It was a nice morning. It would get hot later, but right now, right now you couldn't ask for anything nicer. Mid 60’s, sun low in the sky, the broken clouds pulling back to the west, a nice breeze. Charles looked toward the horizon over the slightly rolling field of wild grasses and except for an occasional scrub tree rising out of the field, the movements of the grass in the air currents reminded him of the ocean or a big lake on an easy morning. He closed his eyes and heard only the wind gusting past his ears and birds beginning their day and smelled the rich aroma of the dew on this fallow pasture with the sun starting to warm it.
Detective Inspector Charles Suttree looked down at the young woman's pale, motionless body lying in front of him on the crushed grass, as he heard his assistant, Detective Sergeant Teresa Kincaid leading a couple more of the team out to this spot to begin the forensic processing.
The woman's body had been found about an hour and a quarter before, so about 6:25 AM, by a local woman out on a morning walk with her Irish Setter. Actually, the dog found the body and sat next to it until the woman arrived to investigate.
The field was about 10 or 15 feet lower than the road that ran alongside it. When Charley had parked on the road a little while ago and looked out over the field, he had been able to see the hollow of trampled grass where the woman’s body lay. He’d also been able to see the line of a single trail through the grass from the edge, near the road, to the endpoint where the body was. That path was now staked off with yellow crime scene tape at both ends.
Before he’d approached the scene in the field, he’d made sure that the photographer had adequately documented everything that could be seen from that position on the road. Evidence technicians were going over the road and the bank near the beginning of the trail across the field, looking for anything that might shed light on the situation.
This far from the edge of town, out here in the country, there were no nearby houses to canvass or security cameras to check and very little regular traffic track down.
Detective Suttree had changed into his crime scene gear, the disposable coveralls, shoe covers, gloves, and so on, from the trunk of his car before entering the field, so that he wouldn’t contaminate the scene with anything he tracked in. Since he was officially in charge of this investigation, he designated another spot along the edge of the field as the starting point for the new path to the place where the body was, so that the original path would be left exactly as it had been before the investigation began.
As far as anyone knew, the only people that had been down that original path had been the victim and the elderly woman who found her and possibly her dog. Standing here beside the body, he believed, now, that he could add the killer to that list. After the team that was searching the road and bank finished there, they would carefully comb that original path looking for evidence.
He stood about three feet away from the body at the edge of the thigh-high grass on the far side of the scene so that looking up from the body, he could see the road rising up about 25 yards away. He shined his powerful LED flashlight around on the body and the surrounding ground looking for anything out of place. He yawned and twisted his neck and pulled his shoulders back to loosen his back. He had had a late night and this was an early call but such was the nature of his job. He needed to focus on method and procedure here. Document everything, you never knew what might make the difference.
The medical examiner had not yet arrived and this was the part of the investigation that mattered most to Suttree. The first examination of the scene. Nothing had been tampered with, nothing trodden upon, nothing obscured. This was almost the way the murderer saw it last. Too many times he'd arrived at the scene after the whole neighborhood had brought their coffees and beers down to look at the body, maybe taken a few pictures. It wasn't unusual to have a scene up on Twitter or Facebook before he even drove up. It was a miracle if anything was left untouched. But this scene was as clean as in an Agatha Christie story, like the first day of forensics class. He wanted to do this the right way and see where it led. He was, after all, a professional.
Terry Kincaid and the others looked carefully around the perimeter, about six feet from the body for anything out of the ordinary, taking pictures with their phones of the scene. When they were sure they weren’t ruining any evidence they began setting up a large folding tent structure to cover the body and surrounding area.
Suttree was 51 years old and had worked in Robbery/Homicide for 15 years. Over that time, he’d been involved in maybe 30 murders and a couple that might have been but lacked proof. That wouldn’t be a problem here.
He bent over and looked very carefully and methodically at the body. He dictated quietly into a small handheld recorder as he looked the scene over. The woman was lying face down, head slightly to the right, he could see her right eye was halfway open. She was Caucasian and somewhere in her late 20's. She wore a powder-blue sweater without pattern or decoration over a white cotton blouse. He couldn't tell if the blouse was short sleeved, but he could see no cuffs at the wrists. She had on faded blue jeans and dark-blue slip-on canvas deck shoes with pink anklet socks.
Her left upper arm was extended at a right angle at the shoulder and her left elbow was flexed at a right angle and her right leg was flexed at the hip and knee. Her right arm was straight as was her left leg. He could see nothing in either of her hands.
She had dark brown hair that he would describe as a little shorter than medium length. Her build was, as best he could tell from her position, somewhere near the center of the bell-curve. About five foot six-inches tall, maybe 130 to 140 pounds in weight. He could see nothing obvious in the back pockets of her pants, even though the jeans fit her fairly snugly. He would wait for the medical examiner and the preliminary pictures and "bagging the hands," before he moved her.
She had, what looked like, two bullet holes in the back of her sweater, one by the inside margin of her right shoulder blade and one lower, just below her mid-back on the right side of her backbone. A little blood was visible around the edge of the lower hole. Both of the holes looked to be in the .30 to .40 inch range. He couldn't tell by looking from here if they were from a handgun or a rifle until they turned her over to look for exit wounds. But he was sure it was a handgun, the book would say .38 caliber or 9 mm. He could also see evidence of a bullet wound to the back of her head. A little above and behind the right ear. If that was true, then the killer had probably brought her down with the two shots to the back and then walked down here for the insurance of the head shot up close. This is what the scene told him and it was pretty close to correct, he thought, nodding.
He moved his flashlight carefully around the head area looking for a spent brass casing, but he saw none from where he stood. They would check more closely later, including using a metal detector, but for now, the situation favored a .38 caliber revolver, not an automatic that ejected the brass after the shot. If this happened in the night, it would be tough for the killer to police up his brass after the shots in the dark. He noted this on the recorder. It wasn’t definitive, but it was expected as a working hypothesis. There were a lot of .38 caliber revolvers out there, including his and half of the team working this site. Still, detective work was a process of narrowing the field. You seldom found that the killer had dropped his wallet at the scene. It did happen occasionally, but not this time, he was sure of that.
"Good morning, Charley," Dr. Sheila Dayton said smiling, as she emerged from the path through the tall grass on the other side of the body into the crime scene. Sheila was the medical examiner and they had worked together before. She was very good and detail oriented. She was also about the shortest person he worked with. She was very friendly but at four feet six-inches, she had to bend her elbow to keep the case with her tools from dragging on the ground. She certainly didn’t have to duck her head as she passed under the edge of the tent now covering the scene.
"Where are we at?" she looked around and set her case back away from the body in the standing grass.
"Just waiting for you and looking things over. Lady and her dog found her about," he looked at his watch, "one hour forty ago. Called in at 0646. One path in and out when we arrived. Pictures taken, Initial survey done. Body not touched. Maybe sniffed a little by Fido. Otherwise, pristine," Suttree said all this without raising his eyes from the body.
"Wow. You must be living right. You should buy a Lotto ticket," the medical examiner said as she looked over the scene.
A little ways, off to the south, someone pulled a rope and started a portable generator and a moment later, lights hanging from the underside of the tent structure came to life illuminating the area of the crime scene.
"I'm not counting any chickens yet," Suttree said in a deadpan.
"Let's see what we have. You want to help me?" Dayton said as she squatted down while being sure to keep her back straight to minimize the chances of hurting herself.
"Yeah." Charles stepped forward and knelt beside the body. He reached down and ran the gloved fingers of his right hand lightly over the sweater on the left upper back and looked at the moisture on his fingers.
"Dew," he said and shined his flashlight around the woman's neck and beltline, then around the periphery of her body that he could see.
During this, a technician placed new paper bags over both of the dead woman’s hands to preserve evidence and secured them with yellow masking tape around the wrists. The tech said, “There’s ring with a blue stone, right third finger. No wedding ring seen.”
"OK, toward me?" Charley said. He reached across and took hold of the body while Sheila grabbed it from her side and they turned the woman toward Suttree. The body was completely rigid from rigor mortis and so turned as a single piece. Some grass stuck to the woman's front as the body turned and they rolled her completely onto her back.
Sheila stood back as two of the other team members took a series of pictures with flash showing the ground underneath where the body had lain. Near the center of the imprint where the woman had been was a cell phone. No one reached for it as the rest of the forensic ritual took place. After the pictures, flashlights swept over the piece of ground in a pattern covering every square inch and finally a technician holding a metal detector swept the newly uncovered ground raising a single piercing tone as he moved the detector across the cell phone. As soon as he finished, Terry Kincaid reached from the other side of the body with gloved hands and picked up the cell phone by the sides while the others watched. The metal detector was moved once again over where the phone had been without producing a tone. Kincaid carefully turned the phone around handling it by the edges and checked the screen.
"It's on but locked," she said holding it up so Suttree could see it.
"Bag it and we'll deal with it later. Don't turn it off. We'll plug it into a charger after we dust it," Suttree said and turned his attention back to the underside of the woman.
Kincaid dropped the phone it into an evidence bag held open by another technician and others watched as the tech sealed it, wrote a notation on the bag with a Sharpie and placed it into an open plastic carrier behind him.
Sheila Dayton, the M.E., moved around to the top of the woman’s head and knelt there. Several flashlights moved up to the woman’s face removing any shadows and revealing an ugly exit wound that included her left eye. Dayton reached with her hands to cradle both sides of the back of the woman’s head behind the ears and gently twisted and bent the neck to try to flex and turn her head to face upwards. The woman’s head resisted turning, but Dayton persisted and it turned a little. She then slid her hands up to both sides of the woman’s lower jaw and tried to open her mouth.
"Neck’s tight, jaw’s tight, rigor’s complete," Dayton said as more picture were taken of the woman’s chest and abdomen.
Suttree brushed some of the grass and dirt off the front of the unbuttoned sweater and white shirt beneath and then lifted the loose tails of the shirt so that they could see the dead woman’s stomach up to the bottom edge of her white bra.
The stomach was a mottled dark purple from the blood that had pooled there as she lay face down. Aside from a rectangular indentation from the cell phone, there were no exit wounds or blood. Nothing out of the ordinary for a dead body. More pictures were taken.
Dayton pulled a digital thermometer out of the little bag she had carried with her. She opened the thermometer revealing a long thin spike, a bit longer than normally used to check the core temperature of a Thanksgiving turkey. She held it open a moment and then read the temperature aloud, “67.2 degrees Fahrenheit.”
A technician noted the temperature.
Dayton them reached down and pressed the spike into the dead woman’s right upper abdomen and gave it a sharp jab. The slender spike dented the skin and then quickly punctured the woman’s abdominal wall. Dayton advanced the point for another three or four inches into the liver then stopped and watched the digital readout for a few seconds.
When it stopped changing, she announced, “88.6 degrees Fahrenheit,” and once again the tech wrote that down.
She removed the thermometer and rocked back into a sitting position wiping the probe with a baby wipe from her kit.
"Temp is 88.6 degrees Fahrenheit, at 1.5 degrees per hour drop equals about seven and a half hours, so about one o'clock in the morning. It was probably about 64 or 65 degrees last night, she's clothed. She probably ran all the way out here. But she's what? Maybe 65 kilos. Lying on matted grass, clothed, sheltered from the wind. Yeah. I think we can stand with 1:00 AM, for now."
Suttree nodded during this entire recitation as he did the same calculations and thought process in a near parallel. Very close, he thought. Sheila’s very good!
As Dayton was making this determination, Detective Sergeant Kincaid had knelt down and was going through the woman’s front pockets removing a single house key, and a tube of light pink lipstick. Nothing else.
Charles Suttree stood up and saw a dark brown utility van from the county pull up to a stop on the road 100 feet away. It was the van from the medical examiner’s office here to pick up the body, and right on time.
The technician, Richard Anders, who was handling the evidence log walked around to Suttree and handed him a clipboard with a pen stuck through a plastic loop near its top.
“Initial survey, sir.” Suttree unzipped the top of his Tyvek jumpsuit and reached inside for his cheaters so he could check the listing and see where to sign. It was hell getting old. The glasses weren’t in the inside pocket where he kept them. He quickly patted down the front of his chest to see if he’d mistakenly put them in another pocket. Damn, he must have left them in the car or at home.
He grabbed the pen and held the board at arm’s length and squinted.
“You got it all, Richard? I don’t have my glasses,” he said apologetically.
“Yessir. It’s all there.” Anders pointed to the line that needed the signature, halfway down the page and Suttree scribbled his name and handed the clipboard back.
Suttree turned back to the group busy around the body.
“OK. Good start everyone. Keep working the scene until we’ve got it all. Hopefully the cell phone will fill in the blanks and we’ll be in business. This one will be by the book. No holes.” He needed to get back to his office and start getting things moving. Check reports of missing persons. Calls in the night of gunshots. Anything out of the ordinary.
“Inspector!” Suttree turned and saw another technician, what was his name? Everston? Something like that. He was on the side of the preserved path to the scene about 30 feet away and he was holding up an evidence bag. Suttree couldn’t see what was in it.
“Eyeglasses,” Everston said. That was his name. Suttree looked at him with a slightly puzzled frown.
Everston held them higher. “Looks like reading glasses, black.”
“OK!” Suttree said back and waved. This case might go a little faster than he’d thought.