Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Killer Stories

First, her ears caught the sound of a hum, a buzz, but not like bees, in front of her. That's what drew her eyes to what she thought was fog ahead of her.

She left the familiar trail to the campground's bathroom and stepped into the woods, drawn toward the sunlight breaking through the forest, then a swarm of flies hovering mid-air like a helicopter, she said to the police. They were above something behind a log down to the right of the trail she'd walked off.

She looked up, big birds were circling over head. Then her nose alerted to the sweet, sickly smell.

And so she followed the primal forces called her senses through the forest until she came to the body of a woman, dead, and partially covered by a mattress

She was only 8 years old the day she found the dead woman.
I asked her how she felt when she found the body.
She answered me in just one word."Gross."
She ran and yelled for her father. Her father called the police.

It was supposed to be a father daughter camping weekend, with mama at home with her new baby. It turned into a whole different scenario.

The Police, Rangers, M.E.,... everyone... swarmed on the scene and took her daddy back to the police hive and took the terrified 9 year old home to her horrified mother and newborn sister.

The police first thought since she found the body and she was camping with her daddy, maybe daddy was the bad dude.

Turned out her daddy didn't do it. Daddy was set free. And the killer still roams free, identity unknown.

Fast forward.

I am talking to a 12 year old girl. They found her best friend, also 12 years old, who was missing two nights. She was dead and stuffed in a sewer pipe near a shopping mall I usually go to.
In fact, I was at that mall today. But this story I am telling you about happened maybe 7 years ago.

I asked the 12 year old how she felt when she heard what happened to her friend.
Again, just one word.
Eventually, they found the guys who did that one.

Keep fast forwarding.
For every year, there are more memories.
Another day, another dead body and broken family. Which makes tonight's blog post not the most pleasant of reads, I know.
However, it is a pertinent subject.

And I suspect if you've made it this far, you are one of us.
One of those with a strong stomach and a curious mind... one of those fascinated, compelled and motivated to bring justice to those who can not bring it on by themselves.

Our friend this weekend told me of a walk on the beach when she was 8. A man coming out of an old boarded up shack on the beach, grabbed her, and began pulling her to the shack. She said he stunk and he said something about how she was his now.

Instinct kicked in she became a tiger. Somehow, she said, she jammed her elbow into his crotch and ran screaming home. The cops found his stuff in the shack, but never found him. He'd been squatting there a long time.

Unless you live where we do, you may not be aware the Chief of the Tacoma police, who shot his wife in the head in a parking lot, then himself, while his kids sat waiting in the other car. These are the big stories, the public stories, we hear about on TV and the papers.

And then there are the other stories, the ones that don't get the press. The Vignettes. Blurbs. Short stories. Sidebars. Flashes in the pan. Cases we private investigators are assigned to. The cases where the families hire attorneys who hire private investigators because the police are either too busy or at a dead-end in the case and can't help them.

I teach investigation with a well-known and highly respected criminal defense investigator who was one of the investigators representing the Green River Killer. She was one who, according to stories I have heard, made maps marking dumping grounds and body finds. She realized some one else did some of the killings her client, Ridgeway, was accused of. She came up with a code name for another killer, the Red River Killer.

That name never has and never will make the news.
Nor will the other bodies scattered in the same areas serial killers use to dump, bury or revisit their victims.

Some of those bodies were placed there by opportunists... plankton hitching a ride on a killer whale's burial ground.
It is both possible and likely, a husband who felt angry, betrayed or justified, would kill his wife and place her where Gary Ridgeway put his victims. The hope being, that a body well-placed will deflect suspicion from them, by placing it on the obvious.

Dead body here. Another there. Killer stories in my head.

Man shot in sleeping bag left by I-5.

Young woman, I met at a party recently found dead strangled under a highway overpass.

I know people who've hung themselves, jumped off bridges. But this was their choice.

The dead clients I, as an investigator, represent... leave this planet with extreme reluctance and put up one hell of fight on the way out.

The identities of so many killers remain unknown during their lives.
We got lucky BTK resurfaced and blew his own cover after decades, before he could kill again.
Most, like Jack the Ripper, and The Zodiak, they walk among us, live among us and often die until, many years later, we sometimes figure out who they were.

I once lived in the same LA neighborhood as the Hillside strangler. I teach at a Univerity that Ted Bundy attended briefly. He could have had a very promising legal career, one judge told him (and I paraphrase), had he not chosen to become a serial killer.

Ted Bundy tried to pick up one of my best friends in his brown VW one day while she was walking to work. He tried to charm her, insisted he give her a ride so she get out of the rain. She said though he was quite handsome, she felt something wasn't right and walked away from him and his car. She later testified in his case.

In college, a close friend of mine was stabbed in the neck by a random insane stranger while on her way to the library.

Another disappeared after accepting a ride-share posted on a college bulletin board.

And just last year, a 17 year old client of mine, leaving a non-alcoholic christian night club, was shot in the neck and paralyzed when she left the club. She lived. But she will not live a life she deserves to have.

It was a drive by shooting. Shooter unknown. When I saw her paralyzed at 17 in her wheelchair at Harborview, she seemed to me in a trance. She could not process or fathom what the doctors told her parents. She would never walk again . She would never have children. She would never be able to live or eat or pee without the assist of tubes.
Before that, she was one of the most popular girls in her school.

I was hired to see if we could find someone liable. Meaning, find some money, somewhere, to pay her medical bills, her future medical bills, her lost wages (she worked after school and planned to become a nurse) and her pain and suffering. Her family had no money, she had three younger siblings and no health insurance. Harborview took her on as a charity case as they do for so many trauma patients here the northwest.

Since we couldn't find the shooter, and shooters usually don't have insurance anyway, we did find out that the the nightclub where she was leaving that night about 11:00 pm did have insurance. And for some reason the private security firm they usually hired was not at the club that night. Normally there's a lot of security, because there are minors in that club and it's not in the best area of town. However, there is a no drinking policy and it is a Christian based organization. So when mom let her daughter go there that Friday night, mom had expectations of security and her daughter's safety.

But on this night, for whatever reason you care to use to explain it, there was a horrific transgression... or transmutation... in time and space, that caused a random bullet to meet, then penetrate, a fragile young neck and obliterate a promising future.

As I write this post, the losses of friends, clients and strangers flood over me.... a hurricane Katrina in this investigator's head.... that's usually contained behind a dam of determination to make a miserable situation better.

I tell the families of the injured or dead this:
It's like throwing a pebble in the water. An accident, injury, death, causes a ripple effect, with smaller circles first... to family, friends, community, co-workers... then beyond. Everyone is affected in some way.

And this is the point where I say no more because there's no more to be said.
What's done can't be undone.

All we have... really... is now. This moment, this day, this night.
From this point on, it's all a go-forward. Unless...
we stop and look back.

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