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 (3 page)

‘‘And
you
know
that
not
everyone
wanted
them
brought
in,’’
the
deputy
said.
‘‘You
remember
the
stink Boden Conrad raised . . . making all kinds of
excuses for ’em.’’

‘‘Leon,’’
the sheriff said, giving the deputy a look
that carried more weight than his words, ‘‘why don’t
you go see if the crime scene folk need some help.’’

Leon
shot Jefferson a
scowl before he reluctantly
trotted back to the crime scene.
‘‘After a body starts to decompose, the skin turns
black,’’ said the sheriff. ‘‘I’m sure someone up there
on the road heard somebody say they were black and
that’s how all this started.’’
‘‘I
didn’t
come
here
to
accuse,’’
Elwood
said.
‘‘I
came to get information.’’
Sheriff
Braden
turned
to
Diane.
‘‘I
know
you
haven’t had a chance to examine them, but...I’m
sorry.
Diane
Fallon,
this
is
Elwood
Jefferson.
He’s
pastor of the AME Church up on St. Chapel Street.
Dr. Fallon here is a forensic anthropologist loaned to
us from Rosewood.’’
‘‘I’ve been to the museum in Rosewood. You’re the
director
there,
aren’t
you?’’
He
extended
his
hand,
and Diane shook it.
‘‘Yes, I am. I hope your visit to the museum was
an enjoyable one.’’
‘‘It was indeed.’’ He nodded. ‘‘And you also work
crime scenes. That’s an odd combination.’’
‘‘Yes, it seems that way to me sometimes.’’
‘‘Is there anything you can tell me about the bod
ies?’’ he asked.
‘‘One of the victims has long, fine blond hair. The
other two have dark brown straight hair. That’s not
necessarily a defining characteristic, but I believe all
three are Caucasian.’’
Elwood
Jefferson
shook
his
head.
‘‘I
didn’t
get
a
look at the hair. All I could see was those necks. Who
would do such a thing?’’
‘‘That was my reaction too,’’ the sheriff said. ‘‘But
Dr. Fallon tells me that’s a natural outcome of hanging
by the neck for a long time in dry weather.’’
Jefferson
raised
his
eyebrows.
‘‘Is
that
so?
I’ve
never heard of that. That’s a relief.’’
‘‘I’ll have to ask you not to talk about the crime
scene to anyone,’’ said the sheriff. ‘‘We don’t really
know who or what might be involved here.’’
‘‘You
can
rely
on
me.
You’ll
tell
me
if
anything
changes in the identification of these poor souls.’’
‘‘We won’t hide the identities—you don’t need to
worry about that. I’ve got no interest other than get
ting to the bottom of this.’’
‘‘And tell your deputy that we’ll pray in church for
the families of those victims just like we would if they
were black.’’
‘‘Leon can be a lot like Boden Conrad.’’
‘‘Boden’s just looking out for justice.’’
‘‘I could say the same about Leon.’’
The
sheriff
walked
Elwood
Jefferson
back.
Diane
stayed, looking toward the murder site, her eyes fol
lowing the sheriff and the pastor as they disappeared
through the underbrush.
She watched them, but her mind was trying to grab
hold of the killer’s thoughts. He had to know the area.
He must have known he could come and go without
being seen and be here for as long as he needed to
hang three victims. Or was it four? How familiar was
he
with
this
place?
Was
he
from
here?
Had
he
hunted here?
All the bodies were in the same state of decay. He’d
probably
killed
them
at
the
same
time.
That
could
have taken anywhere from half an hour to half a day.
She tried to remember if she’d heard or read about
murders involving multiple victims at one time.
Why hanging? That seemed like very risky business.
Of the many methods of killing a person, hanging is
one of the most difficult.
She’d been thinking about one killer, but there may
have been more than one. More than one killer would
have made the task a lot easier.
What would be the killer’s motive? Were the hang
ings
a
message?
A
warning?
Maybe
it
was
a
hit
of
some kind. Her mind flashed for a moment to the St.
Valentine’s Day massacre. Gang warfare? Not likely.
Not here.
All three bodies were dressed the same. Did that
have any special meaning? Did they work at the same
place, belong to the same group, or were they dressed
the same by the killer? For what reason?
‘‘What I need is a victimology,’’ Diane whispered.
For that she needed to know who they were. She
doubted the bodies would have driver’s licenses, credit
cards or other identification on them, but there could
be enough skin left on the hands to get fingerprints.
If the sheriff was lucky, he wouldn’t need her profes
sional specialty to identify them.
Diane looked down the path in the other direction,
away from the crime scene. There were spots where
the trees grew so close together that a truck or SUV
would have a tight squeeze. She followed the trail of
the vehicle, inspecting the ground, the brush and the
trees. The first narrow spot showed no sign of damage,
but from where she stood she could see a light-colored
gash on a tree ahead.
She
was
hoping
for
paint
flakes
or
something
scratched off the side of the killer’s vehicle, but the
gash appeared to be the result of a section of bark
and wood cut out with a saw.
Could be the killer sideswiped the tree and stopped
to cut out the evidence, leaving no paint to match up
with
his
vehicle.
Diane
took
an
orange
marker
flag
hanging from her belt and pushed the wire holder into
the ground next to the tree.
She
continued
along,
looking
for
more
tight
squeezes and surveying the ground, looking for any
thing.
About a quarter of a mile farther, she came to a
rough dirt road filled with ruts and rocks the size of
cantaloupes.
In
one
direction
the
road
was
heavily
overgrown with tall weeds growing down the middle.
Erosion scars were deep and the woods thick.
In the opposite direction, the weeds in the center
were shorter, the road better. An older Land Rover
was parked in the middle of the road. As she walked
toward
it,
she
heard
the
sound
of
a
motor,
and
a
county deputy’s car came into view. It pulled up be
hind the Rover and stopped. The two guys who had
found the bodies got out and began transferring their
equipment
from the
patrol
car to
the Rover.
Diane
quickened her pace.
‘‘You lost, lady?’’ one of the men called out to her.
‘‘No,’’ she said as she approached their vehicle. ‘‘I
need to ask you some questions.’’
‘‘She’s working on the case,’’ said the deputy. He
was the one called Ricky—the one who had to gather
up his expectorated tobacco and take it to his car.
‘‘I’m Diane Fallon.’’
‘‘Chris
Edwards
and
Steven
Mayberry.
We
told
everything we know to the sheriff.’’
Both men were young, not over twenty-five, Diane
guessed. Chris Edwards had short, wavy light brown
hair.
He
was
athletic
with
a
thin
layer
of
baby
fat
between
his
skin
and
muscles,
giving
him
a
wellshaped, pudgy appearance. Steven Mayberry had dark
brown straight hair that hung below his ears. He was
more slightly built and leaner.
Both of them looked nervous, fidgeting with their
equipment, dropping some of it on the ground. Chris
put a hand to his face and coughed.
‘‘Just a few questions,’’ said Diane.
‘‘Okay, but all we know is what we told the sheriff.’’
Chris Edwards pointed to an instrument his partner
had in his hand. ‘‘I was just calculating the height of
a tree when I saw what looked like a body hanging
in the distant canopy.’’
‘‘Look,’’ interrupted Deputy Ricky. ‘‘You need me
to
take you
back to
the scene?
If you
do, I’ll
stick
around . . . but I need to get back. There’s a crowd
gathering up at the road.’’
‘‘I’ll walk back,’’ Diane told him. ‘‘Thanks.’’
The
deputy
helped
the
two
men
with
the
last
of
their gear and drove off, backing all the way up the
road. Whatever else Ricky was, he was a good backer.
Diane watched as his car maneuvered down the rutfilled dirt road with hardly a waver.
‘‘What
exactly
is
a
timber
cruise?’’
asked
Diane,
leaning against the white vehicle. Perhaps a few mun
dane questions would put them at ease. The two did
relax their stance.
‘‘Basically, inventorying the trees,’’ said Chris.
‘‘You count them?’’
‘‘Yes—and
determine
the
diameter,
height
and
species.’’
‘‘Surely not all of them.’’
‘‘No, not
on a
parcel this
size. It’s six
hundred and
twenty-five acres. We do a point sample—count a tenth
of an acre at regular points on a grid.’’ Steven pointed
to a rolled-up map in the backseat of the Rover.
‘‘So
you’ve
been
all
over
the
woods.
Or
did
you
just start?’’
‘‘No. We’ve been at it a while. Mainly in this sec
tion.’’
He
pointed
to
the
woods
on
the
side
of
the
road opposite the crime scene. ‘‘This section’s mainly
soft woods and pine. The other side, where the bodies
are, is mainly hardwoods. It hasn’t been cut in over a
hundred years,’’ Steven added.
‘‘Have you noticed anyone out in the woods while
you were working?’’
Chris and Steven looked at each other wide-eyed.
‘‘You mean the killer could be out here—now?’’
‘‘Probably not,’’ said Diane. ‘‘I’m just asking ques
tions I always ask. Did you see anyone?’’
Both the men shook their heads. ‘‘No. But we found
some
hoofprints
thataways.’’
Chris
pointed
to
the
piney side of the road. ‘‘I’d say about a half a mile
in. For about a half mile you get these mostly thirtyyear-old trees you see here. After that, the parcel was
clear-cut
about
ten
years
ago.
The
hoofprints
were
along a stream where the trees weren’t cut. The timber
managers always try to leave a stand to control ero
sion along streams of any size.’’
‘‘But you didn’t see a rider?’’
‘‘No. Just the prints. If I was a tracker, I’d tell you
how old they were, but I’m not.’’ Chris laughed, joined
by Steven. ‘‘I suppose they could be new or they could
be old. We haven’t had rain in a while.’’
‘‘Did the horses have shoes?’’
They hesitated a second, surprised by the question.
‘‘I don’t know that I noticed,’’ said Steven. ‘‘I’d say
yes. The print was crisp, as I recall.’’
‘‘When you’re doing your timber cruise, do you tag
the trees in some way—make a cut in them?’’
‘‘Sometimes we use an orange ribbon to mark the
center of the plot we’re sampling, but you wouldn’t
want
to
make
a
cut.
It’d
be
a
way
for
diseases
to
attack the tree. Besides, these are valuable products.
You don’t go hacking them up,’’ said Steven.
‘‘She’s talking about that tree over there.’’ Chris
pointed
in
the
direction
of
the
tree
Diane
had
found with the gash. ‘‘We saw that. Somebody took
a saw to it. No idea why. They wouldn’t be check
ing for sap or anything. Maybe someone was trying
to
cut
it
down.
Not
doing
a
very
good
job
of
it,
though.’’
‘‘Near the crime scene, there’s a tree that’s been cut
down and brush piled on top. Did you do that?’’
Both of them shook their heads. ‘‘No,’’ said Chris.
‘‘We
saw
that
too.
Maybe
somebody
was
trying
to
hide what they’d done.’’
‘‘Maybe. Have you noticed or found anything un
usual while you’ve been out here?’’
‘‘Unusual? More unusual than those bodies?’’
‘‘Anything
like
the
remains
of
a
campfire,
tire
tracks, objects—anything not natural to the forest.’’
They hesitated a moment. Exchanged gazes briefly,
and looked back at Diane. ‘‘Just the hoofprints,’’ said
Chris. ‘‘But we were mainly looking at the trees.’’
Steven agreed. ‘‘No one’s supposed to camp here.
Something
like
campfire
smoke
would’ve
been
no
ticed. They keep a pretty good eye out for forest fires,
especially since it’s been so dry.’’
‘‘They?’’
‘‘The forest rangers.
Anyone
here ’bouts would take
notice of smoke, for that matter.’’
Diane’s
gaze
rested
on
the
map
in
the
backseat.
‘‘Could I have a look at your map?’’
‘‘We’ve got a copy we could give you,’’ said Chris.
He went around and opened the back and pulled out
a cardboard mailing tube. ‘‘It’s got our grid marked
on it, but that shouldn’t matter.’’
He pulled out the map and unrolled it on the hood
of
the
Rover.
That
was
when
Diane
noticed
how
marked up the side of the vehicle was. For a moment
her
heart
skipped
a
beat.
Of
course
their
vehicle
would be beat up. It was an old model and they used
it
on
rough
terrain—and
she
was
sure
the
sheriff
would
check
them
out.
They
had
found
the
bodies,
and it would be routine to check them out. Still . . .
She took a deep breath.
‘‘We’re right here.’’ Chris pointed to a spot on the
map
next
to
a
line
marked
as
a
road.
‘‘The
bodies
are here.’’
‘‘We take a tenth of an acre sample everywhere the
grid lines cross,’’ added Steven.
‘‘Where were the hoofprints?’’ asked Diane.
‘‘That’d be right along here.’’ Chris moved his finger
along a blue line labeled as Cobb Creek.
‘‘Give her that extra copy of the aerial photograph
too,’’ said Steven.
‘‘Sure.’’ Chris pulled it out of the tube and lay it
out on the hood. ‘‘See, you can tell the kind of trees
that grow here.’’ Diane couldn’t, but she nodded. ‘‘See
over
here
where
the
stream
cuts
in?
The
trees
are
smaller.
That’s
where
it
was
clear-cut.
Over
here
is
where we did most of the cruise, and right here is the
bodies.’’ He rolled up the maps, put them back in the
tube and handed it to her.
‘‘I appreciate this.’’
‘‘Glad to help...’’
As he spoke, they heard the sound of a motor.
The
deputy coming back,
thought Diane. But a dark blue
SUV appeared over the rise.
‘‘Oh, Jesus,’’ said Chris.

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