Murder, Detective Edward Brown figured. Murder, plain and simple.
But there was no body. And everything the Baltimore homicide detective found in that trucking company office five years ago told him he would never find the body of Eddy Robert Crane, a South Baltimore businessman who hasn't been heard from since.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Eddy Crane's dead and his body was disposed of," Detective Brown says now. "There's no doubt of that."
A likely scenario for the murder, according to police sources:
Eddy Crane is at his desk inside E & M Machinery company in Curtis Bay, when he is confronted by at least two gunmen. They order him out of the building. Mr. Crane resists. They shoot once or twice to disable him, perhaps wounding him in his leg. He fights on and they fire again, killing him. They put the heavyset businessman's body in an office chair, then drag it out to a pickup truck and drive the body away.
Then the killers try to clean up the crime scene.
It's the scenario that matched the evidence that police recovered from the E & M office: blood throughout the office -- on the leg of a desk, on a television screen, on the floor behind a closet door. Blood on a mop and pail that apparently had been used to clean the office. A bullet hole in a file cabinet and bullets of two calibers in the cabinet, behind the wallboard and in the ceiling.
Later, more bullet holes were discovered in the office desk; they had been filled with wood putty. And there were the scuff marks on the floor.
Not to mention what wasn't there: any sign of robbery or forced entry. The only things missing from the office were Eddy Crane, his pet Rottweiler, the chair and the gun he carried to protect himself.
It would be a few more days before the crime lab positively identified the blood found at the scene as the same type as that of Eddy Crane, a man who had been feuding with his business partner for almost a year, trading allegations about missing money.
The detectives began interviewing E & M employees. They began to uncover more circumstantial evidence. They thought they could bring charges in Eddy Crane's death.
They were wrong.
This is a story about what happens when someone simply and permanently disappears.
It's a story, too, about a family's frustration and suspicion in the months and years that follow.
Most of all, it's a story about the limitations of police and prosecutorial power and the chasm that exists between reasonable suspicion and reasonable doubt.
No one is known to have heard from Eddy Crane, who would now be 51, since the night of Sept. 10, 1987. No one -- at least no one in his family or among those charged with investigating his disappearance -- expects to hear from him. Legally, he has been declared dead.
"Every time I hear about remains being found, I call the authorities before they call me," says Jo-Ann Crane, who was 43 when her husband disappeared. "I know that I would be contacted if it was him, but I can't help it."
Eddy Crane's two daughters, who were 10 and 12 when he disappeared, are almost grown.
Katy is 17 and preparing to graduate from high school. Jeanne is two years younger and has a much more vague image of her workaholic father, leaving for work late in the afternoon as was his habit, driving down to Curtis Bay even as his kids were getting home from school.
Katy Crane accepts that her father is dead, but the fact angers her: "People who do things like this never think how it affects anyone else."
When he disappeared, Eddy Crane was a full partner in E & M Machinery, according to his brother, Robert, who also worked at the firm.
Mr. Crane was a man who had spent years building the company from a truck sales and repair firm into a specialized concern that cannibalized old trucks to sell drive trains and transmissions for more money than the trucks themselves might bring.
His partner was William Walter "Augie" Augustin Jr., a rough-hewn man who had brought Eddy Crane into E & M Machinery years earlier. Eddy Crane thought the world of Mr. Augustin, who had become his closest friend.
"They were two of a kind," remembers Bob Crane.
"Augie was someone that Eddy really enjoyed. They did everything together, and I mean everything. They were like brothers."
Brothers until 1986, when Eddy Crane came to believe that his business partner was stealing from the multimillion-dollar business, according to police sources.
For years, according to Bob Crane, missing invoices and missing cash had been a recurring problem. Some employees had been accused and one actually fired, but the thefts continued.
Eventually, Eddy Crane confronted his partner and there was a shouting match in front of employees, with Mr. Augustin hotly denying the accusations.
Detectives confirmed that for almost a year the two men were at war with each other, with Mr. Augustin working days at the business and Mr. Crane working nights, happy to avoid him.
"Both of them were consumed by hate," says Bob Crane.