A Murder in Tunnel C. Part Two: Screaming Like Vampires
17 March 2022 by Brian Joseph Davis in Crime
Thomas Beauvais immigrated from Haiti to Detroit after the quake in 2010. He and his twin sister Renee were nine and the only survivors of the collapse of their family home. Living with relatives in Royal Oak, the two attended high school and eventually college. Beauvais says he was the more haunted of the two. He suffered from night terrors and insomnia, though he could manage it with medication. Beauvais says he has always been forthcoming about his struggles, though he feels the police and the district attorney will use it against him at the trial.
Renee returned to Haiti to work at an NGO while Thomas took a job at Jellyfish, a local startup that made underwater turbines.
A few years into his career, the insomnia came back with a vengeance, forcing Beauvais to take leave. It was fine, he thought. He had a nest egg and some stock in the company. But Jellyfish went under just as gentrification hit Detroit. With the property taxes on his Dearborn home doubling he put the house on the market.
Beauvais was contemplating moving to Pittsburgh — then at the beginning of its rise as a Rustbelt tech center — when his friend Meyers asked for his help on the tunnel project. After a few weeks down in the darkness, Beauvais noticed something: His insomnia had stopped. Above ground he felt unsure of himself and suspected others could see the cracks in him. Below ground the silence and weight of the salt made him feel solid.
Krista Ortega had come to Detroit at age 23 from the drought plains of California’s Central Valley. With Bakersfield schools and government now shut down, information about her early life is scarce. We know she was hoping for a hostess gig at one of the nightclubs in the Cass. Leila Yafi, a friend who Ortega stayed with for a few weeks, said she couldn’t find work at the high-end spots and instead took a job as a shooter girl at St. Andrews Hall. Just temporarily, she hoped. When Leila came home to find Krista smoking meth on the couch, she kicked her out. Leila showed me a picture of Ortega — long, light brown hair fell over deep-set eyes and a strong jaw. Leila feels guilty now about kicking her friend out.
The haunting ellipsis in Ortega’s story is that space from the couch to her lifeless body at the edge of the Dead Drop. No one has filled it in yet.
By that time, crime had made Tunnel C a no-go zone for most. “They were using the Koch Cavern entrance to bring drugs in,” Gabe Meyers told me. “Thomas told me he found a zip line, twice. Drugs down. Money up.”
According to Beauvais, that’s what he was looking for at the back of Tunnel C the day he found Ortega’s body. Most of the Midnighters knew Beauvais. Because he was the guy who made the lights stay on he wasn’t hassled like others.
When Beauvais came back to the main tunnel to tell Meyers about the body, they made a quick decision. This wasn’t someone smoking or leaving an overflowing piss bucket in the walkway. The two had to call the cops without a full council meeting.
Officers were led down to the body and detectives started questioning Midnighters. Several were arrested on outstanding warrants and they screamed like vampires as they were taken up to the light.
Detective Wayne Kostecki, a 15-year veteran with the department, started to get stories out of the arrested Midnighters that cast suspicion on Thomas Beauvais. They told the police that Beauvais was a frequent john, that he got prostitutes in exchange for turning a blind eye to drug trafficking in Tunnel C.
Beauvais never asked for a lawyer and willingly met with the police to talk.
Then, one Midnighter came forward with something he remembered. He said that Ortega complained that Beauvais owed her money for tricks. After that revelation Beauvais was arrested. He gave his address as the salt mine but the booking officer refused it and listed “No address” instead. The witness is currently unnamed, but according to the defense, he will be testifying at the trial.
Since Beauvais’s arrest, supporters have uncovered disturbing things about Kostecki. Before homicide he worked vice at the Detroit Police Department and was been placed on administrative leave twice after excessive force complaints from sex workers.
Beauvais claims he had never seen Ortega in any of the Tunnels before the day he found her body. “But I seen Kostecki down there before. At least three times.”
When asked to respond, a police department spokesman replied that they do not comment on active cases.
Gossip in the tunnel runs towards theories about the Midnighters and corrupt police blaming someone who was hindering their business.
When I ask Meyers if he thinks his friend is innocent he quickly replies, “Yes,” but he can’t believe in conspiracy theories. Instead, he has faith that forensics alone will clear Beauvais. There was no bleeding around the body, suggesting Ortega was moved from elsewhere. Also, she was shot, a method of death not likely to go unnoticed in a structure that is a natural megaphone. After a while in the Tunnels one notices that conversations all have a cadence and volume existing in steady mid-tones. Shouts can land like IEDs and whispers carry for miles.
As with Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City or Johannesburg’s Ponte City building, the Tunnels are a failed space, architecturally speaking. But all have found an ersatz correctness and use value. While Thomas Beauvais awaits his trial the weekend market continues, complete with food stalls and a Starbucks kiosk. The gloppy, stenciled face of Beauvais and the slogan “INNOCENT!” greets visitors at the mine shaft entrance. (I was told that Midnighters have altered the exclamation mark to a question mark several times.)
After the murder Meyers moved out and went back to his apartment. He’s in the Tunnels maybe one day a week now. He admits that it’s too different from before and that both the successes and failures of the project make him feel uneasy. He wants to take an open job offer in Pittsburgh — “Detroit isn’t the same as it was even seven years ago,” he says — but can’t break away from the Tunnels, at least not until his friend’s trial is over.
Police now aggressively patrol Tunnel C, but that has not cut down on crime. “We could handle our problems before,” says Meyers. “It’s like the more the cops come around the more crime there is.”
Part Three: Lazarus Makes a Deal
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 Goodloe Byron.