Thursday, 15 February 2007

Chapter 13: Dead Easy

There are many things not to like about being a homicide detective: finding the body of someone you know, telling a mother her child has been killed and knowing who the murderer is but not having enough evidence to put them away, but top of the list is the autopsies.

I don’t consider myself a squeamish person. I can deal with most of the dead bodies at crime scenes but it’s the scientific detail of autopsies I find difficult to stomach. Twenty-four hours earlier, the two people in front of me were living and breathing and shared their lives with people who loved them. Now they were just clues that hopefully contained some evidence and we were going to pull them apart to find it.

I stood over the body of Jeff Jones, the Mantek security guard with Agent Simpson and Doctor Joseph Schreiber. Doctor Schreiber was our forensics expert. He was a good guy, one of the few people I work with that I might consider a friend, but we had met on too many occasions.

“Dead easy this one,” said Doctor Schreiber. I had heard that line on too many occasions as well. Agent Simpson hadn’t heard that one before though and I was sure I saw a smile in the corner of her mouth. “He was beaten around the face for a while before the neck was broken.”

I looked the body up and down and noticed something odd. “There aren’t any marks on his hands. No bruising on the knuckles.”

“You’re right,” said the doctor.

“What does that tell us?” asked Agent Simpson.

“He didn’t land a punch,” I said, “he took a beating and died without fighting back. Sitting behind the desk, he must have seen his attacker coming but was overpowered very quickly.”

“The attacker was undoubtedly very powerful and a skilled combatant,” said the Doctor Schreiber, “look over here though, the other body is even more interesting.”

We turned around to look at the partially charred remains of lab assistant Daniel Johnson. Apart from the unnatural angle his head was positioned, the top half of his body was relatively unscathed. His legs were a different story. The flesh had melted away and all that remained on the bones were the remains of charred muscles and tendons.

“As you can see, there’s not much evidence we can get from the lower half of the body but the burns aren’t as bad across the torso. The spine is broken at the neck and there is also additional dark bruising around the neck area, as you can see.”

Doctor Schreiber pointed out long and thin bruises on one side of the neck. “A large hand probably made these marks.”

“Do you think he was choked?” Agent Simpson asked.

“It looks like it,” I replied, “he must have been choked then had his neck broken before the explosion.”

“That’s right,” said Doctor Schreiber, “there are no indications here that the explosion killed him. While the burns he sustained to his legs and body are severe, he would have had a fair chance of surviving. If he had been directly in front of the blast, the whole lab would have been decorated with his body.”

I saw Agent Simpson’s nose turn up at that thought.

“So his death was not accidental,” I continued, “and the attacker was probably in the building just before the explosion.”

“I agree”, said Doctor Schreiber, “these burns were sustained to a body that had only just expired.”

I looked at Agent Simpson and saw her nodding in agreement with what we were saying. She seemed hard-working and intense which can usually add up to bloody-mindedness but she appeared to be receptive to our conclusions. Maybe working with her wouldn’t be too bad.

Her phone rang and she answered it. She took a pen and pad out of her jacket and wrote something down then hung up. “That was from the team at Mantek,” she said, “We’ve got the address for Doctor Owen.”

Things were really moving along. At this rate, we’d have the investigation tied up by dinner time. I might be able to take my vacation after all.

“Let’s go,” I said as I headed for the door, happy just to be on my way out of the morgue.

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