Dateline   |  June 08, 2013

‘Betrayal’, Part 4

Detectives look for evidence in Deede Keller's car, and zero in on a suspect.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on a downtown street in san diego in july 2004 , deede keller had finally been found, dead in the trunk of her silver mercedes. the car had been the subject of a massive search ever since deede had been discovered missing a week earlier from her home two hours north in el segundo . homicide detective jimmy gates, who'd always thought finding the car would be the key to finding deede, now gave the mercedes a thorough going over. fingerprint ors dna on the car?

>> there wasn't one fingerprint either on or in that car nor was there a partial print, nothing.

>> reporter: deede's or anybody else's?

>> nobody's.

>> reporter: what does that say, professional?

>> someone went to great lengths to make damn sure that they weren't identified through fingerprints thaerks for sure.

>> reporter: but the killer did leave a clue in the wrapped around deede's body.

>> i never had seen tape like that. consistent with red duct tape .

>> reporter: that started gates in one direction, but he also looked closely at the way deede's body had been placed in that car.

>> someone took great care to place her in that car, and that indicated to us that someone cared deeply about her.

>> reporter: so part of this says professional and part of this says somebody that knew her?

>> that's exactly correct.

>> reporter: but the suspicions that said professional soon fell away in favor of those that said someone who knew her. not her children, but someone who had re-entered deede's life in the month before her death -- her ex-husband, erwin howard . you ever think of erwin as violent or dangerous?

>> no. i never suspected that he would do something physical.

>> reporter: but detectives soon learned something had changed in erwin howard in the months before deede's murder. remember, after a car accident in january 2004 , deede had invited erwin back into her life to help care for her and her dogs. that request had apparently been misinterpreted by erwin . we know he started wearing his wedding ring again. erwin wanted back into her life and sounds to me like on some level she sort of appreciated that part of him that adored her and wanted to take care of her, even if it's somebody that you're not going to be with any more.

>> yes.

>> right.

>> reporter: do you think she made that point clear enough to him?

>> no.

>> reporter: she was too nice.

>> always too nice and very trusting.

>> reporter: and that may be why, investigators thought, erwin seemed surprised when, just two weeks before deede's murder, erwin gained access to deede's computer and found e-mails referring to a relationship with a new man, bobby lowe .

>> and i think it really threw him for a loop when he found out that my mom, you know, had met somebody else. and that's when things started getting scary.

>> reporter: scary because erwin , detectives learned, had started doing things that pointed to an obsession with deede. and how did they know that? in one of those only in a small town coincidences deede's son mike lived just down the block from deede's new boyfriend bobby lowe . one night mike was sitting in his living room when he saw a familiar green range rover driving by, and inside was erwin .

>> as the evening went on, he continued to drive by the house.

>> reporter: you call your mom and say, by the way, erwin 's driving around the block while you're with bobby lowe ?

>> i didn't. i didn't really put two and two together.

>> reporter: but the very next day, now just ten days before her murder, deede would call her friend cindy ertman in a state of panic.

>> she was crying hysterically, she said that she was in the shower, erwin came into the house without her knowing, pulled her out of the shower and they had this huge altercation and that he was calling her every name under the sun.

>> reporter: deede told the same story to her friend linda do in, dero.

>> i said do you realize that erwin 's behavior is escalating, deede? and she said yes.

>> reporter: and you said, call the police?

>> no. i said have you changed your locks? and she said, no, i'll do it on the way home. and, of course, she never did.

>> reporter: but investigators soon learned that in those conversations with her friends, deede had left something out. a detail she mentioned only to her daughter julie . that during that argument erwin howard had also slapped her.

>> i said, mom, you have to call the police. you have to get a restraining order. then i remember her asking me not to tell michael. and that she was going to handle this. and i remember being torn like, okay, this is my mom telling me -- i got it. but also thinking maybe she didn't have it.

>> reporter: and days later it was clear julie was right. the very night her mom went missing, julie got another phone call , this time from erwin .

>> i got on the phone, and he's like, jewels, jewels, jewels, what is your mom thinking? i said, erwin , i really don't want to talk about this. i feel like this is between you and my mom. and he's like, well, you just need to pray for her soul. and i remember thinking it was a little odd, but then, you know what, given his grasp on the english language sometimes he'd say some funny things or get something wrong, but i just remember thinking that was an odd comment.

>> reporter: detective gates now felt erwin howard 's motive for killing deede keller was clear. but proving erwin had the means to commit the murder was another matter. and erwin steadfastly maintained his innocence to investigators, from the moment he stepped off the plane as he returned from bolivia after the murder through the months after, even though he was clearly the prime suspect . and the case against erwin was not without its problems. it's one thing to stalk someone, quite another to kill them. there was no physical evidence tying erwin howard to the crime, and there were those key card records showing him clocking into his job at american airlines the night of the murder. still, detective gates took the information he had gathered to the l.a. county district attorney's office and asked for a warrant.

>> they declined to file charges.

>> reporter: they won't file.

>> they won't file.

>> reporter: did jimmy gates have the wrong man in his sites? was there ever going to be enough evidence to arrest the killer, any killer?