The Heat is On
H.D. Boggs pulled into the Oak Cliff Substation and parked in one of the spaces restricted for DPD personnel. He opened the door of his truck, got out of the vehicle, and was immediately met with a blast of hot air that almost drove him back to the temporary cool of his cab. As he walked along the sidewalk to the entrance he could see the heat waves coming off the hoods of parked cars, and especially from the black pavement. Heat made him think slowly, and as he walked he wondered why they always made parking lots black in Texas. Answering his own question, he muttered “cheaper,” and walked into the substation.
Boggs walked into Conference Room A, and glanced around the room. Seated over by the window were Bill and Frankie. Just to the left as he entered sat Maria. Ten patrol officers from the South Dallas Gang Unit occupied the rest of the seats. There was a slide projector in the center of the room, and a coffee machine on a table in the back. The carafe was about three-quarters empty, and surrounding the machine were about a dozen Styrofoam cups.
Boggs nodded to everyone, walked back to the coffee maker, and filled a cup about half-full of coffee that looked more like motor oil. He looked at the cup in his hand, and took a whiff.
“I could putty my windows with his stuff,” he said under his breath. He set the cup back down on the table, turned and walked to the front of the room, taking his position behind a small podium that read “Dallas Police Department”.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” Boggs began. “As you all know by now, this morning we found the body of Julio Guerra in Spring Park. It’s a homicide, and the work is consistent with two previous unsolved murders that have occurred in the last several months here in Oak Cliff. The body is with the ME right now, so we won’t have a complete report until all the tests are done. But what we already know pretty well matches the other two homicides. Now without going into the specifics, the two case officers, detectives Maloney and Nguyen will shortly do that, we believe that the same perpetrator committed these three homicides. Also, and this is really important, we are convinced at this point that these crimes are not gang related. The MO’s do not match any known characteristics of gang type hits. But we anticipate that once the news of these crimes hits the streets, it could cause the current gang situation to destabilize, which could result in the slingshot effect. This is criminal behavior that occurs in an area, and is not related to the life circumstances there. But, it will cause the same response as if it were related. In other words, no matter what the reality of the crime, if the gang members, and law-abiding citizens believe that the homicides are gang motivated they will respond as if it were true. Perception is reality folks, so we have to be prepared.” Boggs paused for a second and gestured toward Maria.
“ I have asked Dr. Contreras to help us with this situation. As many of you know, she has helped us before on gang culture and interventionist strategies. She is an expert on group dynamics and conflict, so lets be as helpful as we can. There will be a lot of pressure on all of us to solve this case. But…” Boggs stopped and placed both hands on the sides of the podium and leaned a little forward, and then spoke in the measured language for which he was known.
“Ladies and gentlemen, right now all evidence points to a serial killer at work. If so, he will strike again. If he strikes again the pressure will intensify. So we have to be solid, sound, and savvy in how we proceed. On the one hand, we have multiple homicides to solve, on the other we have a gang war to avert. We all have to step up to the plate and go the extra mile to achieve resolution on this.” Boggs almost grimaced to himself as the clichés came out before he could stop them. I should run for city council, he thought.
There was a general stirring of bodies in their chairs, and the somewhat audible and collective murmur of “yes sir,” as people in a classroom or conference setting often do when there is a natural pause combined with announcements and new information.
“Now I would like to turn things over to Detective Bill Maloney, who will brief you on the case to date. You all have copies of the files in front of you to go through later. So, for now, just listen to get a feel for what we are dealing with. Bill, you have to floor.”
Bill rose from his seat and strode to the podium. With him, as much as for a security blanket as for his thirst, he brought his bottle of natural spring water, thirty-two ounces, about half of which was already gone. He didn’t like public speaking much, the eyes on him invaded his sense of privacy. As he started to speak he immediately began to perspire. Had he been able to notice beyond his own nervous self-absorption, he would have seen that just about everybody else was beginning to perspire as well, the result of too many people in a small room with undersized central air.
“Thanks Captain. We have three confirmed cases of homicide. What I will do is walk you through the crime scenes and the evidence, pointing out similarities that lead us to believe that the same individual committed all three murders. First, let’s look at the timing and locations of the murders. The first victim, Juan Cortez, was found at Lake Cliff Park, the morning after this past Easter. Two men who went there, well let’s just say to find some privacy, discovered his body at approximately 7:30AM. Cortez was found on a park bench near the edge of the water. He was tied in a sitting position with monofilament fishing line. Twenty pound test to be exact. A fishing pole was also tied to his hands. The scene was set up obviously to make it look like he was fishing. The line ran out to a bobber sitting in the water and then back to the body. At the end of the line there was a fishing lure attached. It had two sets of treble hooks, one of which was deeply attached to the lower lip of Juan Cortez. His mouth had foam around it, and it was stuffed with grass. In addition, his right pinky finger was severed at the knuckle. This wound was pre-mortem. There was also a pre-mortem contusion on the front left side of his head. The medical examiner said the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by the ingestion of a concentrated dose of glyphosate isoproplyamine. There were also amounts of this chemical in his eyes and around his face. The pattern of droplets suggests it was sprayed into his face. This stuff is the active ingredient in weed killers of various brands that can be bought at any hardware store or nursery. There were no witnesses. It seems that Cortez had been missing since Good Friday evening, but no one reported it because he often caroused for days without checking in with his friends or family. He had been cited for failure to renew his driver’s license, so at the time he was walking everywhere or getting rides from friends. He apparently was quite a party guy. Cortez was a junior member of the Chalk Hill Rojos section of the Diablos. He was nineteen years old.”
Bill stopped briefly, taking a drink of water and letting the information settle. He then continued. “The second victim was Luis Hernandez. He was last seen on Memorial Day, evening to be exact. He had been at a party in north Oak Cliff. The last person to see him was his girlfriend. She told police that he dropped he her off at her parents’ house about 2:30AM, and that he was going to stop and get a hamburger before heading home. That was the last anybody saw of him until his body was discovered tied to the backstop of a baseball field at Kidder Park. At about 7:15AM the next morning a group of kids were cutting through the park on their way to school and found the body. They alerted a nearby neighbor who called 911. Like Cortez, Hernandez was bound with fishing line, this time to hold him up to make it look like he was standing with his back against the backstop. There was a catcher’s mitt found on his head, pocket side down. The victim also had grass stuffed in his mouth. The cause of death was asphyxiation by ingestion of glyphosate isopropylamine. There were traces of the chemical in his eyes and on his face, and there was pre-mortem trauma to the left front side of the head. Hernandez was also member in good standing of the Chalk Hill Rojos. His abandoned Chevy Camaro was found two blocks from his apartment. Underneath the front seat were two vials of cocaine. The car was unlocked. It would appear from this that he was snatched. Hernandez was twenty-four. He had two children from a previous relationship, and was defaulting on his child support.”
Another pause, shuffling of feet, squirming of people in their seats, and Maloney downing the rest of his water. One more to go, he thought as he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. He happened to glance over at Maria, who looked at him and offered a tiny smile. “Well, I guess I’m doing something right,” he said to himself.
“Now we come to the big fish, Julio Guerra. The report on him is not complete yet, but the ME is fairly sure that he died from ingesting glyphosate isopropylamine.
He was found tied to a swing at Spring Park, bound by fishing line. Unlike the other two though, there were no contusions or wounds found on the body. We need to worry about that because it might suggest a change in patterning by the perpetrator. He was discovered at approximately 7:45AM by a jogger whose unleashed dog went sniffing around the swing set. There were no witnesses. As you all know, Guerra was chief of the North Side Blancos. He leaves a wife and 7 children, four from a previous marriage. He was forty-seven years old.”
Maloney stretched out his back, and continued, “Now I will turn things over to Detective Nguyen, who will elaborate on common patterns and suggest possible theories about these crimes.”
Maloney turned to Nguyen’s direction and said “All yours,” and walked over to his chair and sat down. He already felt cooler…even if it wasn’t.
Unlike Maloney, who was virtually tethered to the podium, Nguyen felt no need to stay concealed behind it. He was comfortable in front of an audience. He was more at ease walking around, engaging the audience rather than fearful of it. He owed this gift to his father and all those Sinatra songs he sung in front of people as a child.
“Hi everyone,” Nguyen began. “Here are what we see as common patterns to all three crimes. First, let’s look at the cause of death. In all three instances it was the same chemical. However, glyphosate isopropylamine is found almost in any weed killer in almost any lawn and garden section of stores in the Metroplex. It will be nearly impossible to trace to a single buyer. This MO is distinctly different from gang hits, which usually involve either drive by spray shooting with semi-automatic or automatic weapons or execution style shots to the head with handguns. Second, in all three instances grass, specifically Bermuda grass, was found in the mouths of the victim. At this point we don’t know why, but perhaps it may hold some symbolic significance for the killer. It is of interest that Bermuda grass isn’t found in any of the areas where the victims were found. This strongly suggests that the use of this grass and its location on the victims is pre-meditated and highly ritualized. At this point, we don’t know the nature of the symbolism. Third, in every instance the body was moved after death, but not long after death. Each man had been dead less than 6 hours, based on the early stages of rigor mortis in the fingers. The pooling of blood in each victim, the buttocks in the cases of Cortez and Guerra, and the feet in Hernandez, indicate that the bodies had been placed at the scenes only about two hours before they were discovered. What this suggests is that there is only about a two or three hour lapse between the time of death and the placement of the bodies. Fourth, the placement of the bodies must have taken some time based on the very intricate state in which they were found. If we assume for now that it must have taken about an hour or more to set the bodies in place, then it means that the murders were committed near the scene, or by someone highly mobile, or both. Fifth, the crime scenes are all in parks that have easy access, lots of privacy, and easy exit. All three of the parks are located on or near major traffic arteries within Oak Cliff, with easy access to the freeways into Dallas or mid-cities. This leads me to suspect, although I would like something more solid, that our perpetrator does not live in Oak Cliff. Rather I believe he is someone who wants to do his work quietly and deliberately, and then get out fast; someone who is familiar with the rhythm of these neighborhoods but not so familiar that they have confidence driving deep into it. Finally, we are pretty sure that a single individual committed the crimes. Dirt residues found on the heels of the victims suggest that our killer had to drag the bodies back-side side down into position, thereby scuffing the heels.”
Nguyen turned to Boggs and said, “That’s about it Captain.” Boggs nodded and approached the podium as Nguyen sat down.
“Thank you detectives,” Boggs said as he regained the podium.
“Now, detectives Maloney and Nguyen will be contacting the behavioral sciences division of the FBI for profiler data to see if our perpetrator can be matched up with any known patterns of serial killers. Meanwhile Dr. Contreras will be using her contacts in the community to intervene against gang destabilization.” Boggs turned to Maria.
“Anything you want to say?”
Maria was sitting with her elbows on the table and her hands cupped under her chin. She looked at Boggs with a slight smile and simply shook her head.
“Okay.” Boggs turned back to the patrolmen from the gang unit. “You people are going to have to be very visible in the neighborhoods, particularly in the Rojos and Blancos territories, the tension zones, and the malls. We will also put extra squad cars on the streets during the weekends, especially Friday and Saturday nights after bar time.
We have to try to convince people that these killings are not gang related to keep the slingshot effect from occurring. We also have to let people know that we are doing everything we can to catch the perpetrator. If we can’t do both, well, then it’s gonna’ get hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.. Any questions?”
Boggs looked at his watch, and rubbed his wrist where the watchband was pinching. “Then that’s it for now. Let’s get to it, I got a news conference to attend in an hour.”
Soon the room was empty, save one person. The only sounds were the occasional pop of the coffee machine and the hum of the air conditioning. Maria sat alone, staring through the window opposite her. Two young girls walked past. Thin and pretty, they were far too young to be wearing the provocative clothes and the makeup they had applied. They can’t be more than twelve and already they are being drawn in, she thought. She sighed, got up and walked out the door of Conference Room A. As she pushed open the door of the substation she was hit with the all too familiar blast of hot outside air. It was almost 3:00PM. There was now a hot wind blowing in her face. There was another wind coming, she thought as she unlocked her car and got in. Another wind was coming and it was going to smell bloody.