Read Dead Guilty Online

Authors: Beverly Connor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Horror, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Police Procedural, #Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Mystery & Detective - Police Procedural, #Fallon, #Women forensic anthropologists, #Georgia, #Diane (Fictitious character)

Dead Guilty

DEAD
GUILTY
A DIANE FALLON FORENSIC INVESTIGATION
BEVERLY CONNOR
Praise for the novels of Beverly Connor

‘‘Calls
to mind the forensic mysteries of Aaron Elkins
and Patricia Cornwell. . . . Chases, murder attempts,
and
harrowing
rescues
add
adventure.’’
to
this
fast-paced


Chicago Sun-Times

 

‘‘Connor combines smart people, fun people, and dan
gerous people in a novel hard to put down.’’

The Dallas Morning News

‘‘Outstanding.
. . . Connor grabs the reader with her
first
sentence
and
never
lets
up
until
the
book’s
end. . . . The story satisfies both as a mystery and as
an entre´e into the fascinating world of bones. . . . Add
Connor’s
dark
humor,
and
you
have
a
multidimen
sional mystery that deserves comparison with the best
of Patricia Cornwell.’’

Booklist
(starred review)

‘‘In
Connor’s latest multifaceted tale, the plot is ser
pentine, the solution ingenious, the academic politics
vicious . . . entertaining... chock-full of engrossing
anthropological and archeological detail.’’


Publishers Weekly
continued
...

‘‘Connor’s
books are a smart blend of Patricia Cornwell, Aaron Elkins, and Elizabeth Peters, with some
good, deep-South atmosphere to make it authentic.’’


Oklahoma Family Magazine

‘‘Crisp
dialogue, interesting characters, fascinating tid
bits
of
bone
lore
and
a
murderer
that
eluded
me.
When I started reading, I couldn’t stop. What more
could you ask for? Enjoy.’’

—Virginia Lanier, author of the Bloodhound series

‘‘Beverly
Connor has taken the dry bones of scientific
inquiry
and
resurrected
them
into
living,
breathing
characters. I couldn’t put [it] down until I was finished,
even though I wanted to savor the story. I predict that
Beverly
Connor
will
become
a
major
player
in
the
field of mystery writing.’’

—David Hunter, author of
The Dancing Savior

‘‘Combine[s]
forensic anthropology with some pretty
sharp antagonists. There is something about ancestors
and bones that adds unspeakable excitement and fore
boding to a mystery story. . . . Connor’s style is origi
nal and fresh.’’

Midwest Book Review

A
LSO BY
B
EVERLY
C
ONNOR

ONE
GRAVE TOO MANY*
AIRTIGHT CASE
SKELETON CREW
DRESSED TO DIE
QUESTIONABLE REMAINS
A RUMOR OF BONES

*Published by Onyx
DEAD
GUILTY
A DIANE FALLON FORENSIC INVESTIGATION
BEVERLY CONNOR

ONYX
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,
London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road,
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads,
Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Onyx, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Copyright © Beverly Connor, 2004
All rights reserved

REGISTERED
TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
ISBN: 1-101-11127-5

Without
limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval sys
tem, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission
of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

PUBLISHER’S
NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are
the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resem
blance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or
locales is entirely coincidental.

The
scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via
any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punish
able by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not
participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your
support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To Charles Connor

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to give thanks to Judy Hanson and
Terry Cooper for patiently answering my questions.

 

‘‘Rule number one of crime scene work:
If it’s wet and sticky and it ain’t yours, don’t touch it.’’
—Terry Cooper,

 

crime scene specialist, Georgia Bureau of Investigation

 

KNOTS

 

Bowline
Figure Eight Knot
Stevedore’s Knot
Fisherman’s Bend
Handcuff Knot
Waggoner’s Hitch
Chapter
1

‘‘If
I’d known she was so afraid of snakes, I wouldn’t
have hired her,’’ Diane Fallon muttered as she parked
her car behind a patrol car on the hard shoulder of
the
small
two-lane
dirt
road.
She
could
hear
the
screams of her museum assistant director still ringing
in
her
ears
as
she
took
her
case
from
the
backseat
and climbed out.

Two
guys and four young women dressed in cutoffs
and tanktops stood in a knot talking to each other on
the
opposite
side
of
the
road
between
a
beat-up
pickup and a Jeep. A blonde, cell phone to her ear,
stretched up on her toes, as if that would give her a
better view into the woods. The words ‘‘See anything’’
leaped out of the crowd.

On
Diane’s side of the road, two men, tanned and
athletic, stood next to a patrol car with what looked
like surveying equipment in a pile at their feet. One
of them appeared restless. He started to light a ciga
rette
when
the
other
stopped
him,
pointing
to
the
dry weeds.

The
onlookers turned their attention to Diane as a
patrolman approached her, spawning a minicloud of
dust with each step. He was a young freckled redhead,
and he squinted at the sun though his dark glasses,
his khaki shirt wet with spots of perspiration around
his collar and under his arms.

‘‘Nothing
to see here, lady. Get back in your car.’’
He motioned with his hand as though he was direct
ing traffic.

‘‘Forensic
anthropologist.’’ Diane held out identifi
cation
that
hung
around
her
neck.
‘‘Sheriff
Braden
called.’’

The
patrolman
attempted
a
smile,
nodded
and
pointed to the woods. ‘‘You have to work your way
through the woods there. It’s dense at first, but you’ll
come to a deer trail. Follow it about a quarter of a
mile.’’
He
hesitated
a
moment,
a
grimace
distorting
his features as he nodded toward the two men next
to his car. ‘‘They say it’s not normal.’’

Not
normal. The kind of death they called her out
for usually wasn’t. ‘‘My crime scene crew will be here
soon. Send them down when they arrive.’’

‘‘Sure
thing. Spray yourself down good. Lot of deer
ticks in these woods.’’
She thanked him, retrieved a can of bug repellent
from her case and sprayed herself from head to toe
before ducking through the underbrush. She followed
orange
tie
markers
through
brittle
flora
until
she
found the deer trail.
About four hundred yards into the woods, a breeze
brought a brief shot of relief from the heat but carried
with it the aroma of death. Pushing her way through
a thicket of wild shrubs, she saw the sheriff through
the leaves. He and several deputies stood in an open
ing under large spreading trees, staring at the crime
scene,
muttering
to
each
other.
They
looked
in
her
direction and nodded as she came into the clearing—
obviously glad to see her arrive.
At the familiar yellow-and-black tape she stopped
to take in details of the scene. Like a grotesque image
from
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,
three bodies
hung by their necks from ropes in the copse of trees.
The sheriff approached her, shaking his head, wip
ing his face with a blue bandana and fanning himself
with his wide-brimmed hat. He was a tall, thin man
with a round face and thick, wavy dark hair that was
just beginning to gray at the sides.
‘‘I don’t know what they could have done to these
people to make them like that,’’ he said, motioning in
the direction of the three hanging bodies. ‘‘When word
of this gets out...’’
Diane
said
nothing.
She
walked
with
the
sheriff
carefully
around
the
perimeter
of
the
yellow-taped
crime scene. What had upset the sheriff and his depu
ties
was
not
simply
the
triple
death,
but
the
horrid
look
of
it.
Bodies
hanging
still,
as
though
frozen—
their necks stretched from one to three feet in length.
The bodies looked very much alike, the way dead
do. The kinship of the dead—skin black with decay,
vacant eye sockets, exposed bones, mouths open and
askew. They were each dressed in similar if not identi
cal coveralls—navy blue, maybe dark gray, it was hard
to
tell,
they
were
so stained
with
dried
body
fluids.
One
had
long
blond
hair
half
plastered
to
its
skull,
with strands blowing gently in the breeze. The other
two
had
shorter
dark hair—brown
maybe,
or
black.
All had their hands tied behind their backs.
Without warning, the farthest body fell as the neck
skin ripped apart. The head bounced on the ground
and rolled a dozen feet from the torso, trailing a long
piece of neck with it.
‘‘Oh,
Jesus,’’
said
one
of
the
deputies,
jumping
back reflexively.
Diane watched the fall with interest. To her it was
a
process,
and
knowing
the
processes
that
work
on
bodies after death is to understand pieces to a puzzle
of great consequence that she had to solve. The direc
tion and distance a head rolls when it pops out of the
noose is useful information for finding a missing skull.
Knowing how long it takes for the head to separate
from the torso in a decomposing hanging victim under
specific
conditions
is
valuable
information
for
those
interested in taphonomy.
She
could
see
from
the
faces
of
the
people
here
watching that this information was not of interest to
them. She glanced at her watch.
The
sheriff
turned
his
gaze
from
the
scene
and
mopped his brow again. ‘‘What do you make of this,
Dr. Fallon?’’
‘‘We’ve been having a long dry spell,’’ Diane said. He
gave her a sideways glance. She crumpled leaves from
a nearby bush in her hand and nodded toward the vic
tims. ‘‘The dry air aids in this rather peculiar effect.’’
‘‘You saying this is natural?’’ He said, ‘‘I’ve seen a
few hanging victims, and I know the body stretches,
but jeez... I’ve never seen anything like this.’’
‘‘You just haven’t seen them at the right time, or
under the right conditions. The pull of gravity makes
the bodies stretch, making them taller than they were
in life. Sometimes you get this effect.’’ Diane gestured
toward the long neck of the victim closest to them.
‘‘Well, I’ll have to say that’s a relief. We couldn’t
figure
out
how
the
killer
could
have
done
this—or
why.
Thought
it
must
be
some
kind
of
perverted
maniac—you know, as opposed to our normal maniacs
we have running around.’’
Diane laughed with him, glad for any comic relief,
no matter how mild.
She
turned
her
attention
back
to
the
scene.
Not
many maggots on the corpses. But she didn’t expect
there would be. She turned her attention to the drip
zone—an area underneath the bodies where liquified
decay and bits of flesh dropped to the ground. Hun
dreds of maggots and their beetle predators made the
surface of the ground move with a writhing motion.
Soon
they
would
find
the
fallen
corpse,
and
if
left
alone they and other late arrivals would strip it bare.
‘‘This is just disgusting,’’ said one of the deputies.
Diane didn’t recognize him. She didn’t know all the
deputies in this county to the north of Rosewood. He
must be new. If he stayed with this job, he’d see things
far more disgusting.
Hang ’em high.
The words flitted through Diane’s
brain as she looked at the two bodies suspended from
the leafy canopy. Even stretched long as they were,
their shoes were still three feet from the ground. How
had they been hung so high?
The killer—or killers—had to scout out a place with
enough strong limbs for three hangings. Even in heav
ily wooded areas, hanging trees weren’t that easy to
come by. She glanced at the deputies milling around.
‘‘Ask everyone to move back,’’ she said to the sher
iff. ‘‘There have to be vehicle tracks here somewhere.’’
But looking at the underbrush and ground cover, she
didn’t see where a vehicle could have passed.
‘‘You’d
think
so,’’
said
the
sheriff,
looking
at
the
ground as though the tracks might be under his feet.
‘‘The perp had to use a winch or something.’’ He mo
tioned
to
the
deputies.
‘‘All
right,
everybody.
Let’s
move back, and watch where you step. We don’t need
to be trampling the crime scene.’’
‘‘Those guys with the surveying equipment . . . did
they find the bodies?’’ asked Diane.
The
sheriff
nodded.
‘‘They
were
doing
a
timber
cruise
for
the
paper
company.
This
land
belongs
to
Georgia Paper.’’
‘‘Then the two men are familiar with the lay of the
land around here.’’
‘‘I’m sure.’’ He turned to speak to a young deputy
when he saw him spit out a chew of tobacco. ‘‘Dam
mit, Ricky, what the hell do you think you’re doing?
Pick that up.’’
‘‘What?’’ The deputy looked around at the others,
who shook their heads and tried not to laugh.
‘‘That wad of tobacco you just spit out. Pick it up.
This is a crime scene, not a sidewalk.’’
‘‘Pick it up and do what with it?’’
‘‘Put it back in your mouth—I don’t care, just don’t
throw it away here.’’
As
they
bantered
back
and
forth,
Diane
fished
a
bag
from her
case
and put
a
large red
X
on it
and
handed it to the sheriff.
The sheriff poked the deputy with it. ‘‘Here. Put it
in this and take it back to your car. And while you’re
up there, talk to them timber fellas and see if there’s
a
back
road
into
here.
Leon,
you
go
with
him
and
make sure he don’t screw up.’’
The
deputy
picked
up
the
discarded
tobacco
cud
with a wad of leaves and stuffed the whole thing in
the brown paper bag.
As
he
and
the
other
deputy,
Leon,
were
leaving,
the
sheriff shouted
at them.
‘‘And don’t
piss in
the
woods on the way back.’’ He turned back to Diane.
‘‘I tell you, sometimes I wonder how he gets through
the day.’’
‘‘Is
the
coroner
here?’’
she
asked,
suppressing
a
smile.
‘‘Not
yet.
You
know
we
have
a
new
one,
don’t
you?’’
‘‘It’s not Sam Malone?’’
‘‘No. He retired. Moved to Florida. Lynn Webber’s
the coroner. She’s a medical examiner at the hospital
too. Smart little girl. Real smart.’’
‘‘Do I hear you talking about me, Mick Braden?’’
Sheriff
Braden’s
face
lit
up
at
the
approach
of
a
young woman dressed in designer jeans and a white
lab coat. ‘‘Nothing but good things,’’ he said. ‘‘Lynn,
this is Diane Fallon...’’
Lynn Webber was several inches shorter than Di
ane’s five feet, eight inches, and her short, shiny black
hair was
much more neatly
coifed than
Diane’s nononsense
haircut.
She
extended
her
hand
and
gave
Diane a smile that flashed bright bleached white teeth.
‘‘I just love the museum. I took my parents there while
they were visiting. It kept them from thinking about
what I do for a living for a whole day.’’ Her dark eyes
twinkled as she laughed.
‘‘I
suppose
medical
examiner
isn’t
the
job
they
picked out for you,’’ replied Diane, shaking her hand.
‘‘They wanted me to be a pediatrician.’’ Lynn Web
ber looked up at the hanging bodies. ‘‘Good heavens.
We’ve got something here, don’t we, Sheriff?’’
‘‘I’ll
say.’’
The
sheriff
nodded.
‘‘It
was
a
relief,
though, when Dr. Fallon told me this is natural.’’
Lynn
lay
a
hand
on
his
arm.
‘‘Bet
you
thought
someone
stretched
them
on
a
rack
before
stringing
them up.’’ She laughed again.
‘‘Something like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Lynn here caught
a murderer that almost slipped by us. We all thought
the
Whitcomb
woman
died
of
a
heart
attack—
including
her
doctor.
Wasn’t
going
to
even
have
a
postmortem—natural
causes.
Lynn
just
happened
to
hear the paramedics talking about the woman’s rigor.
Something
about
her
position.
What’d
you
call
it—
hyperextension?
Suspected
right
away
it
was
a
poisoning.’’
‘‘Sodium monofluoroacetate?’’ said Diane. She saw
a momentary flash of disappointment in Lynn’s eyes
before she nodded.
‘‘I’m impressed,’’ Diane continued. ‘‘That’s a tough
one. I only know about it through my human rights
work. It’s the poison of choice among men in India
who
kill
their
wife
because
her
dowry
wasn’t
high
enough.’’
Dr. Webber looked at her, speechless for a moment,
pondering, perhaps, the self-centeredness of murder
ers.
She
shook
her
head
and
looked
back
at
their
corpses.
‘‘How’d
the
perp
get
them
so
high?’’
Her
gaze
darted
around
the
crime
scene.
‘‘A
ladder,
maybe. But it would’ve been hard to get their cooper
ation to just climb up and stick their head in a noose,
wouldn’t it?’’
‘‘The
crime
scene
should
show
something.
.
.
.’’
Diane began, then stopped.
Dr. Webber and the sheriff followed her gaze up to
where, among the leafy branches, a fourth noose hung.

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