CHRISTMAS EVE HOMICIDE
From the Dairies of Detective White Lace
Reconstructed by David Arthur Walters
“Toni, did you take my snowflake sweater?” Heather shouted down the stairs. I had blearily awakened to the sound of her rummaging through her drawers and slamming them shut. I winced and pulled the pillow back over my head, only to throw it across the room at the door when ‘Jingle Bells’ started blasting throughout the duplex.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.”
“Turn that down!” I hollered, checked the alarm clock, got up, showered and put on my only red dress. It’s Christmas Eve, and I might as well dress for the season, I thought. I had to work a short shift and get my shopping done. The girls, home for Christmas break, were already eating their cereal when I got downstairs. I turned down the stereo and toasted two banana waffles for myself.
“Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town!”
“Mom, would you get Toni her own snowflake sweater. I’m tired of her wearing mine so I don’t have it when I want it.”
“You said I could borrow it, Heather,” Toni retorted. “I don’t want a red one, I want a blue one.”
“We’ll see,” I replied to Toni. “If you want to borrow Heather’s, ask her to give it to you, just don’t take it. Okay?”
I gobbled a waffle and washed it down with swig of my morning fix of Coke – stock up on Coke, I mentally noted. I checked my watch – I’m late! I winced and hurried to get myself to the office on time. “I’ve got to get to work, young ladies. You have a good day,” I said.
“O Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me…”
“We’re going to make a snowman! We’re going to make a snowman!” Bobbi shouted gleefully, and chanted, “Jingle bells! Jingle bells! Jingle Bells!”
“Okay sweetie. Dress warmly, be a good girl and do what Heather tells you,” I commanded. And to Heather: “Heather, I’ll call you, and you call me right away if there’s a problem. Sarah will come over…. ” – Sarah and her husband Tom are our next door neighbors.
“Mom, I’m not a baby. I’m sixteen, and everything will be all right,” Heather reminded me.
“I know, honey, I know, but I worry, that’s my job. Keep an eye on your sisters, and don’t leave them alone when playing in the yard, and don’t let them leave the yard.”
“All right, all ready, Mom. Please, trust me. I baby sit for people all the time, and they trust me.”
“Yes, they do, honey. I’ll try to get home early today, but must stop by the mall first. I won’t be long. I’ll call you. I love you.”
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you, Be of good cheer….”
Bobbi ran over to me. I leaned down for my kiss and breathed in her fresh, little-girl scent. She wrinkled her nose, giggled, and squeezed my neck. I gave Toni a hug, and I was out the door. Bobbi opened the door and hollered after me as I tramped through the fresh snowfall to my SUV: “I want a snowflake sweater too!” Toni chimed in: “Remember I want a blue one, Mom!” Then Heather: “See if you can get the Twilight movie!”
“Bye-bye!” I yelled and waved. “Heather, lock the door!”
The three sisters were framed by the door, prettier than any classic American painting: Toni, with her blond locks, blue eyes and ruddy checks; and little auburn-haired Bobbi, with her big brown eyes; and there was Heather, with braided black hair crowning her rich, caramel skin, standing tall with charcoal eyes glowing. Bobbi and Toni waved, and Heather shut the door.
#There was really not much to do at the office that morning. I horsed around some with the guys, who were talking story and practicing practical jokes. I examined and entered a current homicide investigation field note into the database:
“Case: 2000-H365. Victim: John Harley. Place: 2645 Willow Road. Reporting Officer: Robert Skinner. Badge: H-009. Date: 12-23-00. Note: Patrol officers Sparrow, Phillips, Dickerson had searched and secured the premises by the time I arrived at 1430 hours. The victim’s wife, Sarah Harley, told me her husband had been shot dead in his study. The victim was on the floor behind the desk, slumped on his right side. I observed a gunshot wound approximately ¼ inch in diameter to the back and center of the victim’s bald head, approximately ½ inches left of center, and a similar gunshot wound to the center of the forehead. Dark gray circles about ¼ inches wide surrounded the wounds. No exit wounds were apparent. No casings were on the floor. Mrs. Harley told me she had come home from Christmas shopping at the Target on Mulberry Street, at approximately 1300 hours. She said went upstairs fifteen minutes later, found victim on floor of study behind his desk, found no pulse, called 911, and contacted a neighbor across the street. She had blood on the knees of her white slacks, her white blouse, and on both hands. She said she noticed nothing peculiar when she came home, nor was there to the best of her knowledge anything missing or out of place in the study. There were some papers on the desk. She indicated that her husband was working on their finances that morning. She collapsed as I interviewed her, and was attended to by fireman J. M. Kearney – emergency services had arrived on the scene 1440 hours.”
Here we go again, I thought as I typed in the note. Bob’s been on the force fifteen years! How many times do we have to be told not to use vague words like “indicated” and “contacted”? How did she “indicate” that her husband was working on finances? Did he explicitly say that? Or did she point at a bank statement? And did she call her neighbor, or did she go to her neighbor’s house when she “contacted” her? And what neighbor was that? Name? Address? “Who interviewed the neighbor?” I jotted on my yellow pad. And, “Where is the record of the interview with the neighbor?” Also, “Get and read the CSI reports.” Looks like a professional hit, I thought, maybe with .22 slugs tearing around inside his skull.
Done with that task, I rummaged through a cold-case file box Randy brought up from the basement for me. A John Doe, presumably homeless, had been found frozen to a sidewalk behind the Lincoln Mall via his body fluids on Christmas Eve 1994. He had been beaten mercilessly. Shoppers stepped over or walked around him for at least an hour before someone alerted a security guard. A man came forward yesterday, a Baptist minister, and confessed to participating with two other youths in beating the man to death with baseball bats, but he refused to identify his accomplices.
The work was absorbing so the morning went quickly enough. “God rest you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay….” was wafting over the intercom system at noon. I was invited to Mel’s for Christmas cheer. They know very well that I am a teetotaler.
“No thanks, guys, Christmas Eve in bars is for Sad Sacks crying in their beers – my girls are waiting for me,” I begged off.
“You know why I drink?” asked Randy.
“Why?” I humored him.
“To keep from killing teetotalers!”
“Very funny, Randy,” I laughed along with the guys, bid them all Merry Christmas and took off for the mall.
“Here comes Santa Claus! Here comes Santa Claus! Right down Santa Claus Lane!”
#Christmas shopping was a bit daunting what with the crowd and my long list of things to buy, but I soon lost myself in the festive shopping atmosphere augmented by piped-in Christmas carols, and found myself humming along as I browsed through the girls sweaters rack.
“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels….”
Toni and Bobbi admired and envied their big sister; they just had to look like her whenever she prized some article of clothing, therefore the desire for snowflake sweaters this year. At the same time, they wanted to be as different as they were; therefore they wanted different colors. I was in luck, for this old-fashioned style of sweater, well made in Vietnam, was not in demand; I came up with the two sweaters my girls wanted, and at a 30% discount!
My job as a homicide investigator requires that I be on call over the holidays. We have the most murders down South, and we get a lot of them during the hot months, but the year-end holidays can also be quite busy for us. Drinking is always a problem that invariably gets out of hand, and even the more so when expectations are great and people get let down, becoming depressed and angry. I’d investigated four homicides last Christmas Eve, including the shooting of a prostitute by a narcotics officer at Mel’s Tavern downtown, right across the street from the police station – he then turned the gun on himself, splattering the wall with his brains – I was upset by the sight, and made a stupid field note: “I’ve never seen Steve this way.”
I was disappointed but not surprised when I heard the special ring tone – a police siren – and fielded the call on my Blackberry this Christmas Eve, just as I was pulling out of the parking lot with my trunk full of gifts and Coke. I sped over to the scene of a double homicide, at 1640 Oak Lane, situated in a modest neighborhood. Curious neighbors and passersby, and media people had gathered in front of the house. Officers were busy collecting statements. A suitable carol came over my car radio as I parked.
“Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
The low-slung, ranch-style home had a Santa Clause in a sled pulled by reindeer on its roof, and an artificial angel stood by the front door, as if to guard the home. The location had already been taped off. Lt. Jack Dale greeted me as I approached. He’s not that handsome, yet I’ve got a crush him. He’s a married man, so I told myself to forget it, again.
“There are lots of uniforms out there,” my dad, a Marine colonel, once told me when I was lovesick over a certain private, “so don’t chase after this one.” I’m a military brat, a frustrated wildcat who can’t help loving authority in or out of uniform, so I’m wild about the cops I work with. I’d like to have the most of them, including the two female officers who are bikers, but that won’t do, not for a mother with three adopted daughters! An arousing vision of a fling I might have with Jack flashed through my mind, but I composed myself to focus on the job.
“Merry Christmas, Lt. Dale,” I addressed him formally. “What have we got?”
“Merry Christmas to you, Lace. We’ve got two bodies inside, a 23-year-old Caucasian female and her 6-year-old nephew. We’ve pretty much got things covered, but I’d like you to take a look see.”
“Where’s the rest of the family?”
“The only remaining member of the immediate family is the mother – she’s all alone now, she said. She has a good friend, someone I know, Betty Jane Calamari, her neighbor, who works at the abused women’s shelter. She came over and is inside consoling her now.”
I listened carefully as Lt. Dale described the details of the case as we went inside. The home was elegant yet homey. The living room was festive with Christmas decorations. Typical boy toys – an assortment of cyborg warriors, miniature war machines, and a large plastic ray-gun – were strewn about the floor. It was warm and inviting. I had not seen anything unusual so far, like signs of forced entry, robbery, or of a struggle. I hated these calls, I thought as I saw the gifts stacked under the Christmas tree, especially the calls where children were involved.
“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, much pleasure doth thou bring me!”
I could not get away from the carols, this one coming from the home’s stereo system. I was about to ask an officer to turn it off, but decided against it. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and maybe I was the only one who minded the irony.
“This is going to be bad, I’m going to have to look at a young woman and a child killed on Christmas Eve,” I said to myself as we proceeded to the private rooms off to the right of the L-shaped home. “But homicides are always bad, and experience has braced me against tragedy.” Still, as case-hardened as I was, I was not adequately steeled against what I was about see.
“The child’s mother arrived home from an overnight business trip to Riverdale and found her younger sister dead on the bed in the master bedroom,” said Lt. Dale. “Then she found her child face down in the master bath, apparently drowned in the bathtub. The back door was unlocked. There is no sign of forced entry throughout the house – maybe the sister knew the perpetrator. We’ve got a trail of footprints out back leading into the woods. We’re following up on that now.”
“Where is the husband?” I asked.
“Her husband was killed in a car accident last month.”
“Oh no,” I said softly. I listened to the rest of his account, my eyes focusing apprehensively on the semi-closed door of the master bedroom as we approached it. We entered the large bedroom. Two crime scene technicians were in the room busily collecting evidence, taking pictures, chit-chatting. I concentrated on the four-poster bed, and fell into my observational mode – the surroundings disappeared: all that existed was the still form on the four-poster bed.
A particularly bright flash from a camera lit up the tableau like a movie set. The woman’s nudity, sprawled wantonly across the bed, was garish in the harsh light. Her skin, pale and flaccid, was cold to the touch. Her lips were colorless, her eyes clouded, her limbs stiff, and purplish lividity had settled to the bottom of the body.
“She’s been gone some time,” I murmured, as if in a trance. “Has the rectal been taken? What’s the TOD?”
“She’s room temperature. More than ten hours ago, probably less than twenty-four, we’ll know more later,” said one of the technicians.
Death had been an unforgiving lover, leaving her wanting, her face frozen in a silent scream of agony, eyes widened in horror. And her face had taken a beating on her right side, most likely with a fist, judging from the markings. Her nose was broken. She had obviously been strangled, probably with bare hands. Blood was caked on her inner thighs, and a small pool of blood had collected on the bedspread between her legs. She had been raped. Profile: anger-retaliatory rapist.
“Any semen on her legs, on the bedding?” I asked the technician.
“Lots of it, hair too, and skin under the nails, plenty of evidence, very sloppy business.”
“Excellent. Maybe we’ll get a match on him right away.”
“Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long. Beneath the heavenly strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and man, at war with man, hears not the tidings which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing!”
I noted everything in my Blackberry, and took a few pictures myself. Capt. Dale directed me to master bathroom, and stood aside as I entered, alone. I fell back into my observational trance and felt like I moving, dreamlike, in slow motion, as I ventured into the bathroom. Details leaped out at me, such as the beautiful sea blues, greens, and sand colored geometric design of the tiled floor, the shell shaped nightlight that was plugged into the outlet near the marble sink and the plush blue towels that were folded neatly and hung on the towel bar. I took a breath and allowed my eyes to look at what I did not want to see. The boy floated face down in the tub.
“What child is this? What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping. Whom angels greet with anthems sweet….”
“Oh my God!” The mother in me started to cry out, but the cop in me took control. I took in the scene and registered the salient details in my Blackberry as the cop in me battled for control over the outraged and aggrieved mother. I noticed the red Spiderman pajamas, and the cowlick at the back of the little boy’s head. How many times had his mother lovingly combed down that errant lock? The cop in me wondered about the order of events. Had the child seen the murder of his aunt, and then was killed because of it? The mother in me was sick at the thought of the innocent one having to endure such horror.
I exited the bathroom and rudely brushed past Lt. Dale at the door. I wanted the one responsible. I wanted the man, the murdering rapist, to pay for the pain of a mother that returned to find her life destroyed. Then, I saw her, the mother, huddled in the arms of her friend, Betty Jane, sobbing heartbrokenly. That could just as easily be me, I thought. I winced as I remembered my irritation with the girls this morning at the noise, and how I had scolded them last night for making a beg mess in the kitchen with the cookie batter. Thank God I still had them, and their laughter, and the joy, and all the aggravations, headaches, and heartaches that went with being a mother. I had to call them.
“Heather, honey, I’ll be home soon. Is everything okay? What are your sisters doing?”
“Everything’s fine, Mom. Bobbi and Toni are watching TV with Sarah – she’s hanging out with us for awhile. Are you at the mall?”
“I’m at an investigation.”
“Please come home now. We want you to see our snowman.”
“Mommy, come home and see our snowman!” Toni exclaimed in the background. “Mommy, mommy, come home, we made a snowman!” chimed in Bobbi.
“I’ll be home as soon as I can, Heather. It shouldn’t be too long, maybe an hour and a half at the most.”
“Should I start dinner? We had the soup and turkey sandwiches for lunch.”
“We’ll heat up some frozen pizza tonight. We’ll cook something good tomorrow for Christmas dinner. ”
“I’ve got to go. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas; you can count on me,” went the carol at the crime scene. How could this mother, her husband so recently lost, possibly cope with losing her only child and her sister? My heart went out to her, and I got angry again, at all men, I’m afraid, but I knew that was unfair, and I managed to cool off.
“Do we have any leads on the perp?” I coolly asked Lt. Dale.
“We were a few slight indentations left, foot tracks filled in by snow, leading to a little stream out back. Technicians are checking that out. They’ve already got clear footprints in the mud by the stream. We couldn’t see where he went from there, too much snow since then, maybe he walked out on the stones” he answered as he led me through the kitchen to the back door. “The neighbors we’ve questioned so far report that they saw nothing unusual lately. I’m going to interview the old lady three houses to the right behind this house, on the other side of the block. The officer who questioned her said she seemed shifty, and she wouldn’t allow him to talk long to her grandson. You want to come along?”
I nodded my assent and we walked down to the stream in back, turned right and walked over to the back of the neighbor’s home, looking for clues along the way. As we went up to the back door, a young man’s face appeared and disappeared in a window upstairs.
“That must be the grandson,” Lt. Dale observed.
“That’s our man. He did it.”
“What? How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“You can call it that. I just know it.”
“Yes, we will.”
Lt. Dale knocked on the back door. An elderly black woman let us in. Bent over with age, slightly overweight, she was leaning on an aluminum cane. She wore a grandma’s gray, plaid dress that fell to below her knees. I noticed that her knee-highs had slipped down to her ankles and that she wore black orthopedic shoes.
“Ma’am, I’m Lieutenant Dale with homicide, and this is Special Investigator Lace. Would you mind if we talk to your grandson a little more,” the Lt. Dale asked.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind,” she responded crossly. “I want to help the best I can, but you police have questioned Maurice enough. He didn’t do nothing last night. He was home with me all night. He ain’t no murderin’ man, that’s for sure.”
“How did you know there was a murder last night?” Lt. Dale asked.
“Well,” she paused momentarily, put a handkerchief over her mouth, coughed, and mumbled, “There were two murders. The young police officer told me the boy and his aunt were found dead, and it probably happened last night.”
“Do you know the victims?” asked Lt. Dale, glancing at me to see if I too knew the old lady was lying. Of course I did. I was certain that she knew what happened and she knew her grandson did it.
“Oh yes, I knew them, and I often babysat Jason for his mama. That poor little angel,” she said, her voice had softened, and now cracked with emotion.
“Ma’am, maybe your grandson noticed some little thing that might help us with the investigation. It would really be helpful if we ask Maurice a few routine questions.”
“I’ll answer your questions.” A brawny, twenty-something man appeared behind his grandmother. He was a tall, handsome fellow with weight-lifters muscles. His head was clean-shaved and shining like a bowling ball. He had two teardrops tattooed under his left eye.
“Boy, you git on out of here,” she ordered fiercely, turning on the young man. “You ain’t goin’ to answer no more questions. Go on, now, go to your room.”
“Go on, git. You ain’t goin’ to be profiled in my house.”
“She’s a mean, domineering one,” I mentally noted.
“I’m tired of you putting me down and telling me what to do!” the angry young man exclaimed, “so you can just go on and ‘git’ yourself. I’m going to talk to the officers in the living room, and you leave us alone.”
“You’d better not, you’d better shut up like I said, and git yourself a lawyer you damn fool!” the old lady cried after us as we went into the living room.
My eyes scanned the young man, taking in his long black T-shirt, hanging down almost to his knees, and his baggy jeans and high top sneakers. I frowned when I noticed his swollen left hand and the red mud caked on the bottom edges of his sneakers. It was obviously the same mud from the stream out back. I glanced at Lt. Dale, and saw that he’d noticed it as well. I was right from the get go: we had our man.
The young man calmed down and was quite composed at the outset of the interview. First of all, he expressed deep regret over the pain that the mother next door was feeling. He consented to our recording the interview, which soon turned into an interrogation – he insisted on waiving his Miranda rights, because, he said, he was innocent. What a fool, I thought – his grandmother was right about that. This guy is guilty as sin.
“You can see the victims’ house from here. Did you hear or see anything unusual lately?” Lt. Dale asked.
“No, I heard or saw nothing strange, you know,” he said. “But I don’t have a habit of watching neighbors, you know. Like I was watching football video last night.”
“You’re a sports fan?”
“What sort of work do you do, Maurice?”
“Construction, when I can get it.”
“Do you drink a lot?”
“Not a lot. I like my beers.”
“We’ll want to take your tennis shoes to the lab. Would you please take them off so we can have a crime lab technician pick them up?”
“It’s routine. I see you have some reddish mud on them.”
He crossed his legs, and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s from the creek out back, you know. Like I go for walks there, to chill out, you know.”
“How did you scrape your knuckles?” Lt. Dale asked, as I quietly observed the proceedings.
“Oh, that,” he raised and looked at his left hand. “That’s from working on my car, you know. Like I was replacing the head gaskets and like I banged my hand when the torque wrench slipped.”
“Maurice,” I took over. “Have you ever done time?”
“What difference does it make?”
“I see you’ve got two teardrops under your eye, one for each prison term served.”
“You’re wrong, lady. Like I’ve done no time, you know, and you can check it out.”
“Then you killed two people and didn’t get caught – is that it? It’s a gang thing, right?”
“I killed nobody and I don’t belong to a gang,” he retorted nervously.
“So you’re just bragging that you did. You’re a loner? You don’t have a crew? You’re just a hip-hop coward?”
The young man’s brow narrowed and lowered – he was getting mad.
“Easy, now, easy,” Lt. Dale momentarily interceded.
“Shut up, Jack. This fool’s just a coward,” I said in a denigrating tone, referring to the young man in the third person.
“Please don’t tell me to shut up,” Lt. Dale played along. “You’re jumping to conclusions. How do you know?”
“Just look at him, pretending he’s done time or killed people, like he’s bad, just like the scum he looks up to. But he’s a really a coward.”
“I’m not a coward!”
“Shut up, boy!” I commanded. “You’re a coward, there’s no doubt about it, so just shut up.”
“What did you say, boy?”
“Screw you, you white bitch!”
“You don’t have the balls. You’re no man, so just shut up, boy.”
“I’ll f—k you up real good, you bitch!”
“Just like you did that woman, then you killed her boy.”
“Yeah, I f—ked her up and shut her up and I did that kid of hers too. I locked the bedroom door and made him watch, then shut up his mouth with water in the bathtub.”
“You did, did you? You’ve really gone and done it, killed two people, so you can really do the time now, but we’ll see to it you get the death penalty and die like a dog, because you’re no man at all.”
“Yeah, I did them, I killed that white trash, choked it to death in bed and she liked it, and I’ll do you too, you bitch!”
“You killed them!”
“Yes, I killed them, I wasted that trash, and I’ll waste you too, bitch!”
He started to move menacingly in my direction. Lt. Dale pulled his weapon. I pulled mine in a flash and was tempted to put some holes in the perpetrator but I did not do so because I am a professional and it was unnecessary. The muscle-bound bully immediately became a mouse and cowered. He laid himself down on the floor and put his arms behind his back to be cuffed as instructed. Two officers came over and transported him to the station. As they took him out the door, his grandmother cursed him for disobeying her and talking to the police.
“You keep your mouth shut, boy! Don’t talk to them! They’ve got to git you a lawyer.”
I made a note in my Blackberry to proceed with an investigation that might lead to an aiding and abetting charge against her. It’s the likes of her that raises these guys, I thought.
“Great job, Lace. You’re a real hellcat when you get going,” Lt. Dale remarked, walking me to my car.
“Thanks, Jack, but I am more of a wildcat than a hellcat. It’s the DNA that will nail him for good. He’s a stupid, violent, immature man, aggravated by the hellcat in his life.”
“You feel sorry for him?”
“No, no more sorry than I am sorry for swine at the slaughter house. He is what he is and it’s too late to change that, so I hope he gets the death penalty. I’d flip the switch myself.”
“But he’s a man, not an animal.”
“If he were a man, I’d have to hate the lot of them.”
“Speaking of hellcats, I saw you on your Harley the other day. You looked wild, all right, like a Valkyrie, with your blonde hair loose and trailing behind you – you really should wear a helmet. I remembered that your old man rode with the Hells Angels, working undercover.”
“Yes.” I suddenly felt very lonely, and he felt my pain.
“I’m sorry about what happened, sorry I brought it up, Lace.”
“It’s all right, Jack. I miss him so much, but I have the girls. Yes,” my mood brightened, “I have the girls, and I’m going home to them now!”
“Merry Christmas,” Jack said as he shut my car door after I got in. I wanted to kiss him, at least give him a peck on the cheek, but it was too late. On the way home I thought of the murdered boy, what he must have felt as he watched the rape and murder of his aunt, and then, later, the fear, and pain as the terror was turned on him, tore at my heart. And then I felt the horror and pain of the mother when she got home. I knew that I would always be haunted with this case at Christmas time in the future – hopefully I shall not have to handle something even worse.
My girls rushed to the door when I drove up. I literally ran to the door and held all three close, giving thanks for what’s mine, my own Christmas presents.
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.”