Both men were surprisingly alert considering they had been awake and working continuously since yesterday morning. The increased stress from the morning’s events had pepped them up and reduced their perception of fatigue. At some stage however they would hit the wall.
Despite the cool morning temperatures the cloudless blue sky gave the impression of a much warmer day, with its bright azure backdrop framing the Manhattan city skyline. The morning sun through the vehicle’s window was pleasantly warm on Jack’s face as he drove. Despite knowing what lay ahead for him and Spence, for the moment at least, he felt good.
The traffic was medium for that time of the day so the drive from the office to the latest crime scene on the Brooklyn side of the East River only took about nine or ten minutes.
It was hardly enough time for the guys to discuss each other’s thoughts about recent events. Instead, both men were happy to take the time to silently recharge and take in the glorious sunshine ahead of being thrust into the ugliness and depressing atmosphere that usually confronted them at murder scenes.
The number of emergency service vehicles already in attendance meant that Jack and Spence had to park a considerable distance from the crime scene and walk.
After exiting their vehicle they made their way down towards the East River. A large area of the park had been cordoned off by crime scene tape stretched around trees, shrubs, posts and whatever else was in the vicinity that would satisfy the need.
Uniformed officers responsible for preserving the crime scene and preventing unauthorized access, stood like sentries at intervals around the exterior of the tape.
The Brooklyn Bridge Park – Main Street was an area of manicured lawn and gardens located beneath the Manhattan Bridge. With its large open space of lawn, encircled by a pathway, the area was a popular spot for families. Trees and shrubs lined the river side paths which were regularly used by joggers and walkers, especially people with dogs.
The female officer on guard duty smiled and nodded to the Detectives as she lifted the tape up for them to pass under.
‘Thanks,’ Jack said as they stooped under the crime scene tape. ‘Where is the path that has been cleared for us to walk on?’ he asked.
‘Straight ahead.' The Officer gestured to a sealed pathway that led down to the river. ‘That way is clear. The shoe covers are at the next tape,’ she said.
A privacy screen had been erected around one of the small trees located down by the river bank. A number of Crime Scene personnel and the Chief Medical Officer were still on scene waiting for the Homicide Detectives.
As they neared the privacy screen the Detectives were met on the path by the uniform Sergeant who had taken charge of the scene, pending Homicide’s arrival. The Detectives failed to break their stride as they continued towards the body, forcing the Sergeant to quickly turn and walk with them to keep pace as he greeted the men. His voice was clearly morose, ‘Jack…Spence,’ was all he offered.
‘Who found the body?’ Jack asked as they continued to move in the direction of the river.
The Sergeant glanced at his note pad and replied, ‘ah… Sandra Walters…twenty-two…She’s over there with one of our female officers.’ He indicated a female seated on a nearby park bench. An over sized Rottweiler rested faithfully beside her.
‘Thanks for that. We’ll take it from here,’ Jack said. ‘Go get her story, Spence,’ Jack said. 'Make sure they get a statement and then come back and see me at the crime scene.’
Jack continued walking to the location of the latest body while Spence peeled off, heading over to speak to the witness.
‘Ms Walters…?’ Spence said as he approached the seated witness. His eyes dropped to her large, vicious looking dog. It stood up from its lying position and moved to stand in front of its female owner. Its protective instincts were clearly alerted as this unknown male approached its master.
The female witness tugged aggressively at the dog’s choker chain as she gave a succinct instruction. The dog obediently returned to the ‘heal’ position beside her while its eyes remained locked on the approaching Spence
The female witness was clearly a fit, athletic woman. She wore low ankle socks and short, black skin tight Lycra running shorts that accentuated her shapely, long tanned legs. Her body hugging fluorescent green singlet top exposed her tanned flat stomach. Her dark hair was pulled tightly back into a single ponytail, but her most notable feature was her perfect brilliant white teeth, visible when she smiled at Spence on his approach.
She also had overpowering large piercing blue eyes that were complimented by long thick lashes. Spence was suitably impressed.
‘Hi. Sorry to keep you waiting…’ Spence said, glancing nervously at her dog.
‘He won’t hurt you…’ she said. ‘He knows you’re not a threat.’
‘How can he tell that?’
She patted his coat with full length strokes. ‘He’s just an adorable, gentle little boy.’
She smiled at Spence then continued. ‘He knows when I am stressed or frightened and he instantly turns into a guard dog. But when I let him know everything is OK, he relaxes.’
‘So who takes whom for a walk?’ Spence added light heartedly.
’I take him…’ she said firmly. ‘And we run. We don’t walk. He is so obedient I wouldn’t even need a leash. He runs beside me the whole time. I only have a leash on him because it’s the law around some of these river paths.’
Spence smiled his understanding as he slipped his shield from his belt and held it up to the woman. ‘My name is Detective Sergeant Doug Spencer from Homicide,’ he said. ‘I understand you discovered the body.’
‘That’s right. I was running along the path in this direction,’ she gestured from her right to her left. ‘When I passed under the bridge, Cooj was running beside like he always does.’
’Yes, short for Cujo, you know, like in the movie...’ she said, with a reference to the 1983 horror movie about a vicious Saint Bernard dog named Cujo.
Spence smiled and nodded.
'How often do you and “Cooj” run along here?’ he asked.
‘Every morning around the same time, unless it is raining too heavily.’
‘What time is that?’
‘We leave home at 7am every morning. I live in DUMBO, about one and one half miles that way, back up the river.’ She pointed to her right, toward North Brooklyn.
‘What happened as you were running?’
‘We were passing that tree or shrub…the one by the river where all the police are now,’ she said. ‘Cooj started pulling me off the track, over towards the lawn area…I thought he wanted to go to the toilet…you know number twos...’ She smiled at Spence.
Spence nodded his understanding.
‘He then started to sniff around under the shrub,’ she continued, 'I didn’t know what he was trying to do. He was sniffing everywhere as he walked around to the river side of the shrub… and it was when I followed him, I saw two feet protruding from under the shrub.'
‘What happened then?’
‘Cooj went in under the shrub, but I pulled him back out straight away… I called out in a loud voice… "Are you OK…?” But there was no response from under the shrub. I didn’t know if it was a drug addict, or a homeless person, so I was a bit scared. I asked again “are you OK?” …but still nothing. I got down onto my knees and looked under the shrub…’ She stopped suddenly, pausing briefly before continuing. Her eyes fell to the ground in front of her. ‘I’ve never seen a dead body before…’ She shook her head while staring blankly at the ground in front of her.
‘How did you know she was dead?’
‘Her skin color wasn’t natural. Her lips were blue and her head didn’t look like it was sitting right…It was tilted too far around. The way her clothing was…everything was exposed…I mean, it would be so humiliating.’ She shuddered as she recounted.
‘What happened then?’
‘I screamed,’ she said. ‘I was terrified. Cooj started barking aggressively…he knew I was frightened.’
‘What did you do after you saw the body?’
‘I walked back out onto the path…I was shaking. Some people came over and asked me if was OK, but others just came to look at what all the commotion was about, then left.’
‘Are any of those people who came to help you around here now?’ Spence asked.
‘Some were. The police spoke to them already I think…others just looked and kept on going… like a body by the river was an everyday occurrence to them. Unbelievable,’ she said.
‘What happened next?’
‘I rang 9-1-1.’
‘OK, that’s great,’ Spence reassured. ‘The crime scene investigators will want to get a photograph of the sole of your runners.’
‘Ah, they have already done that Detective’, the female officer standing nearby said.
Spence glanced at the female officer. ‘OK great.’ Spence gestured to the same female officer. 'I am going to ask this officer here to take your statement, just like you have told me here today, and then you will be right to go. Is that OK with you?
‘Fine. I don’t have anywhere else to be,’ she said, although her tone suggested otherwise.
Spence removed a card from his pocket and held it out towards the female witness. ‘If you have any questions…or think of anything else, this is my card.’
She smiled as she accepted the business card from Spence. Her smile illuminated her entire face and displayed her perfect bright white teeth. ‘Thank you Detective.’
The walk from the car to the crime scene was a lengthy one, much further than what Jack was used to. He was a lonely figure strolling down the sealed path that cut a swathe through the manicured lawns.
He looked every bit the police Detective; dark suit, jacket unbuttoned, loose tie with the top shirt button undone, police folder in one hand, the other hand tucked into his trouser pocket as he walked with purpose in a long confident gait.
Contrary to his usual forthright and confident persona Jack was apprehensive as he walked to this particular crime scene. Not because of the thought of being confronted with another dead body, but because this body was representative of his inability to solve the previous two murders.
Rightly or wrongly, there was blood on his hands with this death. Had he been able to track down this sadistic Cryptic Killer by now, this young woman could still be alive today. Instead, he found himself reluctantly strolling towards this crime scene with an overwhelming sense of helplessness and failure; feelings that were completely foreign to him prior to these cryptic killings.
Jack stopped at the inner perimeter crime scene and slipped on the protective shoe covers. Once they were fitted, he continued to walk, scanning the ground, particularly the grassed and dirt areas leading up to the victim’s body.
He noted there were no visible signs of vehicle tire tracks. Did the victim accompany the killer to this location, or was her lifeless body carried from the nearby car park and dumped?
The Senior Crime Scene Investigator stood up from his crouched position near the body and moved to meet Jack as he approached. ‘Jack,’ he said greeting him in his customary brief manner, devoid of any emotion. ‘Rough morning?’ the CSI asked.
Jack assumed the question was a direct reference to his unshaven appearance after working into his third straight shift without a break.
‘Tom.’ Jack nodded, choosing to ignore the question. ‘Do we have a name?’
‘No.’ The CSI shook his head. ‘I think she’s a hooker though, but there is no ID on her. There was a hand bag beside her… It’s over there.’ He gestured to the hand bag with its contents upended onto a plastic sheet on the ground.
‘If she was a hooker we will probably have her on record for something,’ Jack said.
He moved over to the hand bag and bent down to examine the contents. Using his pen he moved and nudged the contents while making a mental note of each item. Lip gloss, small tube moisturizer, lipstick - “Flaming Red”, six packets of condoms, compact mirror, Metro-card, a pen and an iPhone. But nothing to identify who she was.
Jack removed a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and snapped one onto a hand. His gloved hand picked up the iPhone and unlocked the device. Fortunately the phone was not password protected.
After navigating his way to the phone’s call register he noticed that the same number had called this phone six times between 2am and 6am this morning. Jack used the victim’s phone to call back this recurring number.
The phone rang for several rings without being answered but didn’t go to voice mail. Jack was about to hang up when a voice abruptly answered the other end.
“Where da fuck you been girl…? Do you know how much money you cost me, bitch…? I oughta break your fuckin’ skinny little neck!”
‘Too late. Somebody beat you to it,’ Jack bluntly replied.
The phone went silent for a brief moment. “Who da fuck's this?” the voice on the other end was aggressive. “And where da fuck's Amber?”
‘This is Lieutenant Head from New York Homicide. To whom am I speaking?’
Jack continued. ‘Look, I am calling this number because it appeared several times in the call register of a mobile phone that was found in possession of a young woman…’ he said, pausing briefly before continuing. ‘A young woman whose body was found in Brooklyn this morning. And we don’t know who she is.’
‘Look, I don’t care about you, or what you do. That has nothing to do with me. All I am interested in is finding out who this girl is and who killed her. And I need your help?’
“You for real…This ain’t no trap?” The voice was cautious.
‘You have my word. All I’m interested in is finding out who this young woman is.’
“Amber…” the voice was solemn. “Well…at least…dat’s her phone you calling me on, man.”
‘What color is Amber’s hair?’ Jack said.
“Blonde…long, sensual blonde hair, man.”
Jack’s eyes dropped to the victim’s long blonde hair. ‘When did you last see Amber?’
’Last night ‘bout 1am.’
‘Was that before she went with a…client?’
‘Do you know who the client was she left with?’
“No idea man.”
‘Did you happen to see the person she left with?’
“Nah. I didn’t know she had gone with anyone.”
‘What was Amber wearing?’
“I dunno know man, shit, I gots lotts a girls I look after.”
‘Think hard.’ Jack was stern.
“Ah…oh yeah. A hot little red number…and red high heel shoes.”
Jack’s eyes dropped to the lifeless body lying under the shrub. The pimp on the phone described exactly what she wore. Jack noticed some ink on the victim’s right forearm. ‘Does Amber have any visible tattoos?’
“Um…yeah…yeah. She gots a tattoo on her right arm…um, you know, on her forearm.”
‘Do you recall what the tattoo is?’
“Yeah man… words written down her arm. Something about life being simple, or some shit...”
Jack moved closer to examine the tattoo on the victim’s right forearm. The words,
“Life is Simple – It’s Just Not Easy”, were tattooed in script font on her forearm.
‘What area was she working in last night?’
“Ah Last night she was in Chinatown…all night …until she disappeared. Dats why I was callin’ ’er.”
‘Do you think you would be up to ID-ing the body, to confirm it is Amber…?’
A lengthy silence followed.
Jack removed the phone to check he was still connected.
‘Do I have to…?’ the voice eventually said.
‘No. You don’t have to. But we don’t know who this young woman is and without a positive ID we can’t notify next of kin…’
‘She don’t got no next of kin man…I’s all she’s got. Her parents are dead. She’s lived her life in and out of the State Juvey system before she came to me…’
‘Then don’t you think you owe it to her…to help us out and ID her…?’
‘Come on man…’ Jack said.
‘OK…What I gots ta do…’
After Jack had arranged the ID of Amber he ended the call. He crouched down beside the victim’s body. He surveyed the immediate vicinity around the body looking for anything out of place. Another young white female prostitute. The victim’s short, body-hugging little red dress had been lifted up exposing her groin.
‘Was there any underwear lying around the area?’ Jack asked anyone listening.
‘No, nothing. Probably not wearing any,’ a CSI said.
‘Was the skirt like this when you arrived?’
‘Exactly. We haven’t moved her.’
Jack inspected the victim more closely and noticed that the dress was also raised at the back. Her buttocks were fully exposed to the ground. The victim’s long blonde hair was tangled and lying on the ground. It was all knotted and stretched above her head.
‘It looks like she was dragged from this side by her feet.’ Jack gestured to the river side of the bush. ‘Probably to move her further under the bush and out of sight,’ he continued. ‘The weight of the body being dragged over the ground must have dragged her skirt up. Make sure you check the area of her ankles and shoes for any epithelial evidence,’ he said.
‘What was the T.O.D.?’ Jack asked the ME.
‘I estimate around 3am this morning, give or take…’
‘Broken neck…looks like the C2 or C3 vertebrae, but I will know more once I get her back.’
Jack lifted the victim’s arms and examined them. ‘No sign of any defensive wounds on her arms or hands,’ he said. ‘Anything under the nails?’ he asked the ME.
‘Nothing in her mouth?’ Jack asked.
Jack’s ageing knees creaked when he stood up from his prolonged crouching position. He moved towards a CSI. ‘Anything on the body? Clothing fibers, hair, blood, semen, transfer or trace evidence…’
‘There’s not much there. We have taken some swabs for testing. We’ll know more when they are run.’
‘There were some impressions from a large dog and some impressions from runners around the area of the shrub,’ The CSI said. ‘But nothing else. It actually looks like the area had been swept over before the witness and her dog walked over it.’
‘Probably was,’ Jack said.
‘We’ll run fingerprints on the victim when we get her back. If she’s got a record, we’ll know who she is.’
‘OK, thanks,’ Jack said. ‘Can you get the results to me as soon as you have them?’ The CSI nodded once.
Jack turned to notice Spence approach. ‘How did you go with the witness?’ Jack asked.
Spence crouched down to examine the body. He returned to his feet a short time later shaking his head, ’Treats ‘em like garbage. Discards them under a bush when he has finished with them,’ Spence said. ‘Ah…the witness…Boy Jobs… she was hot.’
‘I didn’t ask for a rating, Spence…’
‘I know but, whoa,’ he said grinning to himself. ‘OK, what have we got...?’ Spence asked himself as he started his recap. ‘She runs this path every morning at 7am with her dog. It was her dog that sniffed out the body. She went to look at what the dog was sniffing at and then called 9-1-1. Did you see that dog jobs…? You could throw a saddle on it…it was huge.’
Jack stood with his arms crossed during Spence’s update. ‘Statement?’ Jack grunted.
‘Yeah, the female uniformed officer is taking that now. They have three other statements from witnesses who testified that they saw our witness when she screamed and all verified her story. Uniform will get them to us later.’
‘OK, we are done here then.’
Jack and Spence retreated to the inner perimeter crime scene tape where they removed their shoe covers and gloves before making their way back to their car. ‘We’ll head back and see how our friend at the station solved this letter cipher,’ Jack said.
As they approached the outer perimeter crime scene tape Jack noticed a throng of media reporters that had gathered at the entry/exit area. ‘Fuckin’ vultures,’ Jack blurted.
The officer on guard raised the crime scene tape for the Detectives to walk under, but before Jack could pass through to the other side of the tape, he was accosted by reporters thrusting microphones and tape recorders in to his face.
The sound of yelling unintelligible overlapping questions was deafening and annoyed Jack.
Both Detectives ignored the reporters’ thrusting advances, intentionally holding their gaze straight ahead. Jack and Spence simply pushed through the arms and bodies that tried to impede their progress.
Like a pack of wolves encircling their prey, trying to bring it down for the kill, the media throng followed and circled the Detectives as they walked to their vehicle.
Jack was unyielding. He towered over the journalist as he continued to push away microphones from in front of his face. He nudged people out of his way as he walked. Spence followed closely behind Jack’s larger frame as Jack cleared the way for him like an NFL blocker.
Jack decided that the only way he could get rid of these parasites was to give them something. He stopped in his tracks and was quickly engulfed by the reporters. Questions were bombarded at him from all directions. "Is the victim a prostitute? Is this murder related to the coded letter you received two days ago? Is this the work of CK? Is this murder linked to the other two prostitutes who were found dead? Is there a serial killer on the loose? What was the cause of death?"
Jack raised his hands. ‘Back off…’ he ordered. ‘If you want to talk to me…do it civilly.’
The reporters recommenced the barrage of questions.
‘One at a time, or we walk…’ Jack jabbed his thumb towards their vehicle.
He pointed to a young female reporter closest to him, who responded with a question. ‘Can you tell us please Lieutenant, is this case linked to the coded letter you received two days ago?’ Her articulation suggested education and refinement.
Jack paused while he scanned his eyes across the media horde, all of whom were hushed awaiting his response. ‘All I am prepared to say at this stage is…the body of a young white female was found this morning by the East River,’ Jack began. ‘The cause of death at this stage is not known. Her identity is yet to be confirmed. I am not at liberty to discuss anything further in relation to this case, as it is an ongoing investigation. Thank you.’
All reporters surged forward simultaneously yelling their questions, as if their respective question was more important than anyone else’s. This resulted in an offensive garbled noise.
Jack used the weight of his six foot eight inch frame to force his way through the crowd. He extended his arms in front of himself and spread the reporters out of the way so he could walk through.
The reporters followed the Detectives to their vehicle where they continued with their verbal barrage of simultaneous questions, only relenting when the Detectives slammed the vehicle doors in their faces. The accompanying television cameramen continued to place their lenses close up to the vehicle windows filming the Detectives until they drove off.