Chapter 1 : Back to work
Monday 5th October 1998
The October sun drifted low into the kitchen illuminating it like a crime scene. It had been long two months since Sady had died. Nothing seemed even remotely clearer, the reasons why what happened obscure, a permanent cold mist settled on to the fabric of his partners life.
It all pointed to a rejected lover of course, even though she was just seventeen. Kids these days were growing up real quick. And perverts were just waiting in the shadows.. The cat was playing outside with some sort of field mouse. It would paw it and wait for it to run a yard before pouncing on it, all the while causally looking in at Lewis as if to proclaim its nonchalance. Those eyes were merciless, emotionless, this wasn’t a meal, it was just a game.
That’s the difference Lewis pondered, between animals and humans. There’s no real emotion, no depth of feeling. Life is just action and reaction; feelings don’t factor.
The facts around Tar Hollow State Forest were almost all inconsistent with initial details leaked to the press by the Columbus Police Press Office. Yes the bodies were in pieces, but not scattered in a wide space; instead neatly piled, all within a certain area, making a near perfect equilateral triangle. This wasn’t a series of bear attacks, but it wasn’t a story Detective McEvoy likes the look of either though.
Mayoral politics in any police department was used as an excuse for many difficult decisions, the suits just felt a noose would tighten on them if they attempted kicking it further up. And who was he to question the bosses. The headlines weren’t great at the moment for his boss, but “Child predator on the loose” wasn’t the kind of distraction he was looking for. Wild bear kills one would do for now until the media figured it out. That would buy a week at most of peace. There was no trouble in gathering the crime scene stuff and keeping it, just no point in making a case the department didn’t have a firm grip on yet. Once the Feds got wind of it, no one would be able to breathe, they’d suffocate it with procedure. And he could handle a case now despite everything. It has been a long two months since Sady died.
They ok’ed his partner, McEvoy, to come back, and it was maybe a welcome distraction from his grief. This Tar Hollow killer was old by Lewis’s intuition, older than the teen that raped and killed Sady. More organized, physically big given the size of at least one of his victims, careful and attentive to detail, mature. It took time, it took method and it took privacy.
The Columbus Polices Department station caught most of the usual Franklinton chaos directly west of it, domestic assaults, gang related minor crime and major, the occasional student rape that drifted south. With enough overtime and a second income, you could aspire to a ground floor flat in Hilliard. Leafy streets, occasional student residence, a lot of university kids but generally crime free. Off duty cops and students mixed well with IT types and University lecturers.
Less than two miles west was a different world. Mostly poor, mostly black, Franklinton was in equal parts depressing and dangerous. Low lying and swamp like in summer, when winter came, a pervasive damp cold hung over every thing. They had three dead young black boys and three missing persons reports from this summer gone with matching initial dental on two. The DNA analysis was still pending and so officially at least, this was still a missing persons scenario when dealing with families. It was October now, and his first job for the morning was interviewing victim #1 ’s next of kin, an aunt living out the projects in West Franklinton.
Bernice Jackson, 58 with two priors for possession of Class A, but otherwise a good citizen. She didn’t seem to be the usual meth head type on paper at least. She had a job at the local Walmart, divorced mother of 3, adopted the victim following a family tragedy at her youngest sisters house.
Her younger sister was wild and loose, and eventually lost her life to heroin by 29. She’d been turning tricks around a Walmart car park just off Route 70 when she got pregnant. 10 years later she lost her life to a $20 baggie and fell off her 3rd story balcony leaving victim #1 to Beatrice. There was no redemption arc in his future either. His life story was already laid out on bare steel, water dripping into the collecting porcelain sink below, his body found in six separate parts. Missing an arm but otherwise all the puzzle pieces. There were two right arms, both naked, widely different in size, both removed post mortem, one was a good fit in crude terms. The other was an outlier, not a fit to the other two piles found either.Those pictures tend to burn an image forever on some peoples minds, but Lewis had become immune to sentimentality as he called it, years ago.
He had parked in a parallel street, grabbing his coffee and he strolled slowly through the autumnal sun-scapes to Beatrice’s stand alone house. Even in the depths of winter the gang calls rang out. Heroin was a 24hour 7day a week business for all involved. He was glad he’d left Vice in one sense, it was just a merry go round, but old habits died hard with him. He took the clip off his service revolver case and stayed in the middle of the street until he saw the house. The boy might have only been ten when he vanished, but his auntie must have kept up with demands for bikes if the mountain bike on the porch was anything to go on.
It wasn’t one of those cheap knock offs, calliper breaks and heavy steel alloy made frame, this had all the bells and whistles including a fancy light fitting minus the light on the front. The rear red light was oddly enough, almost pristine looking, straight out of the package. Jayden’s birthday was last April, most likely got it then.
She sat in front of him, her Walmart uniform stained with grease and what looked like some sort of sauce. With a cigarette perched delicately in her right hand, and a coffee in her left, she explained she hadn’t a lot of time to talk. Walmart expected her at 11am and it would take at least 30 minutes to get there with one bus every 20 minutes.
“I told the police everything already ten times” she pleaded.“Jayden was used to taking care of himself, no need for me to mother him. He knew not to wander. He was a good boy.”
Her rush to protect a son was well practiced Lewis thought as he surveyed the living room. She’d already raised a family by the time Jayden came to live with her. Two sons and a daughter, all in their early twenties, one dead and two incarcerated. She kept everything tidy, everything neat and folded. A old dusty looking Nintendo was lying placed between stacks of DVDs on the TV console. A washing machine clattered in the kitchen in the background and was about to reach its screaming orgasmic height by the noise coming from it.”
Was Jayden ever in any kind of trouble Ms Johnston? We know he was at camp this summer for the first time. Maybe he hung around with the older boys too much?”
The question hung in the air like a rotten fart, unanswered by her for just a moment too long. They both knew what he was alluding to. Franklinton had a prostitution problem, and it wasn’t all working girls. Vice had at least 5 open files on boys as young as 14 working the streets, and last year a few good citizens had been arrested and charged in relation to this, including a local paper chief.
“Jayden kept to himself mostly, he never ran with the others around here. He was a good boy”.
She repeated this line like a mantra. This trip was going to be a bust thought Lewis. One last question then.
“That bike, it’s pretty fancy. Not a Walmart buy I’d guess. It come with all the lights and bells?”. Beatrice suddenly exploded into life.
“I know what you police think.” She emphasized the PO of police.
“You think we live like animals here. You think we let our kids run wild. You think we rob and kill and sell ourselves like meat. You’re wrong Detective. There’s an animal here alright. But it ain’t no kids. This animal being all about kids. It’s here at least 10 years now so far as I can remember. Too many boys disappearing . But all you give a shit about is a god damn bike. I bought it downtown with good money. I bought the lights too, didn’t rob them either. I need to go to work. We done?”
It wasn’t so much a question as an order. Lewis was done.
He had planned to call to #victim 2’s house which was just one mile away for another likely pointless interview when his pager beeped, showing a call back to the station. It was McEvoy his partner
Lewis was 46, married and divorced with no kids, and 20 years and some change turning bodies into convictions. He was the epitome of a murder cop, a cliche almost. Ex-Heavy drinker, heavy smoker, big eater. Heavy all round. But at least he was capable of mostly normal human to human interaction. His partner was a different story. He was divorced too for some time as well, but he barely ever said boo to anyone. He always seem wound up real tight. And whatever was bothering him now wasn’t amenable to a quick chat over the phone. The message was to swing by the office. Lewis turned south and cruised through University district and turned south to head back to the office.
His face gave the game away immediately. For some bizarre reason, even though he wasn’t on the case, Lewis had been tasked with updating McEvoy on Sady’s rape and murder. Their boss, Capt Spietz had given him this savoury job despite knowing that he and McEvoy weren’t particularly close. In fairness, the closest relationship that McEvoy had with anyone at work was the coffee machine who was colloquially known as Darlene.
“Sadie’s Rape and Murder”. It felt better to capitalize it in his own mind, to make it more matter of factually, more official business than his own personal tragedy. He had stumbled accidentally with McEvoy on to the crime scene on a call out by the local cops. Hidden partially behind a dumpster in the car lot of a local gym, she was partially clothed and had been beaten to death with a rock which had been tossed casually nearby. It even took McEvoy himself a couple of minutes to realize who it was, such were the extent of her injuries. The leggings were the giveaway, a bright yellow orange black combo, scrunched down around her ankles, he had given her them to her last Christmas. Two months later, all of a sudden, the case had some developments and McEvoy wanted to know about them.
“We have someone Jim. For Sady. It’s not 100 % yet but it’s looking good. Pure chance if we’re being totally honest. A gym maintenance contractor. Previous sex assault conviction on a minor in Utah that was eventually dropped. CCTV has him there that day and later that evening. He was picked up by local PD on a routine traffic stop yesterday. One of the guys saw a bloody hoodie in the back seat as well as some weed. He’s in Room three with Bill and Marcella right now for the last few hours. He’s got an alibi we are checking, but it’s a deaf elderly aunt. Forensics are working on the hoodie. I just thought you’d like to know.”
Just thought he’d like to know. Want a dumb thing to say and yet he’d said it anyway. He knew that his partner wasn’t exactly taking things too well. It was the dirty suits, the the premature grey hair that happened almost overnight a month ago. It was McEvoys new habit of grinding his teeth unconsciously. And it was the perpetual faint smell of bourbon off him.
“I’m heading to Franklinton again to Victim #2’s grandmother. You up for a interview?”
McEvoy said nothing and just grabbed his jacket. Lewis sighed. It was going to be a long day.
He drove and McEvoy stewed. Or at least that’s what he thought McEvoy was doing. It was hard to read McEvoy at the best of times, but the last two months were nightmarish. Captain Spietz had partnered him nearly six years ago, a senior with a newbie, and Lewis reckoned he knew him as well now as he did on day one.
McEvoy was a loner, divorced and not even on bad terms with his ex; he was on no terms with his ex. He came from Vice where no one knew quite what to do with him. He got the job done, made the cases, did the paperwork, but didn’t really mix at all. Some felt he gave off an air of arrogance and superiority, others said he flew so low beneath office politics radar that they just didn’t know him at all. He had an eye for detail and so when he put a transfer request in, no one had strong opinions one way or the other but could see him working murder cases.
And now here they both were, driving on a cold bright mid morning to the housing projects built in the 80’s on Franklinton in total and utter silence. Victim #2 was Deshawn Washington, 12 years old at time of death, reported missing 4 months earlier. He was big for a 12 year old, puberty had visited early in the Deshawn household in 1998. He lived with his mother and grandmother although he suspected Deshawns mother was not really a caregiver. His grandmother took care of that, she was sharp as a razor and pretty big boned herself. They had of course been out to interview already, but the mother had been hysterical and all about how it was the polices fault her son had disappeared. Nothing of note had been gleamed except Deshawn had one caution for shop lifting at the local 7-11. This time he had rung ahead to make sure Mom wasn’t home.
They pulled up right outside the house on Sunrise Avenue, typical single story aged brickwork with what looked like once was a Nissan Leopard in the drive on blocks. A surly looking teen stared back at them from the drivers side of the car before quickly disappearing inside.
“12 midday- what’s the chance schools out early?” he said aloud. “I’ll take lead on this”
This last bit probably didn’t need saying, McEvoy seemed to be on another planet currently. Inside the house was like an early 80’s time capsule replete with patterned wallpaper and lush green brown carpet and an old orange wall phone. Mrs Deshawn had been busy getting buns and coffee ready, clearly she had something to say. The window curtains were drawn and the living room lights set on the brighter than the sun setting. Lewis already felt ambushed.
“Donna Washinton you’ll have me down as” she motioned McEvoy to sit on the couch.
“I’ve been waiting for you to call back. Brianna is out today, she’s gone to the mall. You got any news for us? Cause I got my suspicions so you know. Deshawn wasn’t no angel but he wasn’t like the rest of them”.
He mentally made a note to ask later who “the rest of them” exactly was, but right now, he needed to regain control of this interview quickly.
“Ms Washington, we came here to....”
“Donna’s just fine Detective” she interjected.
Lewis realized they’d flashed badges as opposed to introducing themselves.
“That’s fine Donna, you can call me Tom and that there is Jim. Donna, we just need to go through Deshawns normal summer routine a month before he disappeared. Who were his friends, where did they hang out, what did they do? Can you remember that?”.
She shifted a little uncomfortably in her seat. Something was not quite right.
“I’ll be totally upfront and honest now .I do remember cause we had a hell of a time this summer with Deshawn. He got caught shoplifting in April this year. He got mad cause he had to go to juvey camp for two weeks this summer and missed baseball camp. And when he came back, he was still running with that bunch of no good Decross boys at the end of the street. We had a hell of a time with him this summer”.
Juvey camp was a reference to the camp the Juvenile Offenders Program ran out of City Hall. Two weeks of activities and group chats with social workers and so forth, tied into some sort of private company who ran the activities. Baseball camp probably was much more fun. The interview progressed through the usual format, and he was becoming increasingly aware that it was a dead end in terms of progressing the case. Donna Deshawn was here to make sure the police knew where to look next, and that’s all she cared about.
“You wanna go talk to Mr Al Robbins down there at the elementary school, if you know what I mean” she said a third time. Fine, I’ll bite thought Lewis.
“Who’s Al Robbins to you Donna?. What did he do to you that he’s your no one suspect?”.
“He’s odd is all” Donna replied. “And he’s here almost six years now just around the time it started too. No one knows him from round here, he came from Chicago I heard”.
“Around the time what started Donna?” Lewis enquired.
“Kids disappearing is all” Donna spat out angrily. “Course you wouldn’t know that being police, would you?”.
McEvoy looked up suddenly, as if awoken from some deep slumber. “He liked baseball you said Donna”
“No, he loved it” she replied “last we saw him he was wearing his Bobcats gear”. Lewis looked to McEvoy. They both remembered the remains of the Bobcats shirt in the woods.
“Did he have a cap as well Donna?” Lewis asked.
“Hell yeah he did, never took it off, wore it everywhere”.
At this point Donna was primed for more badmouthing of poor old Al Robbins. She was winding up. Robbins was a dead end they knew about already. He was doing a six month stay courtesy of the Department of Corrections for drug charges which had started before the first boy had disappeared.
“You said it started six years ago” he offered. “What did?”.
He figured he better be straight with Donna and not try and pretend he knew what she was referring to or it could blow up in his face given how angry she was.
“1994 is when the first one went missing. One in August, one in July. They came from round here, over on Georgia Rise. Course the police said they ran away, one 15, one 14. The Pinces moved away the next year, never really got over it, but I think the Miller’s are still over there. Police said they ran away, said they had been up to no good hanging around the riverbend on Clime Road.”
Everyone knew this part of town was well known as some where to go to pick up drugs and easy sex. Including under age boys. The picture was becoming simultaneously clearer and muddier now. “And it’s been like that here for years now. Boys just up and go. Never seen again. Most older than the Miller boy. Now I’ll say they ain’t all angels, but they sure as hell weren’t all tear aways neither”.
He remembered Beatrice saying something similar, something about boys disappearing for a few years now. The time line was different but still something smelt off. Something didn’t gel.
Sitting in the car, Lewis broke the silence first. He had been thinking about what happened in Houston around the Dean Arnold Corll case, where more than twenty young boys had disappeared over a three year period, all tortured and killed by Coryll. Local law enforcement had failed to make any connections to the missing boys despite them all coming from the same demographic and had been castigated for it subsequently.
“I know what your thinking. It’s a potential shit fest if we open it up. Boys disappearing for years and written off the books as runaways? All black? This could look awful when the FBI show up. A lot of questions. I think I need to know who headed up Missing Persons back then first before I put my size 11’s in it.”
He glanced at McEvoy, who appeared deep in thought. “Jim, what say you?”. No response. “Jim, gimme something here, anything”.
McEvoy was gripping the cup holder on the passenger side so hard his knuckles were white.
“We’ve got a live one with just three bodies” McEvoy spurted out suddenly. “We’ve got three bodies and a fourth arm, all between 9 and 15, all boys and all black. Two from here, one a couple miles away, and an arm from god only know where. It’s fair to say this will turn national no matter what once the details come out. And they will come out. Bear attack my ass.”
They both laughed. McEvoy thought it might have been the first time in months he’d laughed. Even if the material they were given was a little dark.
Lewis laid out his strategy.
“We go to Spietz and tell him how it could play out. Tell him we need to control the story, that it was our idea to link the missing boys to murders, but that’s it’s only a weak link as of now. FBI will be all over this like a rash so we need to at least get a grip of numbers and visit a few before that happens. That’s a week tops”.
McEvoy looked out the passenger window before replying. “Let’s swing by Georgia Rise first and see if we can find the Millers”