Close to home a sam pr.., p.1
Close To Home - A Sam Prichard Mystery (Sam Prichard, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Private Investigator Book 14), page 1
Close to Home
Copyright © 2017 by David Archer.
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Ten Years Earlier
A call came in requiring a homicide detective, and everyone else was already busy. Karen was sent out alone for the first time. She found her way to the alley behind a 7-Eleven store, where three squad cars had everything blocked off. She had to park on the street outside the alley and then walked down to where a half-dozen uniforms were standing around.
“Karen Parks, homicide,” she said, flashing her ID. “What have you got, guys?”
“Over here, behind the dumpster,” said one of the officers. His name tag said Dennison. “Three kids were cutting through the alley this morning on the way to school, and they saw a dog trying to rip a plastic bag open over here. They figured the dog was after something to eat, so one of them decided to help him out. He tore the bag open and suddenly realized he was looking at a human hand. They all freaked out and called us.”
He pointed and Karen saw four blue plastic trash bags. One of them had been torn open and she saw the hand in plain view. The others had been carefully cut, and their contents almost made her throw up.
The first bag contained what looked like both arms from a small woman. Karen assumed the victim was female because of the nail polish, and the small size and general shape of the hands and arms seemed to confirm it. Another bag contained a pair of legs, both cut off halfway up the thigh. Based on the size, they appeared to be from the same victim.
It was the other two bags that were so nauseating. Each of them contained half of the torso, and there was no doubt about the gender. The torso had been cut in half just under the breastbone, and it looked like it had been done with some kind of saw. The cuts on the bones were smooth, rather than jagged as they would have been with a knife or some kind of chopping tool.
The intestines were loose in the bag, and it appeared that the organs from the upper chest had also been torn out. They were present, or so it appeared, but they were definitely not attached to the inner chest cavity.
“Holy geez,” Karen said. She was holding the back of her hand against her lips, trying to stifle the urge to be sick. “Anything to suggest identity?”
“Not that we’ve seen. Crime scene is on the way, and so is the Medical Examiner. Personally, I wouldn’t even have cut the bags open till you guys all got here, but the rookie over there thought he needed to inventory the contents.”
Karen looked over at a young officer who was leaning against a utility pole. He looked as green as she felt, and there were some obvious stains on his shirt. “Yeah? How’d that work out for him?”
“Puked all over himself,” Dennison said with a grin. “At least he managed to get away from the scene before he did it, though. That woulda been a mess if he’d puked into one of those bags.”
Karen nodded. “Okay, where’s the kids at? I’ll talk to them first, and when CSI gets here, you guys can all start canvassing the neighborhood. See if anybody saw who dropped the bags or noticed anything else suspicious, and find out if there’s any missing women in the neighborhood.”
“We got them sitting in the back of my car. They’re a little shook up, but they managed to keep their wits about them. They knew not to touch anything else until we got here.” He looked around at the rookie. “Too bad not everybody is that smart.”
Karen had managed to force down her gag reflex, so she walked over to the squad car and opened one of the back doors. “You kids want to climb out so we can talk?”
The three of them, two boys and one girl, got out of the car and then leaned against it once the door was shut. All three of them appeared to be a little nervous, but Karen figured that was normal when teenagers had to deal with police.
“How about you tell me what happened here this morning?” Karen asked. “Wait, let’s start with your names.”
The boys were Todd Gray and Eric Burton, both fifteen. The girl gave her name as Emily Summers.
Todd seemed to be their chosen spokesman. “We live back over there,” he said, pointing toward some apartment buildings, “and we always cut through here on the way to school. Sometimes when we come by the dumpster, there’s a couple of local strays that we sometimes see digging around for something to eat. They’re friendly dogs, so we usually take a look in the dumpster and drag out any food they might’ve pitched out. This morning, one of them was trying to rip open a big plastic bag on the ground, so I thought maybe it was full of some of their leftovers from the store, right? I thought I’d help the dog out and ripped it open, and that’s when I saw what was in it.”
“What did you actually see?” Karen asked.
“Looked like a hand,” Todd said. “At first I thought it was, like, off a manikin or something, but it looked too real. I told Eric to take a look and he just about crapped his pants, so Emily got her phone and called 911. We ran out the dogs and stood over here till that first cop got here, and then he opened all the other bags.” He glanced at the rookie and snickered. “Then he threw up all over himself.”
“I don’t blame him,” Karen said. “I almost did the same thing when I saw what was in the other bags. Be glad you didn’t open one of them first.” She looked at Eric and Emily. “Either of you got anything to add?”
Eric shook his head, but Emily took a step toward Karen. “There was fingernail polish,” she said. “That was a girl, wasn’t it?”
“Looks that way, yeah,” Karen said. “You know of any girls or women who’ve gone missing lately around here?”
Emily shook her head. “No,” she said,
Karen smiled at her. “We will,” she said. “You can count on it.”
She gave each of the kids her card and let them go on to school. She told them to let their teachers and principal know what had happened, and that they could call her to verify it if necessary. The three of them thanked her and hurried away.
The crime scene technicians had arrived, along with the medical examiner, and Karen went to watch as the scene was photographed and inventoried. The ground around the bags was soft, but the only visible footprints appeared to belong to the boys and the rookie patrolman. They were photographed anyway, so that they could be compared on a computer later. That would tell them if there might be a fourth set, which might conceivably belong to whoever had dumped the body parts.
Establishing a time of death, the medical examiner told her, would be very difficult. Normally, they would measure the internal core temperature of a body, but that wouldn’t help in this case. “At a rough guess,” the ME said, “based on the general condition, I’d say this woman has been dead at least twelve hours but not more than forty-eight. That’s about the best I can tell you at the moment.”
“Okay, thanks,” Karen said. She looked up to see Dennison approaching and walked over to meet him. “Get anything?”
“Nobody around here saw anything, or so they say,” he said. “I found one guy who said he walked through the alley about ten o’clock last night, and he didn’t think those bags were there then. Couldn’t be sure, though.”
Karen nodded. “Anybody know about anyone who might be missing?”
Dennison shook his head. “Not so far. Personally, I’m guessing we’ll find out this gal was whacked over some kind of drug deal or something like that. Chopping her up might’ve just been to make it easier to get rid of her.”
“Could be,” Karen said. “But the fact that the head is missing could mean somebody is trying to keep us from identifying her. We’ll run the fingerprints, but I suspect they are not going to give us any information.”
“Yeah,” Dennison agreed, “probably not. God, I hate things like this. Poor thing probably has family out there somewhere that has no idea what happened to her.”
“Yeah. There’s a lot of that, nowadays.”
Karen went back to the station and wrote up a report, but there was little she could do until she got the medical examiner’s conclusions. In the meantime, she went back to working on paperwork catch up and hoped the victim’s head would turn up sometime soon.
It was two days later when she got the next call on the case. The medical examiner had found traces of oxycodone and methamphetamine in the remains, and had confirmed that the body had been cut up with some sort of power saw. The cuts were too smooth for anything else, he explained, and there were definite marks indicating that the reciprocation of the blade had been very fast.
An hour later, though, came the call she had been hoping for. The victim’s head had been found at the landfill. It would have gone unnoticed, but one of the bulldozer operators had been waiting for the truck to dump its load and saw what looked like blonde hair. He had jumped down off his machine and walked over to look, then radioed the office to tell them what he found.
The medical examiner arrived at the same time Karen did, and the two of them walked through the stinking piles of refuse together. “Well, we might not get much information,” he said. “If the head got dumped into the compactor, it’s going to be pretty contaminated.”
“All I’m really hoping for is an identification,” Karen said. “If it’s not too badly mangled, we’ll get photos and have an artist draw up a sketch of what she might have looked like alive. You guys can work your magic on dental records and such while I’m trying that.”
When they saw the head, Karen felt nauseous. It had apparently gotten caught in the mechanism of the compactor truck and part of the flesh had been torn completely off the face. She took photos anyway, and then the ME carefully picked it up.
“Well, I guess this is our cause of death,” he said. He was pointing at the back of the head, where a part of the skull was literally caved in. The hair around it was matted with blood, and Karen could see what looked like brain tissue. “Whatever hit her head, or whatever her head hit, that was definitely a fatal blow.” He looked the head over for a few more seconds, then placed it in a bag and carried it out.
Bonnie, the police artist, made a face of her own when Karen showed her the pictures, but she said there was enough that she could create a sketch. She set to work, and twenty minutes later the sketch was being sent by email out to all the local news stations. It would be shown on the evening news in the hope that someone might recognize the girl and contact the police.
It paid off. The following morning, Karen had a dozen messages telling her that the sketch appeared to be a woman named Julie Wesley. She called each person back and learned that Julie was originally from England. She had come to the U.S. as a girl with her parents, who lived in Los Angeles, and she had been living with a man that the callers knew only as “Digger.” The two of them, Karen was told, had three daughters, and no one had any idea where they might be, either.
Danny the Digger was known as a drug dealer and hoodlum, and Karen was able to learn from the Vice division that his real name was Daniel Samara. The nickname reportedly came from the fact that he was often used as a young man to dig graves, the kind people don’t want anyone else to find. He was about thirty-eight years old and had already done a couple of short stints in prison. Julie had never done time, but she had spent many nights in jail for minor drug offenses or prostitution.
Authorities had been told on numerous occasions that their daughters were being abused, but they never seemed to catch up with them. Each time they got a report, Digger would somehow take his family and be gone before they arrived. They knew that the oldest daughter was around ten years old, but there was no record that she had ever been to school. They didn’t know the ages of the other two girls, and no one had even been able to provide their names.
With all of this information, Karen put out a request for any information that might lead to him. He was listed as a person of interest in Julie’s death, so if he had any interaction with the police, they would be notified to hold him for her.
Unfortunately, Danny the Digger hadn’t been seen around the last few days. He wasn’t around the place where he’d been known to be staying, and even the vice snitches were unable to come up with any information on his current whereabouts.
Unfortunately, nothing came of it. The only break Karen got on the case at all came when Julie’s parents were tracked down in California. They agreed that the sketch they saw appeared to be their daughter, and were able to provide information about some identifying marks that confirmed her identity.
Karen called to speak with them, and got them both on the phone.
“First,” she said, “let me express my deepest sympathies on the loss of your daughter. I know this is a hard thing to deal with, and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Wesley. “Julie was a lovely girl as a child, and I only wish we could have done better with her as a teenager. She ran away, you know, when she was fifteen.”
“No, I didn’t know. Did you ever hear from her after that?”
“Not a word. She left with a young man, one she’d met on the streets. He’d gotten her involved in using drugs, and nothing we could say or do would get through to her. We awoke one morning to find her gone, and she left behind a letter telling us that she was in love with this Digger piece of trash and had decided she wanted to be with him forever. That was the last we ever heard of her until now.”
“She said the man she ran away with was called Digger? Our information says that’s the same man she’d been living with, and that they had three daughters. Do you know anything about your grandchildren?”
“Why, no, this is the first we’ve heard of them.
“I certainly will,” Karen said. “In the meantime, if you should happen to think of anything else that might help us track down Digger, please call me. I’ll give you my cell number, and I don’t care what time it is, if you think of something or hear something, please let me know.”
The parents promised to do so, and Karen said goodbye. She was quite frustrated with the case, and was itching to get her hands on Daniel “the Digger” Samara and his children.
And then she got her chance, or part of it. Samara was picked up for questioning when he was stopped over a burned-out taillight, and Karen spent hours trying to get any information out of him that she could. He kept insisting that he had no idea where Julie had gone, or what had happened to her. According to him, they had gotten into a huge fight more than two months earlier and she had walked out.
“And you never heard from her again?” Karen demanded.
“Not even a peep,” he said. There was something in his expression that convinced her he was lying. Still, she couldn’t break his story, and without some kind of evidence against him, there was nothing she could do. She decided to change tacks.
“What about your daughters?” Karen asked him. “Where are they? It seems DHS has some concerns about their safety.
Once again, he stared at her blankly, but something about his demeanor made her feel that he was laughing at her. “Julie took them,” he said calmly. “I have no idea where they might be. I haven’t seen them since the night she left with them.”
No matter how she tried, Karen was unable to break the man or get any kind of idea of what had truly transpired. There was no doubt in her mind that he had murdered Julie, and she was beginning to believe that he had probably killed the little girls, as well, but without evidence, she was forced to let him go. She spent days trying to come up with any kind of information, anything that would give her the opportunity to convince the DA to take action against Samara, but she was unsuccessful.
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