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The Southern Cross and Other Hansome & Talanted Cold Case Stories

By trisha herlihy All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

The Southern Cross

'No Mercy Shown.' The legend on the small headstone makes Sam's blood run cold. Apart from the inscription the grave is unremarkable, hidden in a sprawling yew in the corner of the graveyard. How many people had passed by on their way to church without knowing? He sighs and turns, motioning to the driver of the small digger to carry on opening the grave.

The church of St. Mary lies in the heart of the Dorset village of St. Mary Riddle, a picture box selection of thatched roofs and stone walls. Sam Hansome walks back over to where the forensic team are dressing in thin papery suits inside a white tent, ready to move over to the grave. For the next few hours there would be nothing for him to do.

A wave of tiredness sweeps over him and, looking round, he sees Detective Inspector Anne Talanted talking to the vicar. As Sam walks towards them, she catches sight of him and waves him over. 'I am just telling the Reverend Smyth the church and the graveyard will have to remain closed until our investigation here is finished. This is Sam Hansome, he is a freelance investigator for the Forensic Science Service (FSS) cold case department and is part of this investigation team.' Sam smiles weakly at the vicar. What was there left to say? 'Look Anne, I'm going to head home. You have my number if you need me for anything.' Anne nods and turns back to reassuring Reverend Smyth no other graves would be disturbed. Sam's permanently muddy Mitsubishi pick-up is parked near the lych-gate and he climbs wearily into it, ignoring the pile of files on the passenger seat. Already policemen are cordoning off the pavement from curious villagers. As he pulls away the local TV crew arrive. Got out just in time, Anne could deal with the press.

At home, Sam spreads the files out on the desk in the conservatory ignoring the spectacular views across Lyme Bay. Perched on a cliff top off a coastal road, the 1960's prefab had been just what Sam had been looking for. A quiet place.

Sam flips open the first file, jotting down the grim inscription from the headstone. 'No Mercy Shown.' The words still jangle on his nerves. His gut was telling him this was the work of a serial killer. Inside the file are photos of a young woman with an asymmetrical bob. On her face is a wide, happy smile and she is waving to the camera. On her arm, partly obscured by her watch strap is a small tattoo of a dolphin. Cicely Green had gone missing twenty seven years ago. Sam was sure they'd just found her grave and, like the other three files on his desk, he was sure she'd been murdered.

Behind him is a chalkboard with a time line on it. Already plotted are the three women from the other cold case files. Abigail Carnott who disappeared in 1981. Lisa Hamm in 1991 and Joanne Jones in 1994. Sam knew it was only his gut that held with the serial killer theory, the police were relieved to have the cases closed and the families to have the answers to their loved ones disappearances. But Sam was sure if it was Cicely's grave then her death would be about 1985. Right in the missing gap on the time line. The deaths were spread, not only evenly through a period of twenty years but also across the south from near Exeter with Abigail Carnott to the edge of the New Forest with Joanne Jones. If it was Cicely, then her burial site was also in order with the other bodies. Glancing at the phone, Sam wonders if they've uncovered anything yet but decides to wait for them to call and sits down to run over the previous files again.

The files had been worked on over a period of two years and apart from the symmetry of the time line and burial sites there were no other links between the murders. In fact the coroner had ruled death by misadventure in the case of Abigail Carnott and a probable suicide for Joanne Jones. Starting with Abigail, Sam reads through his notes again.

Twenty six year old Abigail had been reported missing in 1981 by her landlord when the rent was overdue. The last sighting of her was six months earlier in a nightclub in Exeter. Her flat above a newsagent gave no clues to her disappearance. It was only when Sam had opened up the file three years ago, he had noticed what others thought was a clerical error. The flat landlord had her name as Abigail Arnott. Further investigation showed a Gayle Arnott had run up debts to the tune of thousands in the south-west. It seems when Abigail Carnott lost her job a year prior to her disappearance, she assumed the identity of Gayle Arnott full-time. Owing huge sums to loan sharks she had fled the city to a run-down farm on the edge of Exmoor. Within months of opening the case, Sam had tracked down the farm and checked the parish records. A Gayle Arnott had been quietly buried in February1981 at the local church in an unmarked grave paid for in cash by an unknown donor. Her death had been ruled as misadventure, a drugs overdose. Her body was exhumed and dental records confirmed the remains were those of Abigail Arnott.

The second case was Lisa Hamm. Lisa, twenty-three, went out to buy milk and bread on a cold January night in 1991 and never came back. She was reported missing by her boyfriend within hours of her disappearance but there were no clues. No double existence. Nothing. Then, in late February 1991 her shoes turned up on a hilltop in north Dorset. Then nothing. Just over two years ago Sam had reopened the case and found to his amazement no tests had been run on the shoes. They had only ever been identified, bagged and shelved in the evidence cupboard. They were covered in mud and lime from a particular chalk pit in North Dorset. There, in a derelict building they had found the remains of Lisa Hamm under the floorboards. She was too decomposed to ascertain cause of death but it was pretty clear she didn't put herself under the floorboards.

Then last year the file of Joanne Jones had landed on Sam's desk. Joanne had been found by walkers out on the New Forest in 1994. The reason the case had arrived at the FSS was the body had remained unidentified. She had died from a drugs overdose, presumed to have been self-administered but nobody identified her or ever came forward to say she was missing. It had taken months of research to finally work out who Joanne was and to ascertain that between her last known location and the time of death some six months had elapsed. Sam was certain she had been abducted and held against her will but her emaciated body could just have been from habitual drug use. Joanne had worked as a casual labourer, back-packing her way around Europe. She had been travelling for over nine years, skipping out from her home in Melbourne, Australia at the age of twenty. She, like Abigail, also changed her surname. Her parents had long since believed her dead...

Sam's reading is interrupted by the phone. He glances at the number and picks up, it's Anne.
'Hi, Sam. Just to let you know we've got a body. She was buried in a lead-lined box and from the marks found inside the box, it looks like she was alive when interred. So, it will be a murder investigation from here. There'll be a press announcement made later but it will be brief and with no details. So, see you bright and early over at the FSS?'

The next morning blue skies and birdsong greet Sam as he heads off to the FSS. Housed in a new purpose-built complex, surrounded by landscaped parkland cut into the heathland behind Bournemouth, it always reminded him of a movie set rather than state-of-the-art forensics laboratories. His electronic pass tag on his car allows him access to the basement car park and he heads straight for the ops room designated for the investigation.

Most of the team were already assembled. Anne was busy setting up a computer link to the wall screen. Sam dumps his files on the table and grabs a coffee from the percolator on the table. Aneeta Dubois, the lab computer expert, shoves Sam's files further down the table exasperatedly, 'When will you switch over to a laptop, Sam? Look at all this waste paper!'

Sam grins at her, 'It's not waste, it's tangible...and unhackable!'
His answer elicits a snort from Aneeta and a laugh from another lab technician Joseph Caulderway. Bob Drise a police detective and the forensic pathologist, Dr. Joan Parts join them all around the table. Anne smiles at them all with the care-laden, here we go again smile reserved for particularly grisly murders and waves at Dr. Parts to begin.

'We know she was female, aged between eighteen and twenty-eight. Dressed in thick clothing which remains intact. This would suggest a winter killing. There are no obvious signs of trauma or body injury. The coffin was a sealed lead-lined wooden box, most of the wood has rotted. Scratch markings inside the lid would lead me to presume the victim was sealed alive inside the box but impossible to determine whether she was buried alive or died in the box elsewhere. She still has her hair and soft tissue as there has been a mummification process at work over the years.' Dr. Parts pauses and Sam interjects.'Year of death?'

'At this early stage, I would guess at about mid 1980's.' replies the doctor. Sam raises his eyebrows at Anne who shakes her head at him. 'OK, so folks, lots to work on, let's go! Aneeta, you and Joe concentrate on the clothes, hair, teeth and DNA samples, see what we can get on those. Bob, you and I will head back to the village, not that we'll probably get any leads but a bit of door-to door might jog memories. Sam, liaise with Dr. Parts and see if the lead box gives us any leads and cross reference the method of murder to cases from the 80's. And yes, I appreciate it superficially fits your cold case serial killer theory but we are concentrating on this as a single murder for now!'

Sam follows Dr. Parts back to her laboratory. Laid out on a large table were the remains of the coffin, shards of rotten wood and the slim, lead box, lid opened and revealing the scratch marks from the victim's nails.

'There are no logos or maker's marks on the box, so it was more than likely to have been home-made. Lead is primarily used for preservation of the body after death. I'm looking to see if I can identify any tooling marks or if there is any trace anywhere. But not much to go on really.' Dr. Parts thrusts her hands into her coat pockets and says. 'She would have suffocated, but a full autopsy will determine it for us. Talking of which, it's what I need to be doing, so if you have seen all you need to? I've downloaded some photos of the box to the printer in the ops room for you.'
'Yeah... thanks. I'm done.' Sam's eyes are drawn inexorably to the scratch marks on the lid, claustrophobic bile clawing at his throat. He gulps back the thought of vomiting and heads for the door and as far away as possible from the lead box.

Back in the ops room Sam taps on the window looking onto the computer lab where Aneeta is busy working. She looks up and beckons Sam to come in. 'What have you got for me?' she asks, her hands still typing at a keyboard as she talks.

'The files on a missing girl called Cicely Green, fits the timespan and location for our murder victim. I only have a photo and description but it might help. Also, you might like to look at the cases of the other girls I think could be linked. If the DI asks, I'll be on my mobile.' Sam leaves before Aneeta can question him about the other cases or ask where he is going. The sight of the box had set a chain of thoughts off in his mind.

Twenty-one year old Cicely Green's file had arrived with the Joanne Jones file. Someone at some point had maybe thought Cicely and Joanne were one and the same. Which meant up to last night, Cicely Green was still considered missing. Once solved, a lot of cold cases never made it further than a brief mention on the local news and often not even that. Some families requested privacy and in some cases the murderer was long since dead. Public interest was a fickle thing, in Sam's experience the more violent or salacious the crime the more interest. It's why 'Jack the Ripper' books still sold like hotcakes. Sex and death. Joanne's case never had publicity. Her remains were flown out to her parents in Australia and they had asked for privacy. The story never ran in the UK. If it was a serial killer, he was unaware two more of his victims had been found. Sometimes a little misinformation worked wonders. Half an hour later, Sam pulled his car over into the car park of The Royal Oak, a pub popular with the hacks from the local paper. Inside the warm interior he could already spot a couple of reporters he knew by name. Sam ordered a cheese ploughmans and sat down with his files to wait for someone to rise to his bait. It was not long before he was being questioned casually about the files on the table in front of him.

Aneeta quickly scanned the file Sam had left for her. There were four, including Cicely Green. She passed the whole lot over to Joseph and asked him to plot up a time line and position model on the computer. If it was Cicely, it might be useful.

D.I. Anne Talanted pulls the rusty handle of the bell on the vicarage porch. Far off inside chimes could be heard. It would not be fun explaining to the vicar what they were dealing with but at least their might be a chance of a cup of tea. Ten minutes later she and Bob Drise were sitting in the Reverend Smyth's study.

'But this is just dreadful!' exclaimed the Reverend, 'I've only been here for just over five years I was up on the moors prior to this. I took over from the Reverend Jones, he retired through ill health. I'm afraid he's now dead, pneumonia poor chap. But he would have been here during the eighties. I think I have an address for a son somewhere.'

Bob quietly took notes in shorthand as the Reverend answered Anne's inquiries. 'And, do you think he knew of the grave?'

'Well, my dear, I have no idea! I tell you what I can can give you though...' he pauses and turns to the shelves behind him. 'now, somewhere here..ah, here it is! It's a copy of the parish records. We keep an informal copy although the official register is locked up in the church. This a sort of parish diary... in the eighties you say... here!' he hands Anne a dog-eared slim leather volume from a set on the bookshelf.

'Thank you, we'll return this to you as soon as we can. Now we will also need to know who worked for the church during that time.' Seeing the Reverend's look of alarm she reassured him, 'Just to see if they can remember anything out of the ordinary.'

Dr. Parts carefully turns over the young woman's wrist, just under what would have been a watch strap was a small faint outline. A tattoo. The drying out of the underlying tissues meant it was distorted but it looked as though it might have been a small dolphin. Using a digital camera the doctor photos it and sends it direct to Aneeta via the computer system, she might be able to restore and identify it.

Sam casually answers the reporter's question, 'Well, I am looking at an interesting case at the moment. A girl called Joanne, turned up in a box. We think she was murdered back in the eighties but...I shouldn't have told you that, about the box, I mean. Joanne Jones was her name. Tragic really...' Sam pauses for another mouthful of cheese and pickle as the reporter leans in for the kill.

'So I can run with this? I mean, you want me to use this?'

'Well, it's not official and I've probably said too much.' With that Sam's phone rings and he reads the text message from Aneeta. 'I've got to go.' Sam finishes the glass of water and picks up his files, scattering paper on the floor. The reporter can't fail to notice the photo of the lead coffin as he gathers them up hastily and leaves. Back in his car in the car park Sam smiles to himself. It would take the reporter minutes to work out it was what they'd been digging up at the churchyard in St. Mary Riddle. It would make the evening's print run. Aneeta's text message confirmed it was Cicely Green. Aneeta had matched the tattoo of a small dolphin just visible on the photo to the one found on the corpse.

Back at the FSS ops room Joe was building a time line of events starting with the discovery of the small grave by a local historian surveying graveyards in the area. The historian, after finding no records for it, had contacted the local police who, in turn, passed the information on to the cold case department. While not really falling under the remit of the cold case office, no one wanted to tie up valuable police time with what was probably lost records and clerical errors. And so it had been handed on to Sam who immediately set about organising an exhumation. It had been a grindingly slow process and with no direct link to any cold case, it was six months from the grave discovery to yesterday's exhumation. Sam had been sure it was Cicely Green's final resting place.

Sicily had grown up in the area, only moving away to attend college in Exeter in the early 1980's. Right about the time Abigail Arnott went missing. Cicely's lodgings were only a few hundred yards from the newsagent where Abigail had her flat and their paths must crossed on several occasions. Mere coincidence? The longer Sam worked cold cases, the less he believed in coincidence. His thoughts are interrupted by Joe who calls him over to see something on his computer screen.

'Hey Sam, check this out, I plotted in your other cold case victims into a topographical map of the south,' Joseph hits a button and a 2D map outline appears with four small red dots joined together and almost in line with each other from Exeter to the New Forest. 'Now, in this flat plane it just looks like a wobbly line but, if you add in the 3D and then skew it to the correct axis we are on... voilà!' In front of Sam's eyes the shape of a wiggly cross appears. 'Neat huh? Now all we have to do is find a body buried here, and we have the whole cross..' Joseph is interrupted by the arrival of Anne and Bob.

'Reverend Smyth has only been at the church for five years, before then he was based on Exmoor, it was a Rev. Jones and his wife, now both deceased, there's a son up north somewhere. Bob is going to try and track him down...' Anne strides across the ops room and checks out the time line.

'He was where? On Exmoor?' Sam asks, immediately thinking of Abigail Arnott.

'Enough with conspiracy theories. Let's deal with this murder first.' Anne is firm. 'Now, why does the name Jones ring a bell?'

'Joanne Jones, victim number three!' Sam replies, delighting in the exasperated look on Anne's face.

'And Joseph, what are you doing?' Anne catches sight of the 3D map on his computer.

'It's a topographical map of the...'

'Conspiracy theory.. Looks a bit like a cross don't you think?' asks Sam.

'OK, enough!' Anne bangs her palm against the table. ' We know it's Cicely Green, we know it's a murder and we have a list of names who were working or connected to the church at the time. Let's get to it!'



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