PILNAK’S PORCH

 

     THE ISSUE: Three witnesses (Fenjves, Stein, and Storfer) testified that they heard a dog making unusual sounds (Fenjves said “a plaintive wail” and Storfer said “whining and yelping”) beginning between 10:15 and 10:20.  Fenjves said the sound lasted at least five to seven minutes.  Fenjves’ time estimate is pretty good (probably within three or so minutes) since he related the experience to the segment of a TV program he was watching at the time.  Storfer’s time is excellent (probably within a minute) since he related it to the clock on his VCR.   Stein’s estimate is poor, since she estimates it as being “about half an hour” before another event that is probably known only to an accuracy of five minutes or so.  Because of the mournful nature of the dog’s sound, it has been inferred that the dog was crying because it had already discovered his slain mistress’s body at that time (the dog was later found with blood on its paws and legs), and hence the dog’s wailing seemed to set the time of the murders as being before “10:15 to 10:20”.

     However, several other witnesses at about that time were within sight of the front of the condo and did not hear a dog.  Of these, the one with the most accurate claim of knowing the time was Denise Pilnak (so concerned about the correct time of things that she wore two watches to court), who said she was on her porch about 75 yards south of the corner of Bundy and Dorothy at 10:23 and did not hear any dog sounds.  Pilnak was also inside her house when she heard the dog begin to bark at 10:33 and continue barking for a considerable period.  From other witnesses (most importantly, Heidstra) we are sure that when Pilnak heard this barking begin at 10:33 the Akita was in the street of Bundy north of the condo.  Pilnak and similar witnesses appear to refute the (early) barking dog witnesses, and thereby could cast doubt on the idea that the murders occurred before 10:15.

     There is thus the superficial appearance of a conflict between what some people heard and others did not hear.  But, we notice that those who say they heard the dog at this early time all had positions that overlook the alley at the back of Nicole’s condo, and those who did not hear early barking had positions on the street of Bundy.  Also, there are bloody paw prints that lead from Nicole’s front walk (site of the murders) down Bundy and turn right to fade out at a point halfway to the alley.  This implies that immediately after leaving the scene of the murders the dog went to the alley.  Combining these facts, there is a strong suggestion that the early barking was from behind the condo, not from in front of it.  Such an idea is further supported by the fact that most of the buildings on the west side of Bundy are at least two stories high, solid for a hundred foot length from Bundy to the alley, and form a nearly impenetrable wall to sound.  In this way, it is explained why people on the alley could hear the early barking, and people on the street did not.

     Nonetheless, some no-Js (of whom Bob August is an example) refuse to accept the possibility that a dog could bark in the alley and not be heard by Pilnak and others on the street.  This article explores the factors that influence sound propagation in that place.

     LAY OF THE LAND: Figure 1 [PILNKMAP.JPG]pilnkmap_small.jpg (6176 bytes) is a rough map, to scale, of the area around Pilnak’s house and the crime scene condo.  (This is probably somewhat imprecise, but not for lack of trying.  The streets are curvy, run at angles, and the angles themselves change direction.  I think that the distances along the streets are quite accurate, but the degree to which Bundy bends at Dorothy has been very hard to estimate.)

     From this, it is about 375 feet from Pilnak’s porch to the spot behind the condo where I think the Akita first started making noise.  Such a similar distance for a sound source on Bundy would be north of the condo, almost to the Bundy/Gorham curve.  More important, notice that a line from Pilnak’s porch to the spot behind the condo has to pass through buildings, two eight-foot tall hedges, trees, and shrubs before it reaches Pilnak.  Sounds from the street on Bundy, on the other hand, are completely unimpeded except for the vegetation around her own porch, and her own house.pilnak1.jpg (53917 bytes)

     THE PORCH: Figure 2 [PILNAK1.JPG] shows Pilnak’s porch from the sidewalk in front of her house.  Notice that there is a room (A) on the left (north) projecting toward the street (probably the “office” she described in her testimony) and sheltering people on the porch from sounds to the north.  There is also a tree (B) in the front yard to the north of the porch, and a considerable number of shrubs.

     In Figure 3 [PILNAK2.JPG] pilnak2_small.jpg (5923 bytes)we see the front of Pilnak’s house from the east sidewalk, halfway to Dorothy Street.  Notice that her front porch is completely obscured by vegetation; even the projecting room can not be seen.  The red arrow points to where the unseen porch is located; the tail of the arrow is at the tree on the north side of Pilnak’s front yard.  Just above the head of the arrow is a triangular roof arch; this is not yet the porch, but the eves of the projecting room.  Even if the vegetation were removed, Pilnak’s porch would not be visible from this location.  (Although west- and north-facing windows in the projecting room would have a clear shot up Bundy.)

     FROM A DISTANCE: In Figure 4 [PILNAK4.JPG] pilnak4_small.jpg (5427 bytes)we are at the north-west corner of Bundy and Dorothy, looking toward Pilnak’s place; Nicole’s condo is still a hundred feet behind the camera.  As before, and even now farther to the west, it is impossible to see the porch.  (The situation is consistent with the map.)  pilnak5_small.jpg (6608 bytes)

      In Figure 5 [PILNAK5.JPG]we see roughly what Pilnak would have seen from her porch.  This view is from the sidewalk in front of Pilnak’s house looking north.  It is roughly what could be seen from the porch if the projecting room, the tree and all of the vegetation in Pilnak’s front yard were removed.  In particular, a ray from the presumed dog’s location behind the condo to Pilnak’s porch enters Bundy by penetrating the hedge of the house south of Storfer, the point of penetration is shown by the spot at (D).  (See Figure 1 to confirm.)  This neighbor’s hedge is eight feet tall and five feet thick (I measured the thickness with a tape) and would greatly attenuate sound trying to get through it.   To the north, this ray has to penetrate Storfer’s two-story house, and would be attenuated there.  Storfer also has an eight-foot hedge (but only a foot thick) and Dorothy is heavily draped with trees, both on Storfer’s property and in the opposite parkway.   Finally, that ray has to penetrate the house on the back of the lot at the north-west corner of Bundy and Dorothy.  After all of this attenuation, it would be a wonder of a dog’s barking in the alley behind Nicole’s condo could be herd in Pilnak’s front yard, much less on the sheltered porch of that house.

     The non-static nature of the dog also needs to be considered.   According to the time estimates for when they first heard the dog, Fenjves (“10:15 to 10:20”) and Storfer (10:19 or slightly before) these two witnesses may have first heard the dog at slightly (a minute or two) different times.  This would be possible if the dog began barking at location (1) on Figure 1 (directly behind the condo) and after a couple of minutes moved 50 feet or so south (location 2) where Storfer would better hear him.  Also, the nature of the barking reported by these two witnesses is somewhat different.  The Akita could have started by “wailing” as Fenjves said, and a couple of minutes later was “barking, whining, and yelping” as Storfer heard.  If this happened, then by 10:23 when Pilnak and Telander were in position to hear, the dog was no longer making as loud a sound as at the start, and had moved to a position where there was more sound-blocking structure along the line between dog and Pilnak/Telander.  The same is even more true for the observations of Aaronson/Mandel at 10:26.

    Finally, the projecting room on the north and house wall on the east give reflecting surfaces for the conversation that Pilnak and Telander had there.  That made the sound of their voices louder than would have been inside the furnished house, or in another outside place away from walls.  Combined with the obscuring effect of the north wall, this made an additional problem to hear the feeble dog sounds at 918 S. Bundy.

     OTHER WITNESSES:  Notice that when Telander, Harmon, and Aaronson/Mandel were at the corner of Bundy/Dorothy, or even in front of Nicole’s condo, they were blocked from the dog’s alley position by as much a 100 feet of structure, two stories high, and that is an absolutely impossible barrier for the sound of barking to penetrate.

     It has been claimed that if Pilnak could have heard the dog from inside her house at 10:33, then she surely should have heard it, if it was barking, at 10:23 from her porch.  But notice in Figure 1 that the red ray for the 10:18 to 10:25 barking (from behind the condo) is blocked at multiple points by structure, trees and hedges, but the blue ray for the sound at 10:33 (from the street of Bundy) is wide open to any windows on the west or north front of Pilnak’s house.  Just as important, the nature of the barking at 10:23 was “whining” and “yelping” which is not the loudest of dog sounds, whereas at 10:33 and after, the Akita was barking frantically (“crazy and hysterical” Heidstra said.)  A dog’s frantic barking will be heard considerably farther than whining and yelping, even if conditions were equal.

     SUMMARY: A visit to the neighborhood of the crime, or photographs of that, gives abundant reasons of geography and land improvements why three observers with an alley overlook heard the Akita at 10:18 or so, and several observers on the street of Bundy did not hear the dog between 10:23 and 10:33.  Also, it is my conjecture that the dog did not make ANY sound between about 10:25 and 10:33, and may have been sequestered in a vehicle (as a van) during that time.

               (No contradiction between Fenjves, who heard the Akita, and Pilnak, who did not.)

               Dick Wagner Van Nuys, CA   (August 15, 2002)   PILNAK_P.doc

back.gif (2777 bytes)