Focus on 'Good' Police WorkFor five hours Tuesday, Les’s Grocery was once again a murder scene. Police cars parked outside and evidence technicians searched for clues inside the Billings Park store.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
For five hours Tuesday, Les’s Grocery was once again a murder scene.
Police cars parked outside and evidence technicians searched for clues inside the Billings Park store.
The activity was caught on tape, with cameras rolling into the night, as Story House Productions visited Superior this week to tape two segments of a new series – “Crime Town, USA” – for the Investigation Discovery Channel.
One focuses on the 1986 murder of Lynnea Gran at Les’s Grocery. Although her son, Rodger Gran, was a suspect from the start, it took nearly 20 years to gain a conviction for second-degree murder in connection with her brutal death.
The other segment walks through the steps of the Alejandro Rivera case, which involved drugs, murder and the firebombing of Douglas County District Attorney Daniel Blank’s home in 2000. The self-proclaimed leader of the Imperial Gangsters masterminded the attempted hit when Blank was preparing for Rivera’s murder trial.
“You think these things can’t happen in small-town America,” said series producer Patrick Rogers, but they do.
Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters said the call from the production company came “out of the blue.”
“They sought us out,” he said.
The Gran case has already been featured on an episode of Forensic Files, where the emphasis was on the forensic evidence that led to a conviction. “Crime Town, USA” focuses on the police work that leads to convictions and how the community responds to such violence.
“The remarkable thing is to hear how the cases were solved,” said Brendan Goeckel, field producer for the two episodes.
In both cases, Rogers said, great police work made the difference.
“One even took 19 years to solve and they never gave up and they never gave in,” he said.
In five years of producing true crime shows, Rogers has met with a lot of police departments. Superior stands out.
“These guys are really good,” he said. “An example of how a police department should work.”
Superior Police Capt. Chad La Lor is the primary liaison for the production company. The job has taken a bite out of his schedule, left him searching for face powder and led to at least one instance of juggling three conversations simultaneously.
“It is a bit time consuming, but in the grand scheme of things we believe that the stories being told are good for the community and the department,” La Lor said. It shows that the department takes its responsibilities seriously and, in the case of long unsolved murders, “we don’t forget about them.”
Blank, who was slated for an interview, said the filming left him with mixed emotions. While he was pursuing murder charges against Rivera, two men firebombed his house – one of them a Superior High School wrestling coach.
The story is full of twists and turns, originating as a drug investigation that led to an in-jail interview between Rivera and La Lor. That led to the discovery of the homicide of Carl Peterson and, ultimately, a Molatov cocktail being thrown into the living room window of Blank’s home in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 2000.
The act was meant to dissuade the prosecution of Rivera, La Lor said, and many of the law enforcement officers involved in the drug and homicide investigations “secretly wondered if they were next.”
But the exact opposite occurred.
“Sue and I, our family, our friends are eternally grateful for the support we got from law enforcement,” Blank said. “They worked their tails off. They took it as an attack on the system.”
The entire community rose up in support of the district attorney in what Goeckel called a “Spartacus” moment.
“When this animal Rivera is making threats and firebombing attacks, townspeople put signs in the yard saying ‘Dan Blank lives here,’” Rogers said. “That’s something you don’t see every day and we’re in the ‘something you don’t see every day’ business.”
In fact, he said jokingly, the reason the production company is filming two segments of the new series in Superior is because they couldn’t do three.
“We’d like to do more,” Rogers said.
The camera crew filmed as many scenes on location as possible to give it a Superior flavor.
“It’s our intent to make sure this show has Superior all up and down it,” Goeckel said, from the street corners to the city blocks to the faces of passersby.
While filming at Les’s, one man told La Lor he was concerned that Superior would be the focus of “muckraking.” That’s not how the police captain sees it.
“I believe it’s showing the viewers that our department and our community take these crimes seriously,” he said. “No community is immune from violent crime … the true measure of the community’s character is how they respond and recover from those crimes.”
Rogers said Story House Productions currently has about 17 “Crime Town USA” shows in some stage of production, another eight being filmed and two completed. He did not know when the series would begin on Investigation Discovery or when the two Superior segments will air.