Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case - Catherine Crier (2007)

Part I. A DEATH ON MINER ROAD

Chapter 4. “SHE’S CRAZY”

It was after 1 AM on the morning of Tuesday, October 15, 2002, when Contra Costa Sheriff ’s officers Jeff Moule and Jeffrey Hebel finally sat down with Gabriel Polk in a small interview room at the Field Operation’s Bureau in Martinez. They had left the teen alone in the tiny space for nearly thirty minutes, watching and recording his movements on the hidden video camera in the ceiling. Gabriel still had no shirt on.

The officers who would be interviewing him were members of the county’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID). They were responsible for follow-up investigation of all reported felony offenses in the 521 square miles of the unincorporated areas in the county. Before placing the visibly shaken teenager in a patrol car, they performed a gunshot residue test on him to determine whether he had recently discharged a firearm. The test was negative, and now they needed some answers from the distraught teen.

Gabe told the officers that his mother was “crazy and delusional,” and that she had tried to buy a shotgun after threatening Felix during the Montana trip. Although Gabriel was pointing the finger at his mother, the officers were reserving judgment. It was standard protocol to look at everyone in a homicide investigation, and the teenager was no exception. He was not under arrest, but he remained under scrutiny.

Officer Moule took the lead role in questioning the boy. He started with some background information.

“Right now, you are going to, what’s the name of the school you are going to?” The teen was sitting hunched in a chair with his elbows resting on a small round table; his head cradled in his hands. Without making eye contact, he explained that he was currently attending the Del Oro continuation school in Walnut Creek.

“Did you go to Del Oro the whole time you lived in Orinda?”

“No, I went to Miramonte,” the teen replied, referring to the city’s public high school.

“How come you dropped out?”

“My mom encouraged me to stay home from school,” Gabe replied in a mumble.

“Why did she want you to stay home from school?”

“She is crazy, and so she thought that all the teachers were like, against me, or something. And so I missed a month and a half at the end of the year.”

Taken aback, Officer Moule repeated the boy’s explanation. “She kept you home?”

“Yeah.”

“All right,” the officer said, shooting his partner a look. “Have you been in trouble with the law?”

“No,” Gabriel replied. Officers would later learn that the teen was not being completely truthful. While he had never been arrested, Gabriel, like his two older brothers, had been in his share of trouble over the years.

“Okay, you say your mom is crazy,” Officer Moule prefaced. “Tell me about your growing up, things that she has done that justify you saying that she is crazy.”

“My mom was fine up until about five years ago, when—I don’t really—I am not clear on what happened, but she had memories of her childhood. And her parents were real scumbags.”

Gabriel repeated Susan’s allegations about being abused as a child. “Apparently, at that time, and she was put on medication for a few months. And after that, I don’t know the name of that medication. But it was for, to stop her from being so delusional and paranoid,” the teen explained, while staring blankly at the table.

“I think her and my dad went to a bunch of psychologists and she eventually stopped taking the medication. And then, in a few years, she, like, directed all of her delusions, and paranoia toward my dad.

“And what my dad said is that she got him confused…with her father. So she had all this anger toward my dad, which was actually the anger toward her father, which was probably pretty scary for my dad. And so these last four years have been really, just, arguing, just at each other’s throats.”

“Five years ago, when she had these memories about her father, did she tell you herself?” Officer Moule asked.

“Yes.”

“She told you about that?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“You were about ten years old?”

Gabriel paused, and stared at the ceiling as if recalling the exchange. “No, I was older.”

“You were a little bit older?”

“And when was the last time she told you about it?”

“She told me about it up until today.”

The officer wore an astonished look. “She’s been telling you about it?”

“She told me about it up until today…not today, but like the present day, she talks about it often.”

Officer Moule again glanced at his partner, “So for the last five years she’s been acting out? Would you tell me what kind of stuff she does do?”

“Ah, it’s crazy shit,” Gabriel replied, readjusting his slender frame in the simple wood chair. “Do you want to know stuff she says about her father?”

“Sure, what does she say about her father?” Officer Moule prodded.

“Well my dad is like…I don’t know…. I don’t really know a lot of stuff,” Gabriel replied, before hesitating. “I don’t know too much about her family and everything.”

“What does your dad do for a living?”

“He is a psychologist.”

“Has he ever hit you, or anything like that?”

“No,” the teen answered.

“Did you ever see your dad hit your mom?”

Gabriel paused. “Um-um. I have seen my dad, like, slap my mom. It’s like, she’s totally out of her mind, and I could see a reason for it. She can act perfectly normal, too. And she does for the most part. But she just has a distorted reality.”

“You use some pretty good-sized words for a fifteen-year-old man.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“All relative to psychological stuff.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Is that because you’re…why is that, you have a good vocabulary, but it’s just kind of unusual,” Officer Moule solicited. “Are those terms that you discussed with your father about your mom’s condition?”

“I have discussed it with my father, I have discussed it with my brothers, and I have discussed it with a psychologist.”

“You go to a psychologist to help you out dealing with your mom? Or do you have…”

Gabriel jumped in. “I did for a while, for like a few weeks. I didn’t like the psychologist, though. So I quit.”

“So, you’ve had this, this has been going for about, everything was okay for the most part until five years ago?”

“My mom and dad loved each other.”

As the conversation continued, Moule prompted the teen to discuss his parents disintegrating relationship, leading Gabriel to recount the story of the family’s tumultuous trip to Disneyland and the memories that his mother uncovered during the vacation.

Officer Moule sat back in his chair. “Has your mom ever been hospitalized?”

“No. Well…she tried to kill herself in Yosemite,” Gabriel replied dryly, recalling his mother’s trip to the national park in central California.

The officer leaned in closer to the teen. “Well how long ago did that happen? Two years, three years?”

“Actually, no, it was after our other house, so it was one and a half to two years ago.” Gabriel was speaking about the family’s move from Piedmont to their current, more expansive Orinda address.

“Were you there when she tried?”

“I was at home when she called.”

“So, who was with her in Yosemite?”

“She went by herself.”

“She just drove there? By herself?” Officer Moule asked.

“She didn’t drive there by herself. She just took a bus and tried to kill herself,” Gabriel casually replied, as if attempting suicide in the national park at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was an ordinary occurrence.

“Well, how did she try to kill herself?”

“Overdosed on pills.”

“And then she called home and told you guys what she did?”

“She called home and wanted to talk to my dad, and this is, like, supposedly, what she told my dad. And she says that she loves him and that she’s really sorry that she tried to kill herself, and that she’s, like, dying, or whatever.”

Officer Moule stared at the teen. A veteran at concealing his reactions, he remained stone-faced. “So, then what happened?”

“My dad called the police,” Gabriel casually explained. “And they picked her up, and she was put in a…she was at the hospital, and they were interviewing her for a…just a mental examination. And they felt like she was perfectly sensible. Like I said, she can act perfectly sane most of the time.”

“Have the police ever been out to your house?”

“Hmm-mm. Many times,” the teen replied without hesitation.

“Well, when was the first time?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Was it in the house at Piedmont?” Officer Moule asked.

“Yeah, for stuff like…mostly for my brothers to try and break up parties and shit.”

“Did Piedmont PD ever go to your house because your parents were arguing or your mother was acting strangely?”

Gabriel shook his head, indicating no.

“How about Orinda PD?”

“Orinda PD, definitely,” Gabriel nodded.

“How many times?”

“Three to five.”

“What happened the first time, if you know.”

“Oh, there were just so many complications, I can’t really remember.”

“Just pick one out,” Officer Moule nudged. “When was the last time they came out?”

“The last time they came out was last week.” Gabriel was referring to the call his father had made to 911 on October 9, when Susan moved him from the main house to the guest cottage.

“Last week?”

Gabriel went on to tell Moule the story of the previous Wednesday when he had helped his mother move his father’s belongings to the guesthouse, and the ensuing argument that led Felix to call 911. As he told the tale, his feelings toward his mother became more and more apparent, with Gabriel describing his mother as “nuts” and referring to his own life as “pretty unstable.”

As the interview progressed, Gabriel displayed signs of stress. He had difficulty sitting still in his chair and avoided direct eye contact with the officers. At times, he seemed close to tears, and other moments he appeared detached and spoke in a monotone.

“Did she talk about killing him while she was in Montana?” Officer Moule inquired.

Cupping his forehead with his hands, Gabe paused for a moment as if to think. “I’m not sure,” he uttered. “She said she was taking care of business. It sounded like it was about dad. She wanted to handle dad, I don’t know how…. To get money and stuff.”

Gabriel went on to say that his mother had actually spoken of killing his father.

“Did she say how she would kill him?” the detective asked.

The teen sat back in his chair. “Drugging him, and drowning him in the pool,” he replied. “Maybe run him over, or tampering with his car.”

“Why was she telling you all this?”

“I don’t know. She thought that, like, I agreed with her or whatever, when I was going along with what she was saying, or that, I don’t really know why she told me. She just trusted me, trusted me.”

“Did you kind of agree with her?” Officer Moule asked.

“No.”

“Did you and your dad get along all right?”

Gabriel paused. “Fairly well.”

Gabriel claimed his mother had been talking about murdering his father on and off for weeks, most recently when he was eavesdropping on the October 7 phone conversation between them during his mother’s return trip from Montana. “When she was coming back from Montana, she actually called my dad and told him what she was going to do. She threatened to shoot him with a shotgun.”

“So how did she phrase, what did she say?”

“She just said that, oh yeah, that if he didn’t let her stay in the house with me—she wanted him to be out in the cottage, and if he didn’t let that happen, let her in the house, she would kill him.”

The teen’s eyes grew wet as he recounted his father’s fear. Gabriel said his father had been so frightened by the conversation with Susan that he arranged to have police waiting at Miner Road in anticipation of her return, but after several hours, it grew too late in the evening and the officers left the property. When his mother finally arrived, “She walked right in the house. They had a nice talk. Not a nice talk, but they were calm. I was there for the whole thing,” he said.

“What were they talking about?”

“Money. And that she thought it was not fair that they had a court hearing without her.”

“And what did your dad say to that?”

“I don’t know, but it was calm. Then my dad was just trying to deal with her.”

Two days later, however, it was a different story. It was then, after Susan had Gabriel move all of Felix’s belongings to the guesthouse, that she threatened to kill him.

“What did she say? How did she phrase that?”

“She whispered something in his ear. I didn’t hear it, but…my dad got excited and called the police.”

“How do you know that she threatened to kill him?”

“Because my dad isn’t alive.”