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Authors: Lynda La Plante

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Red Dahlia

BOOK: The Red Dahlia
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Title: The Red Dahlia by Lynda La Plante

Author: Unknown

The Red Dahlia by Lynda La Plante

THE RED DAHLIA

By

Lynda La Plante

Copyright © Lynda La Plante, 2006

I dedicate this book to Jason McCreight

Chapter One

DAY ONE

 

It was the kind of crisp, bright January morning that made the residents of Richmond, Surrey, glad to be living out of London’s congested West End. The Thames glistened in the early-morning sun. The shops and high street were quiet: it was just before six a.m. Danny Fowler pedalled past the Richmond Hotel, eager to reach the sloping road and freewheel down the hill. He had only three newspapers left to deliver. With his usual finesse, he zigzagged across the street and mounted the pavement, pausing as he folded a Times and a Daily Mail before propping his bike against the wall and hurrying over to the houses that faced the river. Just a Daily Telegraph to go, and then his round was finished; he couldn’t wait to get back home for his breakfast. As he returned to his bicycle, stomach rumbling, a white shape caught his eye. Unsure what it was exactly, he swung his leg back over the crossbar and scooted across the road to look down the sloping bank.

It looked like a mannequin or a blow-up doll. Its arms were raised above its head, as if waving for attention, and its legs were spread-eagled. There was something strange about the way it was positioned that Danny couldn’t make out from this distance, so he pedalled down the narrow lane that led to the river for a closer look.

What Danny found would stay with him for the rest of his life. He ran screaming, leaving his bike where it had fallen. The woman’s naked body had been severed in two at the waist. Her dark auburn hair spread out behind her; her skin so white, it looked completely bloodless. Her face was bloated and the corners of her mouth had been slashed, giving her a clown’s grimacing smile.

 

Detective Inspector Anna Travis arrived at the Richmond Hotel to join the murder team which had taken over the car park. She hurried over to Detective Chief Inspector Glen Morgan who was standing by the police catering truck, ‘Teapot One’, with a cup of tea in his hand.

‘Get yourself a hot drink and then we’ll be going over to the tent. And brace yourself: it’s not a pretty sight.’

Anna ordered a coffee as the rest of the team huddled in a group around Morgan.

‘Paperboy found her this morning. Came in with his mother; he’s given us a statement. I let him go as he was very shook up; he’s only fourteen.’

Morgan looked across at the second forensic white van drawing up, and then back to the faces of his team. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ he said flatly.

‘Is she fresh?’ someone asked. Morgan shook his head.

‘Hard to tell. I’d say maybe a couple of days, but don’t quote me. The lab will give us a more specific time.’

Morgan was a good-looking man with cropped dark hair and a leathery complexion. A golf fanatic, he spent most weekends out on his local course. He squashed his empty cup and tossed it into a bin. ‘Okay let’s get over there, and be prepared.’

‘High as a kite, is it?’ asked a young detective.

‘There’s no stench, but what you see will turn your stomach.’

They made their way down the same narrow lane that Danny had taken to get to the river bank. There a white forensic tent was already erected, paper-suited scientists milling in and around it. There was a large box of paper suits outside, along with the usual masks, overshoes and rubber gloves.

Bill Smart, a forensic expert, came out of the tent and looked at Morgan, shaking his head. ‘It’s bloody unbelievable.’ He removed his rubber gloves. ‘I won’t be eating breakfast this morning, and that’s a first. She wasn’t killed on site. Someone brought her here and set up a sick tableau that’s had us all stunned. At first glance I’d say we don’t have much forensic evidence; maybe come up with more when we get the body over to the lab.’

As the murder team donned their paper suits, Bill Smart removed his, rolling it into a ball and dumping it into the waste bin provided. As he bent down to remove his protective shoes, he had to pause and take a deep breath. In his thirty years as a forensic expert, he had never come across anything so grotesque. It was the hideous gaping smile that had got to him. It would get to them all.

Anna adjusted her mask as she followed Morgan into the tent. This was now her fourth murder enquiry and she had come a long way since that first cadaver that had made her instantly sick. She had not seen DCI Langton, who she had worked with on the Alan Daniels case, since then, but she had often heard about his exploits. She doubted if he had paid any attention to hers, or the fact she had upped her rank from Detective Sergeant. Her subsequent cases had been domestic; to have cut her teeth on a serial killer like Daniels was something a good few junior detectives envied.

The detectives stood in silence outside the police tape encircling the body.

‘She’s been severed at the waist. The two sections of her body are about ten inches apart,’ Morgan said quietly. He gestured with his gloved hand. ‘Mouth slit each side. Hard to tell what she looked like before this was done to her. She’s got abrasions all over her body.’

Anna inched further forward, staring down at the dead woman. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a young rookie detective turn away and hurry out of the tent. Anna didn’t look up. She knew exactly how he felt, but remained calm as she took in the awful sight.

‘We won’t have anything from any clothes, obviously. First priority is to identify her.’ Morgan blinked as flashbulbs went off; photographs were being taken from every angle. He looked over to the doctor, a rotund man with thick glasses, who squinted back.

‘Neat job. Whoever did the dissection knew what they were doing. Her blood’s been drained: reason her skin is so white. I’d put the approx time of death at two or three days ago.’ He headed out of the tent, sidestepping two scientists in his haste. Morgan followed.

‘Doc, can you just give me a few minutes?’

‘Outside. Can’t talk in there.’ The doctor and Morgan moved further away from the tent. ‘Jesus God, what animal did that to her?’

‘Is there anything else you can tell me?’

‘No, I was just called out to determine your victim was dead. I’ve got to get back to surgery.’

‘You said it looked professional,’ Morgan said.

‘Well it looks like it to me, but the pathologist will give you more details. It’s a very neat cut, not jagged, and a thin-bladed knife was used on her mouth. How thin, how long, though, I couldn’t tell you. There are further cuts to her face, neck, shoulders and legs.’

Morgan sighed, wanting more details. He turned back to stare at the flapping tent opening. One by one his team came out, subdued and shocked. They removed their paper suits and overshoes. Anna was last out and by the time she’d discarded her suit, the others were heading back towards the car park. She looked up the bank to see that a group of spectators had already gathered on the road. The sightlines between them were clear: the killer obviously wanted the victim found quickly. Whoever it was might even be watching them at work. The thought chilled her.

 

Richmond police station was only ten minutes’ drive from the murder site, so the Incident Room had been set up there. They regrouped at eleven-thirty as a large whiteboard was being erected. Desks and tables with computers were brought in for the team to work at. They busied themselves, selecting their areas, as Morgan stood in front of them.

‘Okay let’s get started,’ Morgan said, and burped; he excused himself and took an antacid tablet. ‘We need to know who the victim is. We’ll be getting photographs in, but until we get her identified and the lab reports back, there’s not a lot we have to go on. According to the doctor, the work on her body looked professional, so we could be after a suspect with medical or surgical experience.’

Anna put up her hand. ‘By the way the body was displayed, knowing it would be visible from the road and therefore would be found quickly, do you think the killer could be local?’

‘Possibly,’ Morgan said, as he crunched his tablet. He stared ahead, as if trying to think of what he should say next, and then shrugged. ‘Let’s start with missing persons in this area.’

 

The victim was eased into a thick plastic body bag and removed from the site at one-fifteen. A team of uniformed officers had already been assigned a fingertip search of the area. Due to the good weather and early-morning frost, the ground was hard, so any footprints were few and far between.

Morgan had also asked for a house-to-house to be started on the properties overlooking the river. He knew this murder had been carefully planned, but they still might get lucky if someone had seen a car in or around the area during either the night or early morning.

Photographs of the victim were pinned up in the Incident Room to an uneasy silence from the team. In the past few years, such photographs had been kept in files rather than displayed: it was felt that the investigating detectives were not helped in their work by the emotional impact of constantly seeing death staring down at them. There was also the possibility that a relative or someone being questioned might see them and become distressed; however, Morgan insisted the photographs should be on view. He felt it was necessary for each and every one of his team to understand the gravity of the case. The murder was going to create a media frenzy. Until the killer was arrested, there would be no weekend leave.

By six o’clock that evening, their ‘Jane Doe’ was still unidentified.

 

DAY TWO

 

The lists of missing persons in the Richmond area yielded nothing, so the net was spread wider. None of the residents of the riverside houses had seen anything suspicious, not even a parked car. The area was not well lit, so their killer would have been able to come and go undetected at night. What they were able to ascertain, however, was that a resident walking his dog at two in the morning passed the murder site and saw nothing. Therefore their killer had deposited the body between the hours of two and six.

 

DAY THREE

 

Day three and they were ready at the mortuary. Morgan asked Anna and another detective to join him for the preliminary report. Time of death was now estimated at three days prior to discovery. They had not as yet been able to take a rectal temperature as there seemed to be some kind of blockage, but they would have more details after the full postmortem. The pathologist also confirmed what the doctor had suspected: the incision was professionally done, using a surgical saw, and the blood had been drained before the dissection. There were four lesions where drainage tubes might have been inserted; the amount of blood would have been considerable. He suggested their killer would have needed a place to perform the ‘operation’.

‘She has severe bruising to her back, buttocks, arms and thighs. It would appear she suffered numerous blows from some kind of blunt instrument. The cuts to either side of her mouth could very well have been done with a sharp scalpel. They are deep, clean and precise.’

Anna looked to where the pathologist indicated. The victim’s cheeks now gaped open, exposing her teeth.

‘I will need a lot more time, but I understand the need to give you as much as possible at this stage. In all my years, I have never seen such horrific injuries. The pubic area and the skin around the vagina have been sliced numerous times. You can see the slash marks like crosses, up to five inches in length.’

His lengthy report continued as Anna made copious notes, not allowing herself any emotional connection. The constant crunching sound of Morgan chewing his tablets was becoming annoying. The pathologist then removed his mask and rubbed his eyes.

‘She must have suffered an awfully slow death and she must have been in excruciating pain as these injuries were forced on her. She has marks to her wrists which I would say were from some kind of wire, so she would have been held down for the brutality to occur. The wire has cut the skin quite badly on her right wrist.’

He slipped his mask up again as he moved around the body, and then gently brushed back her thick auburn hair. His hand still resting on her head, he paused before speaking softly.

‘There’s more,’ he said.

As he continued, Morgan stopped chewing. Anna couldn’t write a note. What was described next was so horrific that she felt her own blood draining. It was beyond all their comprehension that someone could have subjected the victim to such atrocities whilst she was still alive.

 

Anna sat in the rear passenger seat, Morgan up front. He had not said a word for the past ten minutes. Anna turned the pages of her notes and began adding more.

‘Back to the station sir?’ their driver asked.

Morgan nodded.

‘You all right back there?’ Morgan asked, as they slowly pulled out of the mortuary car park.

Anna nodded, closing her notebook. ‘I won’t sleep well tonight,’ she murmured.

 

Back at the Incident Room, Morgan repeated what they had been told at the mortuary. Again Anna noted that strange uneasy silence. The team looked at the dead woman’s photograph and then back to Morgan as he took a deep breath.

BOOK: The Red Dahlia
9.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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