The easy way to check the tag would have been to punch the description and the nights it had been checked into the Virginia State Police online system, but the system was down. The ECC staff had to print out every license plate that had been run during the three-night snowstorm. It took two hours.
The Dodge Durango finally came up. Nucelli sent the tag to Virginia’s DMV and got a driver’s-license photo in minutes. He e-mailed the photo to Clifford.
“That’s him,” Clifford said.
The Durango owner was Jorge Avila Torrez, a resident of Keith Hall at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
• • •
Detective Kathryn Rounds called Katie Mills, the nurse who had fought off an assailant two weeks before Thomas was abducted. Mills was on her way out of town.
“Could you stop by the police department?” Rounds asked. “We have a series of photos we need you to look at.”
Mills came to the station with her boyfriend. Rounds set before her a stack of five or six photos. Mills leafed through them She turned over the photo of Torrez.
“That’s him,” she said.
Mills’s ID gave the cops probable cause to arrest Torrez. Rounds had Mills sign and date the photo. The detective then took it to a magistrate and came away with an arrest warrant.
To find Torrez and his SUV, the Arlington cops would have to search Henderson Hall, a Marine installation under the jurisdiction of NCIS. They needed the military equivalent of a search warrant.
Detective Robert Icolari ran communications between Arlington and NCIS. Before coming to the Arlington PD, Icolari had put in 21 years as a Marine and worked for the Naval Investigative Service, the precursor to NCIS. He knew the pitfalls of making an arrest on another agency’s turf. “Nobody likes to shit in someone else’s back yard,” he likes to say.
Icolari called NCIS’s DC desk. “We have a Marine,” he said. He briefed agents and helped obtain a “commander’s search” warrant.
Andrew Nucelli was the only cop on duty who had seen the Durango. He changed out of his uniform and drove to the base with Detective Don Fortunato. They cruised slowly through the Henderson Hall garage.
“There it is,” Nucelli said. Torrez’s Durango was parked on the first level.
Fortunato phoned Stone, who had checked out the Minnieville Road scene and was back at Potomac Hospital.
“We think we have the SUV,” Fortunato said. “Can you give us any details of what’s inside? I’m walking right beside it.”
• • •
Detective Jim Stone asked nurses if he could speak with Julie Thomas.
“I know you’ve had a rough day,” he said, “but we’re making progress. Can you remember anything else about the vehicle?”
“I remember a big boom box in the back,” she said.
Stone gave the information to Fortunato.
“Got the boom box,” he said. “Anything else?”
Stone asked Thomas for another detail. She said she had been bound with the cord of an iron and that the iron might still be in the back seat. Stone stepped out and called Fortunato.
“I see the iron,” he said.
An hour or so later, when Jorge Torrez approached the Durango, Arlington cops arrested him. It was less than 12 hours since he had raped Julie Thomas and left her for dead in the snow off Minnieville Road.
The next morning, Jim Stone returned to Potomac Hospital. Julie Thomas’s friends and family had gathered in her room. Stone asked permission to speak with her. She was awake, in too much pain to sleep. He stepped inside.
“I think we have the man who hurt you,” he said.
She couldn’t manage a smile, but he saw a tear run down her cheek.
Feb. 27, 2010
The interview room on the eighth floor of the Arlington police headquarters is small, about 12 by 12 feet, with tan walls. A small chain with a handcuff is attached to a desk where suspects sit.
Stone had driven back from Potomac Hospital and met Detective Rounds on the eighth floor. Jorge Torrez was seated and cuffed when the detectives entered the interview room Saturday evening.
They spent just shy of two hours with Torrez. For the first 20 minutes, he was talkative, even cordial. “I don’t know why I’m here, sir,” he said to Stone.
When Rounds asked if he had robbed Katie Mills, he said, “No, ma’am. I don’t know what you’re trying to get at, ma’am.”
Torrez tried to ask questions of his own, as though he could assist the detectives. Stone tired of the game. He reached into a folder, pulled out a photo of Julie Thomas, and slapped it on the table.
“She’s still alive—want to look at her?” he said. “She spent the whole morning and afternoon talking to me, no thanks to you. Look at her!”
Torrez focused on the photo. A minute passed in silence.
“You dumped her as if she were dead in Prince William County.”
“I don’t know what to say, sir,” Torrez said.
“First thing you ought to say is, ‘Is she okay?’ ”
• • •
Arlington police towed the Durango to a secure lot and obtained a search warrant.
Inside the car, they found the iron, blood stains on the back seat, Julie Thomas’s graduate-school ID, her Metro card, and an earring that had fallen off when Torrez shoved her in the car. A stun gun was in the console.
Torrez’s room in Henderson Hall had been secured. Detective Don Fortunato took part in the search, along with evidence technicians and a forensic team from the Arlington PD. NCIS agents were on the scene as well, but this was Arlington’s case.
Torrez’s room was neat and spare. The detectives found a Glock semiautomatic pistol and seized his laptop. On the computer they discovered he had been cutting and pasting directions on how to use chloroform, a liquid that in gas form can render a person unconscious. His porn collection included fantasies about rape and suffocation.
They bagged his clothes and belongings for potential evidence.
After the Arlington officers reviewed the computer, NCIS seized it. It was one of the first signs that NCIS agents might have realized Jorge Torrez was capable of extreme acts of violence against women.