The Crime Scene Officer approached Tom and Frank having completed his scene examination. ‘Apart from the dog’s paw prints and what I’m confident we will confirm are the dog owner’s shoe prints, there are no other foots prints around the shrub. It’s as though the dirt around the bush was swept.’
‘Probably was,’ Tom said. ‘Anything on the body?’
The CSO shook his head. ‘Nothing…Nada…Looks like she was cleaned up before she was dumped.’
‘Did you lift anything at all from the body?’ Tom asked.
‘You can’t lift what isn’t there Detective,’ The CSO replied defensively. ‘I’ve done a rape kit and swabs, which I will examine later…but apart from that...’ He turned his palms upwards. ‘This guy’s too good.’
Tom nodded. ‘That’s what’s worrying me,’ he said.
Tom noticed the ageing ME gingerly getting back to his feet having spent the last thirty minutes on his knees beside the body. It appeared he had completed his initial examination. He was in the process of returning his instruments and equipment to his kit bag when Tom and Frank approached.
‘So…what do we know Doc?’ Tom asked.
‘Well Detective…It looks like you have your unfortunate victim number five. Yes…this poor young lass has been raped and strangled,’ The ME said.
Tom’s eyes fell to the lifeless body of Harper. He couldn’t help but feel responsible for Harper lying there. If he had been able to track and catch this crazed killer by now, she would still be alive – but she isn’t.
‘Were you able to establish a TOD?’ Tom asked.
‘I’d estimate she has been dead for about seven hours.’
Tom glanced at his watch. It was 8.15am. ‘We know she left the bar around 11.30pm. By the time she made it to her car and had trouble starting it, would probably make it around midnight. Then our perp just happens to turn up and no doubt offered some assistance before offering her a ride home. They probably left the parking lot around 12.15am. So you estimate she was killed around 1am Doc?’ Tom clarified.
‘At this stage, yes it appears so.’
Tom nodded. ‘That would suggest the perp and Harper spent around forty-five minutes or so together before he killed her. It’s only around a twelve minute drive back to Harper’s Torrey Pines campus apartment, so what did he do with her before he killed her? Where did they drive?’
‘I must say though Detective…’ The ME began, which broke Tom’s thoughts. ’Like the other four victims this young woman has considerable trauma to her vaginal area; significant lacerations and extensive contusions. Either your offender is particularly over forceful during the commission of his offences…or he has an abnormally large male appendage that due to its substantial girth, is simple tearing these poor young unwilling victims.’
Tom cringed at the mental image the Doc just gave him. He flicked a finger towards the body. ‘This doesn’t look like our primary Doc…What were you able to determine there?’
The ME nodded. ‘Ah yes…It’s difficult to determine exactly. The livor mortis has pooled in her lower extremities, but there appears to be a secondary pooling which suggests the body has been moved,’ the ME said. ‘I would expect that there was very little time from when this young woman was killed to when she was transported here,’ he concluded.
With their initial crime scene inquiries completed Tom and Frank made their way back to their vehicle. On the way Tom arranged for the lead first response uniform officer to arrange a formal ID of Harper’s body once it had been transported back to the morgue.
As the Detectives approached the inner perimeter tape they stopped to remove their shoe covers and gloves. Tom’s eyes lifted to the outer perimeter tape, which was about fifty yards further on. News reporters and several cameramen jostled each other for pole position along the crime scene tape, as they awaited the arrival of the approaching Detectives.
With the path snaking along the cliff top, the outer perimeter crime scene tape failed to offer a line of sight to the victim’s body. The reporters could not see anything relating to the crime scene and had to impatiently wait to receive any updates.
Tom discarded his protective clothing items into the waste bin provided before meeting his colleague’s gaze. ‘Well…let’s get this over with,’ he said as he commenced to walk towards the gathered media.
Such was the eagerness of each reporter to ask the first question, they started yelling their questions at Tom and Frank while they were still more than ten yards away from the perimeter tape. Both men ignored the loud unintelligible garble and kept walking.
With the media crews blocking their egress from the taped off area, Tom and Frank paused momentarily at the crimes scene tape, intentionally failing to meet the gaze of any particular reporter.
The officer on duty lifted the perimeter tape to allow the Detectives to pass under, but they had nowhere to go. The pathway was well and truly blocked. The reporters unceremoniously shoved microphones into the Detectives’ faces while they verbally competed with each other at yelling their overlapping questions at the Detectives.
“Is the victim a young female?”
“Has the Coastal Killer struck again?’
“Is that victim number five?”
“What are you doing to catch this person?”
“How can you reassure the young women of San Diego they are safe?”
“How can you protect the young women of this city?”
Tom flapped his hands at the gathered media to quieten them down. The yelling slowly subsided before ceasing to silence.
Each reporter eagerly waited to hear what the Detective was about to say. Each cameraman hoped to capture the news breaking comments from the lead Detective.
‘I know you are all very keen to report on this latest body and whether it is linked to any of the previous murders. But I can’t tell you that at this time. All I can say is…the body of a female was discovered along the trail behind me. Formal ID has not been carried out and the deceased’s family has not been notified. Therefore I am not prepared to release any further information in relation to the matter at this time. Thank you.’
With that the loud overlapping questions immediately returned. Reporters yelled their questions over other reporters, while microphones were shoved at the Detectives.
Using his arms as a battering ram, Tom forcefully wedged his way through the gathered media, moving them aside for him to walk through. Frank followed closely behind as they continued relatively unimpeded to their police vehicle.
The cameramen filmed them for a short distance before quickly returning to their position at the perimeter tape.
The cameras were now waiting to capture the compelling footage of the black body bag being wheeled from the scene and loaded into the ME’s van.
The more ghoulish and provocative the footage was, the more newsworthy it became.