Authors: Michael Connelly
She bent down to look at the keyhole in the knob but could not see any sign that it had been tampered with.
“So, we don’t know for sure that this door was locked,” she said.
“No, but it is most of the time,” Carpenter said. “And like I said, the garage was definitely closed.”
Ballard just nodded. She did not tell Carpenter her current theory, that one of the rapists got into the house before she even came home from work and hid in the guest room closet until she had showered and gone to sleep. He then made his move, incapacitated her, taped her mouth and eyes, and let the other rapist in.
A workbench to the right of the kitchen door was crowded with equipment that Ballard guessed had come from the coffee shop. There was an open toolbox with tools haphazardly piled on a top tray. She saw a screwdriver sitting on the bench by itself, as if it had been taken out of the toolbox and left there. She wondered if the rapists brought their own tools to break in or relied on finding something in the garage of a home lived in by a single woman.
“Is this screwdriver yours?” she asked.
Carpenter stepped over to look at it. She reached a hand out to pick it up.
“No, don’t touch it,” Ballard said.
“Sorry,” Carpenter said. “It might be. I can’t really tell. All of this stuff, the tools, were left by Reggie.”
“Yes. Do you think they used it to get in? Then how did they get in the garage?”
There was a shrill note in her voice.
“I don’t know the answer to either question,” Ballard said. “Let’s see what Forensics finds.”
Ballard checked her phone and said Forensics was now due in forty-five minutes. While she was looking at her screen, a call came in. It was Harry Bosch.
“I need to take this,” she said to Cindy. “Why don’t you go back to the living room for now.”
Ballard headed out of the garage to the street and answered the phone. But then she turned quickly to stop Carpenter from touching the knob of the kitchen door.
“Cindy, no,” she called. “I’m sorry, can you come out this way and go in through the front door?”
Carpenter did as instructed and Ballard returned to the call.
“Renée, sounds like you’re in the middle of something. I was just checking in. You get anything out of the chrono that helps?”
It took Ballard a moment to remember what case and what chrono he was talking about.
“Uh, no,” she said. “I got sidetracked, called out on a case.”
“No, serial rapists we’ve been looking for.”
“Yeah, weird,” she said. “It’s a tag team. Last night we got a third victim but she didn’t call it in till after I’d been by your place.”
There was a silence.
“Harry, you there?”
“Yeah, I was just thinking. A tag team. That’s pretty rare. MOSAs are usually gang rapes. Not two guys with the same psychopathy.”
“Yeah. So, I’ve been running with that all afternoon. We’re calling them the Midnight Men.”
“When you get two guys like that … you know, who think the same way …”
He went silent.
“Yeah, what about it?” Ballard asked.
“It’s just that one and one doesn’t make two, you know?” Bosch said. “They feed off each other. One and one makes three … they escalate, get more violent. Eventually the rape is not enough. They kill. You have to get them now, Renée.”
“I know. Don’t you think I know that?”
“I’m sorry. I know you’re on top of it. Anyway, I’ve got a book here somewhere that you should read.”
“It’s about the Hillside Strangler case way back. Bob Grogan — he was a legend in RHD. But on that one, it turned out it was two stranglers, not one. Grogan caught them and there’s a book about it. I have it here somewhere. It’s called
Two of a Kind.
“Well, if you find it, let me know. I could come up and get it. Maybe it will help me understand these two creeps.”
“So then, if you’re going to be running with the rape case, how about I do a little work on the other thing? The shooting last night.”
“I have a feeling that it’s going to be taken off my plate. We now have three connected rape cases. They’ll keep me on this and kick the homicide to West Bureau.”
“Well, until then I could be working. I’d need to see what you’ve got, though.”
Ballard paused for a moment to think. Bringing in an outsider on a live case — even if it was someone with the experience of Harry Bosch — could put her into the shit. Especially after Bosch had worked with the defense lawyer Mickey Haller the year before on a highly publicized murder. No one in command staff would approve of that. No one in the whole department would.
It would have to be extracurricular.
“What do you think?” Bosch prompted.
“I think, if you find that book, we might be able to trade,” Ballard said. “But this is dangerous — department-wise — for me.”
“I know. Think about it. If I see you, I see you.”
While waiting for Forensics to show up, Ballard took a walk around the neighborhood and started thinking in terms of what made this assault different from the first two. She had no doubt that it was the same perpetrators. There were too many similarities. But there were also things about this latest occurrence that were unique.
Ballard started listing these in her head as she walked. The primary difference was geographic location. The first two cases occurred down in the flats in gridded neighborhoods that afforded the rapists multiple escape routes should something go wrong. Not so with Deep Dell Terrace. It was a road that led to a dead end. It was also a winding, narrow mountain road in a neighborhood that ultimately had only two or three ways up and back down. There was no route in this neighborhood that led over the mountains. This was an important distinction. It was riskier to pick a victim in this neighborhood. If things had gone wrong for the rapists and a help call had gone out, the escape routes could easily have been covered by a police response. At the same time that she mentally marked this difference in pattern she also acknowledged that patterns evolved. The success of the first two rapes could have emboldened the rapists, leading them to new, riskier hunting grounds.
The second aspect that was notably different from the first two cases was topography. Ballard, as well as Lisa Moore, had been operating according to the theory that the assaults were carefully planned. Once a victim was targeted, the rapists watched her routines and prepped for the break-in and assault. This most likely meant walking into the neighborhood from outside. Each of the prior victims lived a few blocks from main east-west thoroughfares — Melrose Avenue in the first case and Sunset Boulevard in the second. It was theorized that the rapists walked in and then stealthily moved about, casing the victim, her home, and the routines of the area. Therefore, a gridded, flat neighborhood allowed better access to the prey and escape after the crime. But as Ballard walked down Deep Dell Terrace, it was immediately clear that this sort of prep and exit strategy would be difficult here, if not impossible. Access to the back of Cindy Carpenter’s house was severely restricted by the steep mountainside. The houses backing it on the next street up the hill were cantilevered out over an almost sheer rock facing. There was no moving between and behind houses here. These homes didn’t even need fences and gates; the natural topography provided security.
All of this told Ballard that they had been looking in the wrong direction. They had been looking for a pair of wanderers, voyeurs, who came into the neighborhood off a busy commercial street, moved between and behind houses, and discovered their prey while looking through windows, possibly to strike then or to come back later. This was backed up when interviews of the victims and the limited cross-matching of their habits and movements in the prior days found no nexus that linked the two women. They moved in different circles with no overlap.
By all indications, the third case changed all that. The third case indicated that the victim had been targeted as prey somewhere
else and followed to her home. This changed things about the investigation and Ballard silently scolded herself for time wasted looking the other way.
Ballard got an email alert on her phone and opened the app to see that Officer Black had sent her a copy of the incident report. She opened it and scanned through the two pages on her small screen. Nothing stood out in the details as new information. She was closing down the app when she was startled by a silent vehicle whooshing by her. She turned and recognized it as one of the BMW electrics that were used by the forensics teams.
The department had bought a fleet of them for use by detectives, but the sixty-mile range per battery charge limited their usefulness when detectives needed to go farther while riding the momentum of a case. The advertised range also dropped considerably in freeway driving, and it was a rare thing to conduct an investigation in L.A. without driving on a freeway. Stories of detectives being marooned with dead batteries abounded, and the cars were withdrawn and parked on the roof of a city garage for more than a year before being distributed again, this time to units like Forensics and Audio/Visual, which conducted single-destination trips to crime scenes and then back to the mother ship.
Ballard started walking back toward Cindy Carpenter’s house and met the forensics tech as he was getting out of the BMW. He popped the rear hatch.
“Ballard, Hollywood Division,” she said. “I called.”
“I’m Reno,” the man said. “Sorry if I scared you back there. These things are so quiet. I’ve had people literally walk in front of me without looking.”
“Well, maybe if you slowed down some, that wouldn’t happen.”
“Do you know the speed on these things? You barely touch the pedal and you’re at forty. Anyway, what do you need here?”
He closed the rear hatch and stood ready, holding the handle of a large equipment case in one hand, its weight tilting his shoulders. He was a slightly built man in dark blue coveralls. sid was stitched in white letters over a breast pocket.
“We had a hot prowl rape with two suspects last night,” Ballard said. “I cannot find point of entry but I think it was the garage. I want you to start in there. There’s a screwdriver on a workbench — maybe we get lucky with that. After that, there’s a closet in the guest room I want you to take a look at.”
“Okay,” Reno said. “Victim in the hospital?”
“No, she refused further medical. She’s inside.”
“She knows you’re coming and I’ll stay with you. But I want you to do the car, too.”
She pointed to the Toyota parked on the street behind Reno’s car.
“Was it in the garage?” Reno asked.
“No, but she left the remote in the car, and I’m thinking they got in the car, then got in the garage, then got in the house. Just a knob lock on the door into the kitchen.”
“Wasn’t the car locked?”
“Not sure. Possibly. The remote’s on the visor.”
“Be quick, okay? She’s had a very bad day.”
“Sounds like it. I’ll be quick.”
“And I’ll go get the key to open the car.”
While Reno was organizing his equipment, Ballard stepped back into the house and asked Cindy for her car key. She explained why and Cindy seemed to take it as another level of violation — her house, her body, and now even her car had been invaded by these evil men. She started crying.
Ballard recognized that Cindy was moving into a very fragile
state. She asked if there was a friend or family member she could call to see if they could stay with her. Carpenter said no.
“I saw on the incident report that you listed your ex-husband as closest relative,” Ballard said. “Would he come?”
“Oh my god, no,” Carpenter exclaimed. “And please don’t call him. I only put him down because I couldn’t think straight. And he’s the only one in L.A. My entire family is down in La Jolla.”
“Okay, I’m sorry I asked. It’s just that you seem kind of fragile.”
“Wouldn’t you be?”
Ballard realized she had walked right into that one.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was stupid. What about Lacey from the shop?”
“You don’t seem to understand. I don’t want people to know about this. Why do you think I thought about it for so long before calling you people? I’m fine, okay? Just do what you have to do and then leave me alone.”
There was no comeback to that. Ballard excused herself and took the key out to Reno. He was already using silver powder on the driver’s-side door handle, looking for fingerprints.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Just smears,” Reno said.
“Like it was wiped?”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
That was useless. Ballard put the car key on the roof of the car.
“I’m going to knock on a few doors. I should be back before you’re finished. If not, have coms call me. I don’t have a rover.”
“And she knows I’m coming in?”
“Yes, but knock first.”
“Her name is Cindy.”
“Got that too.”
Ballard stuck with the houses on the east side of Carpenter’s
house, her thinking being that there was a better chance of the residents on that side seeing something unusual, because the west side led to the dead end. Anyone leaving Carpenter’s house by foot or car would have to go east.
Canvassing a neighborhood after a rape was a delicate thing. The last thing a victim needed was for everyone on the street to know what had happened. Some victims steadfastly refused to be stigmatized but others ended up feeling ashamed and losing confidence after such an attack. On the other hand, if there was a danger in the neighborhood, residents needed to know about it.
In addition, Ballard was handcuffed by the law. Under California statutes, victims of sexual assault are granted full confidentiality unless they choose to waive that right. Ballard had not even broached the subject with Cindy Carpenter and was for the moment bound by law not to reveal her as a rape victim to anyone outside of law enforcement.
Ballard pulled her mask all the way up and was holding her badge up when the door of the house next door to Carpenter’s was opened by a woman in her sixties showing one of the signs of being locked down for nine months. She had a thick band of gray at the base of her brunette hair, marking the last time she had been to a salon for a dye job.
“LAPD, ma’am. I’m Detective Ballard and I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m talking to all the neighbors in the area. We had a crime on this street last night after midnight and I am just asking if you saw or heard anything at all unusual during the night.”
“What kind of crime?”
“It was a break-in.”
“Oh my gosh, which house?”
Her asking which house instead of whose house indicated to Ballard that this woman might not know her neighbors
personally. That wouldn’t matter if she had heard or seen something. But it did mean she might not start a gossip line with neighbors after Ballard left. This was good. Ballard didn’t want neighbors already knowing she was coming when she knocked on their doors.
“Next door,” Ballard said. “Did you hear or notice anything unusual last night?”
“No,” the woman said. “Not that I remember. Was anyone hurt?”
“Ma’am, I can’t really discuss the details with you. I’m sure you understand. Do you live alone here?”
“No, it’s my husband and I. Our kids are grown. Was it the girl next door? The one who lives alone?”
She pointed in the direction of Cindy Carpenter’s house. But calling her “the girl” instead of using her name was another indication that this woman did not know her neighbors well, if at all.
“Is your husband home?” Ballard asked, ignoring the questions. “Could I speak to him?”
“No, he went golfing,” the woman said. “At Wilshire Country Club. He’ll be home soon.”
Ballard pulled a business card and gave it to the woman, instructing her to have her husband call if he remembered hearing or seeing anything unusual the previous night. She then took the woman’s name for her records.
“Are we safe?” the woman asked.
“I don’t think they’ll be back,” Ballard said.
“They? It was more than one?”
“We think it was two men.”
“Oh my gosh.”
“Did you happen to see two men on the street last night?”
“No, I didn’t see anything. But now I’m scared.”
“I think you’re safe, ma’am. Like I said, we don’t expect them to come back.”
“Was she raped?”
“Ma’am, I can’t talk about the case.”
“Oh my god, she was raped.”
“Ma’am, listen to me. I said it was a break-in. If you start spreading rumors, you are going to cause a lot of pain for your next-door neighbor. Do you want that?”
“Of course not.”
“Good. Then please don’t. Tell your husband to call me if he heard or saw anything unusual last night.”
“I’ll call him right now. He should be driving home.”
“Thank you for your time.”
Ballard walked back to the street and went to the next house. And so it went. In the next hour she knocked on seven more doors and had conversations with residents at five of them. Nobody had any useful information. Two of the homes had a Ring camera on their door but a review of video from the night before provided nothing useful.
Ballard got back to Cindy Carpenter’s house just as Reno was packing the back of his electric ride.
“So, what’d you get?” Ballard asked.
“A big fat nothing,” Reno said. “These guys were good.”
“What about the screwdriver in the garage?”
“Wiped clean. Which means you were probably right. They used it to pop the door, then wiped it. Thing is, that garage door is loud. The springs creak, the motor grinds. If they got in that way, how come it didn’t wake her up?”
Ballard was about to explain to Reno that she thought at least one of the intruders was already in the house when Carpenter
got home from work. But she suddenly realized the fallacy of that theory. If they opened the garage with the remote from the car, then the car had to have been back at the house, meaning Carpenter was home from work. This changed her thinking on what connected the three victims.
“Good question,” Ballard said.
She wanted to get rid of him so she could work these new thoughts.
“Thanks for coming out, Reno,” she said. “I’m going to go back in.”
“Anytime,” Reno said.
Ballard went back up to the front door, knocked, and then entered. Carpenter was sitting on the couch.
“He’s leaving and I’ll get out of your hair as well,” Ballard said. “Are you sure there’s no one I can call for you?”
“I’m sure,” Carpenter said. “I’ll be fine. I’m getting a second wind now.”
Ballard wasn’t sure what a ‘second wind’ could be considering the trauma that had occurred. Carpenter seemed to read her.
“I’m thinking about my father,” she said. “I don’t remember who said it but he always quoted some philosopher when I would skin my knee or have something bad happen. He’d say, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Something like that. And that’s what I’m feeling now. I’m alive, I survived, I’ll get stronger.”