When they stepped from the cottage Emily glanced up to the cloudy sky. She briefly closed her eyes as she breathed in the fresh air.
Emily had a child-like spring in her step as they strolled the path through the Remand Centre’s gardens, to re-enter the main building. This was all new to Emily. She had never been into this part of the prison before today. The spring in her step faded the further she moved into the prison proper and away from the comfort zone of her remand cottage.
Like an insecure young child with a parent, Emily walked close to Clive for security. Her eyes darted and her head turned to the many voices, or nearby activity. After navigating several corridors they approached a questioning guard seated at a Guard Station. Clive spoke with the Guard while Emily stood back against a wall, waiting.
She anxiously shuffled the weight distribution on her feet. She rubbed her perspiring hands down her thighs as she glanced around at passing prisoners. Her eyes followed them until they had passed by, all the time avoiding eye contact. These were real prisoners and they were intimidating.
When he was done, Clive beckoned to Emily. ‘This way,’ Clive said. Emily caught up with Clive. ‘You’re in box four today,’ he said. Emily smiled. She didn’t care what box number she was in, as long as her husband would be there.
It was like a first date all over again. Her stomach churned with nerves and expectation. Her mind raced. I hope I don’t cry when I see him.
After a short walk they entered a corridor lined with doors on either side. Clive stopped at a door and grabbed the handle. He smiled at Emily. It was a genuine warm caring smile. He was happy for her. ‘This is you. Ready?’
Emily nodded like an excited school girl. ‘Yep.’ She rubbed her perspiring palms together. Her heart raced with the expectation.
Clive opened the door. ‘Enjoy,’ he said.
For the first time since arriving at prison a genuine smile filled Emily’s face .She was happy as she stepped in through the door. Clive closed the door behind her. Her eyes locked onto the empty chair on the other side of the glass. Her smile faded. Where is he?
Emily took a typical first time glance around the box. The small brightly lit room was around one metre by one metre. Even with the large window opening to a similar size room on the other side, it was claustrophobic in there.
Her eyes never left the vacant seat as she slid onto the round metal seat attached to an arm protruding from the front wall. The seat was uncomfortable, but she’d happily sit on broken glass to be able to see her husband. She leaned her elbows on the small ledge, still staring at the empty seat on the other side. Come on Hun… where are you?
Her face tightened. The sinking feeling from three years ago came flooding back to when she received that dreaded phone call. Her mind’s eye flashed back to the hyperventilating and the heaviness in her stomach as she raced to be with her husband. The kaleidoscope of flashing blue and red lights against the dark sky when she arrived. How she burst into tears at the sight of his mangled car on the side of the road.
Visions filled her head of her unconscious husband lying in hospital with bandages around his head and tubes coming out of him. Tears filled her eyes. Ever since that day, whenever Boyd was late, she immediately thought the worse.
The door opposite opened. Emily’s wide eyes locked onto the guard standing in the doorway. She watched him gesture into the room. Her face lit up when Boyd stepped in and the Guard closed the door. All the built up tension, all the worry left her in waves when she saw her husband was safe. Her hands shot up to her mouth. Her chin quivered and her eyes welled.
For the first time in four weeks their eyes locked onto each other. So much for not wanting to cry when she saw him. Emily stood from her seat. Tears continued to swell her eyes.
Boyd smiled. His welling eyes glistened. Emily placed her palms on the window. Boyd placed his hands over hers. It was the closest they could get to holding hands. Tears trickled down her cheek as she silently regarded her husband.
Emily gestured to the telephone receiver. She lifted hers and sat down. Boyd lifted his and took a seat. She was so distracted by seeing her husband again, the germaphobe in her completely disregarded the cleanliness of those phones and who before her had used them.
‘Hi Hun. You’re a sight for sore eyes…I have missed you so much,’ Emily said. ‘You have no idea how good it is to see you. I was worried when you weren’t here when I walked in.’
‘I have missed you too, Hun. They kept me with all the checks and balances they run before they’d let me in.’
Seeing her husband and hearing the dulcet tones of his caring voice warmed her from within. If only she could hold him. Her admiring eyes followed the contours of his face as he talked.
‘How was the trip up? Lots of traffic?’ She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
‘Pretty good, really. Not much traffic at all.’
‘So, they made you jump through a few hoops to get in here? Did they search you?’
‘One hundred point ID check first, bit like in a bank. Then they gave me a key to a locker to lock away my property…car keys, wallet, that sort of thing. Then they searched me. Nothing too invasive. Checked my shoes, socks, around my belt, um, pockets that sort of thing. But it’s all good. It was worth it just to see you again.’
Emily fought to stave off the inevitable. Her lips tightened as her chin quivered. She couldn’t hold back anymore. She started to sob. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore…I want to go home with you,’ she whined.
‘I know Hun. I want that too. Don’t cry…please. You’ll make me cry,’
Emily dragged a finger under each eye. ‘I’m sorry,’ she sniffed. She exhaled heavily to compose herself. ‘How much longer is it?’
‘Duncan is working on it, Hun. I had a meeting with him yesterday and he genuinely believes we have a chance to beat this. You just have to stay strong. He said he’ll know more when the police give him a copy of their evidence brief.’
‘Do we have a hearing date yet…?’
‘Not yet. But he said that the cops can’t leave you in here indefinitely while they prepare their case. He asked me to get you to ring him…you put him on your approved call list?’
‘I didn’t initially…but one of the more friendly guards in here reminded me to include my lawyer on the call list…so yeah, he’s on there now.’
Looking at her husband and not being able to hold him was like an alcoholic sitting within reach of a freshly poured beer that couldn’t be tasted.
Boyd’s face tightened slightly. She knew all his tics, all his expressions — happy, sad and angry and this one meant something was on his mind.
‘What’s wrong Hun…? What aren’t you telling me?’
Boyd took a moment to respond. Maybe it was to choose his words carefully. Emily’s brow dipped. The long pause concerned Emily.
‘Hun…What’s going on?’ she asked in a firmer tone.
Boyd adjusted himself on his uncomfortable metal stool. ‘I wasn’t going to mention anything… I thought I’d let Duncan tell you…’
Emily frowned. ‘Tell me what…? What’s wrong?’
Boyd held Emily’s gaze. ‘The cops found another one of the missing persons from your list…the hitch hiker that went missing in the Otways. Her body was buried in a shallow grave off a track somewhere.’
Emily exhaled. The tension in her shoulders relaxed. ‘That’s great. The family will now have some closure. That’s why she came to me, Hun…She wanted my help…’ Emily said with a sense of achievement. Her smiling face quickly wiped. She frowned at Boyd’s expression. ‘What?’
Boyd shook his head. ‘It’s not great, Hun…’ Boyd said. His morose tone was not lost on Emily. ‘The cops have amended your charges to six counts of murder now... Duncan received the new charge notification a few days ago. That’s why he wanted to meet with me. That’s why he wants you to call him.’
Emily’s shoulders slumped. She was so happy for Libby Vassillou’s family, she overlooked the seriousness of her own predicament. She leaned on an elbow and cupped her forehead. ‘There’s still one more missing, isn’t there….?’ Emily said. ‘So…if they find him, does that mean they’ll charge me with seven counts of murder...?’
‘They have to find him first, but…yeah…’ Boyd said nodding. ‘If they do…I guess they will,’
Emily’s head shot up. Her expression firmed. She waved the back of her hand. ‘You know what? Five counts… six counts… seven counts…It doesn’t matter,’ she said with a defiance that belied her deepest concerns. ‘I didn’t do it. I never killed those people, so the number is irrelevant. They won’t be able to prove it was me, coz I didn’t do it…’
‘You’re exactly right,’ Boyd said. ‘But enough of that,’ he continued. ‘Let Duncan worry about that for us. How are you coping in here?’
‘As well as could be expected, I suppose…It’s killing me not being able to see you, to talk to you and hold you…’
‘I’m exactly the same Hun. The bed seems so big without you in it. I come home after work some nights excited to tell you about my day and then I remember you’re not there.’ Boyd’s mouth straightened.
‘I’m so sorry I have done this to us…I wish I never said anything…’
‘Don’t say that Hun. You did the right thing. Because of you there are six families out there who now know where their missing loved one is. The unknown to them would’ve been far worse than knowing.’
‘I know. But what’s good for them…’ Emily’s eyes fell. ‘Is horrible for me.’
‘We’ll beat this Em…I know we will. You just have to stay strong,’ Boyd said. ‘I gotta tell you though Em, I’m so glad you don’t have to wear those prison uniforms. I think it would be more upsetting to have to see you dressed like a prisoner…’ Boyd said.
Emily glanced at her clothing. ‘It does make it feel less like a jail when I can wear these…’ Emily said.
The allocated two hours passed quickly for Emily, and no doubt Boyd. Periods of extended silence started to replace their excited chatter. At times they just sat smiling at each other. They didn’t need to talk.
Emily startled at the firm knock on her door. Her eyes filled with panic as they met Boyd’s. Her husband would be leaving her. She didn’t want him to go.
The door to Emily’s side opened. A guard stood in the doorway. ‘Say your goodbyes and finish up thanks,’ the guard said. He left the door open and stood off to the side.
Emily stood from her seat. She placed her hand on the window. Boyd did the same. ‘I don’t want you to go…’ She said with desperation in her voice. Tears flowed down her cheeks. ‘I want to go home…’ she said. Her emotions took over. She broke down into tears.
Tears trickled down Boyd’s cheeks. There was nothing he could do to help his wife. He couldn’t even comfort her. ‘I know Em…I know. I want you to come home,’ Boyd said. ‘But you have to stay strong…’
The guard re-appeared in the doorway. ‘Let’s go…’ he said. His direction was firm.
Emily and Boyd said their goodbyes. They hung up their phones. Emily held Boyd’s gaze as tears now flowed freely. ‘I love you,’ she mouthed to him.
Boyd mouthed back the same.
Before exiting through the door, Emily turned back for one last look at her man. Boyd looked as sad as Emily. She blew him a kiss then stepped from the box. She sobbed as the guard closed the door. As sudden as that, it was all over.
The guard escorted Emily back to the Remand Precinct. Her lowered head and rounded shoulders painted a picture of internal pain as she strolled. No conversation took place for the entire walk back. All she could think about was her husband; the look on his face as she left and the fact he would be leaving her all alone in this place. He was so close and now he’s gone.
Back in her cottage Emily failed to acknowledge Clive’s smiling greeting. She marched passed the Guard’s station on a direct line to her cell. Emily slumped heavily onto her bed. She draped an arm over her eyes and openly sobbed for the life she once knew that was taken from her by these wrongful charges.
Max dropped the file onto his desk. He exhaled heavily as he rubbed a frustrated hand over his balding head. He collapsed back in his chair while his dejected gaze shifted to the whiteboard. The words “LOCATED DECEASED” in bold red letters spread across six of the seven photos, leapt out at him from the board.
The strike rate of over eighty-five percent would usually excite someone tasked with locating long-term missing persons. But there was something about these victims that troubled him. Nothing linked them.
His years of policing told him the discovery of the bodies at locations disclosed in Emily’s list was not enough to be confident of securing a conviction at trial. He needed more. He needed evidence tying Emily to each victim. Problem was, the passage of time had effectively removed that possibility.
Alibis were either forgotten, or no longer verifiable. DNA evidence had long been destroyed. His searches failed to locate a murder weapon. There were no witnesses. He couldn’t find any motive for Emily to commit these murders. He had doughnuts and lots of them.
When Max seized Emily’s mobile phone under the search warrant, he arranged for the police IT techs to run the same series of checks on Emily’s phone that they used to locate Malcolm Denyer’s last movements before he went missing.
None of these checks placed Emily’s phone in, or near any of the locations where the six bodies were located.
This provided Max with two possible scenarios. The first and what he suspected to be the most likely, was that Emily was simply not involved in any of the murders. The second considered the possibility she was involved but had enough guile and foresight not to take her mobile phone with her during the commission of each murder.
Autopsy results for each victim was consistent. Cause of death was either exsanguination caused from a slit throat, or organ trauma from multiple stab wounds. None of the victims had defensive wounds.
The testing for blood on the clothing and knives seized from Emily’s home came up empty.
There was no victimology pattern. There were no consistencies in each of the victims’ age, height, weight, gender or residential suburb. There was no nexus to victim occupations, sporting interests, hobbies, places they shopped, restaurants the dined at, bars in which they socialised.
Everything pointed towards random victim selection; wrong place at the wrong time scenarios. The apparent lack of planning was more suited to a psychopath satisfying an uncontrollable urge to kill, rather than a serial killer who targeted specific victim types.
Meanwhile, Emily Davis, one of the nicest people he had met, had sat in a jail cell now for over two months while he tried to gather evidence to prepare a brief for trial. He wasn’t confident he had his offender before he arrested Emily. Due to the paucity of incriminating evidence, he was even less confident now.
The same doubt, the same resonating question kept bouncing around in his head — what if Emily Davis was actually psychic…? The thought caused him to shudder.
Communicating with the dead defied his beliefs on the afterlife and it defied available scientific evidence on the subject. But was the scientific evidence proof, or merely proof of a scientific theory?
At the end of the day his problem was, he couldn’t prove Emily wasn’t capable of communicating with the dead and she couldn’t prove she could. It was a stalemate that may have caused the wrong person to be accused of crimes she didn’t commit.
A court of law required satisfying the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. Right now, his evidence struggled to prove his case on the balance of probability.
Max had numerous arguments with his boss over this case, some quite heated. As far as Jeff was concerned, he didn’t want to listen. Max had the right offender. All Max had to do now was get out there and locate the evidence to secure a conviction. And therein lies the rub — locating the evidence to secure a conviction.
Max’s frustrated gaze moved back to Dale Cartwright’s photo on the whiteboard. He had since obtained Dale’s mountain bike from the Anglesea Police, after it was found beside a bush track between the coastal towns of Airey’s Inlet and Fairhaven. As expected, it failed to provide any evidence.
Detailed line searches of the vicinity where the bike was located failed to find Dale Cartwright’s body. In the end it was decided the search area was too large and the information recorded on the list was too vague to narrow down an approximate location.
He slipped Emily’s list from his file and re-read — for the umpteenth time — the notation Emily wrote about Dale Cartwright. Just like the time before, and the before that, the list gave him nothing. He dropped the list onto his desk and rubbed a frustrated hand across his mouth and chin.
Finding Dale Cartwright was important to his case, but if the other six bodies were any indication, finding him would not provide any smoking gun evidence leading him to the killer. At this point in time, Max would settle for any evidence, compelling or otherwise.
‘Stuff this...’ Max blurted. He pushed himself from his desk. ‘I’m going for a coffee,’ he announced to no-one in particular. He stood and stretched into a yawn. ‘Anyone want a coffee while I’m there?’ he asked those present in the office. ‘No…? Cheap shout,’ he mumbled as he moved towards the exit.
Max shuffled into the police station kitchen saying his greetings to those there before him. He selected a large mug from the overhead cupboard and dumped in two generous spoons of instant coffee. While vigorously stirring in his milk and two sugars he glanced to the wall-mounted TV.
A headline on the news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen caught his eye, just before it disappeared off the left of screen. He frowned heavily. ‘What was that about a body being found…?’ he broadcast to everyone seated in the kitchen. The shaking of heads, vague glances at the TV and shrugs were the responses he received.
Max positioned himself in front of the TV waiting for the news feed to loop back around. With his neck cricked from standing too close, Max sipped on his coffee, waiting.
Around one minute later the news feed he wanted scrolled back into view. Max’s mouth fell open as he read, “Body discovered in shallow grave near Airey Inlet in Victoria’s south-west.” His stunned eyes followed the headline across the screen until it disappeared from view. ‘What the…’ he blurted. Max quickly returned to his desk, balancing his coffee as he walked.
‘Anyone hear anything about a body found near Airey’s Inlet?’ Max said as he burst into the bull pen, still balancing his coffee, most of which had spilled along the way.
Same response as the kitchen.
Max looked up the phone number for the Anglesea police station. While the ring tone chirped in his ear, his hopeful eyes glanced to Dale Cartwright’s photo. The call answered.
‘Anglesea Police. Senior Constable Barry Fleck speaking.’
‘Barry. Max Higgins, Geelong CI…How ya doin’?’
‘Good Max. What’s up?’
‘I was hoping you could tell me…’
‘You referring to the body that was found?’
‘I am. What do you know?’
‘Um. A local female came into the police station early this morning and reported finding the body. She said she was walking with her dog along the cliff top track, just south of Aireys inlet there. The dog apparently ran off to side of the track and showed interest in something. He started to dig, as dogs do. When she went to investigate, she saw her dog had uncovered what she thought was a human foot …Our Sergeant went down there to investigate. It appears that the heavy, unseasonal rains of late washed away some of the sandy soil to partially expose the foot. It was in a shallow grave, just off to the side of the walking track.’
‘Male or female…?’
‘Male, I believe.’
‘Any idea on ID?’
‘Not as yet…They’re waiting for the Forensic Body Recovery Team to arrive from Melbourne. You guys should’ve been told about this by now…’
‘No-one here knew anything about it,’ Max said. ‘I only found out from the news feed on TV.’
‘Shit. That’s ordinary. I heard the Sarge say over the radio only a short time ago that he had to notify Geelong CI of the find…Obviously he hasn’t done that yet.’
‘Alright. I’ll wander down there. Where am I going…?’
‘Are you familiar with the area?’
‘OK. Put Eagle’s Nest Parade into your GPS…You get to it off Boundary Road. You’re looking for a sign to The Point Lookout. There should be police and SES vehicles in the car park there. You’ll have to park and make your way down to the cliff top track, to an area about two hundred metres east of the lookout. Our Sarge is still down there.’
Max scribbled the directions. ‘OK. Got it thanks for that.’
With his clipboard under an arm and a hand shoved in his pocket, Max trudged back towards Anglesea, along the gravel cliff top track. The salty breeze atop of the elevated cliff was strong. The picturesque coastal vista of rolling waves and endless snaking sands was lost on the distracted Max.
The general area he searched for wasn’t too difficult to find. A news media chopper hovered up ahead like a vulture with a sniff or carrion.
Around two hundred metres along, he came across the Sergeant and a Senior Constable from the Anglesea police chatting with two SES workers dressed in their trademark orange jump suits. An area of the path had been cordoned off with police tape.
‘Hey Dan. What have we got?’ Max said.
‘Hey Max. Are you psychic or something? I was just going to call you guys.’
Max lifted his chin at the circling chopper. ‘They beat ya too it mate. I saw it on the TV news feed.’
‘Oh, Shit. Sorry mate. You guys were next on my call list.’
‘They obviously heard the call to forensics over the radio and raced down here. All’s good though. I’m here now. What’ve we got?’
The Sergeant gestured to the north side of the track. ‘A dog partially uncovered the left foot of a body in a shallow grave over there. I reckon it’s a male’s leg, but I can’t be certain at this stage. The forensic guys are en-route to dig it up,’ Dan said.
Max opened his file and removed the photo of Dale Cartwright. He handed it to Dan. ‘I think you’re spot on, mate,’ Max said. ‘If I’m not mistaken, that there is your guy in the hole.’
Dan accepted the photo and glanced at it. ‘Missing Person?’ Dan said as a question.
Max nodded. ‘Yeah. Missing since January this year…’
Dan flicked a finger at the body. ‘Looks like the excess water runoff from those torrential rains we had down here over recent days, followed the natural slope towards the cliff face, and in doing so, washed away the soil to expose the foot. Doesn’t look like a great deal of care was taken to bury the body,’ Dan said.
Max scanned the surrounds. ‘The area is remote enough that they didn’t have to. If not for the rain, it would still be covered,’ Max said.
It quickly became evident to Max why their previous line searches failed to locate Dale Cartwright’s body. Dale’s mountain bike was found on the west side of Aireys Inlet, on a track towards Fairhaven, so that was where the previous search focussed. This body had been located on the east side of Aireys Inlet, closer to Anglesea; a distance separated by several kilometres.
The Forensic Body Recovery Team erected a tent over the shallow grave site to protect it from the elements, while the team worked to slowly expose the body.
While watching the dig, Max glanced up at the second media chopper that had arrived and hovered out over the ocean near the first chopper.
The dirt around the body was carefully removed and sifted for evidence. Following the slow and tedious process, the fully clothed body was eventually uncovered from the soil. Photos were taken and it was removed from the hole and placed onto a stretcher.
Max compared the file photo to the body. It was unmistakably the body of Dale Cartwright. He even wore the same Lycra bike pants and riding top as those depicted in the photo.
The shrinking, decomposing skin failed to mask the large wound still visible in Dale’s neck. His throat had been cut. That COD was a match to four of the other six victims on Emily’s list. There were no obvious defensive wounds to his arms and hands.
As he waited for Forensics to do their thing, Max couldn’t help but consider that if Emily Davis did kill Dale Cartwright, why were her notes vague as to the body’s location? In fact, the list failed to narrow down any specific location. It was the finding of Dale’s mountain bike that provided an initial search area, not Emily’s list. And the cliff top area where Max now stood was in no way referenced in Emily’s list.
Was this apparent vagary in Emily’s list a ploy to mask her complicity? Or could the obvious answer be that Emily really was psychic and she relied on what she was told by the ghost of Dale Cartwright?
Try as he may to openly consider that as a possibility, it was extremely difficult for Max. That was an improbable option that conflicted heavily with his disbelief in ghosts and the afterlife.
Once the body was loaded and transported and the area cleared, Max door knocked on the houses that lined Eagle’s Nest Parade. Some house were vacant holiday homes, while others were principal residences.
He showed the photos of Dale Cartwright and Emily Davis to those who answered his door knocks. Most of the residents he spoke to were beyond retirement age. None had seen either person before.
On his way back into Anglesea Max visited the woman whose dog discovered Dale Cartwright’s body. During his chat he learned she walked that track daily, rain or shine, and had done so for the last five years. She never noticed, or had any reason to notice that shallow grave before today.
Max showed the woman the photos of Emily and Dale. She too had never seen either person before.
Back in the office Max capped the red whiteboard marker and stepped back to admire his sign writing work. He now had a complete set. Every photo displayed the “LOCATED DECEASED” notation. Emily Davis now faced seven counts of murder.