Bruno had told me to meet at the Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park. I went in through the west entrance to the park and drove directly to the parking lot. There was no employee checking to see if you had an annual pass. It was a city park that didn’t charge admission. Free for anyone to enjoy. I parked on the street down the block. I grabbed my gear and got out of the car not bothering to lock it. The last time I locked my car near a large group of cops like this, I was heckled about it for months after.
It was early evening in October, so any heat built up during the day was quickly dissipating. The trees were in full transition to their fall colors here. It was calm and still. A near perfect night. I wished to myself that I was taking photographs of the trees in the park and not pictures of a crime scene.
I was not looking forward to this one. The less information and detail Bruno communicates, the worse the crime scene. The last time he gave this little detail was an accident where a family of three had been crushed by a construction truck driven by someone so high he had no idea what had happened. This was the same lack of information so I was expecting something similar.
There were a number of cars with flashing lights up ahead. Some were normal police and crime scene vehicles and a few others were unmarked with a removable strobe attached to the roof. I recognized Bruno’s vehicle off on the right so I walked towards it.
Crime scene tape was tied between a sign and a tree across the road. I clipped my police department ID badge I had received a few years ago to my shirt, which helps me get in and out quicker. Most of the people that worked crime scenes similar to this know who I am, but this helps with the new resources and other temporary help. It has been used a few instances on personal cases, but I kept that information to myself.
One of the officers manning the tape recognized me and lifted it up waving me under. “Bruno is down the path about a hundred yards a so. You can’t miss him.”
I thanked him and ducked under. Beyond the tape was a paved path that wound its way through the trees. A few technicians were setting up some portable lights so they were planning on being here for quite some time. I followed the path down as instructed, passing a few officers off of the side of the path looking down at the ground for any sort of evidence.
I saw Bruno down a bit further amongst some other people and walked towards him. He saw me and headed over.
“Thanks for getting here so quickly,” he started. “Hope I didn’t interrupt anything important, but I want to get this scene photographed before it gets dark. We maybe have an hour of good light left.”
I wanted to smile at the use of the term good light but not under these circumstances. My photographic skills and terminology were rubbing off on him. I left it alone and said, “Glad to help. I was just running some errands so I came right over.” The lie was to make him feel better about calling me in. This kind of work paid well and I wanted it to continue.
I glanced over to my right. About twenty yards off of the main path where we were standing was a clearing. There was something on the ground a few people, including the twins, were surrounding. Everyone was bending down looking at. I couldn’t clearly see whatever it was but I assumed it was a body.
“Warning. This is a bad one. The victim is a female who was stabbed multiple, multiple times. She was tied up and took quite a beating to the body and especially to the face. Not a lot of blood here at the scene so she must have been killed somewhere else and dumped here. At least that’s the working theory. Lividity seems to confirm the conjecture as well. A couple walking located the body after their dog found it while running around off leash.
“The Thompson twins are here but this is my case so just ignore them. If they give you any grief pretend you didn’t hear them like normal. If they persist, send them my way. Take as many pictures you can in what daylight is left to capture the overall scene. Start with the broad scene first. Then focus on any details after using the flash. Any questions? Good. Get going.”
He didn’t exactly give me time to respond, so I didn’t believe it was a real option. I just shook my head no and set my bag down next to the path. He knew I wasn’t comfortable with death anymore and directness was his way of encouragement. Bruno walked over to the others surrounding the victim, telling them they had to clear out so we could get some pictures. I grabbed my camera and put on the most appropriate lens, added a flash, a new memory card and headed into the clearing. The twins passed over on my left. I could feel they were glaring at me like normal even though I didn’t look at them.
The empty spot in the woods was roughly a ten-foot circle where there were no trees, weeds, or other vegetation. It was surrounded by knee-high weeds and grasses were all brown and lifeless. No new plant life would be growing in this area until the spring. Just an empty patch of dirt with nothing. Except in the very middle was a lifeless, bloody body. My stomach started to rise up my throat.
The female victim was naked and had her hands bound behind her back. Her feet were also tied together. The body laid on the side in an unnatural position. She was on her left side like she had been dropped and never touched again. She was covered from head to toe with blood, dirt, leaves, and other specs of nature. The many stab wounds were visible as dark streaks against her pale skin. They were everywhere. Her legs, arms, back, buttocks, and neck. I took a number of wide-angle pictures, capturing the whole clearing with the body in the middle.
I walked around the outside of the clearing to the other side in order to get the scene from a different angle. For as bad as my initial view of the body was, this side was ten times worse. A hundred. A thousand. It was by far the worst thing I have ever seen. Her face had been beaten bloody. There was a ton of bruising and her eyes, cheeks and her lips were swollen badly. Dozens of tiny cuts littered her face with her nose at an unnatural angle. Her chest was covered with large gouges made by some sort of knife.
This had not been an easy or graceful death. This was a brutal murder. She had suffered. No doubt about it. She must have been awake for most it. One could only hope she had passed out early on, so she didn’t have to suffer any more than necessary.
I swallowed as best as possible trying to keep lunch down, thankfully not having eaten since before noon. Without trying to think about what was in front of me I continued to take pictures. Starting with the wide-angle view and then stepping closer to the victim getting close up pictures where she laid. After about twenty minutes, I had captured the images needed to document the scene. Any extreme close-ups of the wounds were done at the morgue.
Walking back out of the clearing, I saw all of the people there were waiting for me to finish. I walked out and the coroner’s people came to get the body. I set my camera down on top of my bag, took out the memory card and place it in a portable drive that automatically backed up the images. A habit I performed for every image taken in case of a failure out of my control. I leaned back looking up at the sky and took a couple of deep breaths.
Bruno walked over and asked, “Are you done? Just want to make sure you didn’t rush anything.”
I looked up with an annoyed expression on my face. “I got it all. Don’t worry.” I took a few more breaths to settle down. “Give me a few minutes and I will walk the memory card over to you.” No one knew I kept a backup of the images, so I wanted the copying to finish before I gave him the card. I have never once looked at any of them. It was simply insurance in case anything happened to the originals. I didn’t want to be the reason why a case couldn’t be solved or allowing a guilty person to go free.
He patted my back thanking me and walked over to a few other officers gathered together. Less than a minute later the images were copied to my backup drive. I took the memory card out and walked it over handing it to Bruno with a nod of thanks. The officers were all looking at a clear plastic evidence bag with a driver’s license in it. Obviously, it was the victim’s ID.
Bruno turned and talked to the group as I started to walk away. “We found what we are assuming is the victim’s driver’s license. It was directly underneath her like it was meant to be found. Based on the height, weight, and general appearance it appears to be her but we will have to wait until the coroner makes an official ID as we can’t be sure of a match with all of the damage to her face. Her name is Zoe Burke.”
I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at Bruno, thinking about what I had just heard. Bruno noticed and turned his head to the side as if asking me a question.
“What was her name again?” I asked.
“Zoe Burke,” he replied. Then he spelled it. Slowly. “Why?”
The words were stuck in my throat. “I actually know her.”