The arrest last week of Todd David Burpee on charges he beat, kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 17-year-old Gunn High School student Tuesday, Oct. 30, came about in large part thanks to a cop with a good memory.
Palo Alto Officer Eric Bulatao -- with the department just a year -- recognized the man sketched by a police artist based on the victim's description.
When Bulatao saw the sketch, something clicked. He had responded to a vandalism call the day before the kidnapping and noticed Burpee sitting in a car that seemed out of place, so he "ran the license plate" and jotted down the number.
Bulatao conveyed his hunch to detectives on Thursday, two days after the attack, and officers were able to identify the car and its owner: Todd David Burpee.
Police Chief Lynne Johnson said the link was the missing piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle being put together by a team of detectives and officers working around the clock.
Once Burpee was identified as a prime suspect, about 6 p.m., things moved quickly. Police placed his San Jose residence under surveillance and arrested Burpee two hours later.
In the two days between the abduction and arrest, about 25 Palo Alto detectives and officers mobilized to work on the case. Johnson noted that some missed going trick-or-treating with their kids on Halloween.
New, sometimes stunning details of the intensive investigation were made public as part of about 100 pages of information filed with Santa Clara County Superior Court this week.
The main disclosure was that Burpee had admitted to detectives that he committed the attack, the abduction and the sexual assault against the girl shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday near her home in the 500 block of Arastradero Road in Palo Alto.
The documents also disclose that the girl tried to call 911 from her cell phone from the back seat of Burpee's car. At 3:42 p.m. a Mountain View police dispatcher called Palo Alto dispatch to report a 911 call from a girl saying that she had been abducted but didn't know where she was because she couldn't see out. The call went to a cell phone tower in Mountain View.
The report indicated she called from a gas station while her abductor was out of the car.
A phone number check provided police with the girl's home address. While Palo Alto police converged on the girl's neighborhood, another 911 call came in to Sunnyvale Public Safety Department saying the girl had just been rescued by a passing motorist. She had fled Burpee's car after he had parked it and left her in the back seat, covered by a sheet, thinking she was unconscious or perhaps dead.
She ran along North Fair Oaks Avenue, crying and screaming for help.
Once Palo Alto police learned that a girl had been kidnapped from Palo Alto and was being treated at Valley Medical Center in San Jose, detectives Sal Madrigal, Adrienne Moore and April Wagner drove to the hospital to interview the girl.
Officers and detectives began scouring the 500 block of Arastradero, where the kidnapping occurred. Other officers searched the North Fair Oaks Avenue area where the girl had been rescued.
Police talked with residents in both areas and recorded the license-plate numbers of parked cars. Police also searched the apartment complex where the girl and her family live.
Police also began efforts to get photographs of 290 registered sex offenders in Sunnyvale, focusing on those who are African American, based on the girl's description of the attacker.
Police checked for private-security video cameras in the area of the abduction and along the route she had been taken.
The search in both cities continued the next day, Oct. 31. Police had a detailed description of the girl's assailant but almost no information about his car, other than that it had a tan interior and four doors. The girl remembered a distinctive inside rear-door handle. She also remembered a white picket fence outside the house where the car had been parked.
A police sketch artist was brought to Valley Medical Center at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The girl's cell phone meanwhile was found Tuesday by a couple in a parking area of a Sunnyvale apartment complex near where Burpee's fiancee lived. The man turned the phone on for seven seconds, called his own cell phone and then turned it off.
By Wednesday morning, police had traced the call. They contacted and interviewed the couple.
According to police reports, Burpee had allegedly found the girl's cell phone in his back seat after she had escaped. He threw it onto the roof of a parking structure at the Sunnyvale apartment complex, but the phone apparently fell to the ground, where it was found by the couple.
Police also collected a cigarette butt lying near where the phone had been found, as possible evidence, since the couple who found the phone were non-smokers.
Police also learned that the victim heard her captor calling or talking to someone named Sara, which turned out to be the daughter of a former Palo Alto apartment manager now living on North Fairs Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale.
"Sara" turned out to be Burpee's fiancee.
Police also handed out hundreds of fliers to motorists and pedestrians in Palo Alto on Oct. 31 and Sunnyvale on Nov. 1, looking for someone who might have seen the abduction or the suspect and his car.
The search continued on Thursday, Nov. 1. The police artist had completed a sketch of the suspect.
Things moved fast once Burpee was identified as a prime suspect late Thursday.
San Jose police were informed that Palo Alto police were setting up surveillance at the San Jose home where Burpee's mother lived. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office began preparing a search warrant.
Police also set up surveillance at the apartment complex in Sunnyvale where Burpee and his fiancee lived. When the fiancee got in her grey Scion Thursday night and drove off, police followed. It became clear she was going to Burpee's mother's house in San Jose, and police there were alerted.
The fiancee pulled up to the San Jose home and police saw a black man get into the car, which officers again followed.
When the car stopped in the drive-through lane of a Wendy's fast-food restaurant, police moved in.
"Take him," a radio command instructed.
But the car managed to exit the restaurant drive-through lane and was stopped by police a short distance away in a shared Safeway parking lot.
Burpee was arrested without incident, police reported.
Details have also emerged about Burpee's state of mind throughout the incident. During an interview with Madrigal, Burpee acknowledged his assault and kidnapping of the girl, but said he was "not thinking clearly at all" and that he was "out of it" and "freakin' out."
He said he was angry, having been arrested two weeks prior "for something he did at work," the police report said. Then he and his fiancée argued last Monday over his registering for matchmaking Web sites. He left their Sunnyvale residence, but later returned. Tuesday morning, the couple argued again, Burpee told police. He drove to Palo Alto, recharged his cell phone at Happy Donuts, then parked along Arastradero Road.
"He was angry," the statement said. "He punched his steering wheel periodically."
He admitted to approaching and attacking the Gunn student, slamming her head into the ground.
"The whole time he was saying, 'Todd what are you doing,'" the police report stated. Burpee told police he thought he had killed the girl.
He drove to his fiancee's apartment, where "he told her he thought he had just killed a little girl." His fiancée urged him to turn himself in, and he said he agreed. When the couple walked outside, he was questioned by a police officer, but he denied knowing anything.
At that point, Burpee discovered the girl had fled his car, so he moved his car to the back of the apartment complex.
He drove to his mother's home in San Jose, but did not talk about his actions. He stayed there for two days, until he left with his fiancée to go to the Wendy's restaurant, where he was arrested.