Authors: Cath Staincliffe
LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTER’S KILLER
Also by Cath Staincliffe
Blink of an Eye
The Kindest Thing
Towers of Silence
Stone Cold Red Hot
Go Not Gently
Looking for Trouble
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2014
Copyright © Cath Staincliffe, 2014
The right of Cath Staincliffe to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-78033-570-4 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-78033-572-8 (ebook)
Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon
Printed and bound in the UK
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Cover by Toby Clarke
Two publications provided me with invaluable research:
Review into the Needs of Families Bereaved by Homicide
by Louise Casey CB and
Guiding Children Through Trauma and Grief
by Jean Harris-Hendriks, Dora Black and Tony Kaplan (I’m leaving out the full book title here to avoid spoilers). A big thank you to Anna Graham who shared her experiences of working in libraries. And a cheer for librarians everywhere. Many thanks go to Krystyna Green and the team at C&R Crime and to my agent Sara Menguc for unstinting and generous support, encouragement and enthusiasm. I’m very grateful to Mary Sharratt and Kath Pilsbury for feedback on my work in progress – and for laughs along the way. Finally a big thanks (again) to Tim for everything – I couldn’t have done it without you.
For my wonderful dad
David Staincliffe 1930–2013
Just the love
17 Brinks Avenue
I hate you. My first letter, and that is all I want to say. I hate you. But those three words can barely convey the depth, the breadth, the soaring height of this hatred. Nearly four years, and what has taken me by surprise is that these feelings, of rage and the desire for vengeance, have not diminished but have grown. Time has not healed them but stoked the fires. The hatred has been forged into something steely, into a rock so dense and heavy inside that I fear it is killing me too. Crushing me. Taking what is left of my life and leaching the goodness, the joy, the optimism from it. So I am writing to you in the vain hope, for I think it is vain, that some communication can help me move beyond or around this pit of hate.
With each passing month the monster grows stronger. I lie awake at night imagining all the many and lurid ways I could hurt you. Longing to punish you, to make you scream and beg for release. My head full of scenarios from Jacobean tragedies: hot pokers and the rack. From black prison ops: rendition flights and redacted statements, naked men in hoods, men with pliers, electricity cables and water. From serial killer stories: the blade in the eyes or between the legs, messages daubed on walls in blood.
Your violence has bred this violence in me, a cuckoo child that would devour me, from the inside out.
This is no way to live.
You won’t be replying to me. We’re not pen pals. The only way I’ll countenance contact with you at all is if I set the parameters. So you will read my letters. No salutation, you’ll note, no
that sticks in my craw. I have a lot to tell you, a lot you need to know, to understand. It’s all at my fingertips. I kept a journal, you see, put it all in there, an attempt to make sense of things, navigate the nightmare. Impressions, thoughts, notes of everything I wanted to say to you. So, I will send those letters, and then when I am ready, you will answer my questions. They began that night almost four years ago, and like the hatred they have grown and multiplied. So much I still do not know. Because you denied the crime, contested the charge, because you lied and lied and lied. Two questions haunt me most:
Why did you kill her?
How did she die?
I doubt whether you have the slightest inkling of what it’s been like for me. Too busy saving your own skin. So I am going to tell you. You will hear it in full, no interruptions, no arguments. The whole of it: 3D, with director’s commentary and extra scenes.
17 Brinks Avenue
It starts with a phone call. Or should I say it ends there? Because that is the point of no return. The moment my world slips on its axis.
That fine September evening, 2009, I am home alone as usual. My latest short-term lodger has returned to London and I’ve no one else booked in. I was out the night before with my friend Bea, to the cinema.
the thriller about aliens and prejudice in South Africa. My Saturday unrolls with a comforting routine: a lie-in until nine (the best I can muster with my advancing age – I am fifty-seven), a trip to the newsagent for the weekend
and a slow breakfast reading it, my cat Milky curled on my lap.
A walk to the village for fish. It’s not been a village in that isolated, hamlet sort of way for decades, but we do that here: Levenshulme village, Withington, Didsbury, Chorlton. Perhaps because the joining-up of all the villages to form the city is relatively recent. A couple of hundred years ago and ‘the village’ was a handful of farms and a toll road. Now it’s just another neighbourhood in Manchester, Britain’s second city.
I’m not working at the library today: I do every other Saturday, but it’s my weekend off. After some chores – washing sheets and hanging them out to dry, emptying the litter tray, cleaning the sink – I eat lunch, then go up to the allotment. We’ve had it for years; officially the tenants are Frank and Jan, but when they first got hold of it, they invited Melissa and Mags and Tony and me to join in. It felt less overwhelming than tackling it on their own, as it was completely overgrown, a wilderness of dock leaves and brambles and dandelions. The division of labour between six of us worked well on the whole, especially as crises occurred every so often, affecting people’s availability. Then last year Frank and Jan moved to Cornwall and Tony and I had been divorced for years, so we were down to three. Neither of the others are here this afternoon, though I can see from the state of the beds that they’ve harvested some potatoes recently.
The sun is warm, warm enough for me to shed my jumper once I start digging. This time of year the plot is full of produce, and after I’ve knocked the bulk of the dirt off the potatoes and cleared up any tubers I can find, I collect some leeks and runner beans, carrots and salad stuff: lettuce and radishes and some tomatoes from the greenhouse. There are other allotment-holders working their plots, and we stop to chat in between our efforts.
After a couple of hours my back is protesting. I do some watering, then clean the tools and lock them in the shed. My little harvest will feed me through the week, and I pick some bunches of sweet peas and chrysanthemums to brighten up the house.
Milky goes crazy as I grill the mackerel, and he gets the fish skin for his pains. A soak in the bath with my book marks the start of my evening; a habit left over from the early years of bathing Lizzie when she was little, then topping up the water for myself.
As I’m sitting down to watch television, Lizzie texts me asking if I can babysit Florence the following Saturday; she’ll let me know what time when she’s checked with Jack, who’s out at the gym. Glad to be asked, I agree immediately.
I’m brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed, looking forward to fresh sheets, when the phone rings.
I almost don’t answer. Some childish part of me likes to imagine that things might have been different if I’d ignored the ringing. But they wouldn’t. Even with another half-hour of blissful ignorance.
I had no premonition, no sudden goose bumps, no telepathic sensation that things were wrong during the evening. Shouldn’t I have sensed that Lizzie was in danger, that she was fighting for her life? That she was losing. People talk of knowing, of pain in the heart or sudden waves of dread, of dreams and waking nightmares, of a sudden overpowering urge to talk to someone or get home. Animal instincts.
Nothing for me, no alarm bells, no early-warning system. When I answer the phone, I’m calm, relaxed, sleepy.
‘Hello?’ I say, and it’s Jack, my son-in-law, his voice almost unrecognizable.
‘Ruth. Oh God, Ruth.’ Then comes the first rush of fear, pepper-shot on my skin, a twist to my guts. But it is little Florence, my granddaughter, I fear for. An accident, a sudden death, blue-lipped in her small bed.
‘Jack?’ It’s a question. An invitation.
is what I’m saying.
And he does. ‘It’s Lizzie. Oh Ruth, someone’s hurt Lizzie. Oh God.’
I am grappling to make sense of his words. My heart is beating in my throat. ‘Is she all right?’ I say. I know she’s not. I can hear it in the way his breath comes so rapidly and I know that if she was all right he’d have said that first. Still, we are hardwired to hope.
‘I think they’ve killed her.’ He is crying.
‘Call the police,’ I say. I think of this instead of what he’s told me. I don’t want to think about that. I cannot. It’s not possible, it can’t be true. I set it aside as too much to handle. Preposterous anyway. Easier to focus on something else. ‘Call the police,’ I repeat.
‘I have, they’re coming.’
My thoughts won’t be stifled. They rear up shrieking in my mind.
Broderick Litton. Lizzie’s stalker. He’s obsessed with her. The police never did anything, not even when he turned up at her house. All they said was they would talk to him. Stalking wasn’t a crime back then. He frightened her; he was a big man, over six feet tall, and soft-spoken. He sent her gifts and watched her performances. At first she thought it was funny but a bit sad. It quickly became oppressive. Then scary. She carried pepper spray and a personal alarm. He threatened her at the end, wrote letters saying she’d be sorry, he’d make her pay. Lizzie took them to the police. Then it all went quiet. Over a year since she’s heard anything, so long enough for her to relax again, to lower her guard. And now this. Oh God, we should have been vigilant. We should have insisted. Echoes bang in my head, other stories, other people’s daughters, inquiries into police negligence, failure to act, ensuing tragedies. All the cases where harassment turned to murder. We didn’t do enough, and now this.
‘Broderick Litton,’ I say to Jack.
‘I’ll tell them,’ he says.
‘Where are you? At home?’
‘She’s fine. She was fast asleep.’
‘I’ll be there in a minute.’
I’m still dressed, so it’s a matter of moments to get my car keys and pull on shoes. It’s not far to Jack and Lizzie’s, a ten-minute walk, a two-minute drive. I arrive just before the ambulance. I see it coming from the other direction and it turns in to Lizzie’s street seconds after I do. An ambulance gives me faith. They will save her, they can do all sorts these days. There are bubbles in my chest, hysteria.
In my hurry to get out of the car, I trip and fall, scramble up. Jack is at the gate, Florence in his arms. His expression is drawn, harrowed in the street light. His teeth are chattering. The little girl has her face buried in his neck. I clutch his arm and he leans in towards me. When I stroke Florence’s head, she shrugs me off, her narrow shoulders moving under her pyjamas.
Edging past them, I run up the path to the door and Jack calls my name. There’s a whooping sound cut short as a police car pulls up near the ambulance. Blue lights flash around the cul-de-sac.
The door is half open. I push it wide and step inside. The lights are on in the kitchen-diner to my left and the living room area. All open-plan. An advertising jingle prattles from the TV. Lizzie is on the floor. I cannot see her face, it is hidden by her hair. Her blonde hair is drenched in blood. There is blood on her clothes, her camisole vest and cotton trousers, the sort of thing she wears to sleep in, more blood on the wooden floor. Firelight flickers on her arm, her hand.