Jack had Hen read the notes she’d taken over the phone with the county coroner from the preliminary findings. Sharing this information before the formal report was done was not common practice unless you were a detective in the police office down the street from her office. The only reason she’d been inclined to share things that might be pertinent to the early investigation with a team an hour away in a town some 2000 feet above her was because Hen was her ex-sister-in law and whom she liked better than her own brother. The lab tech down there either wasn’t as kind or the tests would actually take several more hours before we would know what killed the dog. Hen had confirmed her suspicion about an injection with the coroner after describing what she’d found.
We stood with our hands in our pockets (lame attempts at keeping them warm), studying the empty timeline, the photographs taken with a camera borrowed from the department in Southtown, and a cast someone had made of a foot print in the ground around the dog. Nobody spoke while our minds raced. This quiet pandemonium ensued for nearly 20 minutes. It was Jack’s rule – a trick picked up in his younger days as an MPI (Military Police Investigator) in the Army. Just seconds before we were all about to bust open in thought streams, he silently uncapped a marker and wrote three letters on the right side of the board where he’d asked Tom to leave some space. The BOLO on the truck hadn’t returned anything yet.
“Motive. Means. Victims. Let’s take turns on these three areas based on what we’ve just worked out or questioned in our heads. Give me what you know, or ask a question for each of us to pontificate on and see what we can string together.”
Tom, a Deputy who had been with Jack the longest, was new to investigation. He was the patrol guy that handed out warnings or tickets if you pissed him off. He was the guy that mostly sat in the office when he was on shift and did the minimum drive time required. He wasn’t lazy, just bored. Jack asked him to stay on shift when we had all convened because he wanted a different, untrained perspective. I could tell there was more to Jack’s plan in this regard than the others understood. Tom was getting an experience he’d not had his entire time on the team. If this sparked more motivation in him, more energy, he would stay on that much longer and Jack wouldn’t have to hire yet another replacement for a hard-to-fill position. He’d gone through eight people since I’d moved here two years ago. That had to be tough. Tom had been solid throughout, but it was clear he was winding down and looking elsewhere. There’s nothing worse than donating forty hours of your life every week to a monotonous, thankless job.
“What do you want for ‘means’ up there, Jack?” Tom asked.
“What does the evidence tell you about the ‘means’ used in each aspect of the crime? Things like, ‘did they use a lock pick?’ or ‘what kind of weapons did they use?’ Anything that will point us to the unsub’s skill set, knowledge, strengths or weaknesses. What they use and how they do things helps ID what kind of person they are inside and out. Get it?”
Tom nodded an affirmative and glanced, self-consciously at us. He shifted his gaze to the filtered headlight gliding over the window drape and appeared almost starry-eyed when he said, “It don’t seem right, what he did to that dog.”
We all acknowledged the observation in our self-imposed silence now. He’d spoken what had eaten at me since I had heard Hen’s report. “I think that speaks more truth about this guy than what was inside the house. He killed the people inside without shedding any blood and without any weird ritualistic or fetish crap you might see in a serial killer. He killed nearly an entire household, something I would usually align with rage or a crime of passion, but I don’t see much rage in the way he did it. But the dog …” I trailed off, a lump forming in my throat. I really needed a antacid.
“Overkill.” Hen was always one for few words with deep meaning.
“Like he hates dogs or at least this one. I seen dogs killed with poison, but never like this.” Our acceptance of Tom’s opening statement had dropped his guard and I could see he was feeling more comfortable.
“You guys keep saying ‘he.’ Are we sure the unsub is male?” Jack played his role as facilitator as he wrote “poison” in the “Means” section, and “family” next to “V.”
“I think there’s a 90% chance our subject is male,” I said, “because I think he knew her.”
“True. Not much struggle from her in the event she was awake. The sheet … and rolling her over. Seems like he didn’t want to look at her or the shape of her face.” Hen pointed to the sheet covered woman and momentarily stepped closer, as if she was looking for something to grab at inside the picture’s realm. “He stuck around in that room for awhile or else returned after he’d finished with the others. Why else would he roll her over like that?”
I was careful how I phrased a response to this. “Suffocation isn’t like strangulation. A pillow held over the face takes a long time to deprive the brain of oxygen and make her pass out. It also leaves her arms and legs free to kick and fight. There would have been noise from a struggle like that. If she fought, it was too little too late. But there’s no bruising or scraping on her arms or hands and you said her nails were clean. So how does he enter the room, reach over her and grab the pillow next to her head, place it over her face and hold it there for two to five minutes without a struggle?”
I left this question hang before answering it. “She was out cold. Either passed out from drugs or alcohol maybe, or something else. But there’s no other way the body lets its life-giving oxygen be withheld, even if the mind is willing, without instinctively fighting. He knew it too. That’s why he turned her over. If she’d been awake, or even cognizant of what was happening, he would have been able to tell if the job was finished. But he couldn’t feel if the body had given up. So he turned her face into the pillow at some point. That way, if she did move to get air, he’d know. If she didn’t, he’d know it was over.”
Jack had frantically scribbled notes on his “MMV” outline as we’d talked. Tom had grabbed a chair and was slouched, scratching his face stubble and watching Jack write. Meanwhile, I realized I may have said too much. Hen was staring at me with a furrowed brow, her hands on her hips, and her eyes asking me who the hell I was.