Special Reports

A case of identity, part 4

Wednesday, Nov. 8

No news from Nevada. Clagett says he’s waiting for his boss’s decision on the warrant.

In Renton, Awai is working on a homicide – a higher priority than this minor matter. He says he spoke to a friend with the Bothell cops, though he doesn’t give a name.

“I’m gonna send it to him,” Awai says. “He sounds like they’re gonna do something about it. I think they’re gonna leave David out of it.”


I give Dave this piece of news – a mixture of good and bad. He’s getting nervous.

Debutts is working late again, which Dave says is unusual. Things are tense at his place. The rent is due, and Dave is hoping he can squeeze it out of Debutts, who keeps hedging about when he’ll pay.

Dave says he talked to John Awai. “A very nice man,” he says – but he can’t believe it’s so hard for the cops to hook Debutts.

“It’s like I have to have a picture of the guy in a Reagan mask, carrying a gun, writing bad checks,” he says.

One card left to play. In the evening, I talk to a source who knows people at Cingular Wireless. A few tidbits of information float to Bothell, with my name and number attached.

Friday, Nov. 10

Thursday was dead, and Friday doesn’t look much better.

Via e-mail, Michael Dorley shares a note he's just sent to the Renton cops. It's addressed to John Awai, and it asks for help:

"I found out that there are some problems with getting Ken Debutts arrested and sent back here to Nevada to have a trial. I understand that this isn't a huge problem to everyone. But it is a very big one to me, and as long as he continues to be on the street, he will continue to cause me trouble, as well as anyone that passes his path."

Dorley underlines the point. He wants his stolen name returned.

"I will do whatever it takes to help out in getting Kenneth Debutts to court so that I can have my identity back. Please help me out with this..."

All the players are connected, but there's a new problem: Awai is going on vacation and won’t be back for a couple of weeks.

No news on extending the Nevada warrant, according to Clagett – he expects a final decision one way or the other by Monday.

Dorley hears this news and sends me one more frustrated message:

"I am a little upset that it is such a struggle to get a crook off the street."

He's not alone. Fearing more and more that Debutts will run, Dave is pushing for the rent – he’s meeting his roommate at the Cingular office in Bothell to collect.

Around 3 p.m., the quiet message I sent to Cingular pays off. Company spokesman Michael Broom calls, wondering what I’d like to know.

He hears a story of an employee working under a false name, with possible access to sensitive customer information. Broom says he’ll talk to the human resources department and legal advisers, and get back to me.

The rent

I call Dave. He says he’s collected the rent from Debutts, who paid while extracting a promise from Dave to give some of it back tomorrow for Christmas shopping money. I don't say what I'm thinking -what a weird arrangement- but I tell him Cingular Wireless now knows what we know.

Dave's mood improves. He wonders if he should buy new locks for the apartment. Guessing at what may happen, his thoughts turn gloomy again.

“If they just hand him a box and his walking papers, I could come home to a bee’s nest,” he says.

Around 5 p.m., Michael Broom, the Cingular spokesman, says he’s still talking to company officials. He’ll know more later. He adds that he’s unaware of any contacts between Bothell police and the company.

Broom asks for names and numbers. I send him an e-mail with contact information for Clagett, John Awai in Renton and the real Michael Dorley in Las Vegas.

When Dave gets off work, he calls again, full of grim jokes.

“OK, I’m home,” he says. “ ‘Revenge shall be mine’ is written in blood on the walls, and the cats are decapitated.”

Debutts is going out with friends tonight, Dave says – not expected home until tomorrow.

The strain of keeping the secret is wearing Dave down to a nub. Debutts is paranoid, always asking Dave where he’s going, what he’s doing.

“I want to know when this charade will be over,” he says. “I want it to be soon. I’m really about to the point where I just change the locks on the door.”

He’s cracking. He’s been playing dumb for more than two weeks. He knows he can’t last, that a confrontation is coming.

“I know it’s just gonna be ugly, no matter how it goes down,” he says. “I just want to tell him to his face. I want to say, ‘I know – stop working me. I know.’ I don’t want to play b.s. any more. I don’t want to deal with it any more. But I don’t want to blow it.”

I tell him to be patient. Nevada will have a final decision on the warrant Monday, though the outlook isn’t good. And now Cingular knows – maybe they’ll take action.

“I hope on Monday somebody will grow a pair and do something,” he says. “It’s too up close and personal. I thought this was gonna be over a week and a half ago.”

Saturday, Nov. 11

Dave calls. He’s afraid to go home.

Debutts is waiting there, expecting Dave to keep the promise to return some of the rent money. He’ll be mad and suspicious if he doesn’t get it, and lately, he’s been tossing Dave’s beloved cats around the room, casually threatening to kill them. It’s a joke, Dave knows – but it stings.

“I just don’t feel safe,” he says.

He’s staying away, trying to think of excuses.

Two police agencies, possibly three, know about this situation. So does Debutts’ employer. He’s got an active arrest warrant, yet no one sees enough to move.

Dave is pondering ways to get his roommate off his back. Pay him with a check, then stop the payment?

I say Debutts could run to the nearest check-cashing dive. He’ll know instantly that the money isn’t there.

Ultimately, Dave decides on another ploy: the suddenly sick relative. He’ll pretend a family emergency kept him away, then go home late and dive into bed. Debutts works in the morning. That’ll buy some time.

“I’ll try to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to my unmarked grave,” Dave says.

Sunday, Nov. 12

Dave calls at 10 a.m. – Debutts has gone to work. While he’s gone, Dave will change the locks.

At 12:30, Dave calls again, whispering.

“Guess who came home because he’s been fired?” he asks.

He has walked outside on the pretext of getting something from his car. Debutts explained the firing by saying his bosses found a felony on his record from when he was 19 or something.

"This is totally..." Dave says, and the last word is harsh.

He says his roommate is making new promises: " 'Gee Dave, it’ll only take me a couple or three weeks to get another job.’ ”

He’ll be there all the time now.

Dave is beside himself, cursing in despair, wondering why he couldn’t get a warning, why Cingular just sent the guy home.

“You know, all they had to do was give us a clue, a heads-up of any kind,” he says.

I call Michael Broom, the spokesman for Cingular. He is on message.

“We’ve taken steps to ensure our customers’ information remains confidential,” Broom says. “That’s all I can say.”

I ask if the company plans any additional action.

“We’ve taken steps to ensure our customers’ information remains confidential,” Broom says again.

He adds that he hasn’t heard from the Bothell cops.

The Nevada cops, the Renton cops and possibly the Bothell cops know where to find Debutts. They’ve got the information to show he’s profiting from a stolen identity. They have the means to confirm an active warrant for his arrest in Nevada. They know the victim’s name, the suspect’s alias, and the suspect’s real name. The corporation where Debutts worked until just a little while ago knows,too.

It’s not enough, and now Debutts is home to stay. It’s just what Dave feared.

If they just hand him a box and his walking papers, I could come home to a bee’s nest.

It looks like Nevada won't extend the warrant. There’s no crime in Bothell – Debutts doesn’t work there anymore. In Renton, the case is hopeless.

So now Debutts stays home with Dave.

He’ll be there every day until he can find a new job. Dave will have to keep pretending, 24/7.

No rest. Live a lie. Wear a mask. Never stop.

There’s nothing left to do. I tell Dave I can come to Renton, and he agrees. Time to kick Debutts out.

The mission

This calls for backup. Too many stories of Debutts getting loud, slamming doors, blustering, yelling and threatening – things could get ugly. We need an extra body.

On my way out, I call another old friend: the Punisher.

The Punisher weighs about 350 and grows hair between his shoulder blades. He is harmless but imposing – a geek with muscles. He’s known Dave even longer than I have, and he knows about this situation.

I pick him up in Spanaway. He’s wearing his Punisher shirt: black, short sleeves, big white skull on the chest.

While we drive north, I call the real Michael Dorley in Las Vegas, and give him the news: Nevada hasn’t extended the warrant, the cops up here don’t see enough to act and Debutts has been fired. We have to get him out of the apartment. We won’t know where he is after that.

I say I’m sorry.

“Do it,” Dorley says. “You’ve got to take care of your friend now. Gotta get that guy out of there. The longer he stays, the more problems he’ll cause.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again.

Dorley sounds down. He says he’s been living check to check since Debutts cleaned him out.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s big enough for the law to do anything,” Dorley says. “ I understand.”


In Renton, we walk up two flights of stairs to Dave’s condo and go inside. Dave sits in an armchair. No sign of Debutts.

“He’s in his room,” Dave says, gesturing down the hall.

I sit on the couch. The Punisher stands nearby.

I quietly suggest to Dave that we call 911. With a look, he tells me no. We wait.

A burly man walks in from the hall, taking in the room.

It’s him.

I watch, seeing Debutts in person for the first time, mentally comparing him to the pictures.

Big guy. Sharp nose, dark hair, cropped very short. Alert.

He greets the Punisher – he’s met him before – then looks at me with curiosity. Dave introduces us.

“Hey, Sean,” Debutts says.

“Hey,” I say, trying and failing to sound casual.

“What’s going on?” Debutts says.

The room goes silent.

Finally, Dave talks.

“I’ve just gotten some disturbing information,” he says haltingly. “That you’re not who you say you are. That your name’s not Michael.”

“Yes I am,” Debutts says immediately, forcefully. “I’m Mike. Let me show you my ID.”

He strides down the hall, returns with his wallet, unfolds it and shows something to Dave, who looks briefly, and turns away.

“I thought you said you lost that,” Dave says.

“I found it,” Debutts says.

“Well, I mean, Michael, Kenneth – I don’t even know what your real name is,” Dave says.

Debutts looks around the room.

“What have people been saying about me?” he says.

No waiting now. I cut in.

“You want me to give you the phone number for the real Michael Dorley in Las Vegas?”

If Debutts is jolted, he doesn’t show it.

“Yeah,” he replies.

Knowing the number by heart, I rattle it off.

“OK,” Debutts says, looking at us. The room goes silent again.


I could tell him everything now, but something tells me to refrain, keep it simple, avoid debate.

“You need to go,” I tell him.

“What does that mean?” Debutts says.

“You need to go,” I say again.

The Punisher steps forward.

“Now,” he says.

Debutts looks at us again, searching our faces. Something in him clicks.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll pack up my stuff.”

He walks down the hall, into his room and closes the door.

Dave picks up his phone and dials 911. He says he’d like a unit to come and assist with “an evacuation.” I hide a smile.

To the Renton dispatcher, Dave quietly says no, there’s been no violence, but he wants to make sure this process remains peaceful. He listens, then closes the phone.

Debutts appears from the hall, dressed in a light-colored windbreaker, carrying a black bag. He goes to the door and opens it.

“I’ll be back in a second to load up the rest of my stuff,” he says, and walks out.

We wait. The minutes crawl. We talk nervously, waiting for the cops.

Too much time passes. No sign of Debutts.

We walk outside and look for his car. The parking space is empty.

He’s gone.

Next: "I have done some very bad things."

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486