Stargazer

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Chapter 4: Coming out?

McEvoy woke at 12 midday feeling exhausted. The mind tricks he had used to control his temper during the day were beginning to slip. And the last few nights offered him nothing but terror now. All those years ago and still the face was crystal clear in his memory.

Bad acne had left his uncle with scars into adulthood. His ginger bushy hair and pale complexion highlighted the ugly pock marks. In the dreams the face was always smiling initially but would suddenly switch to a contorted expression of sexual satisfaction. Always he would awaken in a cold sweat, waiting for the door to open. Dark fumbling in the basement, the sound of his uncles keys in his pants pocket as they hit the floor with a muted jangle. The invited game of table tennis somehow turned into a game of dirty perversion instead.


He was vaguely hungry but his overwhelming need was to masturbate first. All his teenage and adult life, this need was not to be ignored. It was a purely physical act for him, he could never use pornography or even his own imagination. To imagine was to allow his uncle sneak in and the urge was then gone. He stimulated himself almost violently with closed eyes, concentrating only on the almost painful friction. Eventually he came and cleaned himself. He couldn’t bare to look in the mirror.

He looked at his pager. There were no new messages. He looked to his service revolver and badge on the bedside locker. And then for reasons he didn’t yet fully understand, he walked to his closet and from the ledge up top and at the back, he took down the wooden box. Inside was a Colt Commander with 2 boxes of .38 Super. The handle was a basic black with decorative line indentations running vertically down it. The body of the gun was a grey metal sheen finish. He had bought it over a decade earlier as a cash buy at a gun fair on holiday in Virginia. He put the gun back in and replaced the box.


By the time he had showered and had a coffee it was nearly 2pm. The events of yesterday floated up into his consciousness and he suddenly remembered what it was he wanted to do today. When the the bodies had turned up in Tar Hollow Forest park, the three most likely recent missing persons matches had been Jayden Jackson, Deshawn Washington and Aaron Smith. All three were missing from mid July with Aaron the most recent reported by his family in mid August.

What was odd about Aaron compared to the other two was his background. For starters, he didn’t live in the Franklinton area, instead in a more middle class area, Merion Village. This was to McEvoy an important distinction because it went against the narrative that the boys were somehow involved in petty street crime all together or even child prostitution. They attended different schools and whilst it was possible Deshawn knew Jayden if only by sheer geography, it was unlikely that either would cross paths with Aaron. Unless they had some sort of shared activity outside school like Little League. He needed to meet with Aaron’s parents.


The Smith residence on Deshler Avenue was an imposing detached red brick with a ’97 Volvo 850 in the driveway. How ever Aaron’s parents made a living, that living was substantial and comfortable. He guessed someone was home and proceeded up to the porch. He hadn’t made it all the way up when the front door opened and an african american woman in her early 40’s emerged. She looked at him with a pained expression. “You’ve found him haven’t you?”. Officially no one had been named and McEvoy couldn’t say otherwise. He trotted out the same half lie he had used with Jayden’s aunt. “Just a routine follow up Ma’am. I just have a few extra questions”. Her face was drawn and tired looking. She turned and went inside.
The living room was spacious and adorned with numerous photographs of the family as a group and individual portraits. Set up over the fireplace on the mantelpiece taking center stage was Aaron. It was recent, within a year and he was proudly displaying a medal of some type.

“Mrs Smith, we just want some more information on Aaron’s friends and any hobbies or interests he had taken up recently. Things like Little League or a musical instrument he’d just taken up?”. He figured this exchange could break down at any moment such was the emotional tightrope Arabella Smith was currently balancing on.

“It’s the not knowing that’s the worst. Almost three months now, three months where?. What’s he eating, where is he sleeping. School has started and he loved school. Loves school”

She corrected herself and looked to the floor.

“I’m all cried out Detective. Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you”.

He remained motionless and expressionless on the sofa.

She continued. “He was last seen by my husband, Detective. At 5:30 am. He was leaving to go to swim training. He had it four mornings a week. He left on his bike as usual and never came home. We’ve told the police this all ready. Swimming was his life. He was Under 16 state champion at 200m breaststroke.” That explained the medal and the physique he thought. Aaron was 15 going on 18 physically.

“What about friends Mrs Smith? Any new friends at the pool or a new coach maybe?

“You think he’s been killed don’t you. What fifteen year old just up and leaves a home he’s perfectly happy in at 5:30 am with just a towel and a swimsuit?”.

Putting it like that answered her own question McEvoy thought. After all, the other 2 victims might’ve had issues at home, enough even to run away, but this house appeared as all sweetness and apple pie, middle to upper class perfection, straight out of the Cosbys. His bag had never been found. His bike was never found either. He had, it appeared, just vanished into thin air. He was about to give her his card if she thought of anything when he realized that she would notice the Murder Squad in the bottom right hand corner. Perhaps not just yet he thought.


His pager buzzed as he descended the Smiths porch. Marcella wanted him to check in at the office. More about the perp they had for Sadie no doubt. He glanced down the street. Two college students were walking and laughing as they went, no more than twenty yards away, probably a couple. The boy-man looked at McEvoy who made eye contact. He had a smooth Mediterranean complexion and blue eyes, tousled “I don’t care” hair. A faint stirring in his groin gave way to a feeling as if he was rushing headlong down a roller coaster. He stood his ground and broke eye contact.

They passed by.

He dry retched onto his rear wheel arch as they turned the corner.


*******

Marcella never really warmed to McEvoy. She had joined the squad in and around the same time as him but always found him stand off-ish, aloof, distracted. She noticed he never really engaged in office chatter with the other guys, no bawdy jokes; any comments made were mostly always case related.

He was good though as a murder cop, well able to read people, able to connect the dots, make a case. He was one of those murder cops who was less about the nitty gritty like forensics and alibi cross checking, and more about hunches. And his hunches invariably were right. She decided she wouldn’t broach the Sadie issue with him this afternoon in the office unless he specifically asked her about it. Tom had warned her he was even less approachable than usual of late.

He had asked her to go on a field trip to Trenton in Southwest Ohio, outside Hamilton to find out a little more on one of the early 90’s Missing Persons which had turned into an unresolved homicide. Well actually, she had suggested going down there, Tom was the one to suggest she go with McEvoy. They’d go up and down in one day, and he said he’d use the free time to sniff out another in Lima. She guessed he needed a break from McEvoy and reluctantly agreed. The third was in Columbus itself, they would get around to it tomorrow.
McEvoy finally crept into the office at 3:12pm. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and his shirt wasn’t ironed. His hair had a greasy lather to it. Marcella groaned inwardly. He probably stank to high heaven. We’re definitely taking my car she thought.

“Hey Jim. Rough night?” she opened with. He muttered something barely audible about sleeping poorly.

“How are you fixed for a day trip tomorrow? We gotta go to Trenton to look up a cold case that might be related to your bear attacks”.

His eyes briefly darted up to hers. “You’re up to date then” he replied.

Marcella felt honesty was the best policy here.

“Tom briefed me fully on everything. He’s heading to Lima real early for another maybe related cold case tomorrow but stopping off to his Mom on the way. He figured you’d prefer the sleep in”

********
Lewis was done with the three adult Missing Persons files that had converted to unsolved homicides. He left them on McEvoy’s desk for him to pour over before he and Marcella went to Trenton. They were all reported missing initially between 1992 and 1993.They were all adult males, African American, aged between 20 and 36. The bodies were found in Trenton, Lima and Columbus in that order. The bodies had been placed there in all 3 cases, and were relatively fresh when discovered with estimated times of death of less than 72 hours from time of discovery.

All came from deprived areas, 2 were known homosexuals, all were known heroin abusers. They disappeared and died in or around their own locale. None appeared to have been sexually assaulted, all died from blunt force trauma to the head. All were fully clothed and one demonstrated defensive wounds. No other individual’s DNA was recovered at any of the scenes or on the bodies. Trace evidence like clothing fibers was minimal and not consistent across the three cases.

What struck him immediately was that no one in law enforcement thought at any time that these might be related despite the lack of forensics, most specifically Lorenzo or Spellman. You could excuse local PD because they wouldn’t even be aware there was another corpse lying somewhere in Ohio with very similar patterns of injury and circumstances. But Spellman and Lorenzo in Missing Persons back then would have been reading what he was reading now. And there were striking similarities that were hard to ignore. The main issue was that it was a little unusual to find a body dumped where the cause would appear to be a violent assault. And they were dumped. Scene analysis suggested no evidence of blood spatter consistent with the injuries. That meant there was a significant element of planning if not before the killing, then definitely after.

And no other human DNA whatsoever was found on any of them. This meant who ever killed these men was particularly careful about not incriminating themselves. That again all pointed away from any suggestions these men died over a baggie of heroin in a street fight gone bad. Of course it was important to realize what the report didn’t say as well. It didn’t say the bodies were dismembered and it didn’t say the men were found with notes in their mouths. They weren’t teens either and they weren’t found together. He knew the last thing Spietz needed even more than one serial killer on the loose was the suggestion that there was another involving cold cases he was digging up. He’d do some due diligence on these three but some dots didn’t need to be connected. In any event he suspected these would all be dead ends; reliable witness and next of kin statements six years on in heroin addicts was asking a lot.

**********

The thunderstorm that night was intense. He had planned to just go out cruising again at dusk but the rain was so heavy he decided to wait at least until it had cleared somewhat. No one would be venturing out in the thick of it to walk the streets. He wanted to see them and he wanted them to see him. Wasn’t that how it worked? Like a peacock displaying its feathers, those who wanted it would display it. Those who were merely vague shapes would continue to be just vague shapes, but those that were ready, they were the peacocks. Maybe he should shower.

He could read the disdain on Marcella’s face in the office today. He wasn’t exactly a catch but if a walrus bitch like her was disgusted by him, what chance had he with them. He’d show her tomorrow. He’d smell of sex and sweat in her shitty car tomorrow so bad she’d have to drive to Trenton with the windows down. He took out the new shirt he had bought this afternoon. It was at least one size too small for him, tight was being kind. It has a blue single false pocket on the right breast and a pink seam at the neck. He put it on and took off his trousers, wearing only a slightly stained pair of white y-fronts. He walked around to his bathroom mirror, already getting hard. He stared into the mirror. That feeling again started. That rushing down a rollercoaster feeling. He picked up his dumbbell lying on the bathroom counter and hurled it at the mirror, smashing into pieces. The lights dimmed momentarily and the thunder rolled loudly outside.

*****



Lima was a small city about 90 miles northwest of Columbus with a population of approximately 40,000 people. Lewis knew it like the back of his hand as he had grown up there. Like many other towns and cities in the Rustbelt, Lima has fallen on hard times in the ’70’s and ’80’s as traditional industries and manufacturing jobs left the region. His father had worked all his life at Superior Coach Company making yellow school buses on a line. When it closed it’s doors in ’83, his father rang him crying, the first time he had ever heard him cry.

It was the beginning of the end for his dad as dementia took hold; the doctors told them then that emotional lability was a forewarning. Lima suffered a second scourge in the late ’80s and early 90’s as heroin took hold over its poorest residents. The suffocating poverty of the 80’s had already taken its toll on family life with alcoholism rates twice the national average; now heroin arrived to ensure misery was maximized. He never regretted leaving and was happy to see his mother move further south to Waynesfield once his father had passed. Lima was the administrative center for Allen County and the local PD had taken back an old colleague of his in Mark Lorenzo, ex Missing Persons at Columbus PD.

This would be his first port of call to get some hold on the 3 mysterious RESOLVED cases. He had an inkling that Lorenzo might be more helpful with the cold case murder from the Missing Persons files from here too once a frank discussion on the former was held. Lorenzo was a couple of years away from retirement and wouldn’t be anxious to get embroiled in a dispute that could jeopardize his pension. He had no intention in dragging someone like Lorenzo into any kind of scandal, particularly if he was just taking orders back then, but he could leave the threat of that hanging in the air for leverage. Of course if the Feds decide it was a major issue, Lewis or even Spietz had little control over that, but that was a bridge they could cross if they came to it.

He pulled up in front of the station and grabbed the doughnuts he’d gotten at the local 7-11. It was a cliche about cops and doughnuts, but he recalled that Lorenzo could put four away at one sitting and still look like he could fall through a crack.

The move to Lima had treated Mark Lorenzo well he thought as he walked in. He looked almost younger than when Lewis had last seen him 2 years ago. His hair was thinning a little but he seemed to have bulked out a little without getting paunchy.

“Looking good Mark, maybe you’re gonna put off that retirement” he joked.

“Stopped smoking Tom, you should try it. That and no more shitty food on night shifts. I’m just pen pushing here 9-5 and it’s dandy.”

Lorenzo clearly had made the right move.

“Do you mind?” he asked as he pulled out his cigarettes.

“Not at all. You can keep the doughnuts too Tom. All behind me now” Lorenzo replied.

He felt a little guilty that he was about to rain all over Lorenzo’s bon homie. He lit his cigarette and exhaled his smoke to the side out of respect or guilt, he couldn’t decide which.

“I got that cold case file out for you as requested, lemme grab it and a couple of coffees”.

Lorenzo wasn’t in the mood for reminiscing about Columbus PD mused Lewis. He may not have a choice in a few minutes. Lorenzo came back with the coffees and file.

“Black right, no sugar.” Lorenzo offered as he handed over the mug.

“Good memory Mark. Listen, let’s get to that case in a few minutes. I just have a small issue I think you might be able to help me with first. We caught three bodies recently out in Tar Hollow State Forest recently. You might have heard. Bear attacks”

At this point Lorenzo burst out laughing. “Yeah I saw something about that. Do they even have fucking bears there” He was wearing a big shit eating grin as he looked through the cloud of smoke.

“You guessed right Mark. Three black young teenage boys. All cut up nice and neat.”

Lewis paused, looking for a reaction. Lorenzo had dropped the grin and replaced it with a more worried look.

“Yeah. All cut up, been there a while, difficult to ID.”

He figured it might be beneficial here to leave Lorenzo jump to false conclusions at this point rather that try and drag it out of him.

“I’ve been looking at Missing Persons files of course, going back a few years. Went back as far as even ’94-’95” .

That hooked him. Lorenzo looked back at him, sighed deeply and asked for a doughnut. It poured out from him, the way it can when a man has been keeping a secret a long time.

“Tom, I had nothing to do with it. Spellman came to me about it and said it came from on high. He wouldn’t say who and he carried it to the grave with him. He told me to put in for a transfer request and I’d get it and all I had to do was not ask questions. We had taken family statements and something didn’t add up. These kids were a mixed bag from different homes, not at all the usual street urchins. One kid was a fag and maybe a little flaky but the other one was a total normie who just vanished. Spellman said some brass was running for some office in the new year and they didn’t need anyone thinking a serial killer was on the loose killing kids”

He interjected at this point. “Didn’t you think that was a little fishy coming from Spellman? Shit, I don’t need the caseload either and Spietz is giving me grief too now about a serial killer, but fuck it, there’s always an election around the corner.”

Lorenzo stood up and walked over to another drawer and pulled out some nicotine gum and popped some in his mouth.

“You gotta understand Tom, you gotta understand what was going on with Spellman. He knew his goose was cooked anyway. He got cancer in ’94 and even then he knew he wasn’t going to see out the decade. Whatever was going on, he was taking it to the grave with him. He swore blind it was nothing more than politics, no fucking pedophile ring, nothing. And he dangled that transfer. You know I hated that job. I was dying too, just more slowly”.

Lewis’s curiosity was aroused. Why did he mention pedophile rings? That was a bit odd. Lorenzo knew or suspected more than he was letting on. Columbus indeed had recently just last year had its very own pedophile ring broken up. Some low lifes but also some relatively prominent Columbus business men had been involved. Were there even more important people involved? Was this a Pandora’s box that he really wanted to open? This could unravel his career very quickly if he poked around too much. Spellman had died in ’96 so if he was involved in any way, Lewis didn’t have the stomach to visit his widow even if he thought she might know. But still- could their killer be known to that pedophile ring?

“Mark, I get it. The problem is we still got a killer on the loose. Those 2 you are talking about aren’t our boys in the woods. That means that we could have 5 dead black boys, all the same age or near as.”

Lorenzo exploded. “You fucking dog Tom, you tricked me. You made me ...”.

He interrupted him.

“Mark, the Feds are going to be involved soon in this shit. And we know they can get sticky. Now I can help you as much as I can and we can both hope whoever Spellman was protecting is either dead too or out of the force, but this will come out in some way. That means you better be telling the truth here and you don’t need to take an attitude with me. I’m doing my job here, help me out a little”.

Lorenzo calmed a little. Maybe it was the nicotine gum.

Lewis decided to make his pitch.

“Look, if there is anything you decided to either omit or even change in those two RESOLVED files, I need to know”.

Lewis emphasized the resolved to make sure there was no confusion. The three files had been pretty bare bones. The Miller one could be reasonably expected to be given the family circumstances but the other one , on what Lorenzo had just admitted, should have been a bit more weighty. “And then we need to talk about the cold case” he added.

Lorenzo looked at him.“Gimme another fucking doughnut. I’ll get the coffee pot”.

Lewis smiled to himself. Seventeen years as a murder cop had honed his interview technique and he didn’t always deploy it in the interrogation room.

———-

Faurot Park was a short drive away, and the spot where one of the adult male bodies from ’92-’93 had been found. Lorenzo had the original crime scene photos on file as well as the original next of kin interviews from when he was first reported missing. Original files often had small extra little side notes attached that didn’t always make it to a file in Columbus such as an officers notes on who discovered the scene and so forth, but in this case, nothing new turned up.

He decided to visit the scene anyway, more out of curiosity than anything else. He wanted to see what had happened his old stomping grounds. He parked the car at the northern end and walked slowly in the direction of the scene which according to the pictures looked only about 300- 500 yards from where he remembered the children’s playground was situated.

Fall was in full swing now and although dry, it was a little cooler today. Last nights thunderstorm activity in Columbus had spread south east from here and had been replaced with a cold front. He reached where he thought he needed to be but was a little confused. Instead of a lightly wooded area within a small natural amphitheater carved into a small hill, there was a man made splash pool. It was designed for kids to dance around in the summer heat, with about eight mini water fountains which periodically ejected water into the air. They seemed a little underwhelming though, with the water barely making it a foot or two off the ground. Hardly what you needed to get refreshed on a hot Ohio summers day he thought.

The small hillock that formed the old natural amphitheater now housed the splash pools motorized pump unit hidden behind a small metal sheet door locked with a padlock. The body had been found here no doubt thought Lewis when he re-orientated himself, although it made no difference. There was no prospect of gaining any more meaningful information here. The entire area had been repurposed.

Lorenzo had promised to find out if any family members of friends were still alive and living locally who might add something to the disappearance and murder of this man, but given the length of time since the murder and circumstances of his life, Lewis was not optimistic. There was however one other stop he needed to make whilst in town, and that was the next of kin around one of the missing boys from ‘94 that happened to have disappeared in Lima. Lewis decided he’d do this himself; he didn’t want to take the chance of Lorenzo just going through the motions on it if there was even a tiny chance Lorenzo was lying about the whole thing.
......


The address Lewis had for the “missing boy” was on the east side of town and a pretty decent part of town at that. It was a mixture of stand alone three bedroom detached house and five big blocks of terraced units, ten units per terrace. It was in one of these that the boy had resided. Jacob Liddell was the name of the boy and his file said his father had reported him missing around mid July of ’94 .He was just about to turn 17 at the time and was described as approximately 5’11 and 200 pounds. No shrinking violet he thought.

On paper at least, this wasn’t a troubled home. The boy was a linebacker for his local highschool football team, and had aspirations for playing college football. Grades were good and the home situation described a pretty normal family life. It was just after 1pm as he climbed the three small steps and knocked on the door. He hoped someone was home for lunch.

He was surprised to be met by a woman he estimated to be 50 with 3 children under the age of 4 all hanging off her apron and a baby in her arms. He introduced himself whilst simultaneously flashing his badge, and asked if Mrs or Mr Liddell were home. She smiled weakly and introduced herself as Mrs Montgomery-Liddell.

“You can call me Lucia though. What can I do for you Detective?” she asked.

“Is this a good time Ma’am?

Lewis figured there wasn’t ever a good time for casual chats minding four kids so he’d better throw out some bait.

“It’s about Jacob”

“I gotta put this one down for a nap but come on in” she replied, motioning him in.

The hallway was cramped for them all but the young ones weren’t leaving her side any time soon. They made their way into a small living room and she told him to sit on the sofa whilst she put the baby down for its nap.

“Now you all stay here and be good for this policeman. I’ll be back in a minute” she commanded of the kiddies.

He knew from the tone and manner in which she addressed them and him, that this was a woman who wasn’t to be messed with. She left the room, and the kiddies stood by the single seater staring at him unashamedly in a way only kids can. He attempted a smile but the response remained deadpan staring. She returned a couple of minutes later, her expression a mixture of anxiety and tearfulness.

“I don’t want to upset the young ones Detective, you understand right? They’re not mine if that’s what you’re wondering, but they got ears and they understand more than you’d think. Let’s keep this child friendly. I’m guessing it’s not good news after four years.”

Her voice began to tremble a little.

“I just have a few extra questions more than what’s on file Mrs Liddell. I don’t have any news good or bad” Lewis replied.

He wondered whether she’d see through this deflection.

“Well now, I know that’s a bit of a lie there Detective. We got barely no interest four years ago when Jacob disappeared, kept on being told he ran away. He didn’t run away Detective. He did not run away”.

She enunciated the last sentence clearly so that he was to be left in no doubt as to what had happened. “He disappeared into thin air. Not a care in the world, not a person spoke poor of him, not an enemy in the world.” she added.

He cleared his throat nervously. He wished he’d had a cigarette before coming in.

“Mrs Liddell, all I can say is we are following up on Jacobs disappearance in relation to another matter. It may come to something or it may not. I can’t say anymore right now because I don’t know anymore right now”.

He realized the only the truth here would work, or at least a limited version of it. He continued.

“When he disappeared, can you remember him hanging around with any new friends. Or maybe a new coach? He was into football right?”.

She pointed over to a picture of what appeared to be Jacob in his football gear. For his age, he was fearsome looking physically.

“That’s him Detective. Football and girls. Always a new girl every couple of months. I can’t say for sure he hadn’t new friends and I can’t say he hadn’t a new coach. I can say he was a good boy and as fine a young man as a mother could wish for”. A tear trickled down her face followed by another racing to her feet.

Lewis began to feel simultaneously uncomfortable and emotional himself.

“You can ask at school, you might get more there, but I don’t recall anything different or new about him back then.” she offered. “He hung with same boys in Faurot Park since he was seven, all good boys too.”

He seized on this immediately, not because it was important but because he felt he was losing control of the situation by allowing himself become emotionally responsive. And when he did this, the reasons for his failed marriage always seem to float to the top of his mind making it a whole lot worse.

“Faurot Park, I was just walking through there today Mrs Liddell”. He just about managed a smile. “I grew up here, left a long time ago. I see they got a new splash pool for summer now.”

She seemed to welcome the direction change away from her missing son.

“Detective Lewis is what you said, am I right sir” she asked. “I think I knew your momma over there on Richmond Avenue. God rest your father, he was a good man. I think I might even have baby-sat you when you were in nappies”.

They both laughed a little at this.

“Anyways, that pool was put in there in spring of ’94. Jacob and the boys were annoyed they didn’t make an outdoor pool but that didn’t stop them messing around that summer in it”. Lewis felt things were bit more controlled now for him and her.

“Look Ma’am, I won’t waste any more of your time. I might ask Officer Mark Lorenzo to stop by from the local PD next week if you think of anything in the meantime. He’ll check out the school too. Thank you for your time, and if there is news, be sure, I will tell you myself”.

He didn’t know why he made this promise. He knew his chances of this were slim. This looked like another dead end. Maybe it was guilt over how this had been handled already. They may have stonewalled her four years ago, and it may not matter in the end, but he felt strangely that he owed her something now. He made a tiny wave to the kids who were still just staring at him, and left.

........

Trenton, Butler County, Ohio, was a small town southwest of Columbus almost ninety five miles by road on Route 70. It was just north of Cincinnati where the victim was presumably either killed or picked up. He was originally from Trenton and had moved to Cincinnati most likely to feed his heroin habit more reliably or to seek out like minded souls.

Trenton was almost exclusively white with a small African American community, and Marcella guessed, an even smaller openly gay black community. The Missing Persons files noted a one Darnell West as reported missing in April of ’92 by friends and found beaten to death and dumped in Trenton Community Park one week later. He had defensive wounds and toxicology showed the usual mix of opiates and benzos. The coroner had noted a frenzied nature to the head wounds caused by some sort of smooth faced object, possibly a small sledge hammer. Marcella had poured over the files on the other missing kids, three adult murders, as well as the Tar Hollow State Park three kids and mysterious arm looking for a connection she hoped she wouldn’t find.

None of the adults were missing an arm, but even if one of them had owned that arm, the state of decomposition of the arm which was fresh enough, didn’t fit a murder almost 6 years earlier. The age profile didn’t fit all the missing or dead boys either, just race. Neither did the backgrounds, a mix of poor or lower middle class backgrounds but one which was most definitely middle/upper class, Aaron Smith.

Yet there were clear connections with the dead. All black, all male, all beaten to death savagely with a weapon which on at least three different coroners reports on different bodies, mentioned the possibility of a specific tool or smooth blunt faced object. And these three adult cold cases were odd but all odd for the same reasons which in itself connected them. The bodies were all dumped, the beating and murder occurred elsewhere. The scenes were forensically very clean as were the corpses: no other DNA, no nail scrapings, no evidence of sexual abuse, not even consistent trace fiber evidence.

Then there was motive: all three were heroin users, two were known practicing homosexuals, little or no mention of ongoing family strife or known vendettas against them on file and none high rollers in the drug dealing business. Now it was possible to come across one junkie beaten to death over a twenty dollar bag of heroin or some sort of escalated argument over the cost of a blow job in a car park.

What wasn’t likely was to come across three, all beaten to death and moved and dumped, and all going missing over a two month period between April and May and all found days later. All bodies were found in fairly public areas meaning they weren’t lying there long. They had to be connected. It didn’t surprise Marcella that no one picked up on this before, or at least cared enough to look into it further having made the connection.

Young black men dying violently in America was a daily occurrence. The hubris of modern urban poverty in America visited its worst tendencies on young black men and women from casual domestic violence to drug violence to state wielded violence. Drugs disrupted the normal family unit and social fabric of communities as fathers were incarcerated or killed, and gangs flourished. The machinery of the state tasked with picking up the pieces from a criminal and legal point of view became desensitized and if no family existed to care, the state could start not to care either. All it took was a dash of overt or subconscious racism, a sprinkle of under resourcing and occasional juking of stats rewarded locally, and all of a sudden what was currently being revealed, was normalized.

Marcella sighed deeply as she mused over what lay ahead and what had already happened with these cases, and buzzed in to McEvoy’s apartment. He appeared a few minutes later looking surprisingly refreshed and clean. They drove in silence for the first thirty or so miles before McEvoy suddenly asked about Sady’s case.

“So you think you have the right guy for Sady”. Marcella felt it wasn’t so much a question as an expression of doubt about her case coming from him.

“No alibi worth mentioning, seen in the vicinity by at least two other witnesses, a prior sexual assault charge that was dropped in Utah, and a shirt with Sadie’s blood on it. It’s a lock with or without a confession Jim. You don’t think so?” she replied.

“Hmmm, sounds like you got the man. I don’t know. I just had this feeling it was one of those college boys. Can’t control themselves. You know the type. Never mind” He looked out the passenger window.

Conversation closed she thought . His comment seemed a little odd though. College students weren’t well known as a demographic for murder and rape.

“What do you make of Tar Hollow State” she asked. She figured a change in conversation was needed to kill the awkward silence. And college students aside, McEvoy did have good intuition.

“This guy is clearly crazy. That’s a problem for us, because we will struggle with motive. You don’t chop up three kids and leave notes in their mouths and have a rational reason that I could figure out why they were chosen. And he’s big, physically capable. And he owns his own house because you aren’t going to cut kids up, freeze them and take your time in a rental. If he gets off on this, it’s not at the scene. He’s probably black and persuasive enough to get the kids to an area private enough to kill them because kids that age don’t wander into white guys cars. And he’s careful. Those scenes have no other DNA at them, as if wiped clean. He doesn’t want to be caught, not yet.” McEvoy looked over to Marcella. “Did I say he was fucking crazy?”

McEvoy might have finished with a weak joke, but she thought he was right on the money otherwise. The only way they might catch this guy is finding the common connection in his victims. “What about our two so called Resolved missing boys?” she inquired.

McEvoy looked back at her. “If it’s not just some coincidence and they aren’t all still missing, but dead somewhere, we won’t find them until he’s ok with it or unless we get lucky. But if we do, that’s a couple more chances to connect the victims. The Feds will be asking some real awkward questions in private on that. And these cold cases we are chasing here aren’t a good fit for our psycho friend. Victims too old, scenes aren’t elaborate like Tar Hollow State Forest, no dismemberment. I think it’s a waste of time.”

Marcella wasn’t so sure. “Well, if he’s crazy, age might not be a prerequisite. And the scene here, the scene in Lima, and the scene in Columbus were all clean too. Body dumped having been beaten. I dunno Jim, there’s more than a slight chance they are connected, and even if they aren’t anything to do with our child killer, they are too similar to one another to ignore”

McEvoy grunted and replied “Spietz will love that. Either we have two serial killers now or just one with a big body count.”
Marcella parked and they walked the four hundred yards or so to a slightly wooded area adjacent to a children’s playground. The Park was an open one so the killer could have dumped the body at anytime at night but not likely during the day or evening in the height of summer. There wasn’t a whole lot of housing nearby nor commercial property with CCTV for eyewitnesses. Why did the killer choose here though, why go to the trouble of dumping in the middle of the night and risk being seen anyway. Why not somewhere more remote, or just a dumpster. These were questions running through both their minds as they compared the scene photos they had with them.

“Lemme have a look at those again.” McEvoy was referring to the ones with just the body as originally found. “Don’t you think that’s strange?” he asked as he pointed to the man’s body.

“What’s strange? The clothes?” Marcella wasn’t making the connection.

“His position. He’s flat on his back, arms wide spread. Looking straight ahead” he offered.

Marcella thought the idea of the victim looking straight ahead was a bit of a stretch given the right forehead was caved in with most of the eye socket involved. But she knew what he meant.

“Yeah, yeah, now I get you. He didn’t just drop and run, he dropped and placed. The Quantico boys will love this” she replied.

She was referring the BSU of the FBI, the Behavioral Science Unit, brought in sometimes with unusual cases or potential serial killers. Their job ostensibly was to help the local PD involved catch the killer by helping form a profile of the killer and even occasionally advising on how to bait a killer out into the open. Depending on how busy it was generally or how big a national story the case was, you could have only one Special Agent helping or up to four with talks about special task forces being set up to catch a killer. But they asked a hell of a lot of questions in general. They wanted details like what cigarette butts were found at the scene and how many and in what kind of pattern they were found. And each victim’s mother’s maiden name. And they wanted you to know these details like the back of your hand, available to be spouted out at any given moment.

They had one other call in Trenton, a maternal grandmother of the victim living on the north side or town. She was eighty one and lived alone as the sole contactable living relative to their victim. Her house was an old ramshackle house a few miles outside Trenton sitting at the edge of the eastern boundary to a larger property with a renovated house and barn which whoever had done the work, had done a beautiful job. In fact they were still perfecting it by the looks of the earth mover working on front and side drive.

She answered the door on the second knock. Marcella made some introductions and they were invited in for coffee. For an eighty one year old woman, Ms Oatnam was surprisingly nimble and the home had none of the accoutrements you might notice in old persons home such as hall and staircase railings or those oversized light switches for arthritic hands. She had a tiny frame and long shoulder length hair. The room was decorated with many family portraits although at a glance none of her grandson stood out.

The coffee was served and the old lady sat opposite them in the single seater as they sat on the couch.

“Darnell was such a good grandson to me always. He’d come up in summer and help with the garden. I gave him money of course, too much. I knew he had a problem but he never stole from me.” Ms Oatnam opened proceedings. “Of course he moved to Cincinnati a long time ago from here, I was the only one he ever came to see up here. He knew I was lonely too, I ain’t got no one calling on me ever except the neighbors”.

McEvoy seemed miles away so Marcella decided she’d ask the questions.

“Did Darnell know the neighbors Ms Oatnam. Or did he maybe do odd jobs for them too?” she asked.

“Oh Lord no, they all new now around here. Old Phyllis Neerand was the last old timer bar me and she died in ’90. She knew Darnell all his time here and her sons knew him too. One of them still lives in Cincinnati, the other died in ’85, cancer. Her old place is that fancy house and barn on the other side of me. Mr Rawluc owns that, lovely man, always checks on me when a snowstorm gets us. I’ll get his name for you if you want?” she offered.

“Mr Rawluc’s? she asked, puzzled. Ms Oatnam laughed out loud.

“Phyllis Neerand’s son in Cincinnati silly, although you’d need to be police going where he lives now”.

She pottered into the downstairs bedroom and came back clutching a photo album she had left there. Two minutes later, they were all looking at Phyllis Neerand’s only surviving son. He was built like a brick shithouse she thought. Certainly physically capable, worth running the name.

“Have you a name though,Ms Oatnam?” McEvoy asked.

“It’s on the back,” she replied “you can keep it. I never liked him”.

It took a while to extract themselves off Ms Oatnam’s porch. She was old and lonely and didn’t get many visitors thought Marcella.

As McEvoy descended the porch he noticed Ms Oatnam’s friendly neighbor getting into some sort of work truck. He was tall and lean and from this distance, McEvoy could make out he was wearing a cap and was apparently Caucasian. He couldn’t make out any facial features other than he didn’t have a beard. The man turned and looked in their direction, waved and got into the truck. He couldn’t read the writing on the side but could make out some sort of water drop decal. And then he was gone, pulling out and away from them down his drive. It had started to rain softly. The friendly neighbor would have to wait for some other time he thought. In any event, they had someone to chat to in Cincinnati, probably another dead end but who gave a shit.

.......

David saw the blue-grey sedan parked outside Ms Oatnam’s house. Two non uniformed officers were on the porch as well as Ms Oatnam, a woman and a man. They weren’t local police he thought. Cincinnati maybe. Looking to talk to her about Darnell. Six years on and they are back. He had to be careful now. He was always careful but now was a good time to leave in case they wanted to come over and ask questions. The barn wasn’t fully ready for winter yet. He needed to hurry his preparations and pack up. Sunday was moving day. He grabbed his keys and donned a cap. He walked out to his truck and waved to Ms Oatnam, got in and pulled away from the house.

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