Chapter 18 – The murder enquiry
Detective Amit Chakrabarti was born in the UK, from Indian parents. He had transferred from his native Birmingham 18 months ago to take up a promotion in the Hampshire force.
This was his second murder enquiry. The previous one had been a gang-dispute in Birmingham where the victim had been shot with a sawn-off shotgun. There was little left of his chest. But the victim had been zipped inside a body bag before he arrived at the scene, so he never saw the blood-stained body. The 19-year-old killer had bragged about the shooting on Twitter, and the Police arrested him with the gun still hidden inside his jacket, within 4 hours of the shooting. He was in jail on remand, awaiting trial. As a result, Amit’s record showed a rapid clear-up rate of serious crime. The Hampshire force had few officers from the ethnic minorities, so here he was on Hazeley Common, seriously out of his depth.
Like the vast majority of serving Police officers, he had never seen a dead body before, let alone a decapitated body, or a body with an arrow impaled through the heart. There was a surprisingly large amount of blood. The woman’s body with the arrow sticking out of her back, lay where she had fallen from her horse. Her legs were twisted under her at an impossible angle. The Police pathologist said the arrow had killed her not the fall, and whoever had shot they arrow had done so at close range. The women appeared to have had no time to react. The ground around the body was stained red with blood.
However, this was nothing compared to the women who had been beheaded. Bone and body parts were visible on both the severed head and the torso. There were lumps of her flesh in the pools of blood that appeared to have fallen out of the severed neck. This was not the clean death often shown in the movies. The women’s head lay with eyes open about 6 meters or 20 feet from her torso. Bizarrely the riding helmet had remained in place. Her mouth was slightly open as if she was about to speak. She had been a handsome woman and her make-up was still unspoiled, but this contrasted to the horrific mess of her severed neck that showed bone, flesh and cartilage. The torso appeared to be relatively undamaged, apart from the neck area. Her clothes were soaked in her blood. A cloud of flies buzzed over the corpses and insects crawled in the blood and gore. The pathologist said that as death had been instant, the body would have just relaxed and fallen with gravity from the horse.
Amit fought down the nausea, not wanting to show weakness in front of his colleagues. He was still the new boy, and still out to make an impression. So far, they had managed to keep these gruesome details out of the press, but the names of the two riders had been released. They were a mother and daughter who stabled their horses at a local farm.
Protective tents had been erected to cover the murder scene. These covered a large area because the bodies, and body parts, were dispersed and also the Police wanted to examine the foot and hoof prints for evidence. Extensive photographs were being taken. Forensic teams were doing what they call a finger-tip search, meticulously examining the scene for evidence. Some using brushes as they moved slowly in line, along the ground.
Blood had been found in a different area to where the bodies lay, and was being sent for analysis. There were several horse hoof prints, but it was not clear if these were from the two horses the murder victims had been riding, or from other horses. A horse expert had been called, but would not arrive until Sunday. There was no sign of the horses the mother and daughter were riding, but a description of the two horses was now on record, gathered from the distraught owners of the local farm.
Amit’s mobile phone rang, his ring tone was the theme tune to The Sweeny. A British TV series from the 1970’s. He looked at the display and it showed Unclassified Number. He didn’t want to answer it in case it was a journalist, but the theme tune was embarrassing in these circumstances. So, he pressed the green button on his phone and said, ’Chakrabarti’.
‘Detective this is Chief Constable Hamilton, what is going on?’
Amit was surprised and relieved. He didn’t realise that the Chief Constable of the Hampshire Constabulary would even know who he was let alone have his number, he had never met him. Then he remembered that his supervisor was on holiday. He recognised the Chief Constable’s distinctive Welsh accent, Amit had heard him speak on several occasions. Amit had been introduced at a line-up once and shaken his hand, but he didn’t think he would remember him.
Amit was keen to make a good impression so flipped out his notebook and spoke rapidly to the Chief Constable, ’Well sir, we have a suspect in Dr Keith Maxwell, a scientist, his jacket, an old green Barbour wax jacket, had been found on the ground nearby. It contained his wallet, mobile phone and keys. There was £115 in cash in the wallet, with his credit cards, works ID card and driver’s license. The motive was clearly not robbery. His mother has confirmed he is missing. A hole had recently been dug and there was a foldable spade, back-pack and scientific instrument on the ground.
’The Chief Constable interrupted, ‘What type of scientific instrument?’
‘We don’t yet know that Sir, it has been taken back to Basingstoke Police Station so it can be identified. There were several finger prints on it, but they did not know if they were Maxwell’s, because his are not on record. He has never been involved in a crime.’
‘What was the hole for?’
Amit didn’t want to sound as if he was not in control but his didn’t know, so he decided honesty was the best policy, ‘We don’t know what the hole was for, it could be that he was looking for something, digging up buried treasure, or perhaps digging a grave. It was an odd shape for a grave, unless for a small animal?’
The Chief Constable interjected, ‘spare me your speculation Detective, I am at the golf club and this line is far from secure. Now write this number down and call me if you have any problems with the press.’ Amit awkwardly stuck the phone under his chin, and wrote down the number in his note book, and then the Chief Constable disconnected the call.
Amit put the phone back in his pocket, and reflected that he had spoken too much. A habit, when he got nervous. He lent against a tree, and flicked through the notes he had made earlier. He had spoken to one of the Policewomen who had spoken to Keith Maxwell’s mother, Mrs Maud Maxwell (a widow). In his notes on the call, he had written down that Maud Maxwell had said to one of the Policewomen that Keith was out walking his beloved dog Patch. So, in fact, he realised, they were looking for a man and a dog? He took out his phone to call the Policewoman back, he wanted a photograph of Patch.
After he spoke to the Policewomen he decided to go and talk to Maud Maxwell himself. Also, there was little more that Amit could do on Hazeley Common until the forensic investigation had concluded. It will would be dark soon. They would remove the bodies under the cover of darkness to try and reduce the images the press might try and snap, with their long telephoto lenses. The Police dog section would start at first light to try and follow Keith Maxwell’s trail, there was little point starting in darkness. Amit knew he would have to back at first light, so he decided to go home after he had talked to Keith Maxwell’s mother and try and grab an early night. He found the head of the forensic team who was on his hands and knees taking blood samples from the bloody earth by the severed head. Amit tried not to stare at the macabre scene as he told the forensic officer his plan to see Maud Maxwell, and then return first thing in the morning. The forensic officer just grunted in acknowledgement as he carried on gathering samples. Blood and dirt staining his blue plastic gloves.
Amit walked back towards the car park where he had left his unmarked Police car. A group of journalist and curious onlookers who had seen the reports of the murders on TV, had gathered in the car park. Two uniformed Police officers had stretched blue and white tape with POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS written on it repeatedly, and stretched across the path that led from the car park onto the open space of the Common. Amit realised this was a surreal situation, because the Common was such a massive area any of the journalists or members of the public could simply have walked a little way up the road and walked onto the Common anyway. What held them there, was the herd mentality of the crowd and the fear that they might miss something.
One of the uniformed officers lifted the Police tape so Amit could more easily duck underneath. As he did so Amit was pounced on by a swarm of reporters. He could hear camera shutters, a light came on, and a film crew stood in his path. He stood like a rabbit caught in the headlights, trying to clear his brain to think, as a barrage of questions were fired at him.
‘How were they killed?’
‘Have you found Keith Maxwell?’
‘What is happening?’
Amit thought quickly. He fell back on his Police training, where at Hendon they had taught them how to handle the press.
He cleared his throat and said, ‘At this stage we are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry and will issue a statement soon. I’m sorry that is all I have to say.’
Amit then forced his way through the crowd to his car, unlocked the driver’s door and drove away. Camera flashes illuminated the interior of the vehicle, and the journalists’ questions were fired at him in his wake like bullets.
‘What lines of enquiry?’
‘Will you be making an arrest soon?’
‘Have you found the horses?’
One of the reporters emailed Amit’s picture to his office, then sent a second picture of Amit’s car registration number. Within 2 minutes an email came back with a bio of Detective Inspector Amit Chakrabarti. 10 minutes later a news flash appeared on the BBC website, with a picture of Amit from the Birmingham Post when they had reported of the gang-land murderer. The headline on the BBC website read,
Murder detective at Hazeley Common.
The Chief Constable had just finished his round of golf and read the newsflash on his phone.
Amit drove the short distance to Maud Maxwell’s address. It took him about 4 minutes to get there. He was dismayed to see more journalists outside Maud Maxwell’s house. A uniformed Policewomen was standing outside. He could hear a helicopter flying overhead, but it appeared to be moving away. It was just getting dark so he concluded they had taken all the pictures they could at this stage.
A reporter stuck a microphone in his face as he got out of his car, he had just received the Detective Inspectors bio on his phone from a colleague located in the car park on the Common.
‘Detective Inspector Chakrabarti you are live on Sky News, have you found out how the women were murdered?’
Amit again looked like a rabbit in the headlights, and said the first thing that came into his head, ’I am here to see Maud Maxwell, Keith Maxwell’s mother.’
It was an innocent remark, intended to be a factual statement of why he was there. His morbid expression that was in fact nervousness, was taken as one of grief. He walked away from the reporter, nodded briefly at the Policewomen at the gate, and then knocked on the door of Maud Maxwell’s house. The door was opened by the Policewoman he had spoken to on the phone earlier. She closed the door behind him, and he walked into a living room where two elderly women sat on a floral sofa watching Sky News on a large TV set. Before he could introduce himself, he heard the Sky News reporter’s voice on the television say, ’Detective Inspector Chakrabarti has just entered Dr Keith Maxwell’s house to see his elderly mother, there is speculation that Keith Maxwell is dead.’
With that two things happened almost together, one of the women sat on the sofa who he assumed was Maud Maxwell let out a wail of horror and his mobile phone rang. While Maud’s sister and the Policewoman tried to calm Maud, Amit had his head torn off by the Chief Constable who said in his Welsh accent, ’Listen boyo, I am on my way, do not speak to another sodding journalist until I get there.’
So much for his early night.