Excerpt from Cobra Killer - Chapter One. © All Rights Reserved.
During the third week of January 2007, Bryan Kocis boarded an airplane in San Diego for a long flight back home to Pennsylvania. He was filled with excitement and hope. It was a trip he had taken many times before over the last several years as his home-based gay pornography business began to grow. He’d found financial success in producing gay porn in the most unlikely of all places – tiny Dallas Township, Pennsylvania – and his company soon rivaled anything being produced in the porn capital of the world: the San Fernando Valley of California.
He carried with him on this return flight to Pennsylvania a signed copy of a legal settlement that he thought ended an issue that had nagged him for more than a year. He thought he was nearing the end of a protracted and bitter fight that had brought him scorn and to the brink of arrest on federal child endangerment laws.
The settlement settled a lot. But it ended nothing.
Five days later, Kocis, 44, was dead, his head nearly severed from his body, his body curled into a fetal position and pierced with 28 separate knife wounds to the abdomen and chest. His body was charred with second and third degree burns that would render him unrecognizable. Police retrieved dental records to identify him. His life had ended on the leather sofa in his living room as his home was reduced to a smoking hull of burned up dreams.
Bryan Kocis was dead and the hunt for what had brought such unparalleled violence to Dallas Township, Pennsylvania, was just beginning.
The violence that took Kocis’ life would send shockwaves across the community, and ultimately across the country. His murder would reveal more about Kocis than most people ever knew, and even more about an unexpected enterprise operating from a base in stoic, conservative northeast Pennsylvania.
As details emerged, first neighbors, then the community and ultimately everyone would know that Bryan Kocis had built a successful gay pornography business from his modest home – an undertaking that may have contributed to his death. His secrets would unfurl for all to see, revealing a complicated conspiracy.
There was never any question the investigation into the murder of Bryan Kocis would be a joint effort. Dozens of officers from local, state and federal agencies would be involved, led by the Pennsylvania State Police Major Case Investigation.
“Right from the outset we worked with the police and this investigation rested with the state police, as it should have,” assistant district attorney Michael Melnick said.Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael Boone, a 15-year veteran, was one of the first to arrive at the murder scene, a simple one-and-a-half story home at 60 Midland Drive at about 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday, January 24, 2007. Snow flurries had began to fall. His job: Process any evidence that could be collected from the scene.
Boone, a member of the state police’s Forensic Services Unit, took measurements, made diagrams, and captured the scene in photographs and videotape. His first photographs included exterior views that showed intense burning to the front porch and entry to the home, burning so intense the ceiling and roof of the small porch began to collapse before firefighters could extinguish the flames. Outside, two small snow shovels were leaned against Kocis’ BMW parked next to the house. The intense fire had damaged the car, even melting headlamp casings.
On the porch itself, a charred wooden bench and the remnants of what appeared to be a melted plastic one-gallon gas tank. The front door was burned and charred; the exterior “storm door” melted in place. Neither of the doors showed signs of forced entry. Inside the blackened living room, a portion of the ceiling had collapsed and heavy melting damage had occurred to a giant big-screen TV and entertainment center Kocis had just purchased a few weeks prior as a Christmas present to himself. The room’s picture window was blown out, the metal bar separating the panes dumped onto the sofa below. It was just part of the fire debris that fell upon the sofa, and Kocis’ lifeless body, as the fire raged.
“(Kocis is) still lying on the couch,” Boone said in describing the scene. “He’s found lying on his back. This debris would have come down on top of him.”
Boone’s photographs showed that most of the sofa’s cushion and stuffing had burned away, the frame being all that remained of the couch. “Mr. Kocis’ body (was) lying here,” he reported.
Close-up photos of Kocis’ body showed his severely slashed throat, his skull almost severed from his body, as well as knife wounds to his left chest and abdomen. After Deputy Luzerne County Coroner William Lisman removed the body, and a large pool of blood and other biological fluids remained.
As snow showers continued until after 1 a.m. and a slight accumulation began to show, investigators decided to place plastic tarps over exposed areas of the house to preserve all the evidence they could. One long, cold night of investigating was coming to a close, but days of hard work in the Pennsylvania winter lie ahead.
Melnick, the assistant DA, got his first look at the scene in the morning light of Thursday, January 25.
“It was bitterly cold that day,” Melnick said, recalling that as he stepped under a yellow police line tape surrounding the Kocis home, he was greeted with a stern ‘welcome’ from State Police Detective Steve Polishan who didn’t know Melnick from Adam.
Melnick recalls Polishan telling him, “Very nice to meet you. We’ll meet you back at the Dallas Township Police Department.” Melnick took the hint to back off and waited to meet the detectives later in the tiny squad room of the Dallas Township Police Department, just a mile east of the murder scene.
It would be two more days before investigators from the District Attorney’s office were allowed in the scene. State fire marshal and homicide investigators spent those two days painstakingly combing the burned rubble of the Kocis home, some detectives down on their hands and knees sifting for clues.
Among the pieces of evidence collected by Trooper Boone was “a small little razor blade knife” found underneath the burned love seat. Behind the front door, on a small half-circle table, police recovered Kocis’ untouched wallet, a money clip with $60 cash in it, sunglasses, a pocket knife, and keys to his prized BMW. Police also found loaded handguns stashed throughout drawers in cabinets and end tables in the home. Kocis’ family members would later recover $1,800 in cash left in a kitchen drawer. In the kitchen sink, two long stem wine glasses and a broken wine bottle (damaged in the fire) and cocktail shaker were found.
Investigators did not find any fingerprints on any of the items collected. It was no surprise. “Heat is very bad for a latent print,” Boone said. “The latent print is going to be as a result of secretions from the body and the pores of the fingertips.”
Boone said the heat destroyed any remaining sweat or oil needed to leave a print from anyone who was in the room before the fire... [contd]