A quarter-century ago, in the early hours of Aug. 26, Ken Avvenire, a young Brooklyn, N.Y., man staying at a Scottsdale resort, became the city's third homicide victim that summer.
The three slayings in the summer of 1978, when Scottsdale was less than half its present size and the Trammps and the Commodores boogied on the airwaves, remain a mystery.
The celebrity around one of those cases — the slaying of television star Bob Crane — eclipsed attention to the deaths of the other two people, even for those with direct ties. Police consider the Crane case closed after a suspect was charged but not convicted.
Scottsdale is "where Bob Crane was killed, right?" asked Mario Avvenire, the last relative of Ken Avvenire still living in Brooklyn. He didn't remember his first cousin, but another did.
Frances Amato also is Ken Avvenire's first cousin. "Kenny" was the son of her mother's brother. "I didn't think it was that long ago," said the 61-year-old Long Island resident. "I didn't realize it had never been solved."
Scottsdale averages six homicides annually. Since Patty Kerger was killed in 1978, there have been 130 homicides in the city, 20 unsolved.
Detectives assigned to the cases grow frustrated talking about the details of each incident. The Scottsdale Police Department is too small to have a cold case unit, and overburdened detectives spend most of their time working recent crimes.
The first person slain in the summer of '78 was Patricia Mary Kerger. Born in 1948 in Minneapolis, she died from multiple knife and blunt instrument wounds on June 10.
Kerger is No. 1 on the police list of 20 unsolved Scottsdale slayings.
The blond Phoenix real estate saleswoman was found lying in a pool of her blood in a vacant lot on the southeast corner of 56th Street and Thomas Road, where a drug store now stands. "An unusually brutal murder," an investigating officer described it. Crime scene photos support the officer's statement.
Her therapist described Kerger as "a driving sort of person who can maybe make it a little bit tough on some man to get to know her too well," and also, "the girl that always got the A's ... not that she was especially snotty."
A divorced 30-year-old mother of a 10-year-old son, Kerger sold real estate for Red Carpet Realty in Phoenix.
She dated a lot of "strange and kind of far-out guys," the realty's office manager said. "She was a party girl," said detective Sam Bailey, who is currently assigned to the Kerger case and seven other cold cases.
She also had a yearlong affair with her boss, Red Carpet owner Clyde Poulin, a married man with five children. The affair was "one of those situations where (we'd) break up on Monday and (get) back together on Tuesday," Poulin told police during the '78 investigation.
At Poulin's request, police kept his affair with Kerger a secret. This month, Poulin asked the Tribune not to publish the information.
Kerger's ex-husband, Jay, was an aircraft mechanic and part owner of a Cottonwood company called Blue Sky Aviation. He also smuggled marijuana, he told a grand jury in 1978.
The night before Kerger was killed, she moved into a new condo with her son, Eric. The day of her death, she worked through 5 p.m., when she showed a house to a client from Tucson, and planned to go to a party with two men at 9 p.m.
Her car was found behind the Black Angus restaurant at 20th Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix. It wasn't a habit of hers to show properties to men alone. Two female Valley real estate agents had recently been raped under similar circumstances.
"It appears from this instance she may very well have met someone in that particular area where her car was found, and then gone off with them somewhere," Bailey said. She might have been killed somewhere else and dumped in the vacant lot where she was found near some parked cars.
"On that Saturday night in that particular area, between 8:45 p.m. and 9:10 p.m. is when this all occurred," Bailey said. The infliction of the wounds was significant "in terms of aggressiveness, the brutality of it."
Police reported the killer "really did a number on her," said then-investigator Lt. Bob Arthur. "It was more than just a killing ... whoever did this was really angry at her."
The medical examiner's report is long lost.
Police soon cleared the client from Tucson, Kerger's employer Clyde Poulin and a number of other suspects. They put the receptionist at Red Carpet Realty under hypnosis to try to remember names Kerger might have mentioned during phone calls.
They closely questioned her ex-husband. After an initially amicable divorce, Patty and Jay Kerger went their separate ways. But two or three weeks before she was slain, Eric saw his mother and father having a bad fight. He ran down the street to a neighbor's house, according to police reports.
Jay had remarried, and wanted to take Eric to meet his wife's parents in Pennsylvania. That's what the fight might have been about, Bailey said.
Jay said he went to Needles, Calif., that Saturday, June 10, even though he had a midnight flight to Pennsylvania from Phoenix that night. His alibi was a diner waitress in Needles. Her name does not appear in police files.
Police found her. "She . . . remembered he was with somebody, which Jay failed to mention to the police when they were talking to him," Bailey said.
The man in the diner was never found.
"There may be a lead to that person even today," Bailey said. "That's what's tough about these cases: We've got 25 years that have lapsed. If we ultimately try this case, we have to find a number of these people who were intimate with the circumstances and convince them to come to court and testify."
A grand jury questioned Jay Kerger. He testified "he was actually out in the wilds of the desert directing a planeload of marijuana drop," Bailey said.
Jay Kerger now has an aviation business in the Verde Valley. He declined to be interviewed at length.
"I don't think there's anything I could do that would help anything," he said. "It's been a tremendous impact on my family and I can't do it. If I thought it would have an impact on this investigation or help resolve this case, I would do it in a heartbeat."
He has not spoken with Eric in years. National records databases showed him living in Waco, Texas, in 2001. He no longer lives at that address, according to the current resident.
From the start, Jay said, police have thought, "I'm the ex-husband, so I'm the prime suspect. I'm very sorry they (still) think that, because it's taking them in the wrong direction. My personal opinion is that this is just like the Bob Crane murder. They unprofessionally didn't do things right."
Sometime early on Aug. 26, 1978, someone bashed in Ken Avvenire's head with a lamp and stabbed him 17 times in the chest with a ballpoint pen.
Two maids found the 25-year-old printer dead in Room 207 at the Sunburst Hotel, 4925 N. Scottsdale Road, in the afternoon.
"He never was in any kind of trouble or anything like that," remembered first cousin, Frances Amato. "He was a very respectable boy, a very loved boy."
Avvenire's parents planned to move to the Valley, so he flew in for a job interview with a Phoenix printing company. "The next thing we knew, he was murdered, because he was gay," Amato said. "That's what I heard. We heard it through other people . . . that it was because he was gay and they didn't like gays down in Arizona."
A Manhattan Beach, Calif., couple named Richard and Janet Stingley, ages 25 and 24, were staying down the hall from Avvenire in Room 233 at the hotel. Both were former Arizona State University students.
The night of Aug. 25, doorman Cale Morgano at the Talk of the Town Lounge, a gay bar in in Phoenix, remembered Avvenire sitting with a couple in the bar for about an hour. Avvenire left with the woman, and the man left shortly afterward. Morgano's description of the couple matched the Stingleys. Both used California drivers licenses to get into the bar, Morgano said.
A witness at the Hisco Disco, another gay bar at 3839 N. 16th St. in Phoenix, saw Avvenire dancing with a 6-foot blond white man until 1 a.m. The description matched Richard Stingley.
Sometime between 1 a.m. and 1:50 p.m. the next afternoon, he was killed.
Guests in adjoining rooms at the hotel heard nothing. A speck of blood was found on the bathroom wall in the Stingleys' room. It was type O, the same as Avvenire's. The room's previous occupant was interviewed by police. She told detectives the blood spot had not been on the wall when she stayed in the room, nor had she been cut or injured.
Seth Dobrin, a DNA expert and president of Primary Structure Inc., a Phoenix forensic DNA analysis company, said the two blood samples could have turned up evidence. However, the samples were not kept; they do not appear on a list of evidence available.
Scottsdale officer Dennis Borkenhagen flew to Manhattan Beach and interviewed the Stingleys.
"It's not related to Bob Crane or anything, is it?" Janet Stingley asked Borkenhagen.
"I don't think so," he replied.
Neither of the Stingleys could be contacted for this story.
Avvenire's rental car was recovered almost a month later on Sept. 23 in a Phoenix apartment complex. A cop who lived there became suspicious when the car hadn't moved in a month. And the trail ended there.
The Avvenire killing is one of eight cold cases assigned to detective John Kirkham.
"I haven't even looked at it," he said.