Authors: J. T. Lewis
The man had done as he promised; he had executed the plan…
the driver, even having the added bonus of an extra victim.
“That should get the ball rolling,” the Mentor mumbled as the truck continued on through the town, heading towards home to get some sleep.
Tomorrow would be a busy day.
February 15, 1997
“All hell is breaking loose,”
thought Tucker as he observed the seemingly hundreds of flashing lights surrounding the site. First on the scene, Deputy Tucker Vance had been unprepared for what he had found.
Walking up to the car, he initially knocked on the window and waited for the window to be lowered, the rain beating down drowning out any noise. Getting no reaction, he shifted his flashlight into the car; at first not understanding what he was looking at.
When the realization came, it had hit like a sledge hammer to his gut. Suddenly he had found himself on his knees, expelling seemingly everything he had eaten for the last three days. When he felt some control return, he ran to the other side of the car and checked on the passenger.
“27 to base,” he spat out quickly into the mike of his radio.
“Base,” the dispatcher replied dully.
“10-54, three miles west of town on US 50, I repeat, 10-54, I need all units immediately.”
Silence followed for a few seconds before the dispatcher returned, the voice now clipped with excitement.
“27 go to channel 2.”
Switching his radio, he heard “Tucker? What’s up?”
Taking a deep breath, Tucker then described what he had found and reiterated that he needed help…now!
“Roger, Tucker, help is en-route.”
He had started hearing the wailing within moments, and it had seemed not to have stopped since. This was not something that happened in this county, and everybody was going to want to be involved.
Sheriff McHenry was already here, and he
came out at night. Barking orders like he was still the army sergeant he used to be, the sheriff took control of the scene as soon as he arrived. Tucker was glad to be relieved of
duty; this was way above his pay grade.
The sheriff called Tucker over when he had the scene secured to his satisfaction. “Tucker, did you see anybody around when you pulled up, see another car leaving or anything of that nature?”
“No sheriff, just the taillights of the car; I thought they were in need of assistance. When I saw what was inside, I’m sorry, but I lost it for a minute. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Don’t worry about that son, you did great considering, you did everything you were supposed to do. No one can know how they will handle their first murder scene.”
Sheriff Austin “Lean” McHenry had been around it plenty. Long ago losing the thinness leading to his nickname, he had put in his twenty with the US Army, doing three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Afterwards he had moved home and joined the state police, staying there for fourteen years until his election to sheriff last year. Being sheriff in a quiet county had, to that point in time anyway, been a lot like retirement. But he had quickly reverted to action mode when the call had come in this night.
This was what he had trained for, and his heart was pumping strong in his chest as it hadn’t for awhile; it felt good. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the ever-present pack of cigarettes. Remembering his promise to his wife to quit, he nevertheless took out a fag and stuck it in his mouth, leaving his old Zippo lighter in his pocket.
Glancing back at the sound of additional sirens approaching, he grabbed the nearest deputy’s arm and yelled, “Keep those God damned fire trucks back; there’s no reason for them to be here.”
“It’s like a damned circus,”
he thought to himself.
“How long on the crime scene guys?” he asked another deputy, who said he would check.
“Tucker,” the sheriff yelled, “see if you can get the K9 unit from Allenville PD here, ASAP.”
“Yes sir,” Tucker answered, heading toward his cruiser to get in touch with dispatch.
A single red bubble-light on the dash of an approaching car caught his eye. He groaned inwardly at the sight, murmuring under his breath
“What the hell is he doing here?”
Allen Vanguard was going to grace them with his presence, and the sheriff had little patience with the young prosecutor. Although acknowledging that he was good at what he did, the sheriff bristled at his attempts to be involved in things he had no business being involved in.
Walking up and standing beside the sheriff, Allen waited for an opening before he spoke.
“Sheriff,” he mumbled in greeting
“Allen,” Sheriff McHenry acknowledged stiffly, “might early for the prosecutor ain’t it?”
Allen Vanguard stood looking at the grisly scene for a long minute before saying, “well Lean, just trying to get a feel for probably the most brutal crime this county has seen since the horse and buggy days. The people in that car deserve justice, and it’s never too early to start on that.”
“Do we know the identity of the murdered couple?” he continued.
The sheriff grunted, putting his cigarette behind his ear as he reached into his shirt pocket, grabbing his notebook and flipping it open in a huff.
“Abby and Tyler Lettermen, drivers’ licenses say they are from Cairo, Illinois. They were shot execution style, back of the head for both. We are doing a background check to make sure they have no criminal involvement in anything that might lead to this kind of a retaliation, but it could be just a crime of opportunity; wrong place at the wrong time.”
“We don’t know if they had a passenger before they stopped…maybe the guy in the back seat just went berserk. Maybe they just stopped to help someone with a broken down vehicle, getting shot for their trouble. Either way, we got a real crazy on our hands. I don’t have to tell you how scary that would be for the folks of our little county.”
“The K9 unit is on its way,” the sheriff continued with a grumble as he put away his notebook, “may be able to tell us which way the perp went from here, if the rain doesn’t wash away the scent before then.”
“If the second scenario proves to be the case, this was planned out,” the sheriff continued with a look of concern on his face. “Whoever did this would have gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to stage a trap for someone.”
Sheriff McHenry again reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a small evidence bag with a business card inside.
“Found this on the floor in the back. We assume the doer left it, but we haven’t tested it yet. Forensics is on the way, we should know more soon.”
Taking the bag, the prosecutor eyed the white and plain looking business card. There appeared to be no identifying marks, save for the one word spelled out in plain block letters: “Ghost”.
February 16, 1997
Allen had called Frank and me into his office the next morning. We had by that time of course both heard what had happened and were chomping at the bit to get working on the murders. Allen had apparently been up all night, exhibiting pronounced bags under his eyes even as he exuded the substantial energy typical of his term as prosecutor.
“I’m sure you guys have heard about the murders last night,” he started. “I’ve had Ellen compile a list of the clues collected by the Sheriff’s department up to this point, which are few.”
Handing us both a single sheet of paper each, I was taken aback by just how little in the way of information was listed.
“Last night,” he summarized, “one Abby and Tyler Lettermen, man and wife, were shot in their own car west of town. Background checks on the couple reveal no previous criminal activity or trouble. It looks like it could be some sort of pre-planned, execution style murder. We are going on the assumption for now that the victims were random.”
“We think the perp used a stolen car as a decoy to lure the couple into helping a broken down motorist. He or she apparently got in the back seat, pulled out a gun, and shot them point blank in the back of the head. With the rain we had last night, we were lucky the K9 unit could find anything at all, but they did find a scent from the car going about thirty feet west.”
“We also found an abandoned car this morning about five miles away on Langdon Creek Road. The K9 units returned and they again found a scent, tracking him thirty or forty feet where the scent again disappeared. Apparently another vehicle was stashed there, although we have no idea what it was. The gravel road yielded no tire treads.”
“We’re at a dead end on that for now, and there were no hair, fibers or prints left in the car. The doer must have been wearing gloves and a hat of some sort. Also, there were no shell casings to test, either he policed the brass or a revolver was used. The size of the holes indicates that it was probably a .357, we’ll know more when we find the slugs.”
“There were only two real clues of any merit, but they aren’t much. There was a minute amount of soil in the back of the victims’ car, which was otherwise spotless, and we have sent that off to the state to analyze.”
Turning to the evidence list in the back of the file, he handed us another sheet of paper.
“The other piece of evidence is copied there.”
Looking at the second sheet, I found what appeared to be a copy of a business card. The single word in block letters in my mind immediately indicated an amateur’s attempt at attention, a professional wouldn’t be bragging about his identity.
“Ghost,” I said out loud, not liking the direction the investigation was already taking. A perp throwing out a name to us like this led me to reason that it might be just the beginning of some larger plan.
“What will be our part in the investigation?” I asked, knowing the Sheriff’s department usually took the lead. Allen rose from his chair, walking a few steps to stand in front of the window, his back now toward us.
“I’ll be activating the new Major Crimes Taskforce for this case. As you know, we’ve been working out the logistics of it for the last six months. We’re ready now, and this is exactly the type of case we have set this up for. We’ll have the best of the available talent working together as one unit, an impressive amount of talent. Gabriel, you’ll be taking the lead with the unit, handle the day to day decisions.”
I thought, but kept my thoughts to myself.
The Major crimes taskforce had been one of the hallmark points of action for Allen Vanguard’s second run for office. The main thrust of the idea was having people from both of the policing agencies in the county, as well as investigators from the prosecutor’s office working together on larger or more serious crimes, all overseen by Allen himself.
Negotiating with the other agencies had turned out to be the major hindrance to completing the task force, as each in turn dug in their heels at what they saw as an intrusion on their turf. Allen being no slouch when it comes to digging in when he thinks something is right, finally overcame their objections with sound reasoning and assurances that he wasn’t trying to supplant their authority.
“We are of course hoping something brakes soon,” Allen continued as he turned from the window. “We are concerned with the public’s reaction to these murders, so we have opted to keep the facts close to our vest for now. So far we have been able to keep this out of the news, releasing it as a two-car crash with fatalities from out of town. As of now that story is holding. I’m concerned that this may be the start of something, although maybe I’m just being paranoid.”
“It definitely has the earmarks of someone with a plan,” I said, “it’s too exact for someone on a lark. Dropping that card in the car like that, someone is trying to make a name for himself. Maybe we should check other departments in the tri-state, see if the word “Ghost” has ever come up in another murder, or any crime for that matter?”
Allen walked back to his desk, making a note on his ever-present file card. Looking up at Frank, he asked if he could get on that right away; Frank nodded, always ready to dig into a clue.
We disbanded and headed toward our individual desks to get a start on the case.
I did not like the sound of this murder. I did not like it at all.
February 16, 1997
Morning came and the man reported for work as usual. He knew he had to keep to his ordinary schedule to avoid any kind of suspicion, but he was busting at the seams, wanting to tell of his exploits.
Being a stock boy at the local Save-A-Bunch was a good cover for the “Ghost”, he thought to himself. No one would be looking here for the most famous killer to come along since Jeffrey Dahmer.
He could feel his heart rate increasing, a film of sweat forming on his upper lip as his eye slowly started to twitch. He looked around himself quickly to make sure no one was looking; then slowly reached into his pocket. Finding the item with his fingers, he started rubbing it, instantly calming his racing heart. His mentor would certainly not approve of his actions; “leave and take nothing,” he heard repeated in his head over and over again.