Tempe police, homeless seek answers in woman's death - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Tempe police, homeless seek answers in woman's death

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 8:30 am | Updated: 3:26 pm, Mon Dec 3, 2012.

About a week before the body of Joann Rotz was found in a dirt lot on Lemon Street near Apache Boulevard, Rachel Hall said she argued with the homeless woman over not sleeping in her campsite area near Escalante Park.

Hall, who said she had known Rotz since March, said that Rotz got in her face and told her that she was going to kill her in her sleep. And Hall said she replied, "I hope you die in a field somewhere."

Now, Hall, 29, said she regrets saying that and feels bad for Rotz, a 37-year-old woman who police said was known to be homeless and transient and whose friends described as someone who would "give you the shirt off her back."

Rotz also would bring her friends a plate of food from the gazebo at Escalante Park where churches serve lunches to homeless people resting nearby on blankets amid their meager belongings, including some pet dogs on leashes scattered under trees.

Police discovered Rotz’s body in a dirt lot between two businesses in the 1100 block of Lemon Street, near Rural Road, on Nov. 21, and said there were visible signs of trauma to her upper body.

The cause of Rotz’s death was a gunshot wound to the head, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office told the Tribune on Friday.

The woman’s death has left the city’s homeless community shocked and police looking for answers in connection to her death.

Police are investigating Rotz’s death as a homicide and are seeking the public’s help in providing leads or information in connection to her death.

A woman who answered the phone at the medical examiner’s office said that Rotz’s next of kin, a son, has been contacted and informed of his mother’s death.

"She was my friend," said Hall, who has been homeless since late February and is having trouble getting Social Security and medical help for her systemic lupus condition. "I regret saying that to her, because that’s what happened. I was shocked. She would say things that would get under peoples’ skin, but nobody deserves to die like that. I feel bad for saying what I did, because that’s what happened. When she wasn’t having one of her out-of-this-world experiences, she had a good heart."

"It’s not the fights you get in, but how you get over them that defines a friendship," Hall added as she was putting the finishing touches on a wooden box as part of a memorial for Rotz.

Hall’s friend, Brian Lartham, 32, who said he had known Rotz for about eight years, since she was homeless in Phoenix, also became aware that Rotz recently had an apartment in Tempe and that she had been trying to get some people living there with her to move out.

Police said that Rotz had an outstanding warrant for her arrest at the time of her death. According to Tempe Municipal Court records, she was arrested and booked into the Tempe City Jail for criminal trespass on Nov. 1, and was released the next day. Rotz was scheduled to appear for a hearing on the trespassing charge on Nov. 19, but did not show up, resulting in the warrant being issued for her arrest, according to a clerk for Tempe Municipal Court.

Hall and other members of the homeless community said that they were not aware Rotz had a son, but said they had heard that she had a granddaughter. They described Rotz as a quiet person when she wasn’t arguing with others.

Hall and Lartham said that Rotz told them that she was abducted and held captive in a basement when she was 15, and that’s why she had mental problems. However, they weren’t sure if that was true.

Of the handful of people who knew Rotz, they said they would like to see the person who killed her caught and served justice.

"I would like to meet the mother (expletive) who did this," said a silver-haired bearded homeless man who said his name was Redman as he was riding his bicycle along River Street. "I don’t know anyone who would do anything that bad. If I found out, I’d hurt them. People can get mad over a lot of things, but I’d never get mad enough to do what they did to Joann."

Tempe police are asking for anyone with information regarding Rotz’s death to contact them at (480) 350-8311 or Silent Witness at (480) 948-6377. Authorities are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading arrest and indictment of the suspect.

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