A Murder in Tunnel C. Part Three: Lazarus Makes a Deal

7 April 2022 by Brian Joseph Davis in Crime

The story previously:

Part One: The DIY culture of Detroit’s underground salt mine city is under threat.

Part Two: Thomas Beauvais, tunnel engineer, awaits trial for the murder of Krista Ortega.

Depending where Brendan Brandt is in one of his circuitous stories, he will tell you that he was a member of The Kills, a driver for Gucci Mane, or a landscaper for Lou Pearlman. What is true about the 40-year-old man sitting in front of me in Chicago’s Cook County Jail is that he was a Midnighter, which shows in his appearance — his skin is wrinkled and translucent; the gums around his teeth have receded. He’s been out of the Tunnel C squat under Detroit for months but he still has the cadaverous look common of long-term residents of the salt mines.

He also claims to be the star witness in the case again Thomas Beauvais.

Brandt says he is the Detroit salt tunnel squatter who gave police an affidavit detailing the relationship between murder victim Krista Ortega and Beauvais — the one-time tunnel engineer whose trial starts next week.

The beige interview room is soundproof and still, save for Brandt’s ticks and twitches, which seem to produce a kind of electricity. He’s from Tampa, originally, but what brought him to Detroit may be the simplest part of his story: better access to L. Also known as Lazarus, or Drop Dead, the drug is crudely distilled from Lazlo Root, a dietary supplement still legal in Canada.

The high from the refined drug is niche and terrifying: It causes up to seven hours of total immobility and the slowing of bodily functions to a whisper away from death. With such a long high, users are frequently misdiagnosed as dead, sometimes bolting upright in ambulances and morgues.

“Never happened to me,” Brandt brags.

“What was it like in Tunnel C?”

“Doesn’t get lower than that place. Whatever you have left when you go down there, you lose pretty quickly.”

When I ask him about the night of the murder and his affidavit, Brandt tells me, almost casually, that he wasn’t living in the tunnels then. “I was in Wayne County Jail that month on an old warrant.”

For a moment I don’t how to respond. “Then why the affidavit?”

“Cops cut me a deal. Out of jail and free ride to a hotel in Chicago if I just sign this paper.” They promised he could wait things out there with room service. The DA would push Beauvais to take a plea and he wouldn’t even have to testify.

Beauvais did not take the plea deal.

According to records, Brandt was arrested four weeks before Ortega’s death but a FOIA request to Wayne County Jail has not been answered. Brandt tells me that Ortega was never in Tunnel C before, at least to his knowledge. A moment later he seems like he wants to correct himself. I ask if he’s sure.

“Maybe not. I don’t know some days. They showed me pictures so sometimes I see her in my mind and I know her, and sometimes I don’t know who she is.”

The police department has not responded to this or any other query regarding Brandt. When the District Attorney’s office was asked for comment, their spokesperson hung up.

The Beauvais case has become an election year lightning rod for District Attorney Mel Farr. The squatted salt tunnels are some of the last vestiges of old downtown — rudely interrupting the cult chant of real estate capital gains and new entertainment districts.

When he was being escorted out of Detroit that night weeks ago, Brandt got nervous about being in a car with three cops. He wasn’t sure he’d make it to Chicago alive, and at a rest stop in Gary, Indiana, Brandt went towards the bathroom then bolted into a wooded area.

In the time since he hid out in Calumet City, and with no money left, sold fake crack. He trusts me enough to offer his recipe. “Molasses and cornstarch.”

When he was picked up during a task force sweep, Brandt figured he’d have 20 seconds to get into protective custody before they scanned his chip, causing his rich and detailed record to hit bestseller lists across the country. Not wanting to be extradited to Detroit he told the narcotic agents handling him that he was on the run from dirty cops there. It was bait any cop was used to hearing during an arrest, but Brandt and his lawyer convinced Chicago and the FBI to look into it.

“Who gave you the ride to Chicago? Is one of them Wayne Kostecki?”

“Oh yeah,” Brandt tells me casually. “He’s got Midnighters digging a tunnel to Canada, under the river. There’s already a salt mine that goes halfway out too. When I was there, they were maybe 50 feet from finishing.”

“And they’re going to bring in Lazarus?”

“Everything.”

Part Four: Tunnel Warz


BRIAN JOSEPH DAVIS

Sirens columnist Brian Joseph Davis is a screenwriter and former reporter. He is producing a documentary on the Thomas Beauvais case for the Joyland Network.

Illustrations by Kyle McLean.

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