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Was payback the motive for the murder of a detective’s 7-year-old son?
January 12, 1984, was a rare midweek holiday for 7-year-old Gary Grant Jr. There was no school because of a teacher’s conference. Gary lived with his mother, May. She and Gary’s father, an Atlantic City, New Jersey Police detective, had been separated for nearly a year. According to May, that morning Gary told his mother that he had an appointment that afternoon:
Around noon, Gary left home. He told May he would be back by 4:00 PM, before it got dark:
When another two hours passed with no sign of Gary, May telephoned her husband. Gary Grant Sr. proceeded to search the neighborhood for his son:
By the next morning, the Atlantic City Police Department had started an all out search for Gary Jr. Regulations prevented Detective Grant from taking part in the official investigation, but as a father, he was unwilling to stand by and do nothing:
The next afternoon the body of Gary Grant, Jr. was found in a vacant lot less than two blocks from his home. He had been beaten to death. Nearby, lay a short length of heavy pipe, probably the murder weapon. The police immediately imposed a radio silence until the boy’s family could be notified. At virtually that same moment, Detective Grant, exhausted and on the verge of collapse, came upon the scene:
The investigation began like all others, with detectives tracing the victim’s final hours and talking to those who knew him best. Carl Mason, nicknamed “Boo”, was a mentally challenged 12-year-old with an IQ of 65. Though Boo was five years older than Gary, he was smaller in height and weight. The two boys were good friends and often played together. According to Rick Murray, an investigative journalist who covered the case, Boo said he was not with Gary on the day of his murder:
That night, Boo was driven to police headquarters by his grandmother. Once there, Boo was separated from his grandmother and led into a small room for questioning. But according to Rick Murray, Boo’s stories were inconsistent:
After three long hours, police believed they had an admission of guilt. A confession was drawn up based on the interrogation. Boo signed the document, but insisted he had not murdered his friend. He was charged with murder and sent to a juvenile detention center. However, Boo still maintained he was not with Gary the day he went missing:
On Sunday, January 15th, Boo was given a polygraph exam. The results were inconclusive. According to Rick Murray, three days later a second test was administered:
A month after Boo Mason was arrested, a hearing was held to determine whether his “confession” was admissible in court. The charges against Boo Mason were dropped and police never came up with another viable suspect. But two years later, it became obvious that someone had not forgotten Gary Grant, Jr. At approximately 3:00 AM, on January 4, 1986, a vandal painted a chilling message on the side of an Atlantic City patrol car that read, “Gary Grant’s dead. I am living. Another will die on January 12th if all goes right.” According to Detective Grant, January 12th would have been the second anniversary of his son’s murder:
A few weeks later, a second cryptic message was scratched on a sidewalk: “Gary Grant Jr. lives. I still killed him. Son of a pig officer. Payback is a M.F.” This second message led to speculation that Gary had been murdered as retribution, possibly for an arrest his father had made. To date, no further messages have been received.
But for May Grant and the rest of the family, there is still hope that one day Gary Jr.’s killer will be brought to justice: