Tom sat perched on the side of his desk with his arms folded. Frank sat in a chair beside him. Neither man spoke. Their focus was firmly fixed on the whiteboard in front of them, studying what they knew.
Staring back at them were the smiling faces of three young women from the three, ten by eight inch photographs spread side-by-side across the board.
Each of the three victim’s names, age and suburb was written across the top of their respective photograph. Positioned underneath photographs two and three was each victim’s crime scene photo depicting their naked bodies with their wrists bound by black duct tape, and a strip of tape across their nose and eyes.
‘Do you think this guy’s a serial?’ Tom asked. ‘It’s just that…’ He pushed himself from the desk and moved to the whiteboard. He pointed to victim photo number two before continuing. ‘The timing of this victim suggests she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It looks like when our perp was disturbed at victim number one…’ he tapped the first photograph. ‘He has somehow found victim two a couple of streets away.’
‘Maybe she was next on his list of victims and he just moved on to her,’ Frank suggested. Tom nodded in acceptance of the possibility. ‘It’s too early to tell if this guy’s on a killing spree though,’ Frank said.
‘Let’s look at what we know,’ Tom suggested. ‘Physical traits of the victims?’ He asked.
‘OK,’ Frank began. ‘All were young – twenty-two to twenty-four years of age. All were fit and healthy, but there are certainly no similarities in physical appearance,’ Frank said. ‘Victim one is a blonde, while victims two and three were brunettes. Victim two has a large breast size, while victims one and three have small breasts.’
‘All were single, and at the time of the attacks, lived on their own,’ Tom added. ‘What about occupations?’
Frank gestured to photograph of Victim one. ’She is a hairdresser in Mission Valley…’ he said. Moving to photo two he continued. ’She was a student at UCSD and worked part time waiting tables at Tony’s Bar & Grill in the city…And she…’ he said moving to photograph three, ‘was also a student at UCSD but she was fully supported by her parents, who live in Oregon. She didn’t have a part-time job and she especially didn’t want to live on campus.’
‘What about lifestyle of each?’ Tom said.
Frank regarded each of the photographs while he considered his response. ‘Well,’ he perched himself on the side of Tom’s desk with his arms crossed. ‘All were fit and healthy. Victims one & two were socially active with numerous friends and acquaintances, while number three was a loner - kept to herself and had minimal friends in San Diego,’ Frank said. ‘Ah…’ Frank raised a finger. ’Then there’s the fact that each girl was a member of Club Fitness gym in Bay Park.’
’Correct. So far that gym is the only connection between each victim,’ Tom said.
‘Our perp could be a gym employee…or even another gym member,’ Frank said. ‘But it’s too early to tell. For all we know the perp could wait in the car park until his victim leaves the gym and then he follows them home. Who knows?’ Frank shrugged. ‘What do we know about any enemies?’ Frank asked.
Tom scratched the side of his head in contemplation. ‘According to friends and relatives, none of the girls had any known enemies, or had recently been threatened in any way. There is nothing on any of their social media pages that would suggest they were being stalked or threatened.’
‘All the girls were clean skins,’ Frank said. ‘No priors of any kind, not even traffic violations,’ he said. ‘Model citizens. According to their friends they did not do drugs and only drank alcohol socially on some weekends.’
’At this stage all we know is that each of them was last seen leaving the Club Fitness gym,’ Tom said. ‘We don’t know what happened after they left the gym, or how long after they left the gym they were attacked,’ Tom said. ‘Hours, days…’ He shook a frustrated head, ‘We can’t tell at this stage.’
‘Yeah but Forensic evidence suggests each girl died somewhere around the time they were last seen leaving the gym.’
‘True,’ Tom nodded. ’Keeps pointing back to that gym, doesn’t it?′
’It would’ve been handy if they kept personal diaries…you know…Dear Diary today I met such-and-such he is coming over for dinner and…’ Frank said trying to add some flippancy to the tense atmosphere.
Tom smiled in response. ‘Have we ever been that lucky?’ He asked rhetorically before continuing. ‘Each of the girls came from solid, loving family backgrounds. Parents still together, siblings all got along. Dads in good secure jobs,’ Tom said.
‘Even the way they travelled to and from the gym differed with each girl,’ Frank said.
Tom rubbed a thoughtful hand across his mouth. ‘So why were these three girls targeted?’ He scanned the three images smiling back at him.
‘Would have to be coz they lived on their own…wouldn’t it?’ Frank asked. ‘Lower risk, no chance of being seen, or disturbed. Although that theory didn’t work for victim one, did it?’
‘Maybe Vic one was his first and he has learned and evolved from that one,’ Tom said. Frank nodded as he regarded the whiteboard.
‘So you don’t think they were randomly selected?’ Tom said.
‘On the contrary…’ Frank began. ‘I think they were all purposely selected because they lived on their own – nothing opportunistic about their selection at all.’
‘So how did the perp know they each lived on their own?’ Tom said, more or less thinking out loud. ‘Or know where they lived…’
‘Could following them home answer those questions?’ Frank asked.
Tom nodded unconvincingly. ‘Yeah, but…it has to be more than that. How would he know she lived on her own if he simply followed her home…The victim’s family or boyfriend just could be out on the night he followed her,’ Tom said. ‘No…’ he said shaking his head. ‘No. He has to have interacted with each of them at some stage. He has to have spoken to them…asked them questions about their lifestyle. As you know…A young girl won’t answer personal questions about herself unless she is comfortable with the person.’
‘True…’ Frank said. ‘And if he did meet them, he would have to be a charmer, probably even handsome. Because nothing had been said to any of the victim’s friends that would suggest the girls felt threatened in any way,’ Frank said.
Frank pushed himself away from the desk. ‘I think we have a long list of male gym members to work through trying to establish alibis,’ Frank suggested.
‘And male gym staff too…’ Tom added.
Thursday afternoon in La Jolla was warm for this time of the year, even by California’s usual sunny standards. A cloudless sky of brilliant blue painted a seamless backdrop against the North Pacific Ocean to the west and the panoramic hills and landscapes to the east.
The shadows from the tall pine trees were lengthening from the winter sun having passed its apex on its westward descent. The warmer weather had brought out the joggers, strollers, people walking their dogs and a surprising number of people braving the cool winter waters on the beach.
For Heidi the light breeze and warmth from the sunshine had a different lure to most who reside along the San Diego coastline. She saw it as a perfect opportunity to study outdoors in the sunny fresh air, rather than the stuffy indoor alternative of her family’s cliff top home.
The paved area around their azure kidney shaped pool was the ideal location for a sun lover to sit and review her course notes. Oblivious to the seaside vista on offer from their elevated hill side pool deck, she sat crossed legged on the lower half of a poolside lounge chair.
Her back was slightly hunched forward and her head was lowered towards her study notes. Wearing dark sunglasses and casually dressed in hot pink short-shorts and a white singlet top, she sat with her elbows resting on her knees. Her long blonde hair fell forward around her face, like blonde blinkers to outside distractions, as she read.
Heidi Schwarz was a vibrant, independent twenty-three year old senior completing the final year of her law degree at San Diego University. With the exception of her blue eyes, her plain, nondescript features are framed by her long straight blonde hair that extends down to her lower back.
She lived at home with her parents and her sixteen year old brother, Hans. With both her parents being successful prominent California Lawyers, some might argue her vocational destiny was predetermined.
Her father Karl, a German immigrant from the seventies, had established a highly successful US law practice in San Diego. With her mum Marjorie as an associate, they have expanded their West Coast practice to include offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But for Heidi she never felt any pressure, perceived or otherwise, from either of her parents to try and influence her career choices. She was her own person and her choice to pursue a career in law was just that – her choice.
Having recently emerged from a long term relationship, she was now single. Despite her parents’ affluence and insistence on financially supporting her through college, Heidi still elected to work part-time earning minimum wage as a waitress at a small restaurant in La Jolla.
Heidi lifted her eyes from her notes and noticed that low, fast moving rain clouds were now dominating what was previously a clear blue sky. Such was her focus on her studies, she hadn’t noticed the late afternoon clouds move in.
The gentle breeze off the ocean she previously enjoyed had strengthened to a cool onshore wind. The discernible drop in temperature was cool on her exposed skin. She hugged her arms close to her body before deciding to pack up and move back inside.
When she entered their ground floor family room via the rear sliding patio door she noticed her Mom pottering about in the kitchen.
‘All packed…?’ Heidi asked as she passed her Mom on her way to her bedroom for some attire more suitable to the current temperature.
Her Mom turned to Heidi and smiled. ‘All packed...’ she replied. ‘I’m starting to get excited now,’ Mom said. Heidi smiled as her Mom continued. ‘I wish you were coming with us dear…you would’ve loved it down there.’
Heidi stopped walking and turned to face her Mom. ’It would be fantastic Mom…’ she said in a comforting tone. ‘But I just can’t afford the time off from my studies,’ she replied.
‘I know dear…you’re right.’ Her accepting tone was a little despondent. ‘Dad and I are so proud of your maturity and commitment towards your studies.’
With her brother and parents poised to leave on a four week vacation down under to Australia, Heidi volunteered to drive them to LAX later this evening ahead of their 11.00pm flight.
Winter was usually a quiet time for their law practice, so it’s the perfect time to travel. And with it being summer down in Australia at the moment, it was a win-win.