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The 1988 Murder of Police Officer in the City of Walnut Creek

Police on Tuesday identified a Florida prison inmate as a suspect in the 1988 slaying of an off-duty San Francisco police vice officer who was shot to death in downtown Walnut Creek.
Catherine Kuntz, 44, was identified by a fingerprint left in a Chevrolet Corvette belonging to San Francisco police Officer Lester Garnier, whose body was found slumped behind the car’s steering wheel July 11, 1988, in a parking lot, said Walnut Creek police Lt. Tim Schultz, who oversees investigations.
Schultz said police identified the fingerprint in 2002, but that subsequent investigative work did not confirm Kuntz as a suspect until now. She has not been charged in the crime, but investigators would like to talk to anyone who might have known her at the time of the slaying.
San Francisco police have offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to charges and a prosecution in the Garnier case. Schultz declined to speak about a motive for the slaying, only saying that investigators were pursuing multiple theories.
A native of Scotland who speaks with a noticeable accent, Kuntz in the late 1980s lived in Martinez, Concord and Walnut Creek and was married to a Navy serviceman stationed in Concord. She also was known to frequent Oakland and was a user of crack cocaine.
Schultz said Kuntz had a minor arrest record in the Bay Area that included shoplifting in Contra Costa County. In 1991, she was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Norfolk, Va., but was acquitted of the charge.
Schultz said Kuntz was known to go by the surnames Overend and Wise, and the nickname “Scotty.”
Kuntz is in prison in Ocala, Fla., serving a term for cocaine possession, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. Her release is scheduled for June 19.
Police have not determined the specific connection between Kuntz and Garnier. Schultz said it was unclear if Garnier, a member of the San Francisco police vice detail, had arrested her before. He did not say whether Garnier’s police work had any bearing on his death.
After Garnier was discovered dead from two shots from an AMT .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a witness told police that he heard bursts of gunfire and saw two women walk through the parking lot and drive away. A slender blond woman was seen inside Garnier’s car before he was shot.
Police believe that Kuntz may have been that woman.
“She was at the homicide scene and she is involved,” Schultz said.
Garnier, who was 30 at the time of his death, lived with his parents in a home he had bought in Concord.
The announcement of a suspect was a sign that investigators have backed off a controversial theory for the slaying, which implicated several San Francisco police officers in a purported cover-up. Adding to two decades of tension between the two police departments was the fact that Walnut Creek police spearheaded the investigation into Garnier’s death, to the dismay of some on the San Francisco force who felt their department should have played a larger role.
San Francisco police Deputy Chief David Shinn said the idea that members of his department were involved in Garnier’s death has lost its momentum.
“There’s nothing that leads us to believe that,” Shinn said.
In fact, the departments extended kudos to each other for closing a rift.
“It’s unbelievable, the support we received from San Francisco police,” Schultz said.
San Francisco police Assistant Chief James Lynch credited both forces for their perseverance.
“Thank you … for not giving up,” Lynch said. “It shows the dedication to end and put closure to this case.”
Reach Robert Salonga at 925-943-8013 or rsalonga@bayareanewsgroup.com.
Information request
Anyone with information about Catherine Kuntz is asked to call Walnut Creek police at 866-311-3922.
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