The rising sun had not long heralded in the new day when sixty-five year old retiree, Bob Garland set off from his La Jolla home on his daily early morning walk. With him was his trusted and loyal best friend, ‘Westy’; his six year old white West Highland Terrier.
With Westy’s lead in place they stepped out on to his tree lined street. Bob looked up at the clear blue sky. He smiled to himself then inhaled a deep breath of fresh air into his lungs.
He briefly closed his eyes while he listened to the orchestral sounds of young birds chirping in the trees overhead.
This particular Friday morning was fine and clear and there was no wind to speak of. So Bob decided to walk along the Coast Walk Trail, which took him around the popular elevated cliffs overlooking the La Jolla Shore line.
The panoramic views on offer from the cliff tops were magnificent and whenever the wind is was low and the weather was fine, Bob always included this route on his daily walk.
Early morning was the favourite time of the day for Bob. Not only because the air was fresh and crisp, but also because of the solitude. It was too early for nine-to-five office workers who try to get in a few miles before work.
When the tracks and paths are quiet from other foot traffic Bob lets Westy off his lead, so he could run free. Like a proud parent watching over a young child playing in the park, Bob watched his faithful friend running along the cliff tops unrestrained.
He smiled at his dog’s puppy-like excitement, bounding through all the long grasses like a young fawn, stopping to mark his territory, or taking in all the new smells. It all added to the enjoyment of Bob’s morning strolls.
While Bob wound his way back home along the cliff top Coast Walk Trail, he was momentarily distracted while taking in the elevated scenic vista. His eyes drifted from the sheer jagged cliffs bordering the shoreline, out to the vast turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean extending as far as the eye could see.
While closer to shore his views took in the coastal landscape of the golden sands stretching along the snaking coastline towards La Jolla Shores Beach. On his left the path coursed its way through varieties of flora, in shades of greens and yellows; trees, shrubs and long grass that all made the walk among nature that more enjoyable.
After shifting his focus back to the track in front of him, he scanned the area for his little companion. Usually Westy would be darting in and out of shrubs, running back to Bob to check he was still coming, before racing off ahead of him again. But this time he was nowhere to be seen.
Bob whistled through his fingers. Westy always responded to his shrieking whistle. But he didn’t come. Poor old Bob started to panic. This was completely out of character for his loyal dog. He called out for his dog as he continued to wander along the path. His frowning eyes scanned searchingly for any sign of his little companion.
As he rounded a bend in the path he caught sight of his white haired Westy off to the left. The dog’s head was under an overgrown shrub. Bob immediately started to relax.
’There you are,’ he said to himself. ‘Westy. Come here boy,’ Bob called. ‘Come on boy…You had me worried. What are you doing…?’ he asked.
While he remained on the path, he continued to call his dog, but Westy continued to ignore being summoned. Something under the shrub had the normally obedient Westy’s attention and he was not moving away from it.
Begrudgingly Bob left the sealed pathway and started to high step through the long grass towards his disobedient dog.
‘WESTY,’ he yelled, this time more firmly.
Westy lifted his head and looked towards the approaching Bob. ‘Come on boy,’ Bob tapped his thighs. But the dog remained.
‘Right…’ he said firmly. He marched to his dog. ‘That’s the last time you’ll be let off your lead young man,’ he said.
As he neared he noticed something in front of his dog. ‘What have you got there boy?’ he asked.
Bob froze in his tracks. His face tightened when he saw what looked like legs poking out from under the shrub. He held a contemplative hand to his mouth.
After a brief moment to compose himself, Bob cautiously edged closer to the legs. He lifted up the shrub’s foliage to look further underneath.
Once his ageing eyes focused and allowed him to register what he was actually looking at, he let go of the foliage and reeled back in fright. The usual rosy red hue of his face was now a pallid washed out grey-white.
He froze in his tracks. He had never seen a dead body before, but he knew what he had just seen was the body of a young female under that shrub. Fortunately, on his wife’s insistence, Bob always carried his mobile phone with him, in case anything happened to him during his daily walk.
He quickly dialed 9-1-1 and reported his grisly find.
Tom and Frank had been in the office since about 3am Friday morning having been called out to the possible disappearance of Harper Bourke. It was now about 6.30am when the police communications radio mounted in their office caught their attention.
A black and white was being sent to the Coast Walk Trail in La Jolla following the discovery of a young female’s body under a track side bush, by an elderly man walking his dog.
Tom and Frank exchanged concerned gazes. Tom’s shoulders slumped slightly in realization. ’Harper Bourke…?' Tom said as a knowing question.
Frank nodded. ‘Victim number five,’ he said.
Tom rolled his eyes then looked towards the white board. He quickly looked away. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the victims’ faces smiling back at him, knowing there would soon be an addition to the growing gallery.
‘Shit,’ Tom blurted in frustration. He rubbed a hand through his hair.
He lifted the photograph of Harper from his desk that Zoey had given him and slipped it into his folder. He stood and lifted his jacket from the back of his chair. Frank was in the process of doing the same. Neither man had to announce the fact they were heading to La Jolla.
By the time the Detectives arrived at the cliff top crime scene, the uniform police were in the process of cordoning off a taped perimeter. With boot covers slipped over their shoes, Tom and Frank made their way to the latest body.
It was becoming all too repetitive for the Detectives. The photograph Tom had with him from Zoey unofficially confirmed the body was that of Harper Bourke. And the duct tape securing her wrists, as well as over her mouth and eyes confirmed she was the Coastal Killings’ unfortunate victim number five.
Tom stood back up from peering under the thick, low hanging shrub that had temporarily entombed Harper’s body. His eyes scanned the ground around the shrub. ‘This can’t be the primary...’ he said. ‘Which means…he raped and strangled her somewhere else and then carried her body here to dump it.’
‘Maybe his car,’ Frank considered.
Tom shook his head. ‘I don’t think so…’ he said as he continued to scan the ground for any indication of footprints, or other evidence. ‘This guy’s too careful. He wouldn’t want any transfer or trace evidence from the vic left in his car. That would be too careless.’
‘But for someone so careful, he is taking a huge risk carrying the body out here to dump it,’ Frank said.
‘You’re right…he is,’ Tom said. ‘But in reality, how many people would you expect to be out here in the early hours of the morning? What continues to puzzle me is…how is he finding these victims? Why Harper? She didn’t live on her own. She lived on campus with another young university student,’ Tom said.
‘Would have to be because she drove to the bar on her own,’ Frank said.
‘Ok…that I understand…’ Tom said, flicking the stubble on his unshaven face. 'But how did our perp know Harper drove to the bar on her own last night? The girls usually all travel in one vehicle – except for last night. That was an exception. And…how did he know she would leave the bar on her own? It can’t be all goddamn good luck. I don’t buy it.’
By the time Crime Scene Officers and the Medical Examiner had arrived, a large media throng had gathered at the perimeter tape. TV station News choppers hovered and circled overhead like giant vultures that had caught the scent of carrion.
Tom and Frank intentionally stood back from the body dump site to allow the forensics personnel clear and uninterrupted access.
‘Do you see what’s happening here Frank?’ Tom asked as both men watched the Crime Scene Officers at work.
‘He’s evolving with every kill. He’s growing in confidence and taking more risks.’
Tom pushed back a finger on his hand. ‘Vic one, Wendy Spiteri killed in the privacy of her home.’ He pushed back another finger. ‘Vic two, Bree Gilbert killed in the privacy of her home.’ He pushed back a third finger. ‘Vic three - Heidi Schwarz, killed in the privacy of her home.’ Pushing back another finger, he continued, ’Vic four…’ he said with deliberate emphasis, ’Felicity Chapman was picked up at a bus stop in Pacific Beach, in front of a witness then killed somewhere else and dumped in land fill…and now this one,’ he jabbed his thumb towards the shrub. ’Vic number five was taken from a parking lot in Clairemont Mesa and dumped here. The last two have been taken from outside their homes and dumped outside in remote locations…Oh yeah,’ He said nodding for emphasis. ‘This guy's evolving.’