The Coastal Killings

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Chapter 13

Once the officer had completed his update Tom and Frank donned a pair of disposable shoe covers before they entered the property through the front gate.

As they walked along the concrete path to the front door they removed a pair of latex gloves from their pockets and snapped them onto their hands.

Once inside they found themselves in a small six foot by six foot entry foyer with three other doors leading from it. The door to the right was open and led into a small sparsely furnished lounge room. The door to the master bedroom was off to the left.

The Detectives moved through a doorway directly in front of them where they found themselves standing in a large open plan room that included the dining room, the kitchen to the right and the family room straight ahead.

The victim was lying on her back on the floor between the kitchen and family room. With no ventilation or fresh air in the house for days, the pungent aroma from the victim’s decomposing body was powerful.

The Medical Examiner knelt over the victim while the Crime Scene officers were busy dusting the area for prints and searching for trace and other evidence.

Following the usual greeting Tom and Frank moved to examine the female victim. She wore a short white colored light cotton dressing gown that was opened at the front. She was naked underneath and her legs were parted. It was apparent that she had experienced an evacuation of her bowels and bladder during her traumatic ordeal.

Tom pointed towards the open dressing gown. ‘Is this how she was found?’ he asked anyone listening.

The Medical Examiner looked up to Tom. ‘The victim’s body position and clothing has not altered. As I understand it…this is how she was found,’ the ME said.

The victim’s hands were tightly bound by black duct tape and were resting on the ground, above her head. A five inch strip of duct tape covered her eyes, while a second strip of similar length covered her mouth.

‘Do you think this is our primary?’ Tom asked the ME.

‘Yes I do,’ the ME said. He rolled the victim onto her side where he indicated the bluish-purple skin discoloration along the lower side and underneath of the victim’s body. ‘The livor mortis has pooled consistently in the lower parts of her body, so no, she hasn’t been moved since she died.’

‘How long do you think she has been here?’ Frank asked.

The ME returned the victim to her back and lifted her limp arm. ‘Well…it’s tough to say until we get her back for examination but…rigor has passed,’ he said lowering the arm back down to the floor. ‘And her muscles and tissue has started decomp so, if I had to take a guess I would say… she has been dead for around three days, maybe four.’

Frank moved away towards the rooms at the rear of the house. ‘Back in a minute,’ he said.

Tom acknowledged Frank with a single nod before continuing his discussion with the ME. Tom gestured with his pen to the marks around the victim’s neck. ‘Was the COD strangulation Doc?’ he asked.

‘Looking at this young woman…if I had to conclude a preliminary cause of death, I would say it appears that way.’

The ME indicated the purple discoloration on the victim’s neck. ‘There was definitely pressure applied to her neck. That there is what is known as Ecchymosis, which is a discoloration due to extravasation of blood from ruptured blood vessels into subcutaneous tissue. That mark there…’ He pointed to a small oval mark on the side of her neck, ‘that is the impression caused by her attacker’s single thumb.’

Tom nodded as he scribbled some notes.

The ME lightly placed his hands around the victim’s neck simulating strangulation. ‘When a person is grabbed by two hands like this, the thumb generates more pressure than the other fingers, so singular thumb impression contusions are found more often than contusions showing the complete hand grasp.’

The ME felt along the victim’s throat. ‘I can’t be certain, but it is possible the trauma to her neck may have fractured her Hyoid bone, which is about this area here,’ he said touching her throat just below her jaw. ‘The pressure exerted by her attacker may even have crushed the Thyroid and Cricoid Cartilages of the Larynx,’ he said. ‘But until we get her back…I won’t know for certain.’

Tom continued to take notes as the ME described his preliminary prognosis.

‘If I am correct and she was strangled,’ the ME continued, ‘when we remove that duct tape from her eyes I will find a petechial hemorrhage in the eyes, which usually develops as blood vessels burst. It is commonly seen in strangulation deaths,’ the ME said. He grunted as he slowly stood up from beside the victim and moved towards her feet.

‘Another very unfortunate, but common sign of strangulation is the involuntary urination and defecation, which this unfortunate young girl obviously experienced.’ He flicked his hand in the general direction of her groin.

‘The injuries there…’ Tom said, indicating the victims groin area. ‘They certainly appear consistent with a rape?’ he said, which was a question rather than an observation.

The ME moved to kneel beside the victim’s hips. ‘It certainly appears that way,’ he said. ‘There is considerable bruising to her upper vagina and she has a large laceration in her perineum. Evidence that would suggest she was indeed raped,’ the ME concluded.

Tom shifted his attention to the CSU. ‘Any fluids, transfers or anything else?’ Tom asked.

‘Nothing. I’ve done a full rape kit with swabs and lifted some samples for testing but I’m not expecting them to find anything. There are no defensive wounds so she was either ambushed, or consented to being tied up in some kinky sex play that went wrong,’ the CSU said.

‘OK…’ Frank eagerly announced on his return to the family room. ‘There’s a rear door exit from the laundry, which is still deadlocked and all the windows are still secured,’ he said as moved back to the victim. ‘It looks like there was no sign of forced entry…’

Tom chewed on his pen before he said, ‘Maybe she knew her attacker and let him in to her home,’ he considered.

Frank flicked a finger at the lack of clothing the victim was wearing. ‘If a stranger knocked on her door, I doubt she would let him in when she was dressed like that – naked under a light cotton gown. She must’ve known him and known him fairly well,’ Frank said.

Tom addressed the CSU officer. ’Have you finished taking photos?

The CSU investigator nodded. ‘Yep, all done.’

‘Good,’ Tom said. ‘Can you remove that duct tape from her face, Doc,’ he said to the ME who was still crouching beside the victim. ‘Just wanna check her mouth is clear.’

‘See…here’s the thing,’ Frank began. ‘Covering the mouth I understand…it would be to silence her. But why put the duct tape over her eyes like that?’ He rubbed a hand across his chin. ‘It can’t be to prevent her from identifying her attacker, especially if she let him in to her house,’ he said, thinking out loud. ‘And if he intended to kill her… why would it matter if she sees him?’

‘Control…’ A voice said succinctly from the direction of the front door.

All eyes in the room turned towards the unfamiliar voice. The towering frame of Matt Duncan and his two colleagues stood in the doorway looking on. Matt heard Frank’s question and was offering his unsolicited opinion.

Matt moved into the room as he continued. ’By covering her eyes she can’t see what he is about to do, or is doing. She can’t resist what she can’t see,’ he said before offering a self-confident grin.

Tom’s gaze moved from the uninvited visitors to Frank. ‘See what happens when you leave the front door open…’ He jabbed his pen towards the FBI intruders. ‘It allows any animal to just wander into your house uninvited,’ he said flippantly.

With his hands deep in his pockets Matt approached the victim. ‘Tom…Frank.’ he said nodding at each man individually. ‘Always a pleasure,’ he said as he briefly examined the victim.

Matt jabbed his thumb back over his shoulder towards his colleagues behind him. ‘Oh, and ah, you know Brad…and this is our new guy – Rodriguez,’ he said introducing his team with a hint of arrogance.

The ME slowly removed the duct tape from the victim’s eyes and mouth.

‘We don’t just walk in uninvited on you guys when you’re sitting in your cafés all day…’ Tom said grinning. ‘So what makes you think you can just walk in where we work.’

‘We’re just observing, Tom…A little curious if you will,’ Matt said. 'Don’t get ‘em in a knot.’ He watched the ME remove the duct tape from the victim’s eyes and individually examine each eye.

‘That gentlemen…’ the ME said separating the eye lids of her left eye, ‘is what a petechial hemorrhage in the eyes looks like.’

Each man moved in for a closer examination.

‘Do you think this case is related to the young female rape victim who was admitted to hospital last Monday morning…?’ Matt asked. ‘She claimed her attacker tried to strangle her.’

If Matt wanted his plan to succeed, it was in his best interest the SDPD linked the cases.

Tom looked at Frank. He scratched his forehead as his mouth turned downwards. ‘We hadn’t…ah, connected them just yet,’ Tom said.

Matt nodded. ‘It would be interesting to see if black duct tape was used on her and where…don’t you think?’ he said in a condescending tone.

Matt removed his mobile phone from his pocket and walked off to another room. Around the same time Frank noticed an iPhone sitting on the family room coffee table.

‘Does that phone belong to any of you guys?’ Frank asked everyone.

With no-one claiming ownership Frank lifted the phone and awoke the screen from sleep mode. Frank examined the phone’s display. ‘What was the name of the witness who found her?’ Frank asked Tom. ‘Was it Val…?’

Tom eyes lifted skyward in contemplation. ‘Ah…Yeah. Valerie Walters. Why Whatcha got?’

‘There are three unread text messages from a “Val” showing on the front screen,’ he said. He tried to unlock the phone. ‘Its password protected. We’ll have to get it hacked.’

A short time later Matt re-entered the room with a large grin across his face. ’I just made a call to your Sex Crimes Unit…’ he said. ’It appears the rape victim from the hospital last Monday morning had her hands tied up by black duct tape,’ he emphasized. ‘Her attacker also put duct tape across her mouth and eyes,’ Matt said. ‘Bit of a signature, I’d say. But don’t let me tell you how to do your job…’

Matt’s comments piqued Tom’s interest. ’Where does she live…?’

‘About one block from here, in Wentworth Grove,’ Matt said. ‘And it won’t come as any surprise to learn that she had been living on her own at the time of the attack.’

'She wouldn’t happen to be a member of Club Fitness in Bay Park would she?’ Frank asked curiously.

Matt shrugged. ‘Fucked if I know. It’s not my case. But it wouldn’t be too hard to find out.’

Tom’s eyes dropped to the victim. ‘I wonder if this poor kid was caught on the rebound after the offender was disturbed at Wentworth Grove…’ Tom said.

‘If I may make a suggestion…’ Matt began. ‘When you conduct your media interview… don’t release the details about the duct tape over the eyes and mouth. It could be a signature of our killer.’

Tom’s eyes flicked to Frank. He jabbed his head in Matt’s direction. ’Our Killer...’ He scoffed. ‘Gee…thanks for that piece of valuable advice, Special Agent…I don’t know what we would do without the FBI. Do you Frank?’ he said sarcastically.

Matt shook his head then turned and walked from the room towards the street. As he did so, he flicked his hand over his shoulder at the Detectives. ‘Leave you to it,’ he said without turning back. Brad and Rodriguez moved in to follow.

Once Tom and Frank had sufficient information relating to the victim and her house, they moved outside where they interviewed their only known witness, Valerie Walters.

From there they commenced the mundane door knock of the neighborhood hoping to find further witnesses. They had to try and piece together the victim’s last moments before she died.

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