The building at 31st and Market streets where old police records were kept had once been the offices and publishing plant of the Evening Bulletin. The Bulletin, published from 1847 to 1982, was at one time the largest evening newspaper in the United States.
Now the massive and deceptively benign-looking building was fenced and sealed like Fort Knox, with concertina wire ringing the exposed public areas. The enormous brick wall that faced the parking lot rose more than four stories and boasted only five small windows near the roofline. A dozen or so parking-lot lights jutted from the wall like rusted bowsprits.
Jessica signed in at the gate, drove in, parked. She was about twenty minutes late, but had not spotted Byrne's van. She decided to wait in the car.
Before leaving the Roundhouse she had run Sharon Beckman and Jason Crandall through the databases. The kid had a misdemeanor possession charge from last year, a charge that was dropped when Jason did community service.
Sharon Beckman had no record.
Jessica thought about how the case was developing. The bizarre condition of Kenneth Beckman's corpse was still a mystery and indicated something that festered deep in the heart of the killer, something personal and twisted. She thought about the paper band wrapped around the victim's head, the way the cut traversed the forehead, the way the—
There was a loud sound, inches from her left ear, a cracking noise that made her jump. She spun in her seat, her hand automatically unsnapping her holster.
Byrne had tapped her window with his ring. Jessica slowly rolled down the window, making him wait in the drizzling rain.
'This is how people get shot, you know,' Jessica said.
'I could use the rest.'
She took her time getting out of the car, driving home her point. A minute later they entered the building, walked over to the elevators, shaking off the rain.
'Did you talk to Sharon Beckman again?' Jessica asked.
Byrne shook his head. 'She wasn't home,' Byrne said. 'Neither was Spicoli.'
Referencing the Sean Penn role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Byrne was, of course, referring to Jason Crandall. Jessica had no idea where Kevin Byrne's frame of cultural references began and ended.
In the extensive basement were records for thousands of crimes, some going back two hundred years, the residue of a city's shame: names, dates, weapons, wounds, witnesses. What was absent was the evidence of loss. There was no record to be found here of a father's tears, a son's loneliness, or a grandmother's empty Sundays.
Instead, here were block after block of huge steel shelving racks, some reaching twenty feet high, each packed firm with thousands of cardboard boxes, each box tagged with a white label detailing name of the deceased, case number, and year.
They split up the Beckman files. Byrne read the witness statements and forensic reports, while Jessica went through the original police reports and the notes written by the lead detective.
Just inside the binder was a picture of Antoinette Chan. She'd been a pretty girl, with flawless skin and a beguiling smile. Jessica moved on to the police report on Beckman.
Kenneth Arnold Beckman, born in 1970, was originally from the Brewerytown area of Philadelphia. At the time of Antoinette Chan's murder he had worked as a handyman for a pair of apartment complexes in Camden, and had lived in the Nicetown/Tioga area on Lenox Avenue.
By the age of twenty-nine he had been arrested five times for breaking and entering, twice convicted of possession of stolen merchandise.
In 2001 Beckman took his ten-year-old stepson Jason trick-or- treating on North 18th Street between Westmoreland and Venango. They went door to door, with Beckman accompanying the boy to each stoop. Some of the people in the neighborhood later remarked about how Beckman hovered a little too close to the door, how he seemed to be looking into the houses with a little too much interest as the little boy received his candy.
Over the next five months there were six burglaries in the neighborhood, all occurring during daylight hours when the residents were at work. Each time the same sort of items were stolen: cameras, jewelry, cash, MP3 players. Nothing too big to fit in a pillowcase.
A pair of astute divisional detectives noticed the pattern and created a photo lineup of people living in a one-mile radius of the break-ins who had a criminal history of burglaries. One of the people in that lineup was Kenneth Beckman.
After getting positive IDs of Beckman as someone who had come to neighborhood houses on Halloween, the detectives placed him under surveillance. Within a few days they followed him to a pawnshop in Chinatown, a known address for fencing stolen items. In forty-eight hours they set up a sting operation, with a detective posing as an employee of the shop. But Beckman, perhaps sensing a problem, never returned.
In mid-March 2002 they received a call from a young woman they had spoken to earlier, a woman named Antoinette Chan, the daughter of one of the burglary victims. She said she had gone down to her basement for the first time in a few weeks to do laundry and had seen a shoe print in the small lavatory off the furnace room. Whoever had broken into her house had come through the basement window. It appeared that the burglar had made a comfort stop. The original investigators had never looked in the lavatory.
The shoe print matched a size twelve Frye boot. Surveillance photos of Kenneth Beckman revealed him wearing the exact model.
Detectives visited Beckman's place of employment, only to discover that he had left.
When detectives arrived at the Beckman house on Lenox Avenue, search warrant in hand, they found a pair of PFD ladder trucks on the scene, and the block of row houses - four in all - ablaze. The old wooden structures burned to the ground in a matter of hours.
Across the street, sitting on a curb, smoking a cigarette, was Sharon Beckman. There was little doubt in anyone's mind about who had started the blaze, and no doubt at all why. Unfortunately for the investigators, there was no direct evidence. Sharon was not formally questioned or charged.
According to police, later that night Kenneth Beckman kidnapped Antoinette Chan, brought her to a location in South Philly and bludgeoned her to death. When Beckman was found in a motel in Allentown three days later and brought in for questioning, he dummied up and requested a lawyer.
Without any witnesses, and without any opportunity to search his house, all charges against Kenneth Arnold Beckman were dropped.
And now he was dead.
Jessica opened the folder with the crime-scene photos and felt her heart leap. 'Holy shit.'
'What?' Byrne asked.
Jessica put two of the Antoinette Chan crime-scene photos on the table, took out her iPhone, opened the photos folder, swiped over to her most recent photographs. She put the phone on the table, next to the printed pictures.
There was no mistake.
The man they had found dead that morning, Kenneth Arnold Beckman, the lead suspect in an eight-year-old murder case - that case being the bludgeoning to death of a young woman named Antoinette Chan - was posed inside a building on Federal, the same place where Antoinette Chan had been found.
Eight years before it became the Beckman crime scene it had been the Chan crime scene.
'The suspect in an unsolved homicide gets murdered himself and placed in the same location as his victim,' Jessica summed up.
'Yep,' Byrne said.
'As in exactly the same place. Posed in exactly the same position as the original victim.' She held up both the photograph and her cellphone. 'Kevin, these are absolutely identical crime-scene photos, only the second murder, our murder, was eight years later.'
'Eight and change, but yeah,' Byrne said. 'These are the facts as we know them.'
The two detectives looked at each other, knowing that this case had just crossed the line. It was now more than a vendetta murder, more than some act committed in the fiery grip of passion.
Jessica glanced again at the photographs. Some inner bell began to peal. In Philadelphia's history, any large city's history, there were many unsolved murders, victims of insanity and fury who for years went unavenged, evil echoing across time.
There was just such a legacy in the City of Brotherly Love, shame and guilt and madness that ran beneath the cobblestone streets like a blood river. Staring at photographs taken eight years apart, at the ragged flesh of two victims connected in a way neither she nor her partner yet understood, Detective Jessica Balzano wondered how much of this history they were about to see.