‘9-1-1 what’s your emergency,’ the dispatcher asked.
“Um, my name is Flora…Flora Donovan. I live at number 1406 Dovetail Road Hillcrest. Could you send the police please?’
‘What seems to be the problem ma’am?’
“Um. We have a young women who lives on her own next door to us and well…we haven’t seen her for a number of days. I think something is wrong. Her car hasn’t moved and her mail is not being collected. Oh…and there is a terrible smell down the side of her house.”
‘OK. Police are on their way now Ma’am. Please wait out the front of your house for their arrival.’
After conducting preliminary inquiries with first response police, Tom and Frank stepped through the open front door of number 1408 Dovetail Road and made their way to the kitchen area.
The smell was overpowering, causing both men to simultaneously remove their handkerchiefs and hold them over their noses. The Medical Examiner was already in the kitchen kneeling over the victim’s body when they arrived.
‘I hope this isn’t becoming a habit, Doc,’ Tom said as he and Frank approached the victim.
The ME glanced over his shoulder towards the approaching voice. ‘There’s definitely a pattern here Detective,’ he said as he continued to work.
The victim was lying naked on her back on the floor. Her wrists had been bound by black duct tape and she had duct tape over her eyes and mouth.
Tom’s face screwed up when he saw the victim’s fly-blown body. ‘Jesus Doc…how long has she been here?’ he said though his improvised face mask.
‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to tell with this one.’ He lifted his eyes to Tom. ‘It would be over seven days though. She has parasitic dipterous fly larvae feeding on her necrotic tissue…’ The ME indicated her groin area. ‘I have sent for the entomologist I often employ in these types of cases…I’d rather leave it to her to collect the specimens she requires to establish time of death.’
‘Same COD as the other one, Doc?’ Tom said as a question.
The ME’s eyes moved to the victim’s throat. ‘I would hazard a guess and say it appears to be strangulation. She has similar injuries to the young woman from Mission Hills. Although…’ He manipulated her jaw between his hands, as a demonstration, ‘This young woman has an apparent fracture to the left side of her jaw.’
‘Probably how he subdued her – single punch to the jaw,’ Tom said.
‘Most probably…’ the ME said.
‘The damage to her left jaw would suggest a right handed assailant…would it not?’ Tom said.
‘Quite possibly…’ The Doc said.
‘Or an ambidextrous one…’ Frank offered. He flicked a finger at the victim’s groin area. ‘Can you tell with all those flies and maggots if she was raped?’ Frank asked.
The ME shook his head as his eyes fell to the victim’s groin area. ‘I won’t know until I get her back for full examination. I have intentionally avoided disturbing the fly larvae ahead of the entomologist attending.’
‘This is the primary scene…?’ Tom said as a question.
The ME gestured towards the victim’s side and nodded. ‘Correct. The lividity pooling suggests she hasn’t been moved.’
Frank addressed one of the Crime Scene officers who had just re-entered the kitchen. ’We wouldn’t happen to be lucky enough to get a print or any trace….would we?
The Crime Scene officer returned a wry smile and shook his head. ‘Sorry…no such luck.’
Frank looked at Tom. ‘Do you think this guy is employing counter forensic measures…? His crime scenes are too clean.’
Tom’s eyes scanned the scene in front of him. ‘He either has knowledge of law enforcement and crime scene forensics...or he is just very lucky,’ Tom shook a frustrated head.
Following a check of the doors and windows the Detectives established that, like the previous case in Mission Hills, there was no sign of forced entry and she did not have any defensive wounds. The only notable difference was the broken jaw, which could suggest a surprise attack.
‘This is another case where the victim appears to know her attacker,’ Frank said.
‘Or, she was ambushed,’ Tom added.
‘Yeah but…’ Frank began. 'If she was ambushed, and there is no forced entry, then she would have willingly let her attacker in…before she was ambushed.’
Tom nodded. ‘But…like the vic in Mission Hills, she wasn’t wearing much.’ He gestured to the crumpled up white towel on the floor. Near the sink. ‘What female answers the door to a stranger wearing just a towel?’
‘Exactly…which brings me back to my earlier comment…’ Frank said. ‘It appears the victim knew her attacker. And dressed like that…naked under a towel…’ he said, ‘She would have to have been comfortable enough to still let him in…Maybe she knew the attacker intimately.’
A California Driver’s License Tom located in a purse he found in the kitchen provided the necessary ID for the victim. The photo on the license confirmed she was Bree Madeline Gilbert, twenty-two years of age.
Tom held up the license to Frank. ’It would’ve been her 23rd birthday in two weeks…’
Frank rolled his eyes. His looked back at the victim and slowly shook his head.
‘According to neighbors…’ Tom began, ‘the vic lived on her own and did not have many visitors. But at this stage we have no timeline as to when she was last seen alive.’
Frank lifted his chin to the body. ’She looks fit…you know…well-toned. I wonder if this one’s a member at Club Fitness as well,’ Frank said.
Tom shook his head. ‘Dunno. Remind me where that gym is again.’
Frank flicked through his notes. ‘Ah...Club Fitness in Bay Park,’ he said. ‘So what’s that about… five or six miles from here?’ he guessed.
‘We’re just about done here. We’ll have a chat to the neighbors then take the scenic route back to the office… via Club Fitness in Bay Park,’ Tom suggested.
The drive from Hillcrest to Bay Park was relatively short, giving the Detectives minimal time to revisit and discuss their known evidence.
During the drive Frank asked Tom, ’Do you think this is the start of some sick serial killer with a thing for young single women...Fit young single women…’ he corrected.
Tom glanced across Frank. ‘I hope not partner,’ he said. ‘I truly hope not.’
‘Speaking of serials…’ Frank began. ‘The FBI was conspicuous by their absence at the last scene. Wonder what happened there?’
‘Don’t speak too soon.’
After a drive of about twelve or so minutes the Detectives arrived at the Club Fitness gym in Bay Park. Tom parked the vehicle immediately outside the front door and both men made their way inside. He didn’t need a parking space, they were the police.
The glass front doors opened automatically as they approached. Tom noticed a security camera covering the entrance.
Once inside the men moved towards the front reception desk located on their right. One of the two attractive young women behind the desk, wearing purple colored Club Fitness polo shirt, smiled at them as they approached.
‘Good morning gentlemen…’ Her greeting was pleasant and welcoming. ‘What can we do for you today?’
‘Good morning…Lisa.’ Tom said overemphasizing that he had just read the name tag pinned to her chest. ‘My name is Detective Tom Carter and this…Is Detective Frank Williams.’
‘Hi. Welcome to Club Fitness,’ she said with a warming smile. Her brilliant white teeth were faultless. Along with her large green eyes, they were the prominent and appealing features of her natural beauty.
‘I was hoping you could help us with some inquiries we’re conducting,’ Tom said. He intentionally withheld they were from Homicide, or that they were investigating a murder. He didn’t want to risk any inferences being drawn from his inquiries until the victim’s next of kin have been notified.
‘I‘ll certainly try.’
‘Great,’ Tom said. He smiled back at the young woman. He opened his folder. ‘Can you tell me please if you have a gym member on your records by the name of…’ he consulted his notes. ‘Ah…Bree Gilbert...’
‘Ok, let me have a look here...’ Lisa commenced tapping on the keyboard. ‘Um…Yes we do have a member by that name.’
Tom pointed towards her computer. ‘Does that tell you when she was last here working out?’
Lisa smiled. ‘It certainly does.’ She tapped on the keyboard. ‘Now… she was last in on…oh,’ she frowned as she looked at the desk calendar beside her. Her eyes flicked between Tom and Frank. ‘She hasn’t been back since Tuesday week ago.’
Tom and Frank exchanged a brief glance before Tom said, ‘What’s today…? Thursday…’ he said answering his own question. ‘So that would mean she hasn’t been back for the past…Nine days or so,’ Tom calculated.
‘You sounded surprised when you read that,’ Frank said to Lisa. ‘Any reason?’
‘Well, it’s just that when you look at her training history…’ She gestured to the monitor. ‘She regularly trains every second night, sometimes nightly, so a nine day break is totally out of character – of course unless she took a vacation somewhere,’ she added.
Tom gestured to the security camera over the front door. ‘Is that the only security camera you have here?’ He scanned the area behind the reception desk. As he did so he noticed a second camera mounted on the rear wall, in the corner to his right. ‘Oh, and that one there.’ He pointed to the corner camera. ‘Are they the only two cameras you have here?’
Lisa smiled as she pointed over Tom’s left shoulder. Tom and Frank turned to a wall mounted camera facing the front reception desk.
‘We also have two in the gym, mainly to protect people’s property, but they cover most of the floor area.’
‘Great. We will need to have a look at those for Tuesday, nine days ago,’ Tom said.
‘I don’t think there will be any problem, but I will have to clear that with my Manager first. Do you mind waiting?’ she asked with her familiar pleasant smile.
‘Of course not,’ Tom replied.
By the time the Detectives had completed their reviews of all available camera footage they were able to deduce that the victim spent the first half hour running on the treadmill before moving to an exercise bike. After fifteen minutes she then moved to the exercise floor.
Apart from a brief chat with one of the gym trainers, she completed her entire workout without conversing with any other gym patron.
She left the gym on her own shortly before the 9pm closing time. There did not appear to be anyone following her out. There were however a couple of males who exited shortly after her - but it was closing time.
Although not considered as suspects, the Detectives still intended to follow them up for the purposes of elimination.
The Detectives also took the opportunity to review the gym footage for the victim from the Mission Hills murder. She was last seen leaving the gym two Sundays ago with her friend Val Walters, but they were more interested in seeing if the girls were followed out.
This review returned the same result – nobody appeared to be following the girls when they left the gym around 8pm.
With their inquiries at Club Fitness completed for now, the men returned to their office.