Frank isn't gonna like this very much. Not that I'm a big fan, myself. Another girl, the third in as many months. That might confirm our suspicions: a serial killer. But this one's... different. So maybe it doesn't confirm shit. Shit.
Gotta get into this butcher's head. How does he isolate them in their own home? Does he know ahead of time that they live alone? If so, how? Why do they let him in? There has to be some level of trust here, right? But so far, there's nothing connecting the first two. They didn't know each other, no common friends or associates that we could find. The few things they do have in common don't help us a lick. They can't be expecting anything like this, so they must know him, or they wouldn't let him in. No signs of forced entry, no signs even of a struggle. Maybe this one will give us something. Look at me, looking at the bright side. Can't be nothing bright about a leg over here, an arm over there, and what he did to her before that... How do I get into a head like that, and do I even want to?
My partner and mentor walks in. The man, the myth, the legend. Lt. Frank Foley. "Hey, Troy. What've we got this time--shit... Fucker threw all four limbs all over the place this time."
That caught his attention. "Our victim's name is Denise Zimmerman. 28, single, lives alone. Friend of hers came by for their usual morning jog and found her like this. Looks like our guy at first glance, Frank, but I dunno, there are some differences. Nothing's missing this time, for one thing."
He hasn't looked away from the girl yet. He's made of steelier stuff than me. "So, the fucker didn't go all klepto. Maybe nothing of value?"
Straws, meet grasping. I point out all the goodies in the room. "Cell phone, iPad, wallet's upstairs in her bedroom with a few hundred bucks and some credit cards. A good amount of jewelry in plain sight, too. Maybe a copycat, or a different guy altogether?"
Still transfixed, he talks to the lifeless form in front of us. "Mmm, I don't see two different guys running around ripping arms and legs out of their sockets. Maybe he got spooked by something this time, left before he meant to." It’s like he's looking through the crime scene instead of examining it. Can't say I blame him.
"So he took his sweet time raping the poor girl, and dismembering her, but was in too much of a hurry to swipe some easy money?"
Great... Now he's ignoring me. Snap out of it!
Out of deep thought he comes, but it's almost as if I'm not even there. He just keeps staring at the former Ms. Zimmerman. "Why steal at all from the first two? Seems petty, frivolous. He can't be getting much of a thrill out of theft, when he's got some sexual fantasy and his fucked up butcher job. Doesn't add up."
Serial killers like easy money, too, maybe? What do I know? I'm still pretty new to this. You're supposed to be the expert. I never saw anything like this in SAIU. Since I transferred from Sexual Assaults to Homicide, I’ve found a whole new meaning for the word “lowlife.” "Dismemberment is obviously bigger this time. Maybe he's escalating because the thrill of taking some keepsake trophies is gone." No reaction, back into his own world, it seems. “There’s something else. There’s obviously a whole lot more blood this time, but even more than we’d expect for a quadruple amputee bleeding out post-mortem.”
I expect a sideways glance, at the very least, but nothing. He’s completely focused on her. “You’re sayin’ she was alive when he did this shit?”
“We’ll want Michelle to confirm, but yeah, possibly. We're pulling for prints and DNA. Maybe he slipped up this time."
Frank doesn't even look my way. It's as if he's talking to himself, rather than a fellow detective. "That would be very nice of him, but he hasn't proven to be a very nice guy up to this point. Real good at covering his tracks, even his literal fuckin’ tracks." Right, no footprints this time either, even with all this blood. It looks like they've been smeared away completely, like a piece of art on the floor. This guy's good. Oh hey, eye contact! "I take it no witnesses again?"
I wish I had better news, instead of going through the usual paces to find something, anything. "We're going up and down the block, but nothing yet. No unfamiliar vehicles, no one noticed anyone suspicious walking around the neighborhood, just some light foot traffic like usual. But if this one's like the others, it was dark when he entered, or at least when she was killed, and these people don't hang out on their porches or stare out their windows. Don't seem like the nosey neighbor types."
And there he goes, lost in thought again. I know he's a great detective, and a damn good profiler. It's almost like he has a sixth sense sometimes. He can be spooky like that. But he seems off with this one, even more than with the first two. Each poor soul we've found has bothered him a little bit more. If I didn't know any better, I'd think it was personal to him. Sure, he's under some pressure, and will be even more so after this one, but he doesn't seem as sharp, as laser-focused as I'm used to seeing him. Heh, maybe it's just that the luster of the legend that is Frank Foley is wearing off a little.
Look at that girl. I've been trying not to, but I need to face her. How can I help her if I look away and pretend I can't see what's there? Well, I can't help her, exactly, but maybe she can help us help the next girl, prevent anyone else from winding up like this. It's hard telling their families, but I'm betting it's harder being their loved ones. I don't think I'll ever forget the looks on their faces, especially the ones who had to identify the remains. I got into this business to stop shit like this, not to relay the news, not to see the tears of dejection, not to hear the gut-wrenching sobs. So yeah, let's take another close look, see if I missed anything before Frank got here.
Her shirt, skirt, and underwear are scattered across the room, thrown haphazardly. He never did that before. The last two, their clothes were folded nice and neat and placed in a corner. We thought that was weird, but it had to be important somehow, or at least it seemed to be, before this scene. And obviously, the dismemberment is more … thorough than before. The first girl only had one arm torn off, the second girl, just a leg.
I still can't believe all her arms and legs were ripped off, literally pulled apart, but it's plain as day, definitely not cut with a saw or some other tool. God, I really hope I’m wrong and she wasn't alive for that part. She's much more petite than the first two, but the guy still had to be super strong to pull this off. Ugh, glad I didn't say that out loud. Frank would've ripped me a new one. He used to throw dark jokes like that around all the time, to relieve some of the stress and tension we all feel on these jobs. But not lately, and even I don't see much cause for morbid humor at this point. I just never know how he's gonna take it anymore.
This time, it's him snapping me out of deep thought. "He knows to hit dark side streets in quieter neighborhoods, so he has to scope them out beforehand. He might have even met them and talked to them prior, so they trust him when he comes knocking. We've got to work that angle again, comb over all their recent interactions with any businesses, coworkers, friends."
This is the Frank I know. "I did notice this one has satellite TV, same as the others. Maybe he's an employee, gains entry through a service call or something."
That look. He knows I'm grasping at straws now, too. "There were no scheduled appointments with the first two, so I’m guessing the same here. Besides they stop their house calls at 8 o’clock…" His expression changes slightly, as though he can sense my frustration. "Still, maybe he shows up later, makes an excuse to check something out. Let's talk to their people again. The first two didn't have anyone common in their circle of friends, coworkers, or family, but now we'll have to check on Ms. Zimmerman here to see if any dots connect with one or both of the others."
Man, he knows how to read me. Give me something to work with, at least, let me learn a little by doing. A nudge in the right direction, here and there. I appreciate that, really I do. I just wish he would do it without sounding patronizing. Anyway, hope it's not another dead end.
One of the CSU officers gathering evidence comes into the room, for the first time, given his audible gasp and the look on his face. He quickly turns and runs into the bathroom. We hear him lose his lunch. Another officer looks up at us, shaking his head. "Rookies."
That's the kind of thing Frank used to say to calm everyone's nerves. Instead, he just looks at Ms. Zimmerman again, and leaves the room. Even he seems a little nauseated this time, and to be honest, so am I.
Later on, down at the morgue, we confirm a few things with the Chief Medical Examiner. "The muscle and ligament tearing is definitely consistent with the last two. Likely the same perp, if you want my preliminary opinion, Lieutenant Foley. Though, as you know, I can't confirm anything officially until after the autopsy. I also won’t be able to confirm your suspicions that she was alive during dismemberment until then, but the blood loss is certainly consistent with that."
I can't help but jump in. "Michelle, what about the sexual assault. Same as the others, too?"
I can tell this irks Frank, but why? "I'm not so sure there was any. There are no physical signs of struggle. No skin or blood under their fingernails, no bruising, and no vaginal tearing. And there's lubricant, particulate, and spermicide residue that match the first two, so there's always condom use. If you ask me, this may have been consensual."
Frank shakes his head adamantly. "No fuckin’ way, Michelle, not a chance. If it was just one girl, sure, maybe there's a lover's spat afterwards, and the guy loses it. But this is three now. The condoms are just to prevent DNA evidence, which would be harder for him to erase from the scene than his prints and hair. And these women, their friends say none of them are dating anyone, and aren’t the one-night stand types."
She admits they could have been date raped, “But there were no drugs in their systems, so they would have to have been scared stiff, not to resist."
I do have a theory, but have been afraid to lob it Frank's way before now. "They were all on a few dating sites, including Ms. Zimmerman here. Maybe this guy keeps getting lucky." A skeptical look, which I expect. "Now, hear me out. I know none of them were on the same service, but maybe he casts a wide net. He knows we'd track him too easily if he kept hitting girls from the same site."
He still seems doubtful, but he knows we should follow up on whatever leads, no matter how thin. "Maybe. Why don't you have tech do another, deeper search? Look for any males who pop up on all these sites, and has had any contact with any two or three of these women. Michelle, is there anything else you can tell us?"
"Yes, I re-examined each of the first two victims, again, like you asked, looked for any signs of being bound." Frank raises an eyebrow in anticipation, but Michelle dashes his hopes. "Nothing. Told you I wouldn't have missed that."
"Yeah, yeah, can't blame me for asking. Don't look so fucking smug, huh?"
As we head back to the station, I can’t help but bring up something that’s been bugging me since we found Denise Zimmerman. “If this girl was alive, Frank, why didn’t anyone hear her scream when he started pulling her apart? I can understand being too frightened to yell while he’s raping her, just hoping it’ll be over soon and he’ll go away. But when he doesn’t, she’s gotta know his goal is to kill her.”
He stops staring out the window for a moment. “Well, if she wasn’t bound or gagged, she must’ve been unconscious, is my guess. Though how she didn’t wake up once the fucker started tearing her limb from limb…”
He nods and grunts, staring out the window again, taking in the smells, sounds, and sights of the city.
"What's on your mind, Frank?"
He takes a minute, but I can tell he's not ignoring me this time, at least, just calculating his response. "It's a big, sprawling city, Troy. Not like San Francisco. Down here, there are lots of quiet neighborhoods."
He's right, of course. In San Francisco, there's no room for sprawl, not many quiet, sparsely populated streets. Between that, the foot traffic, and the cameras, someone like our friend the Ripper would be spotted pretty quickly, I think. Man, those SFPD guys have it easy.
Here in San Jose, you drive for miles just to get to the next highway. Lots of little hoods to prowl in. This guy keeps hitting Blossom Valley, a perfect target. Not much traffic off of the main roads after rush hour, not many pedestrians at all, and these neighborhoods don't have lots of security cameras, save for the paranoid pool owners, and those always face into their yards. Even the yellow streetlights, which are great in aiding the observatory to keep the night sky dark, also help our predator stick to the shadows a little easier.
"There are lots of spots for these guys to hit in the dead of night."
These guys? Okay, now he's lost it. "Are you saying I might be right? Copycat?"
He turns to me, a look of concern in his eyes, a look I've never seen from Frank Foley before. "No. I'm saying he's not working alone. He has help, and they're escalating. If we don't act fast, we're gonna have a lot of bodies, and many more petrified young ladies."