The Coastal Killings

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Chapter 23

Tom sat at his desk sorting through the delivery of mail he received. After selecting a white business sized envelope from the pile, his eyes lifted to the photograph of victim number three on the whiteboard, while he ripped into the envelope.

It had been around 1½ weeks since the body of Felicity Chapman was found at the City Landfill site. He had been expecting the Coroner’s preliminary Autopsy Report on the cause of death. It just arrived. He unfolded the report and commenced to read.

Frank was at his own desk when he noticed Tom reading the Autopsy report.

‘Victim three…?’ Frank said as a question.

Without lifting his eyes from the report Tom nodded his confirmation.

After reading the report Tom dropped it onto his desk. ‘Same old-same old…’ Tom said somewhat despondently. ‘Autopsy reports for all three killings to date are similar.’

‘Strangled, raped and no defensive wounds…?’ Frank said as a question, albeit somewhat knowingly.

’Yep, Hyoid was fractured and evidence of forced or forceful sexual intercourse - lacerations and bruising etc.’ Tom shifted his focus to the whiteboard beside him, to the three smiling faces in the photographs staring back at him. ‘What are we missing girls…?’

‘Excellent,’ Frank blurted.

Tom’s frowning glare shifted to Frank. He was puzzled at what his partner could be so excited about.

Frank was in the process of popping the top off a three-foot long cardboard mail tube he received in the day’s mail delivery.

‘Watcha got…?’ Tom said.

Frank slid out a long rolled up document from the tube. He pushed himself away from his desk and walked to the cork board wall beside the whiteboard. He proceeded to roll out the three foot by five foot aerial map of San Diego they had ordered.

Tom moved over to closely examine the map.

As requested, the printers overlaid mile markings on the map to use as reference points. Frank returned to his desk and picked up his notes and some marker pins and returned to the map.

‘OK…’ Frank began. ’Victim number one was murdered and found in her home here in Mission Hills…’ He jabbed a blue pin and a red pin side by side over the victim’s Westend Blvd address. ‘Victim two was also murdered and found in her home in Hillcrest…’ He thumbed in a red pin and a blue pin side by side over this address.

Frank checked his notes then continued. ‘Victim number three was picked up from here at a bus stop in Grande Avenue in Pacific Beach…’ He jabbed a blue pin into the map. ‘And she was found here at the Miramar Landfill site.’ He thumbed a red pin into the map. Frank stepped back to view his work.

He re-approached the map. ‘Now…the gym in Bay Park that all the victims attended is…’ he scanned the map. ‘Here,’ he thumbed a yellow pin into the map.

‘Using the mile markings on the map…’ Frank paused to check the distances for each victim’s pin. 'The murders have occurred within a six mile radius of the Club Fitness Gym in Bay Park.’ Frank tapped one of the pins. ‘Six miles to Hillcrest…’ he moved to the next pin. ‘Four miles to Mission Hills and four miles to Pacific Beach,’ he said indicating the last pin.

Tom approached the map. He tapped on the Miramar dump site. ‘Yeah but…he drove his last victim twelve miles away to dump her here…’ he said. ‘That’s outside the six mile range…’

Frank rubbed a hand across his mouth. ‘Felicity is also the first victim who was not killed in her home,’ Frank said. ’Do you think the killer is evolving…?'

‘It is possible…’ Tom said, 'But I think he is killing within an area of comfort to him. We already suspect he either works at the gym, or is a member of the gym right…?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘So…it’s fair to assume he probably lives somewhere within this six mile radius.’ Tom’s hand circled over the map.

‘So, it appears that Miramar was just a random, out of the way location to dump the body…’ Frank said. ‘If there are to be any more killings, they are likely to occur in the six mile hot zone area.’ Frank flicked a finger at the map.

Such was the Detectives concentration on their map they didn’t notice their Lieutenant, Bob Winter approach.

‘Any revelations?’ their Boss asked.

Both men turned toward the voice.

‘Nothing concrete yet Boss,’ Tom offered.

The Lieutenant scanned the map. He lifted his chin. ‘These the murder locations in blue…?’

Both Detectives nodded.

The Lieutenant circled his hand over the map. ‘All within a six mile radius…?’ he said as a question.

‘Correct,’ Frank said.

The Lieutenant studied the map briefly then turned to face Tom and Frank. ‘Well, you may have to reconsider the zone slightly,’ he said.

Frank and Tom exchanged a puzzled glance.

‘I have just received a job referred to me by SDPD uniform. Apparently the distressed parents of Heidi Schwarz called the San Diego police from Australia to report they were concerned about the welfare of their daughter. They have not heard from her since they left for holiday over three weeks ago,’ the Lieutenant said.

Tom’s face screwed up. ‘Three weeks…’ He rolled his eyes.

The Lieutenant nodded. ‘Their daughter Heidi failed to respond to text messages they had sent her, which is apparently completely out of character. And calls to her mobile divert to her voice mail. Her social media accounts have been inactive and she has not accessed the money left for her in their bank account.’

Frank checked his watch. ‘It’s 3pm….’ he said. ‘You said they called from Australia…? What time would it be down there?’ Frank asked.

The Lieutenant looked at his notes. ‘Um…It’s apparently 9am tomorrow down there.’ He grinned.

‘So, don’t tell me…’ Tom began. ‘The daughter is around…twenty-two years old…?’

The Lieutenant nodded. ‘Twenty-three...’

Tom rolled his eyes. ‘Three weeks…’ He again screwed up his face, knowing all too well what a three week old body looked - and smelt like.

‘What’s the address…?’ Frank asked.

The Lieutenant referred to his notes. ‘2136 Oceanview Boulevard, La Jolla.’

Frank moved to the map. ‘There it is on the cliffs…’ He tapped the map. ‘Looks like the radius just moved out to seven miles, if this is another victim.’

‘I told uniform we would handle it because it is more than likely another vic…’ The Lieutenant said.

’Oh, this will be another victim…’ Tom confidently predicted. He flicked a finger at the photographs on the whiteboard. ‘Rest assured…this will be number four,’

After parking their vehicle out the front on number 2136 Tom popped the trunk and retrieved their crime scene kit before making their way into the property.

Tom and Frank’s eyes met knowingly when they noticed the gathering of uncollected daily newspapers on the front yard. Tom lifted the mailbox lid and removed the collection of envelopes.

The postal date stamps on each envelope suggested the mail had been accumulating for around three weeks.

Tom lifted the envelopes to Frank. ‘Three weeks of mail…’ he said. ‘We’re definitely about to discover victim number four...’

After confirming the front door was still secured, they made their way around the back.

Their eyes met when the unmistakable and overpowering odor of rotting flesh greeted them as they rounded the side of the house into the back yard.

Tom removed a latex glove from his pocket and checked the rear sliding glass patio door. It was unlocked. Both men took a moment to slide their latex gloves onto their hands and slipped on their boot covers.

After slowly sliding open the rear door, Tom started to enter the house. He suddenly retreated and lunged to his left. His hands fell onto his knees while he sucked in deep breaths. He had inhaled a nose full of the putrid stench pervading the entire closed up house.

Frank watched on with concern at Tom’s reaction. He slid the glass door all the way open to allow some fresh air to flow in and hopefully, force the putrescence out.

Tom retrieved two protective breathing face masks from their kit and lobbed one to Frank. He returned to his kit where he continued to rummage around inside before removing a small bottle of after shave cologne.

He splashed some of the cologne onto the inside of his face mask. when he was done, he lobbed the bottle to Frank, who did the same.

With masks in place and torches in hand, both men cautiously entered the premises in search of the source of the offensive odor – most likely, victim number four. The interior light was on in the kitchen--family room area.

Hundreds of blow flies buzzed and swooped about the Detectives’ heads as they made their way to the kitchen, where they encountered the gruesome sight of a body lying on the floor.

The victim’s bloated and swollen body had reached black putrefaction stage and was infested with insect larvae and pupae. Her hands were fastened together with black duct tape, however the body’s fluid leakage and rupturing skin had caused the strips of duct tape over her mouth and eyes to partially lift.

Despite their best preventative efforts, the overpowering smell of decaying flesh still managed to penetrate their cologne soaked masks.

Frank lifted a photo frame from the kitchen bench. It contained what appeared to be a family photo. He held it out to Tom and pointed to whom he assumed was Heidi in the photo. ’There is no way known we can tell if this is her…’ He lifted his chin to the body on the floor. ‘She is completely unrecognizable.’

‘Chances are, it is her though,’ Tom said. Frank replaced the picture.

Tom removed his mobile phone and called in the discovery. He requested the attendance of uniform officers to secure the crime scene perimeter, Crime Scene officers and the ME. He also requested a Forensic Entomologist.

To their forensically untrained eye the victim’s body told them nothing. They would have to wait for the entomologist to determine time of death and for the ME to determine the cause of death, if the victim was raped and if this was the primary murder scene.

After a thorough check of the kitchen and remaining rooms in the house, both men stepped outside the back door onto the pool patio area and removed their face masks. They sucked in deep breaths to try and purge any of the bacteria filled air they may have inhaled, as they moved towards the cliff side of the patio.

After briefly admiring the scenic cliff top vista on offer from the poolside patio, Frank turned back to face the house. He gestured to the outside spot lights. ‘I wonder if our killer knocked on the back door…’ he said. ‘The outside lights are on.’

Tom scanned the numerous lights located on the house and around the pool patio. ‘Possibly…Are you thinking she turned the light on to see who was there when he knocked?’

Frank nodded. ‘Maybe.’

‘What sort of visitor goes to the back door…?’ Tom asked.

Frank thought for a moment. ‘Someone well known to the victim. Maybe she was expecting him and told him to come around back.’

‘OK…but why, unless of course it was a warm night and she was sitting out back by the pool.’

‘Anything is possible at this early stage,’ Frank concluded.

Tom made his way to the front yard while Frank remained in the back yard to ensure there was no unauthorized entry into the crime scene.

In the front yard Tom gathered up the collection of daily newspapers and chronologically sorted through the dates. He was able to ascertain that the newspaper delivered on the Saturday after the Schwarz family left on holiday was the earliest date.

From this he could deduce one of two possible scenarios. The first was that Heidi was killed on the Friday night after her family left, leaving Saturday morning’s paper – and every one thereafter uncollected. Or, she was tardy in collecting the daily newspaper in the days before she was killed.

Once all the requested crime scene assistance had arrived and became established, Tom and Frank completed their initial crime scene inquiries and moved to commence their neighborhood door knock.

They would have to wait for positive confirmation of the victim’s identity before they could notify the Schwarz family on holiday in Australia.

It was an identification process that was a mere formality to Tom and Frank.

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