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 (4 page)

Chapter
4

Diane
knew what Chris and Steven were thinking. The
same thought flashed through her mind—the killer. As
the vehicle slowed to a stop, the letters
WXNG
on the
magnetic
sign attached
to
the
side brought
relief
to
Chris and Steven. But not to Diane. She crossed in
front of the vehicle and walked to the driver’s side.

‘‘Can
I help you?’’ she asked the woman who ap
peared as the window slid down.
‘‘WXNG
news.’’
The
woman,
perhaps
twenty-five
with fine brown hair and eyes to match, looked Diane
up and down a moment and spotted the identification
that hung from a cord around her neck. ‘‘What can
you tell us?’’ she asked.
‘‘Not a thing. Have you seen the sheriff?’’
‘‘The deputy said he’s at the scene. We heard it’s a
racial thing.’’
Thing,
thought Diane. What a way to describe the
horror
of
murder.
Diane
measured
her
words.
She
could
see
‘‘No
comment’’
appearing
in
the
news,
something like: ‘‘The authorities at the scene had no
comment when asked if this was a racially motivated
crime.’’
‘‘What do you mean?’’ Diane asked.
‘‘We heard that someone lynched three black men.’’
‘‘You’ve been given incorrect information. For more
than that, you need to talk to the sheriff.’’
‘‘That’s who we’re going to see.’’ She turned to her
passenger.
‘‘I
see
a
road
down
there.
I
think
that’ll
get us to the crime scene.’’
‘‘That roadway’s part of the crime scene. You can’t
go there,’’ said Diane.
‘‘People around here want to know what’s going on.
It’s my job to tell them, and I’m going to do it.’’
‘‘Not by contaminating the crime scene, you’re not.
You
get
near
that
roadway,
I’ll
impound
your
vehicle.’’
‘‘You can’t do that.’’
‘‘Yes, I can. If you continue on after I’ve told you
it’s a crime scene, I’ll have you arrested. You can get
the information you want, just not through here. Drive
back to the road. I’ll call the sheriff and tell him you
want to speak with him.’’
Diane took her phone and punched in the sheriff’s
number with her thumb, not taking her eyes off the
woman.
When
he
answered
she
told
him
about
the
reporter. She also asked him to send one of her team
with some crime scene tape to rope off the roadway
to the scene.
‘‘Damn reporters,’’ he said. ‘‘I suppose they’ve got
ten on to this racial thing going around.’’
‘‘Yes.’’
‘‘You told them it wasn’t, didn’t you?’’
‘‘Yes. And I also told them that all other informa
tion had to come from you.’’
‘‘You did, did you? I suppose I got to talk to them
sometime. Tell them I’ll meet them up at the road.’’
Diane relayed the message. The woman was reluc
tant. She sat in her SUV, not making a move to put
her car in gear. ‘‘I need to pull down there so I can
turn around.’’ She pointed to the forbidden path.
Diane had the impression she was planning to make
a break for it. ‘‘I’m sorry, but you can’t. As I said, it’s
part of the crime scene.’’
‘‘Well,
where
the
hell
do
you
expect
me
to
turn
around?’’
‘‘Not at the crime scene. If you back up several feet,
there’s a small turnaround between those trees.’’
‘‘Back up?’’ She said it as though her vehicle didn’t
have a reverse gear.
‘‘Yes.’’
She reluctantly put her car in gear and started to
back up, then abruptly slammed on the brakes, throw
ing her passenger forward and backward. She stepped
out of the car and turned toward Steven and Chris.
‘‘Who
are
you
two?
Are
you
the
ones
who
found
the bodies?’’
The
passenger,
a
tall
lean
man
close
to
thirty,
stepped
out
and
shouldered
his
video
camera
and
trained it on the two timber cruisers.
‘‘You are the two who found the bodies, right?’’ the
reporter asked again.
‘‘We found them and called the sheriff. That’s all
there was to it,’’ Steven told her.
‘‘Tell us about the scene.’’
‘‘The sheriff told us not to talk about it,’’ said Chris.
‘‘He can’t order you not to talk.’’
‘‘And you can’t order us
to
talk.’’ Chris shrugged.
‘‘As soon as we saw the bodies, we left and called the
sheriff. That’s it.’’
‘‘How many bodies were there?’’
‘‘We can’t say anything about it.’’
‘‘What was it like, coming upon dead bodies?’’
The two of them glared at her a moment. ‘‘What
do you think it was like?’’ said Steven. ‘‘How many
times
have
you
found
dead
bodies
in
your
work
place?’’
Diane was glad to see that they were more reluctant
to talk to the reporter than they were to talk with her.
As
the
reporter
was
trying
to
pull
answers
from
Chris and Steven, Diane saw the two deputies, Chuck
and Leon, coming up the trail from the crime scene
to tape off the vehicle path through the woods. She
walked down to meet them.
‘‘I’m glad you’re here. I fear I was going to have
a hard time keeping that reporter from crashing the
crime scene.’’
‘‘That’s Pris Halloran from that little TV station in
Atlanta,
WXNG,’’
said
Chuck.
‘‘She
cruises
around
listening to her scanner. She’s always trying to break
a
big
story.
Mostly,
she
makes
a
whole
lot
out
of
nothing.’’
‘‘The
guy’s
Kyle
Anthony,’’
said
Leon.
‘‘He
got
fired from one of the big Atlanta stations after he was
arrested for possession of cocaine.’’
‘‘I think both of them’s hungry for some kind of big
news score,’’ said Chuck. ‘‘I see she’s giving the timber
guys a hard time.’’
From the stiff posture Chris and Steven had taken,
folded
arms,
head
down,
Diane
guessed
Chuck
was
right.
‘‘Would you get that damn thing out of my face?
You trying to get a view of my tonsils?’’ Chris’ voice
carried clearly down the road to where Diane and the
deputies were securing the crime scene tape.
‘‘Looks like Chris Edwards needs a little backup,’’
said Leon.
The three of them walked up to them at a fast pace.
‘‘Everything all right here?’’ asked Leon.
‘‘I’m
just
conducting
an
interview,’’
said
Pris
Halloran.
‘‘We’ve got to get back to work.’’ Steven opened
the door and slid into the driver’s seat.
‘‘You know,’’ said Diane, ‘‘if the sheriff gets up to
the road and you aren’t there, you’re not likely to get
another chance to talk with him today.’’
That got the reporter and the cameraman moving.
They jumped in their SUV and backed up to the turn
around and left before Chris and Steven could make
their getaway.

‘‘Fill
me in,’’ Diane said to Jin when she finally got
back to the main crime scene.
Jin handed over the sketches he and Neva had made.
‘‘We found
something interesting.’’
He led
her to
the
bodies
through
the
path
they
had
searched
and
cleared. ‘‘Notice anything funny?’’
Diane scrutinized the corpse in front of her, tuning
out
the
aroma
of
decaying
flesh.
She
looked
at
the
hands tied at the wrist, well on their way to becom
ing skeletonized.
‘‘Well, damn,’’ she said.
The killer had cut off the fingertips, leaving an open
wound for the flies to lay their eggs and the maggots
to
infest
quickly.
The
flesh
on
the
hands
was
eaten
away before the rest of the body.
‘‘Damn’s
right,’’
said
Jin.
‘‘No
chance
of
getting
prints.’’
‘‘I suppose the others are the same.’’
‘‘Yes. Lots of good opportunities for getting some
thing from the ropes, though. I’d
like to watch you
examine them. Been wanting to learn to do that.’’
‘‘Finding anything on the ground?’’
‘‘Lots of bugs. David’s got quite a collection. That’s
about all so far.’’
Neva stood up from the farthest grid square from
Diane. ‘‘I have something here.’’
Diane
searched
covered.
crossed
the
grids
that
had
already
been
and
stooped
to
see
what
Neva
had
dis

‘‘It’s
just a rope,’’ she said, ‘‘but . . . well, there’s a
lot of rope here, and...’’
The rope had been covered in leaves and lay in a
loose
tangle
on
the
ground.
It
was
hemp,
like
the
death ropes, had no knots and showed signs of chafing
in several places.
‘‘This is good,’’ said Diane. ‘‘The killer might have
dropped it. Take a picture of it, do a sketch, but let
me take it up.’’
‘‘Sure.’’
‘‘When
you
sketch
it,
take
note
of
how
the
rope
crosses itself.’’
Neva nodded. ‘‘David and Jin said you do forensic
knot analysis. I’ve never heard of that.’’
‘‘It comes in handy. It’s amazing how many you run
across in criminal investigations.’’
‘‘Can you really find out anything from knots?’’
‘‘You can make some good guesses about the per
son who tied them. How good he is at tying knots,
perhaps what kind of job or hobby he’s had.’’
‘‘I always thought a knot was a knot.’’
‘‘Oh, no, there’s a specific knot for every purpose.
Some are commonly used, and some are rare.’’
‘‘This rope doesn’t have any knots in it. Will you
be able to tell anything from it?’’
‘‘I doubt it, but you never know. There might be
bloodstains or fibers on it that’ll give us information.
If we’re lucky, we might be able to find out where it
came from. It’s a good find.’’
Neva nodded. ‘‘I was afraid it might be just trash.’’
‘‘There’s
no
such
thing
as
‘just
trash’
at
a
crime
scene.’’
After Neva photographed the rope, she lay a grid
over
it
and
began
drawing
a
sketch
of
it
onto
the
graph paper.
Diane stepped out of the crime scene and walked
around the perimeter toward David. She noticed that
Neva occasionally cast nervous glances in her direc
tion. Neva was a friend of Janice Warrick. Warrick’s
mishandling of the Boone family crime scene had re
sulted in her demotion in the Rosewood police depart
ment, a demotion that was blamed on Diane by almost
everyone in the department.
‘‘How’s it going?’’ she asked David.
‘‘We’re ready to take them down.’’
He
stood
in
the
cleared
area
under
the
corpses,
looking like he was about to be hanged himself. Diane
understood. She hated this part—placing once living
people into body bags.

Chapter
5

The
only other time Diane had been in a hot autopsy
room
was
in
the
South
American
jungle.
Dr.
Lynn
Webber’s lab in the regional medical center was sti
fling. The smell of death weighed over the room like
a
heavy
blanket
of
rotting
flesh.
The
metal
tables,
white
glass-door
cabinets,
appliances
and
tools
that
went so well with the usual chill of the autopsy room
looked out of place and dreadful here. Diane wanted
to back out of the overwhelming stench and heat and
go someplace else.

Through
a window on the opposite side of the main
lab Diane could see the isolation room designed for
the autopsy of badly decomposed and infectious bod
ies. The diener, servant to the dead, stood by a table
occupied by one of the hanging victims—extended on
a shiny metal table, neck curved around the torso so
that the head sat beside the shoulder.

Lynn
was in her office on the phone, the door open.
Her voice carried out to the autopsy room.
‘‘I asked you two days ago to come fix the air condi
tioner.’’ Pause. ‘‘I don’t care if it’s the vents, not the
unit. The temperature is too high in here. I have dead
bodies rotting on my tables. No amount of lemon juice
is ever going to get the smell out of my hair.’’
Lynn tapped a pencil on a pad of paper as she lis
tened. ‘‘I don’t care if
both
your ankles are sprained.
A man your age has got no business being on Roll
erblades. Let me remind you that I’m a woman who
knows how to kill and leave no evidence to show up
in the autopsy. I want this problem fixed, and I don’t
mean tomorrow.’’
She hung up the phone and walked out into the lab.
‘‘I hate to talk to maintenance men. It’s like talking
to a blackmailer. They know they’ve got you by the
balls.’’
She motioned toward suits of protective gear lying
on
the countertop.
The two
of them
slipped on
lab
coats, face shields and gloves and entered the isola
tion lab.
The
room
had
two
tables,
shiny
metal
rectangles
atop
bright
white
cabinets.
Between
the
two
tables
hung
scales
for
weighing
organs.
Across
the
room
stood a series of cabinets, metal countertops and sinks.
Everything sparkled, from the glossy blue floor to the
metal
surfaces—everything
except
the
blackened
corpse
with
stiff
blond
hair
and
an
exceptionally
long neck.
‘‘I was so happy to get this new containment room.
But it’s been one problem after another.’’
‘‘Can’t
the
hospital
administration
do
anything?’’
asked Diane.
‘‘You’re talking about Jack the Bean Counter.’’ She
sighed.
‘‘I’m
sorry
it’s
so
unbearable
in
here.
Right
now we have to keep working and put up with it.’’
‘‘My
grandma
found
somebody
hanging
like
this
when she was a girl,’’ said the diener. ‘‘Neck all long
like a snake. She took it as a sign.’’
‘‘A sign of what?’’ asked Diane.
‘‘That she and her family should move to Atlanta.’’
‘‘Did they?’’
‘‘Sure ’nuff, they did.’’ He started toward the door,
taking off his face shield. ‘‘I’ll be right back.’’
Diane and Lynn watched the lean young black man
walk out of the room.
‘‘I
never
ask
Raymond
what
he’s
doing
when
he
gets that blank look on his face.’’ Lynn shrugged, then
shifted gears. ‘‘I’d like to start with the clothes. We’ll
have to cut the sleeves, but I’d like to inspect the body
before the hands are untied.’’
The
material
was
stiff
and
hard
to
dropped
from
the
body
to
the
metal
cut.
Maggots
surface
of
the
table as they worked. They were putting the clothes
in a bag when the diener came back in. He put on his
gloves and took the bag of evidence.
‘‘I’ll label. What we calling the body?’’
‘‘Blue,’’ said Diane.
‘‘Blue,’’
said
Raymond.
‘‘I
guess
that’s
as
good
a
name as any.’’
‘‘When
we
cut
them
down,
we
tied
blue,
red
or
green cord around both cut ends of the rope so we
could
match
the
ropes
again
after
they
were
sepa
rated.’’
Diane
pointed
to
the
blue
string
wrapped
around the end of the rope that marked it and kept
it from unraveling.
The noose was still tight around the neck, sunk deep
into the flesh under the chin. Diane would hate for
any family member to ever see their loved one like
this. They would never be able to think of their rela
tive again without seeing this image. She stood back
and
watched
as
Lynn
and her
diener
tended
to
the
painstaking external examination of the body.
Lynn talked into a hanging microphone as she de
scribed what they found. ‘‘The victim appears to be a
female at this point...’’
A
pounding
on
the
window
startled
Diane.
The
three of them looked up to see a man in his thirties
standing in the outer autopsy room, looking through
the window at them. He was dressed in gray trousers,
white
shirt
and
floral
tie,
holding
a
hand
over
his
mouth and nose. Lynn flipped the intercom switch.
‘‘What’s going on in here?’’ he said. ‘‘Step out here
for a minute.’’
‘‘I’m
in
the
middle
of
an
important
examination,
Jackson. What do you want?’’
Jackson bent over and gagged. ‘‘Why does it smell
so bad in here?’’
The three of them looked at Jackson with their eye
brows raised enough
to make deep furrows
in their
foreheads.
‘‘We have a rotting corpse on the table,’’ said Lynn.
‘‘It would be a little better if the air-conditioning sys
tem were working, but it’s not.’’
‘‘The air conditioner is working in the rest of the
building.’’
Lynn glared at him for a moment before she spoke.
‘‘Well, it’s not working in here. What brings you here
anyway?
I
don’t
think
I’ve
ever
seen
you
visit
the
autopsy room.’’
‘‘I was talking to a patron when this . . . this . . .
horrific odor came into my office.’’
‘‘The maintenance man said it’s a problem with the
vents. You’ll have to talk to him.’’
‘‘He’s home sick.’’ As Jackson spoke, he breathed
through his mouth and tried holding his nose.
‘‘Surely he’s not the only person the hospital em
ploys who can fix air conditioning.’’
‘‘He’s the only one who can look into this. We’ve
had an injudicious use of vacation time, and the other
man who does this kind of work is out of town.’’
‘‘Then you’ll have to call in someone from outside
the hospital.’’
‘‘We don’t have the money.’’
‘‘Then we’ll have to put up with the smell until Mar
lon gets back.’’
‘‘This is impossible.’’
‘‘No,’’ said Lynn. ‘‘Just difficult.’’
‘‘I’ll see what I can do.’’ He hurried out of the lab.
The door slammed behind him.
‘‘Bean counter?’’ asked Diane.
‘‘That’s
him.
I
won’t
ask
you
what
you
did,
Raymond.’’
‘‘That’d be best, Ma’am.’’
‘‘Yes,
well,
getting
back
to
Blue.
We
gave
the
clothes an initial inspection before you got here,’’ said
Lynn,
speaking
to
Diane.
‘‘It’s
hard
to
tell,
but
the
coveralls look relatively new.’’
‘‘From Sears,’’ said Raymond.
‘‘Maybe at your lab you’ll be able to pick up some
more information,’’ said Lynn.
‘‘How’d a crime lab in a museum come about any
way?’’ Raymond asked Diane as he rolled the body
over while Lynn held the head and neck.
‘‘The
Rosewood
Police
Department
made
me
an
offer I couldn’t refuse.’’
‘‘Uh huh,’’ said Raymond.
‘‘The city and county assessed the museum’s prop
erty value so high it couldn’t pay the taxes. The mayor
and chief of detectives suggested that if we would op
erate
a
new
crime
scene
evidence
laboratory
in
the
museum for the city, the city would arrange for the
money from the real estate taxes paid to be returned
to the museum for services rendered.’’
‘‘Sounds to me a great deal like extortion,’’ Lynn said.
‘‘A deal with the devil,’’ Raymond said.
‘‘
Collaborative partnership
is the operative term.’’
‘‘Yeah,
we
get
that
all
the
time
here
too,’’
Lynn
said.
‘‘Whenever
I
hear
that,
I
know
my
money
is
about to be cut and my workload increased. Makes
me want to gag more than this smell.’’
‘‘From the mayor’s point of view, it’s a perfect solu
tion. They get a new crime lab, and we get to keep
the museum and the taxes we can’t afford to pay. As
an added bonus, they send us one of their employees.’’
‘‘That would be Neva?’’ asked Lynn.
‘‘She’s kind of caught in the middle. She’s not to
blame.’’
‘‘So, your forensic anthropology unit was swallowed
up by the city’s crime lab?’’
‘‘No.
I
wouldn’t
stand
for
that.
The
crime
lab
is
separate. Half my salary and that of my forensic staff
is paid by the city to operate their crime lab. It takes
a team of accountants to do the paperwork. The one
big downside of it is that on paper, I and a chunk of
my staff are part-time employees of the city. Some
times the mayor and the chief of police forget that it’s
only on paper.’’
‘‘Bureaucracies are certainly wonderful,’’ said Lynn.
‘‘I
think
I’ve
found
something
on
the
ankle
here—
some kind of tattoo.’’
Diane walked over and took a look at the blackened
skin with a barely visible darker design.
‘‘I
see
it,’’
said
Raymond.
‘‘Can’t
tell
what
it
is.
Want me to get the lamp?’’
‘‘I think we have enough slippage so we don’t have
to burn off the skin. Get me a damp piece of gauze.’’
Raymond
fetched the
gauze
and gave
it to
Lynn.
Diane
watched
her
gently
rub
the
skin,
removing
a
film of epidermis, revealing what looked like a yellow,
blue and red butterfly.
‘‘Nice,’’ said Raymond.
‘‘Let’s go ahead and get a picture of this—use the
large-format camera,’’ said Lynn.
Raymond retrieved his Horseman VH Metal Field
Camera from a closet.
‘‘I want a close-up, and another that shows the en
tire ankle.’’
Lynn and Diane watched Raymond remove the bulky
camera from the overhead mount and place it on a tri
pod. He put a metal ruler just under the tattoo, framed
the shot and snapped the first picture. He moved in for
a close-up. ‘‘Okay, you want some digital too?’’
Lynn nodded. ‘‘Just to play it safe.’’
‘‘Dr. Webber never expects pictures to come out.’’
‘‘It’s because I’m such a poor photographer,’’ she
said.
Diane retrieved more blue cord and a strip of plastic
from her case while Raymond snapped photographs
of the butterfly tattoo, duplicated all his shots with a
digital backup, and filled out the photo log.
‘‘Diane,
I
assume
you
want
any
internal
insects
when I go inside.’’
‘‘Yes. If you think she may have been sexually as
saulted,
any
larvae
around
the
vagina
might
be
useful.’’
‘‘How’s that?’’ asked Raymond.
‘‘A rapist’s DNA can show up in the maggots who
have ingested it.’’
Raymond laughed out loud, a deep-throated laugh
as if that was a joke played on the perp.
‘‘Diane, why don’t you go ahead and remove the
rope. I really
need to get her arms untied
so I can
go inside.’’
‘‘Can Raymond make photographs of the process?’’
‘‘Sure.’’
‘‘There’s
two
ropes
around
the
neck,’’
Diane
ex
plained as Raymond set up her shots. ‘‘The noose and
another loop of rope that leads down to the hands. If
she moved around too much trying to free her hands,
she’d only choke herself.’’
‘‘Umpf,’’
the
diener
grunted.
‘‘You
want
all
the
knots, right?’’
‘‘Yes, and I need you to show how the ropes around
the hands and the neck are connected. You may have
to angle the camera to see down through these loops
on the hands to get a good view. It looks like the perp
used multiple knots. Have you had much experience
photographing knots?’’
‘‘None,’’ said Raymond. ‘‘No, that’s not right. There
was
that
suicide
that
came
in
last
winter.
We
don’t
usually see the rope.’’
‘‘I need you to photograph me removing the rope.
I need to have a record showing that the knots did
not change as a result of my intervention.’’
‘‘How ’bout I use the thirty-five millimeter for that.’’
‘‘That’s fine.’’
Diane began with the noose. First, tying the plastic
around the knot to stabilize it. After securing the knot,
she pulled the rope away from the skin, bringing bits
of flesh with it. She slipped one end of the cord under
the rope and tied it off. Three inches away she tied
the other end of the cord around a section of rope.
Each end of the cord had a tag that Diane labeled,
indicating
how
the
rope
was
oriented
to
the
victim.
As
she
worked,
she
heard
Raymond
snapping
the
camera over and over.
She cut the noose with a sharp scalpel. She slipped
the noose off over the head. She placed the rope in a
flat box and stuffed more plastic inside to hold it still
and labeled it. She repeated the step with the second
loop around the neck.
‘‘You have to do that procedure with each loop of
the rope, don’t you?’’ said Lynn.
‘‘I
have
to
keep
the
rope
as
intact
as
I
can.
For
tight
rope
arrangements
like
these
on
the
hands,
I
made
a
plastic-covered,
log-shaped
form
to
slip

Other books

Generation X by Douglas Coupland
Fraser's Voices by Jack Hastie
The Deliverance of Evil by Roberto Costantini
The X-Club (A Krinar Story) by Zaires, Anna, Zales, Dima
Rebecca Joyce by The Sheriff's Jailbirds
The Blessed Blend by Allison Shaw
See How They Run by Tom Bale
Sharp Edges by Jayne Ann Krentz
Tiger Born by Tressie Lockwood
Veil of the Goddess by Rob Preece