Authors: Michael Connelly
Tags: #Crime &, #mystery
“I better call my office and tell them where I’m at,” Rider said.
Bosch nodded his approval. She left the room then and only Bosch remained.
“Do you still want to be a detective?” he asked, though he knew she was gone.
On the way up, the car’s air conditioner gave up shortly after Bakersfield. It was September and hot as I pushed through the middle of the state. Pretty soon I could feel my shirt start to stick to the vinyl seat. I pulled off my tie and unbuttoned my collar. I didn’t know why I had put a tie on in the first place. I wasn’t on the clock and I wasn’t going anywhere that required a tie.
I tried to ignore the heat and concentrate on how I would try to handle Seguin. But that was like the heat. I knew there was no way to handle him. Somehow it had always been the other way around. Seguin had the handle on me. One way or the other that would end on this trip.
I turned my wrist on the steering wheel and checked the date on my Timex. Exactly ten years since the day I had met Seguin. Since I had looked into the cold green eyes of the killer and known I was looking into the abyss.
The case began on Mulholland Drive, the winding snake of a road that follows the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. A group of high schoolers had pulled off the road to drink their beer and look down upon the smoggy City of Dreams. One of them spotted the body. Nestled in the mountain brush and the debris of beer cans and tequila bottles tossed down by past revelers, the girl was nude, her arms and legs stretched outward in some sort of grotesque display of sex and murder.
The call came to me, Detective Harry Bosch, and my partner, Frankie Sheehan. At the time, we worked out of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
The crime scene was treacherous. The body was snagged on an incline with a better than sixty-degree grade. One slip and a person could tumble all the way down the mountainside, maybe end up in somebody’s hot tub down below or on somebody’s concrete patio. We wore jumpsuits and leather harnesses and were lowered down to the body by firemen from the 58th Battalion.
The scene was clean. No clothes, no ID, no physical evidence, no clues but the dead girl. We didn’t even find any fibers that were going to be useful. This was unusual for a homicide.
I studied the girl closely and put her age at fifteen but no older. Mexican, or of Mexican descent, she had brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. I could tell that in life she had been beautiful to look at. In death she was heartbreaking. She had been strangled, the indentations of her killer’s thumbs clear on her neck, the petechial hemorrhaging putting a murderous rouge around her eyes. Rigor mortis had come and gone. She was loose. That told us she had been dead more than twenty-four hours.
The guess was that she had been dumped the night before, under cover of darkness. That meant she had been lying dead somewhere else for twelve hours or more. That other place was the true crime scene. It was the place we needed to find.
When I turned the car inland toward the bay the air finally began to cool. I skirted the east side of the bay up to Oakland and then went across the bridge into San Francisco. Before crossing the Golden Gate I stopped for a hamburger at the Balboa Bar & Grill. I get to San Francisco two or three times a year on cases. I always eat at the Balboa. This time I ate at the bar, glancing occasionally up at the television to see the Giants playing in Chicago. They were losing.
But mostly I rolled the old case back and forth in my head. It was a closed case now and Seguin would never hurt another person again. Except himself. His last victim would be himself. But still the case stuck with me. A killer was caught, tried and convicted, and now stood to be executed for his crimes. But there was still an unanswered question that stuck with me. It was what put me on the road to San Quentin on my day off.
They called it the Little Girl Lost case in the newspaper. It was because we didn’t know her name. Fingerprints from the body matched no prints contained in computerized records. The girl matched no description on an active missing persons case anywhere in Los Angeles County or in national crime databases. An artist’s rendering of the victim’s face put on the TV news and in the papers brought no calls from a loved one or an acquaintance. Sketches faxed to five hundred police agencies across the southwest and to the State Judicial Police in Mexico drew no responses. The victim remained unclaimed and unidentified, her body reposing in the refrigerator at the coroner’s office while Sheehan and I worked the case.
It was tough. Most cases start with the victim. Who that person was and where she lived become the center of the wheel, the grounding point. Everything comes from the center. But we didn’t have that and we didn’t have the true crime scene. We had nothing and we were going nowhere fast.
All that changed with Teresa Corazon. She was the deputy coroner assigned to the case officially known as Jane Doe #90–91. While preparing the body for an autopsy she came across the lead that would take us first to McCaleb and then to Seguin.
Corazon found that the victim’s body had apparently been washed with an industrial-strength cleaner before being discarded on the hillside. It was an attempt by the killer to destroy trace evidence. This in itself, however, was both a clue and trace evidence. The cleaning agent could help lead to the killer’s identity or help tie him to the crime.
However, it was another discovery made by Corazon that turned the case for us. While photographing the body the deputy coroner noticed an impression in the skin on the rear left hip. Postmortem lividity indicated the blood in the body had settled on the left half, meaning the body had been lying on its left side in the time between the stilling of the heart and the dropping of the body down the hillside off Mulholland. The evidence indicated that during the time that the blood settled, the body had been lying on top of the object that left the impression on the hip.
Using angled light to study the impression, Corazon found that she could clearly see the number 1, the letter J and part of a third letter that could have been the upper left stem of an H, a K or an L.
“A license plate,” I said when she called me to the autopsy suite to view the discovery. “He put her down on a license plate.”
“Exactly,” said Corazon.
We formed the theory that whoever had killed the girl with no name had hidden the body in the trunk of a car until it was nighttime and safe to dump it. After carefully cleaning the body, the killer put it into the trunk of his car, mistakenly putting it down on part of a license plate that had been taken off the car and also placed in the trunk. That part of the theory was that the license plate had been removed and possibly replaced with a stolen plate as one more safety measure that would help the killer avoid detection if his car happened to be spotted by a suspicious passerby at the Mulholland overlook.
Though the skin impression gave no indication of what state issued the license plate, we decided to go with the percentages. From the state Department of Motor Vehicles we obtained a list of every car registered in Los Angeles County that carried a plate beginning 1JH, 1JK and 1JL.
The list contained over three thousand names of car owners. We then cut forty percent of those names by discounting the female owners. The remaining names were slowly fed into the National Crime Index computer and we came up with a list of forty-six men with criminal records ranging from minor to the extreme.
The first time I studied the list of forty-six, I knew. I felt certain that one of the names on it belonged to the killer of the girl with no name.
The Golden Gate lived up to its name in the afternoon sun. It was packed with cars going both ways and the tourist turnoff on the north side had the
sign up. I kept moving, into the rainbow-painted tunnel and through the mountain. Soon enough I could see San Quentin up on the right. A foreboding-looking place in an idyllic spot, it housed the worst criminals California had to offer. And I was going to see the worst of the worst.
I turned from the window where I had been looking down at the white stones of the veterans cemetery across Wilshire. A man in a white shirt and maroon tie stood holding open the door to the FBI offices. He looked like he was in his midthirties, with a lean build and healthy look about him. He was smiling.
We shook hands and he invited me back, leading me through a warren of wood-paneled hallways and offices until we came to his. It looked like it might have been a janitor’s closet at one time. It was smaller than a solitary-confinement cell and had just enough room for a desk and two chairs.
“Guess it’s a good thing my partner didn’t want to come,” I said, squeezing into the room.
Frankie Sheehan alternately referred to criminal profiling as “bureau bullshit” and “Quantico quackery.” When I had chosen a week earlier to contact McCaleb, the resident profiler in the bureau’s L.A. office, there had been an argument about it. But I was lead on the case; I made the call.
“Yeah, things are kind of tight here,” McCaleb said. “But at least I get a private space.”
“Most cops I know like being in a squad room. They like the camaraderie, I guess.”
McCaleb just nodded and said, “I like being alone.”
He pointed to the guest chair and I sat down. I noticed a photo of a young girl taped to the wall above his desk. She looked to be about the same age as my victim. I thought that if it was McCaleb’s daughter, maybe it would be a little plus for me. Something that would make him put a little extra drive into my case.
“She’s not my daughter,” McCaleb said. “She’s from an old case. A Florida case.”
I just looked at him. It wouldn’t be the last time he seemed to know my thoughts like I was saying them out loud.
“So, still no ID on yours, right?”
“No, nothing yet.”
“That always makes it tough.”
“So on your message you said you’d reviewed the file?”
“Yeah, I did.”
I had sent copies of the murder book and all crime scene photographs the week before. We had not videotaped the crime scene and this distressed McCaleb. But I had been able to get tape of the scene from a television reporter. His station’s chopper had been in the air over the crime scene but had not aired any footage because of the graphic nature of its contents.
McCaleb opened a file on his desk and referred to it before speaking.
“First of all, are you familiar with our VICAP program—Violent Criminal Apprehension?”
“I know what it is. This is the first time I ever submitted a case.”
“Yes, you’re a rarity in the LAPD. Most of you guys don’t want or trust the help. But a few more guys like you and maybe I can get a bigger office.”
I nodded. I wasn’t going to tell him that it was institutional distrust and suspicion that stopped most LAPD detectives from seeking the help of the bureau. It was an unspoken dictate that came from the police chief himself. It was said that the chief could be heard cursing loudly in his office every time news of an FBI arrest within city limits was reported. It was well known in the department that the bank robbery squad routinely monitored the radio transmissions of the bureau’s bank squad and often moved in on suspects before the feds got the chance.
“Yeah, well, I just want to clear the case,” I said. “I don’t really care if you’re a psychic or Santa Claus, if you’ve got something that will help me I’ll listen.”
“Well, I think maybe I do.”
He turned the page in the file and picked up a stack of crime scene photographs. These were not the photos I had sent him. These were 8x10 blowups of the original crime scene photos. He had made these on his own. It told me that McCaleb had certainly spent some time with the case. It made me think that maybe it had hooked him the way it had hooked me. A girl with no name left dead on the hillside. A girl no one had come forward to claim. A girl no one cared about.
In my secret heart I cared and I had claimed her. And now maybe McCaleb had, too.
“Let me just start with my overview of what I think you’ve got here,” McCaleb said.
He shuffled through the photos for a moment, ending with a still that had been made from the news video. It showed an aerial shot of the naked body, arms and legs stretched wide on the hillside. I took out my cigarettes and shook one out of the pack.
“You may have already arrived at these same conclusions. If so, I apologize. I don’t want to waste your time. By the way, you can’t smoke in here.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, putting the smokes away. “What have you got?”
“Whether this is the actual murder site or not, this scene is very important in that it gives us an avenue to the killer’s thinking. What I see here suggests the work of what we call an exhibition killer. In other words, this is a killer who wanted his crime to be seen—to be very public—and by virtue of this to instill horror and fear in the general population. From this reaction by the public he draws his gratification. He is somebody who reads the newspapers and watches the news for any information or update on the investigation. It is a way of keeping score. So when we find him, I think we will find newspaper clippings and maybe even videos containing television reports on the case. These will probably be in his bedroom because they would be useful to him in carrying out masturbatory fantasies.”
I noticed he had said
in reference to the case investigators but I didn’t react. McCaleb went on as if he were talking to himself and there were no one else in the office.
“A component of the exhibition killer’s fantasy is the duel. Exhibiting his crime to the public includes exhibiting it to the police. In effect, he is throwing down a challenge. He is saying, ‘I am better than you, smarter and more clever. Prove me wrong if you can. Catch me if you can.’ You see? He is dueling with you in the public media arena.”
“Yes, you. In this case in particular you appear to be the media front man. It is your name in the newspaper stories included in the file.”