What was the reaction from the courtroom?

Joshua Suchon:
Relief. It was very emotional for everyone, for both sides. For Steve's family, for Tina's family. And for Drew, and for his aunts, and his uncle, and for his father, and for his late mother, it was relief. But there were still questions. Why did he do it? Why did he not admit that he did it? So that lingered on, but I think the number one emotion was relief.

Benjamin Morris:
What was his reaction? What was Steve's reaction that day?

Joshua Suchon:
Not much. Not much reaction at all. He didn't scream, or yell, or protest. He didn't scream out loud that he was innocent. He didn't stare anybody down. He was handcuffed and taken away.

Benjamin Morris:
There is an interesting wrinkle here, isn't there? Because three years after he was convicted for first degree murder, his conviction was reduced from first to second degree murder. Why was that?

Joshua Suchon:
This is something that a lot of people who followed the case didn't understand and made them very upset at the criminal justice system. But first degree murder means that you planned it. It was premeditated. As we've discussed about this and when you look at the case, there is no way this murder was planned. There is no way that it was premeditated.

Joshua Suchon:
So when the Court of Appeals looked at it, it was sentenced down to second degree murder. And most people just think of the degrees of murder based on how vicious it is. The details of this case are very, very clear. It was not planned. So that's why it was reduced to second degree, which also means that instead of 26 years to life, it's now 16 years to life. And that includes time served. And remember, he was arrested in 2011. So now here as we are recording this in 2021, he's already served 10 years of that sentence now. But again, it's not 16 years. It's 16 years to life. And that's where parole boards get involved in deciding whether someone has rehabilitated themselves, whether they have a plan for what they're going to do when they're out, whether or not they are ready for society, and whether they deserve to be back in society.

Benjamin Morris:
So he's convicted, his charge is reduced. And all this time, he continued to maintain his innocence. Now these claims did not impress the State of California Appeal Courts. And then six years later, six years after he was convicted in October, 2020, he was scheduled to have a parole hearing, which he abruptly canceled. And that was new, wasn't it?

Joshua Suchon:
He had a hearing that was scheduled, which is all part of the usual process. And he basically waved his right to appear before the parole board. And instead, he entered a series of letters into the record, a personal statement about himself, and letter that he sent to Tina, and a letter that he sent to Tina's family.

Benjamin Morris:
So what did these letters say?

Joshua Suchon:
He confessed. He finally confessed. He admitted that he did it. After all the years of denial, after writing letter to me in all caps that said, "I am innocent," after pleading not guilty, after appealing, after telling his family members who spent lots of money on a high priced attorney to represent him, he finally confessed. He came clean.

Benjamin Morris:
So what did he say in his confession? What did we learn from his letters that we didn't know?

Joshua Suchon:
We have a pretty good idea of exactly what happened that day. I'll read you a passage from one of the letters. He wrote, "This letter of my deepest apologies is way overdue. I was living in denial for many years, not being able to believe or take responsibility for brutally murdering you on that day of April 5, 1984. I want you and your family to know you did absolutely nothing to deserve what I did to you. That's what makes this murder so callous and horrific." He later wrote, "I don't remember the stabbing motions. I just remember standing over her bloody body, holding a bloody knife."

Benjamin Morris:
Do you believe him?

Joshua Suchon:
Do I believe that he did it?

Benjamin Morris:
No. He says he has no memory of the crime, only the aftermath. Do you think that's credible?

Joshua Suchon:
Maybe the brain forgets things that it wants to forget or that it needs to forget. I think that he expressed a lot of honesty in the letters. There's three total letters. One was to Tina, one was to Tina's family. And then one, it's basically to the parole board that explains his life. They total 13 pages in length. They're handwritten. I think that he is very candid about a lot of things. He was more candid about certain things than I expected him to be candid. I would say that it was somewhere between 80 to 90% being completely honest about everything. I don't know exactly what he left out or things like that. But nonetheless, there was a lot of stuff in there that was really eyeopening to read. And even some new things that we learned about him that we didn't know.

Benjamin Morris:
Can you give us some examples?

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. So we knew that the parents were out of town. We knew that he had gone to school. We knew that he had instigated an altercation with players from the football team, and that he got thrown into this dumpster, which was locked. All of that is confirmed in his letters. He admits that he stumbled home drunk and humiliated. Then he says that when he got home, he went to his bedroom and passed out. And then I'll read more directly his words.

Joshua Suchon:
"I woke up shortly and went to my parents' bedroom, seeing their liquor cabinet door hanging broken and my mom's underwear thrown about. I knew I was going to get caught, and my dad was going to kick the crap out of me. I tried cleaning up the best I could. There was some leftover liquor in a glass that I drank up, and I just stumbled back to my bedroom. I remember looking out my window and seeing someone walking on the dirt pathway in the field that was across the street from my house. The high school kids would walk this path to go under the freeway to get to the other part of town where they lived. I remember being full of rage at the way all my classmates were laughing at me and the damage my parents' room was in, and how my dad was going to whip up on me after they found out about the party I threw."

Joshua Suchon:
"Everything happened so fast. I remember going to kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. I walked across the street into the field at the gully. That's where at the time was Tina Faelz. I don't remember the stabbing motions. I just remember standing over her bloody body, holding a bloody knife. I freaked out. I was scared. I remember climbing up the dirt path that Tina came down. I threw the knife into the field, and walked back to my house."

Benjamin Morris:
And yet the knife was never found.

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah. So that's where one of those details where I can't be sure if that's true. Because they combed that field like you would not believe. They had a metal detector that was out. They did a grid search. People got on their hands and knees, and were crawling in a grid search. If the knife was there, they would've found it. And they did not find it. So who knows? Maybe he just had this extraordinary arm. Maybe somehow, the knife was picked up. Who knows? I think the police would've found the knife if he had truly thrown it.

Joshua Suchon:
Is this a false confession? That would be extremely unlikely that this is a false confession. But then again, the main question comes down to is why is he confessing now? And I think it's a little bit of both. I think he finally did want to unburden himself and finally admit to what he did. But I also know that he's enough of a manipulator that he knows that if he's ever going to walk as a free man again, he needs to say this. And that's his best chance of being able to be a free man again.

Benjamin Morris:
How did it feel to break this story after having covered this case for so long?

Joshua Suchon:
There was a part of me that thought that this is the final chapter. And then I realized that was Steve Carlson. There's never a final chapter. You never know what's going to happen next. It was rewarding. It was a relief to me as well. Look, you write a book about somebody, and you stick to all the facts that you know. At the same time in the back of your mind, this guy wrote me a letter from jail that said in all caps, "I am innocent." And that's how I ended the book. I wanted him to have the last word. It's his guilt. And in the back of my mind, I don't know. I wasn't there. There's not video cameras. I know what the evidence was. I know this is what the jury said. I know what his reaction was when he reached for the waist basket when he was told in the interview with the two detectives, "This is why we are really here."

Joshua Suchon:
At the same time, you don't know for sure. And then when he writes this letter ... and it's interesting too because when somebody says something, because look, Steve had these confessions for many years. But they were always this playful drunken confession in which he would immediately take it back. But when somebody writes it out, when they hand write it out on a piece of paper, and there's three different letters, and in each one of the letters he confesses. There's no taking that back. There's no, "I'm just kidding." There's no, "I'm just telling people what they want to hear." There's no, "Well people already think that I did it. So I'm just saying this so that I can be a tough guy, and people will leave me alone, and people stop bullying me." When you write it, and then you write it again, and then you write it a third time, and you submit that to the parole board, there's no taking that back.

Benjamin Morris:
Yeah. No, you're done at that point. Was there any comment from the Pleasanton Police Department from Dana Savage or from Keith Batt?

Joshua Suchon:
For all of the detectives who worked on this case, whether it was in 1984, or whether it was two years later when it was reopened, or whether it was two decades after that, this was the type of case that was just so perplexing, that these are the types of cases that keep dedicated police officers up at night. These are the ones that the former police chief Bill Eastman, he said this was his biggest regret. He's now retired. This was his biggest regret that he was not able to solve this case while he was the police chief, while Tina's classmates were still in school.

Joshua Suchon:
And what Bill told me ... so I contacted Bill so that he knew about this. And I'll just read for you what he told me. "It sounds like an appeal for a future appeal board. I don't think he's capable of guilt or sorrow. A family can't be consoled by this other than to say that the truth is finally out there, and there can be no doubt now."

Joshua Suchon:
The main thing that Keith felt was relief for Tina's mother Shirley, who is no longer with us. And Keith recalled very vividly how after they arrested Steve and booked him, they went straight to Shirley's house. And they told her the news. And Shirley greeted the investigators in the driveway. And the first thing that she said before they even said anything to her, "Did you get him?" And Keith felt like it was such a relief for her. But also, I mean again, we talked about this. The police looked into Shirley's boyfriend, and Shirley's boyfriend's friends. The police looked into the family members around Shirley. So Shirley had these doubts in her head about, "Did I cause this? Was there somebody in my life who I brought around that led to the murder of my daughter?"

Joshua Suchon:
So she had this hanging over her head for three decades. So the bottom line is, and unfortunately Shirley was not able to hear that he was guilty, and not able to know that he has confessed. But you did nothing wrong as a mother. This is not your fault. You did not bring somebody home to the house that did this. This was an act by somebody who you didn't know one day. And there's nothing that you could have done differently as a mother. This is not your fault. And I think that's the most important lesson that Keith took, that Keith Batt took, that he was able to relay to Shirley. "This is not your fault."

Benjamin Morris:
She got to hear that before she died?

Joshua Suchon:
Yeah.

Benjamin Morris:
As you said, you have a deep, personal connection to this case. Being a native of Pleasanton yourself. Going to the same schools, living in the same neighborhoods. And your older sister even knew Steve Carlson. Now that all of this has happened, are there any lingering effects in your life from digging into these difficult histories of family, friends, and of your own community?

Joshua Suchon:
Let me start from a professional standpoint to answer your question. We've discussed how I work in sports, mostly in baseball. And I know that there was times in my life when the team that I'm covering has a lead going into the ninth inning. And they lose the lead, and they lose the game in this heartbreaking fashion. And you go down to the clubhouse afterwards, and you interview the participants who just felt this really tough loss. And I remember at one point in my life thinking, "Man, that's a tough interview. That's tough to ask the manager or the pitcher who gave up the game winning home run."

Joshua Suchon:
That's nothing. That is nothing compared to talking to a woman whose daughter was murdered 30 years before, and asking her about how this has impacted her life. I'd like to think that I always had a pretty good perspective, that sports are fun. It's the toy department. It's just a game. It's just been baseball. But even more so now, I think that my perspective is very much, "Look, people want to win. They're trying really hard. There's millions of dollars at stake when you win. But it's just baseball. This is real life." So that's one.

Joshua Suchon:
From my own ego standpoint, I've always felt I'm a journalist at heart who just happened to work in sports, and then I made the decision that I wanted to work in sports broadcasting. But I've always felt that in whatever I'm doing, I'm still a journalist at heart. Whether I am describing the action of a baseball game in real-time exactly how it occurs, or whether I'm doing something for a pre-game show or a post-game show, I still feel like I'm a journalist. But this book, telling the story, the number of years that it took to tell the story, continuing to tell the story in a follow-up newspaper article, the number of different podcasts and other different interviews that I've done for this, it makes me feel good that I am the journalist that I thought I was. That I'm not just a guy who talks about home runs, and touchdowns, and slam dunks. That I can do 'real journalism.' And I don't know what other projects I will do the rest of my life, but I know that this is always the one that I'm most proud of accomplishing.

Benjamin Morris:
Last question. Where does this story go for you?

Joshua Suchon:
Who knows? I thought this story was done when the book came out 2015. That was six years ago. I'm sure there's something that's going to happen at some point along the lines. I don't know. It's not up to me. When you are a reporter, you don't make the news. At least you try really, really hard not to make the news. You follow the news, and you report the news. So I'll be ready. I've given up on the idea that I'm done with this. I know this is a story that I will continue to report in some fashion over some different type of medium for the rest of my life. And I'm okay with that. I'm ready for whatever's next.

Benjamin Morris:
Thanks for listening. To purchase a copy of Joshua's book Murder in Pleasanton: Tina Faelz and the Search for Justice, visit arcadiapublishing.com. Join us next time as we interview Rita Shuler, a retired police Lieutenant in South Carolina who tracked her own cold case for nearly 40 years before cracking it. That interview and all three parts of our interview with Joshua Suchon are available at evergreenpodcasts.com.

Benjamin Morris:
Crime Capsule is a production of Evergreen Podcasts in partnership with Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, and is a member of the Killer Podcasts Network. A special thanks to our producer Sarah [Wilgrube 00:45:41], audio engineer Ian Douglas, production director Bridget [Coin 00:45:45], and our executive producers Michael [Deloya 00:45:48] and Gerardo Orlando. I'm your host Benjamin Morris. We're just getting started here at Crime Capsule, and we're excited to bring you the best of true crime writing over the upcoming weeks and months. To find out more, visit us at evergreenpodcasts.com.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

The Dixie Mafia: Teaser

Evergreen Podcasts
For most states, the repeal of prohibition meant a return to a state of legally drunken normalcy, but not so in Mississippi.
Listen to The Dixie Mafia: Teaser

Who Killed...? & Crime Capsule Crossover: Interview w/ host Benjamin Morris

Evergreen Podcasts
On this week's episode of Crime Capsule the tables are turned on host Benjamin Morris as answers questions about what's coming up soon.
Listen to Who Killed...? & Crime Capsule Crossover: Interview w/ host Benjamin Morris

Lowcountry Murder: Interview with Rita Schuler Part II

Evergreen Podcasts
In 1985, Elaine Fogle's murder was officially declared a cold case, but new technologies were coming on board that would bring needed momentum to the search for justice
Listen to Lowcountry Murder: Interview with Rita Schuler Part II

Lowcountry Murder: An Interview with Rita Schuler Part I

Evergreen Podcasts
For decades, evidence of the 1978 murder of Gwendolyn Elaine Fogle lay in the evidence room at the Walterboro Police Department.
Listen to Lowcountry Murder: An Interview with Rita Schuler Part I