The Doll Collector

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Chapter 15

Carrying a box of papers from his car to his office, Dan was, for the first time grateful for police vetting. The hassle-laden task of filling in forms and agreeing not to be a terrorist had enabled him to consult with the police. For this case Dan felt that his input was essential.

He was also surprised and delighted that his case had fallen into the lap of an understanding, overworked detective. The man had not only agreed to Dan’s assistance, but he had welcomed it, especially as Dan had already been very useful in starting to build a profile of the kidnapper.

He had only spoken to DC Brokes over the phone, having previously spoken face to face with a younger, less experienced officer the previous evening. The new officer in charge sounded like a man wise enough to accept additional help, especially when it was offered by a desperate parent and it didn’t eat into the budget.

Dan considered the contrast between this Saturday morning and most others in recent memory. Usually, by mid-morning on a Saturday, he had just about woken, eaten and dressed for a quiet weekend with his family. On this Saturday he had spent the morning and the early afternoon spreading numerous police case files across his desk in an otherwise empty office.

Picking at the paperwork from various cases, Dan had been surprised and impressed with the speed by which they had been provided. The majority of the pages had been photocopied, and then photocopied again. Despite the resulting drop in quality, everything he needed was still in front of him. The notes for each case were more detailed and numerous than he had expected. It seemed most of the modern officers preferred to take far too many notes and to retain far more information than DC Dan had done in the past.

He was casting his eyes around the files on his desk, looking at the cases, five years old or younger, in which unconnected young teenage girls had disappeared on the same day. Four such cases had already been identified, and the police indicated that there may be more to come.

A picture started to emerge, with events scattered throughout the UK from Glenrothes, an hour north of Edinburgh, to Carmarthen in South Wales, central Leeds and most recently in Tamworth, north of Birmingham.

All in all, twelve girls had been snatched in those four locations, three from each. The days that destroyed so many family lives were separated by at least eight months each time. The incidents were far enough apart that few police officers, if any, would have considered a connection. Most would not have been aware of the other incidents. He shook his head. This guy wouldn’t have been half as effective if police forces talked to each other.

As late morning turned to mid-afternoon, Dan continued to review the paperwork. The more time he spent, the more ne noticed a common thread emerging. I’ll pull at every thread until the world of this kidnapper unravels.

He became more anxious to do so when he discovered the details. From a total of twelve girls, four had returned home. Less than half. Three of the remaining girls had been killed, the other five had simply vanished.

Some parents could take courage from the fact that at least one girl returned home safely in every town. Dan wasn’t so hopeful. The survivors seemed to be so emotionally disturbed that they would refuse to talk to anyone about their ordeal. Two of them simply didn’t talk to anyone ever, such was the damage caused.

I’ve got a one-in-three chance of getting my daughter back alive, and then a fifty percent chance she’ll never recover.

Dan’s heart started beating faster. He reached for his antacids in anticipation of an acid-fuelled reaction. With so many things going wrong in his life, he felt that he could at least control his heartburn, even if only temporarily.

I need to find Abigail, and I need to find her before she becomes another statistic.

He had witness statements to finish reading, A DVD of interviews to watch, all in the hope of finding anything that could help identify this man. He was aware that the police would be doing the same things, but an extra set of eyes couldn’t hurt things.

Relying on the words of the fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes, Dan was constantly aware of the danger of jumping to conclusions without sufficient data. The high-functioning sociopath from Baker Street warned his medically trained colleague of the dangers of twisting facts to fit theories. I wonder if I’m starting to do that, but in some cases you surely need to start with the theory.

Regardless of any reprimand he might dream up from Mr Holmes, Dan felt as if he was getting closer to the kidnapper and killer that had his daughter. He just hoped his ideas would turn into hard evidence quick enough to save Abigail from being hurt or scarred for life. Somewhere deep in his gut he knew that he would find the man. He just hoped that it would not be in vain.

Dan remembered being asked about the other two missing girls by police when they attended his home the previous evening. There were no obvious links between any of them. The girls were not known to each other. Parents didn’t recognise their faces. They attended different schools and had different friends. Their hobbies and interests were different. The kidnapper seemed to have selected a random sample of girls from the area.

Police were hopeful of actionable information turning up from the forensic examination of their computers. Sadly, any information about their contacts on social networks, or any interests hidden from their parents and closest friends, would take days or weeks. She’ll be long gone by then.

Dan looked at the timelines of the previous cases. By the time the forensic reports came back one or more of the girls was dead.

He delved into the details of the files sprawled across his desk. The four murdered girls were all found quickly. The bodies were not dumped in parks or under railway bridges. They were left in rooms of vacant rental properties. The tenant had left without warning at the end of a six month lease in each case. No notice, no inspections of the property, no return of the deposit. He just vanished, leaving the properties unlocked and the keys behind the front door.

Independently the cases had provided little of use. Together, they painted a fairly clear picture. This was obviously the work of one man, and the details suggested he used a similar modus operandi as he preyed on his victims.

The names used by this man were different each time, all of them fake. Bank accounts had been set up days before renting using false identification. References were bogus. The man would walk into their office, arrange to view a property and sign up for a six month lease, all in the first day. He would appear to be the ideal tenant for almost six months, and would then vanish, leaving one hell of a mess in his wake.

The one-man-band letting agents that he had preferred to use didn’t have the resources help catch this man. Dan listed the consistencies between them:

Rundown offices

Poor security

No CCTV

Little, if any paperwork

Desperate for new tenants

He looked over the single sheet of A4. This could be the killer’s checklist.

Dan reviewed the descriptions provided by letting agents of the man. He was consistently described as being six feet tall, well-built and smartly dressed. He had grey-blue eyes. Some reported that part of a tattoo was visible on the left side of his neck above his collar.

Beyond that, the accounts varied in relation to hair colour, facial hair, voice tone and accent. He was blond, brown or black haired. He wore a wide-brimmed hat or he didn’t. He had a moustache, a goatee beard, a full beard or he was clean-shaven.

Curiosity drove him to revisit the DVD, so frequently viewed that every sound, every part of its dialogue had been ingrained into his memory.

He watched the man walk behind Abigail. A dark smudge of sorts was visible on the left side of his neck as he moved. When stationery behind the girl, the image became clearer. He pointed at the screen in an almost triumphant gesture. There’s the tattoo.

The American accent was clearly fake. He has previously used South African, Australian and Welsh accents to try and keep his true voice a secret from the rental agencies.

The accent was becoming increasingly irrelevant, but Dan had a major clue. The tattoo was there. His daughter had, in fact, been abducted by the same man that had taken and abused so many girls previously.

I’m closer to solving a handful of police investigations, but I’m no closer to solving my own. Knowing more of the details of this guy didn’t help much on its own. He still had no name, no address, no way of contacting him.

Out of courtesy he called DC Brokes again and got his voicemail. He left a message outlining his discoveries and his theories. Maybe they would have some luck in tracking down the tattooed disappearing man.

The police can re-question old victims. I’ll keep digging into the details.

If he leaned on local letting agents he could find this man. One of them was certain to have rented to this man, and they would find the truth too late, along with a corpse. It was clearly in their interest to help, and Dan some years earlier had discovered he had a talent for persuading people.

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