Chapter 35


    They met in the boss's office. In the room, besides Dana Westbrook, were Russell Diaz, Nicci Malone, Nick Palladino, Josh Bontrager and Dennis Stansfield.

    Byrne drew two triangles on the white board. On the first triangle he wrote a name at the top. Antoinette Chan. At the bottom left he wrote Kenneth Beckman. Bottom right, Sharon Beckman.

    'Let's start with Antoinette Chan,' Byrne said. 'Let's say for the sake of argument that Beckman killed her. And let's say that Sharon Beckman was his accomplice, in that she set fire to their house to destroy any evidence. Kenneth Beckman's body was found at the original Chan crime scene. Sharon Beckman's was found on Antoinette Chan's grave. Killer, accomplice and victim, all joined in this triangle, each point completed.'

    Byrne moved over to the second triangle. At the top he put a question mark. At the lower left he wrote John Doe. At the lower right, another question mark.

    'Now, if our bad boy is some kind of vigilante, righting old wrongs, and his MO is to take out the lead suspect in an unsolved homicide and leave the body at the original crime scene, then move on to an accomplice and dump that body on the grave of the original victim, I think we can extrapolate a bit here.'

    Byrne pointed at the bottom left of the second triangle.

    'Because our John Doe was found on the street, we can assume that he was someone who our guy believes was responsible for a homicide that took place at that location. Who the victim was, and who the accomplice was, we won't know until we track down the original crime. We have to start here. Unless we can turn up a witness, it's the only move.'

    Byrne turned to Nicci. 'Nothing on the John Doe's prints yet?'

    Nicci shook her head. 'The guy was a crackhead. His fingers are so burned we couldn't get a good print. Still working on it, though.'

    Byrne nodded. 'Okay, then we'll have to find a homicide committed at the corner of Second and Poplar.'

    There were audible moans around the room. This was going to be a paper chase.


    Six detectives pored over homicide binders for cases from the past thirty years. Unfortunately, there was no way to search the electronic databases based on where a homicide had been committed, or by status. It all had to be done by hand. It was tedious work, having to read each file. Not all of them had been filled out properly or even legibly. It was almost a peer review of the detectives who had worked in the unit over the past three decades.

    Jessica flipped through the books covering 2003 to 2007. Case after case her eyes jumped from the name of the victim to the date, to the crime-scene location. Case after case took her on a grotesque tour of her city, its crimes of violence, its victims and perpetrators. It occurred to her more than once that she had been to virtually all these places, many times, often with her family as a child, or with Sophie and Vincent, blissfully unaware that someone in her city's past had been murdered there.

    Every so often Jessica got up and fetched herself a fresh cup of coffee, hoping to keep on mission. The names and addresses all started to blend together, and the danger of finding herself daydreaming carried with it the hazard that she would have no idea how long she had been drifting and therefore no idea how far she needed to go back.

    Fresh cup, a quick stretch, and back at it. Mid-2004. The page on which she had stopped told a charming little tale of a man who had shot his wife eleven times for having an affair with the UPS man. Jessica wondered if the guy delivered.

    You're getting loopy, Jess.

    She flipped a page.

    'Here it is!' she shouted, almost before she knew it.

    The other five detectives got up, all but ran over to her.

    'June 21, 2004. DOA found in a Dumpster near Second and Poplar. Victim's name was Marcellus Palmer.'

    A quick scan of the page told them the basics. Marcellus Palmer had been indigent, forty-one years old. He was found bludgeoned to death, his pockets turned inside out, his shoes missing. Jessica made a mental note, as she assumed Byrne did as well, that the COD was the same as for Antoinette Chan. Bludgeoned. Perhaps the connection was there.

    They would have to go to Record Storage to get the full file, but they had made a start.

    Jessica looked at the photo clipped to the summary. The new crime scene was literally a few feet from where Palmer's body had been found. It was one of Kevin Byrne's old stomping grounds as a patrolman.

    'What's the status?' Bontrager asked.

    'Open case,' Jessica said.


    'The main suspect, also homeless, was a man named Preston Braswell, thirty-one at the time. Never charged.'

    Nicci Malone sat down at a computer terminal, typed in the name. A few seconds later she had a hit. And a picture. 'That's him. Preston Braswell is our John Doe.'

    The other detectives crowded around the terminal. The photograph on the screen was that of a younger, cleaner version of the John Doe. A positive match.

    They now had two separate cases where the original suspect in a homicide case was found murdered and had been dumped in the precise same spot as the original homicide. One of the cases had the accomplice dumped on the grave site of the original victim. They had every reason to believe it was about to happen again. If it hadn't happened already.

    Nicci sprang to her feet. Dino helped her with her coat, put on his own. 'We're off to Record Storage,' Dino said. 'Stand by.'

    As Nicci and Dino left, Jessica and Byrne returned to the white board. Byrne erased the question mark at the top of the triangle on the right, then replaced it with the name Marcellus Palmer. He then erased the question mark at the lower left, replaced it with the name Preston Braswell.

    Jessica took a step back, looked at the growing mountain of evidence connected with these three cases. There were three binders on the desk, each with a thickening group of folders within. She glanced at Byrne.

    He was staring at something else.

    He was staring at the final question mark on the board.


    Twenty minutes later they got a call from Nicci Malone. She had the box of files on the 2004 murder of Marcellus Palmer. She was just about to fax over the suspect and witness list. Jessica put the phone on speaker.

    'How bad is it?' Jessica asked.

    'Put on your Nikes. The initial list has seventy-one names.'


    'Yeah. The homeless are a social group,' Nicci said. 'But it looks like there were four men besides Preston Braswell who we liked more than the others. They were all questioned and released. I think we should try to track them down first.'

    Before our killer does, Jessica thought.

    A few minutes later they received the fax with the four names. Jessica found them all in the system and printed off what information they had on the men, including the most recent photographs.

    Because there was no information on where Marcellus Palmer was buried they would have to start on the street.

    For years, and with no small sense of irony, many homeless had huddled in the park directly across from the police administration building, in what is known as Franklin Square. In general, the homeless congregate where they are fed. Not much had changed in the past twenty-five years.

    The detectives divvied up the names and photographs of the four men, as well as the locations of the shelters. They would work these interviews solo, as there were too many places to visit in teams, and time was short.

    Jessica would take Old City.

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