I snatched a jacket, threw on my hiking boots, and headed out to the car. The call from Bruno had rattled me. There was no normal reason he would want me at a crime scene without my camera gear. He had never asked me for my direct opinion about a crime scene while at one. It was always after the fact while he was processing it out loud and wanted to run something past me. The closest I had ever come to working a crime scene together was this morning at my office when he was looking around after the break-in. Whatever this was, it was something bad and it had me terrified.
I drove down to Ault Park without any problems. Traffic was light since it was almost eleven PM when I arrived. There were a number of police vehicles in a parking area just north of the main pavilion, so I headed in that direction. I parked in a spot a dozen or so yards down from the main throws of vehicles and their flashing lights and got out of the car. It was another perfect fall night. Crisp, cool and calm. I wished I was back at my place in bed with Kelsey or, more importantly, still on the couch.
My camera gear was in the trunk regardless of what Bruno told me. You never knew when the perfect photographic situation might present itself. I rarely went anywhere without it. At least some condensed version of the equipment, anyway. Basically, my go bag of the minimum needed camera gear, extra memory cards, batteries and a few survival type items like a knife, string, and a few snacks. Often time you had to tie back branches or cut off some already blasted flowers to capture a flawless image.
Bruno saw me get out and jogged over. He had his serious cop face on, typical for a crime scene so I couldn’t read him.
“What’s going on?” I asked as he got close enough. “You ruined a pretty damn good Saturday night in my opinion. This had better be good.”
“Alex, I need you to listen to me for a minute and not talk. Understand?” he asked. He stood there motionless staring directly at me.
I shook my head in agreement indicating I understood. Whatever was going on here was something very serious.
“I was assigned another body found in the woods. It has an almost identical MO to Zoe Burke. The similarities will be obvious to you when we go up to the crime scene. I have no idea if the two crimes and or victims are related to one another but it’s something I will investigate. What I want to do is have you walk through the crime scene with me. I need to get your take on it and see if anything jumps out at you. Are you fine with the plan?” The way he asked made me believe Bruno was attempting to be polite and it wasn’t really an option.
“No problem. Are you thinking the same person killed whoever is up there?” I couldn’t think of anything else it could be.
“I don’t want to say anything more right now as not to influence your opinions,” Bruno replied. “A few other things. First off, remember to keep your damn mouth shut. Talk only to me regardless of what you think and your thoughts. Even if someone asks you a question. Keep it shut. I will let you know if I want you to talk. Simple.
“Secondly, the twins are here. They may try and rattle you and get under your skin like normal. Don’t acknowledge them, don’t make eye contact, and whatever you do, don’t talk to them. Pretend they are just not there at all. You normally do a pretty good job at ignorance when necessary, but this time make sure you do.
“Finally, keep your emotions in check up there and particularly in front of everyone. I don’t want you freaking out in the middle of a crime scene. Do you understand what I am telling you?”
“Bruno, what the hell is going on?” I was pretty freaked out and I am sure it showed.
“I can’t tell you,” Bruno replied. He paused for a few seconds trying to calm down. “At least not right away. Please answer the question. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said simply.
“Good. Let’s go.”
Bruno let me up a path from the parking lot back into the woods. We followed a meandering dirt path through the trees. He led with his flashlight since it was pitch black outside. There was a glow up ahead, maybe one hundred yards up. I figured it was the location of where we were headed. They already had portable lights at the scene.
As we approached the area, the twins were off to the side talking. “What the fuck, Bruno?” the short fat one spat out. “What the hell is Alex doing here? We already have pictures of the crime scene. Is this why you haven’t moved the body yet?”
As per Bruno instructions, we walked by them without any sign whatsoever we had heard them. I was basically stared at my shoes the entire time. Not exactly the best technique, but it worked for me.
We stopped at a spot a dozen or so yards farther along the path. Bruno said, “The body is right through here. Wait here a second while I make sure the scene is clear for you to look around. Remember what we discussed earlier.” Bruno headed off through the undergrowth on the side of the path.
I stood there facing straight ahead, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. The peace and quiet lasted for all of about fifteen seconds.
“Hey, Alex Lame. What could you possibly be doing here?” It was the tall skinny one this time. “Are you having to hold Bruno’s hand? Is he scared?”
I continued to stare straight ahead. Having no idea what was going on, I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of anything. Besides, Bruno made my expected behavior crystal clear.
“Asshole! We are talking to you.”
I turned to look directly at both of the twins with my best intimidating face, saying absolutely nothing. After a few heartbeats, I turned back towards where Bruno went off into the woods, remaining silent. They both left without saying another word when they saw Bruno heading back my way.
“Ready?” Bruno asked when he got back to my location.
“As I’ll ever be.”
“Good. Follow me.” He led me off of the main trail through some bushes and undergrowth. A new path was beginning to be formed from all of the recent foot traffic. After a short walk, we arrived at a small clearing in the undergrowth. There were trees all around but underneath was a patch of soil and leaves. Just as before, there was a bound and naked body of a woman in the middle. This time lit up by a number of portable lights surrounding the area.
“Go in and walk around and get a better look. Make some mental notes of what you see and any questions you may have. We will talk about it afterward. I am going to wait here until you are done. Take as much time as you need.”
I walked out into the small clearing towards the body. Just like Zoe Burke, the body was completely naked and had both of her hands tied behind her back. Both feet were also bound together with the same rope. The victim was also laying on her side. I approached from her back. Once again, the body was covered with multiple stab wounds that left her covered with blood. There wasn’t much blood around the body, so I assumed she had been killed elsewhere and moved here. The body wasn’t nearly as dirty as the first one.
I stared at her from the back trying to take in as much detail as I could. In reality, I was only stalling. She was blonde with long hair. Not too tall but not short either. Slender build. From what I could see, she was relatively young. Not a teenager by any stretch of the imagination but not old either. Somewhere in their twenties or thirties. A shot in the dark, but an educated one based on what I was seeing.
I slowly walked an arc around the body to the other side. The worst thing I had ever seen in my life had lasted only a few days. This was worse. Her face, or what was left of it, had been beaten to a bloody pulp. Once again, her cheeks and lips were tremendously swollen indicating the victim had been alive for most of the beating. A body only swells that way while the heart is pumping regardless of if the person is conscious or not.
There were a lot of additional small, tiny stab wounds across her entire chest and thighs. The only thing I could think of is she was tortured. It couldn’t be anything else. This wasn’t a crime a passion. This was revenge in its purest form.
The similarities to Zoe Burke were unmistakable. Bound hands and feet. A severally beaten and swollen face. Multiple stab wounds over the whole body. Dumping a body off a central route in a city park. There were just too many similarities for it to be a coincidence.
I had seen enough and looked to see where Bruno was. He was in the same place watching me scrutinize the body. Walking back to where Bruno was standing, I tried to take a few deep breaths attempting to keep dinner in place.
“Remember, not a word,” Bruno said in a hushed tone so only I could hear. “Let’s walk back to your car and talk.”
I followed him back without looking at anything or anyone other than the ground. When we got back, Bruno looked around to make sure we were alone and spoke first. “What are your thoughts? Be completely honest with me.”
I took a second to collect my thoughts. Not sure of where to begin, I just started talking.
“The same person or persons who killed Zoe Burke must have killed this woman. There are just too many similarities. The hands, feet, stab wounds, beaten face, leaving a naked body in a park after you killed her. All of it. There is just too much for it not to be the same murderer.
“It was hard to tell but the victims kind of looked similar. Difficult with all of bruising on her face but they were close to the same height and build. Both had blondish hair but those similarities could be a coincidence. Fuck, Bruno. How can you do this?”
“It’s my job and I am damn good at it.” He still had his serious cop face on. “Anything else?”
“What more is there? I am assuming you asked me down here to see if I felt the two murders were related to each other. Not sure why, because you could easily have come to that conclusion yourself or asked any one of the other cops who were at both scenes. It’s pretty obvious to anyone. Why exactly am I here? What aren’t you telling me?”
Bruno simply stared at me, looking directly in my eyes. I wasn’t about to fill the silence with anything else until I knew more of what was going on. After a minute of the stare-down, Bruno finally broke it and looked away.
“There is another similarity to Zoe Burke you couldn’t have picked up on. When we moved the body we found her driver’s license under her just like before.”
“So? What’s another similarity? Who cares? Everybody in their right mind knows the two cases are related.”
Bruno held up an evidence bag in front of me that contained a bloody driver’s license.
“Alex, the victim up there is Sarah Jacobs.”