Bruckner recentered his investigation on Girard. “I was a month into this thing,” Bruckner said. “I was sick, and I always had a headache because the muffler was broken on my car. I was searching all day, every day.”
One day Tyson floated toward him on the Parkway, crying, “Homicide ain’t doing their job! Homicide ain’t doing their job!”
He had seen Red Colt, walking with a Muslim woman on Girard.
Bruckner started searching mosques, describing Red Colt. Finally a shop owner nodded his head. “Yeah, I’ve seen that guy,” he said. “With a Muslim woman. A white Muslim woman.” Another shop owner confirmed the description and added, “Her name’s Janet. She’s got a bad eye.”
Bruckner canvassed the neighborhood, describing a “one-eyed white Muslim woman. One in a million.” A few days later, Bruckner saw a Muslim woman, short and wide, waddling up the street. He pulled his car alongside and called,
“Janet?” She turned to him.
“There was no mistaking this woman, and that eye,” Bruckner said.
He asked if she knew a black man who pushes a cart, and he pulled out an old photo of Red Colt. The woman leaped at the sight, and took off down the street.
Bruckner watched her wobble away and knew he must confront her, like Ulysses with the Cyclops, before his quest could end. “I’m standing there with a headache,” he said. “But I had to stay with her. I just left my car where it was and followed her on foot. She was the string tied to my needle in a haystack.”
She walked a mile farther, and disappeared into a house. Bruckner, who usually dresses in shorts and a t-shirt, came back the next day in a white button-up shirt, carrying some official-looking folders. He tucked his passport into his breast pocket, as though it held a badge, and he had an audiotape in his hand. “I knew she wouldn’t talk to me in shorts,” he told me later. “I had to look like a detective.”
When he knocked on the woman’s door, her husband appeared, followed by the Muslim woman. Neither seemed happy to see Bruckner. The woman started screaming, crazy, why won’t he leave her alone? “This is where my obsession had kicked in,” Bruckner said. “I was in way over my head. It’s not that the real detectives were negligent. I was just way overstepping my bounds as a citizen at that point.”
Bruckner waved the audiotape, shouting that he had evidence — evidence! — that she knew Red Colt. To his astonishment, the woman admitted that yes, all right, she knew who he was talking about. She didn’t know Bruckner was waving a Dave Matthews tape.
Bruckner told the cops everything he’d learned, and tried to forget it all. Soccer season started again in September — no more coaching little girls — and he’d never make the cut, with such a lack of sleep and so much distraction. But he couldn’t quit the quest. “I thought, I have to do this nonsense. I have to do it.”
It’s a funny thing. Obsession and compulsion can grip the mind and ruin it, or devour it, or propel it forward. But neither gets the job done like sheer luck.
On September 2nd, 2002, Detective Mangold left the homicide department and went out to fetch hoagies in South Philly for his buddies, and as he drove along: Well, well. He knew Red Colt’s description, from Bruckner’s flood of tips and footwork.
“I saw this guy pushing a cart,” he said. “I hopped out and said, ‘How are you doing, Red?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Fine, sir, fine.’ Had a funny way of talking, like royalty or something.”