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By Edwin F. Becker
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Edwin F. Becker
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Chapter OneHe sat, watching and waiting patiently, as a skilled predator would do. Like a lion watching a grazing herd of zebras, he focused on a group of children not a hundred yards away, on the opposite side of the park. As the sun began to set, he knew they would begin walking home, and like the lion that would wait for a single zebra to drift away from the herd, he waited for that one child that might not follow the crowd and go off in a different direction. Somewhere, a mother and father were unaware that this predator was stalking their innocent child. He sat inconspicuously on a bench pretending to read the paper, but all the while keeping track of the children, as he waited for his opportunity to arise.
He is a registered sex offender. He is one of more than 500 that live in the Springfield, Missouri area. He is attracted to young boys and has been arrested twice, serving nearly two years on charges plea-bargained down to sexual molestations. He has a parole officer he rarely sees and medication that he rarely takes. Like any skilled predator, he waits for the right moment to pounce. As these children begin to wander home, he only needs to follow one, and his instincts and illness will take over. His van is already in place near the soccer field where the children are playing. His eyes dart about, and no one seems to notice him—although he is aware of everything in his surroundings. His excitement is building because soon it will be time to make his move.
David H. Peterson is 27 years old. Blonde with blue eyes, he has the face of innocence. He moved to Springfield from Texas only six months earlier. He works at a local dollar store and had stopped taking his medication weeks ago. He had been molesting boys since his early teens. He fondled a boy in public swimming pool and was caught at age 17. It was plea-bargained down to sexual misconduct and he was free on probation. Working as a preschool attendant, he was caught again and convicted of multiple counts of child molestations and served 2 years of a five year sentence. He quickly relocated to Missouri. In reality, he had tainted the lives of a hundred children, and found it easy to get jobs that allowed him to do so. He truly did intend to try and make a clean start in Springfield, but without medication and supervision, his illness overwhelmed him. His urge is stronger than ever, and his plan is to take a child off the street. As a two time offender, he is aware that he could not leave even a shred of evidence. This child would not survive what David has planned.
He noticed an old man walking in his direction, slowly cutting across the park. He was likely the only one to take notice, as senior citizens are considered the 'invisible generation.' The old man had a cane and appeared to be breathing from a small oxygen tank attached to his chest, as there was a thin hose running up to his nose. The predator watched the old man, thinking 'Come on you old fart, can you move any slower?' The old man kept moving in his direction, lumbering across the field in a path that would cross directly in front of him. His eyes darted about, watching as daylight faded and the children began gathering their gear in preparation to leave. If the timing was right, the old man would pass him by and he would begin moving toward the children, picking his prey. 'No one will take notice,' he thought.
The old man moved slowly, but was also watching the predator out the corner of his eye. This was no ordinary senior citizen, as he was out to rid the world of one despicable human mistake. His name was Jack Blaine, and he was dying from lung cancer.
He too, was actually a predator. He knew his prey, as he had seen his picture on the registered sex offender website. The closer he got, the more he focused on his target and was now gasping from his oxygen tank. When he finally crossed in front of the bench, he stopped as if resting for a moment. The predator glanced up at him, disgusted. The old man looked him in the eyes and spoke softly. "Today is not your day, David."
David looked surprised. "Do I know you?" he asked. He did not recognize this short, frail old man gasping for air.
"No, David, but I know you," the old man answered. It was the last thing that David H. Peterson expected. Leaning on his cane, the old man put his hand in his pocket, raised the pocket to David's chest level, and quickly fired 3 shots. The gun was a .22 caliber pistol loaded with long rifle, hollow-point bullets. The barrel had four inches of pipe insulation, which silenced the noise to barely 3 muffled pops. All three shots hit the center of David's chest. He was dead instantly and slumped forward, dropping the newspaper. In Jack's mind, it was as if everything moved in slow motion, when in reality it was only a few seconds.
Jack looked across the field as the children went on their way, and smiled as he kept walking. He could pick up the pace a bit now, as he was soon out of the park and walking to a strip mall where he had left his car. As he entered his car, as far as he knew, no one noticed a thing. He had committed a perfect crime. The first thing he reached for was his water bottle, as his mouth was parched. He sat there feeling relieved as well as having a strong feeling of accomplishment. He slowly pulled his car out onto the street and headed for the interstate, turning south to Branson, where he would meet his accomplice.
It was about a 25 minute drive and he had plenty of time to replay the event in his mind. He had stalked his victim and knew that David would be in that park at that exact time. Jack also knew that it was only a matter of time before another child was harmed. He felt no guilt, as he was truly taking out the garbage, in his reasoning. In retrospect, he could not believe how good it felt to pull the trigger. He was now on his way to Elmer's, an out of the way pub in the old section in the city of Branson.
This was not the type of crime one might expect in this beautiful area of the Ozark Mountains, sometimes called the buckle of the Bible belt. This corner of southwest Missouri bragged more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the country. The largest city in the area was Springfield, which contains an ever-growing economy and a population that has made it the 3rd largest in the state. However, it also shelters one of the highest rates of sex offenders, one of the highest rates of spousal abuse, and more illegal meth labs than any other city. So much so, meth is referred to as "417" across the country, since 417 is area code for the Springfield/Branson area. This land of lakes and green mountains with its conservative Christian standards and a reputation for maintaining family values and honoring veterans, had a very ugly underside.
Joe Beck was sitting in Elmer's, slumped in a booth, watching the television. It was near eight in the evening, and was a chilly October night. He anxiously waited for Jack, and together they would watch the nine o'clock news. Jack entered and slowly walked to the booth with the help of his cane. He was smiling.
Elmer's was not the type of place that attracted tourists in this tourist-driven town. It is located in what is the oldest corner of the city proper. With few windows and an old beer sign, one might never guess they made some of the best pizza and sandwiches in the area. This was maybe the last place left that locals considered their own.
You had to adjust your eyes when walking into Elmer's, as it was always dark. Immediately you were facing the bar with its regulars drinking beer from their chilled mugs while watching a cable channel. Beyond the bar were a few tables and comfortable booths that lined the walls. In the farthest corner booth sat Joe.
"I guess this makes it one down?" Jack said as he approached. Joe just smiled ear to ear.
"You did it, you old fart!" he blurted.
"Yeah, it was exactly as we planned. It was clean; I don't think a single person saw what happened. I guess we will watch the news and see. The best part is that I don't give a shit. What are they going to do, give me the death penalty?" Jack laughed, but soon began coughing. They both sat knowing that Jack had less than a year to live.
"You okay?" Joe asked as he popped a pain pill and washed it down with beer. They shared a common denominator, because Joe Beck was also dying and had less than a year to live; likely less than 6 months before he would be bed ridden, as a result of stomach cancer. They had met at a support group run by the local hospital. The purpose of the group was to share their feelings and learn to cope with the inevitable, as each member was dying. Jack and Joe each came from very different backgrounds and had led very different lives; only impending death had brought them together. Joe was divorced and worked in manufacturing as an engineer. Jack had an accounting background, had pushed paper most of his life, and was a widower. His wife died suddenly only a year before. Both were Baby Boomers and had moved to Branson in semi-retirement.
They became friends immediately, as they always seemed to agree on the sad state of this society. Their opinions were the same, whether it was on the criminal system with its revolving doors, the lying politicians, or the young people with no respect for authority. All of this made them both angry. They had exhibited clearly to the rest of the group that they not only didn't fear dying, but that they almost looked forward to leaving what each considered to be a very screwed up world.
Jack was the last person one might expect to do such a deed. He was short, at 5' 6", and cancer had taken its toll on his weight. He was slight of build, pale, and near bald after recently failed chemotherapy. Joe, on the other hand, was 6" 3", and built like a bull. He had refused any therapy and at this point, could still eat aside from the pain in his stomach, which would only get more intense over time. Joe still looked healthy at age 59, while Jack, at age 61, appeared 10 years older.
Joe reached out to shake Jack's hand. "You did it, you ballsy old shit! You did it!" Joe leaned in towards Jack over the table, excited to hear the details. "Now, I guess it's my turn. Since there were no cops chasing you, I guess we can watch the news and see what the story is. Talk to me. How did it feel? Any last minute nerves?" Jack proceeded to tell the specifics of what had happened.
"It was strange. I was most worried about being noticed, or having something happen that would interrupt my plan, like people standing near him or whatever. Besides my mouth getting dry and my hand shaking a bit, I felt nothing but accomplishment when I reached my car. I can still see the look of surprise in his eyes as I shot him. That bastard was stalking those kids. He won't be bothering kids anymore, that's for sure," Jack stated proudly.
"Man, you've got courage, no doubt about that!" Joe stated emphatically.
"Courage? Courage is something that a man who has nothing to lose can easily afford," Jack said softly.
* * *
Meanwhile, in Springfield, the police already had the area taped off as a crime scene. Moving amongst the uniforms was a young detective dressed smartly in a suit. Wayne Higdon was the best Springfield had, but far from what one might find in a seasoned urban detective. Not that he was unskilled, but Wayne was only experienced to the level of crime normally seen in his city. Higdon is tall and dark haired, his build is athletic and his broad smile disarming. He studied everything about the scene. His partner, Sam Watson, was 'old-school' and perplexed at the wave of crime that had converged on Springfield in the recent years.
Springfield was becoming "urban" and growing by leaps and bounds. With over six colleges (one being a major university) and two Springfield/ Branson airports, Springfield, dubbed the "Queen City of the Ozarks," has grown to a population of nearly 300,000 in a relatively short amount of time. Along with that growth came a tidal wave of new crimes. Sam was used to simple burglaries, where he canvassed the local pawn shops and quickly found his leads. Homicides were once only the result of domestic disputes or drunken arguments escalating out of hand. Now, the street gangs had moved in and were fighting for territory. Revenge killings, drive bys, and home invasions were all new occurrences. Random robberies have become rampant, as well as hate crimes involving race and sexual preference. At age 48, Sam was already thinking of early retirement.
Sam looked the part of a southern detective. His good old boy manner and retro short hair cut gave him the appearance of a farmer dressed up for Sunday service. Although the two were quite different, Sam regarded Wayne almost as a son. He also appreciated Wayne's talent at using all the sophisticated techniques, becoming more and more necessary in solving crimes. Sam had a wealth of experience, but Wayne was the future, and together they made a good team.
After taking it all in, he hollered "Hey boy, what do you think?"
Wayne walked over, deep in thought. "Sam, this is a real puzzle. The shooter stood right in front of the victim, not more than a few feet away. No ejected shells, like a gang hit, and it was a small caliber bullet. The victim either knew the shooter, or was not threatened, because he just sat there and made no struggle to move or get away. He has all his money, his wallet and his jewelry, so it wasn't a robbery. We'll wait for the autopsy, but it appears to be a small caliber gun, three shots to the heart ... pretty much screams execution? Plus, no one heard anything. I suppose it's possible the weapon was equipped with a silencer."
Sam immediately responded. "Well, we got to find out who this guy really was. What was his background? Maybe this is a pissed off husband type thing ... you know, a love triangle gone badly? He sure doesn't look like any person one might take a contract out on. Anybody see anything?"
Wayne scratched his head. "Nothing seems unusual. Kids playing soccer at the other end of the field, this guy sitting and reading the paper, and possibly an old man was seen walking through here."
Sam sighed. "Strange that he was reading the paper, as it was getting dark or already dark depending on the estimated time of death. Maybe we can find out if he was here to meet someone? Someone in his life may know who he was here to meet. I would keep a few officers canvassing. We should take this back to the office and start searching based on what we have so far."
Wayne agreed. "I have the feeling that this will either be a quick solve, or we will really have a major puzzle and no in between."
As they moved toward the car, they had to weave their way through the cameras and local reporters doing their work. They knew to keep their heads down and to not make eye contact, or they would become besieged with flash bulbs and questions.
* * *
In Branson, Joe and Jack shared the experience as the News came on. Apparently, with no real facts, the media gave it an attractive spin.
A MAN IN HIS LATE TWENTIES WAS SHOT IN SUNSET PARK. HIS NAME IS BEING WITHHELD UNTIL NOTIFICATION OF HIS NEXT OF KIN. LIKELY THIS WAS A GANG-RELATED SHOOTING.
Joe and Jack sat back and just smiled. Jack asked "So? When do you officially join the club?"
Joe answered without hesitation. "Tomorrow. My guy is an easy one. He works in northwest Springfield, near the airport. Almost every night he leaves work, eats at a fast food place, and then drives out to an adult pornography store. He usually spends a couple hours in there and then does who-knows-what. The store is off I-44, set back off the road, and the parking area is hidden in back, so people passing by can't see the cars of people who frequent the place. If I'm lucky it will be dark when he comes out tomorrow, and I'll get him when he gets in his car to leave."
It all began a month ago when they had sat in this same booth, watching the news about a 12 year old girl that had been raped and killed by her stepfather. Unfortunately, her new stepfather was a convicted pedophile. They both had shed a tear, because both were grandfathers and knew the pain of what a crime like that might bring. It was that very night Joe actually made a prophetic statement that would result in their actions. "I should kill that son of a bitch! What could they possibly do? I'm a dead man anyway." After that comment, they both sat in deep thought, each knowing what the other was thinking. It made perfect sense. They were invulnerable to any legal repercussions.
"Why the hell not?" Jack asked. "You are right. We could easily take a few of these scum bags out and likely die before they even figure out who did it. Shoot, I have a gun collection that would easily do the job." It was an amazing transformation that these two men, waiting for death, now suddenly had a reason and new purpose to live.
They quickly found that they could get a list of sex offenders on the web for each city in the state, complete with pictures and a detailed list of convictions. They found it shocking. Springfield had a list of over 500! Even Branson had a list of 35. They found it was only a few days of stalking to figure out where they worked, and following them after-hours proved, initially, that most of these people engage in routine lives with little exception. They decided that they would eliminate as many as they could with what little time each had left.
Tonight their plans became reality. They had eliminated one sex offender off the list. They knew who to go after because they could see the offender's exact record. It was only logical that the offenders that had two convictions were likely the most dangerous. The reason being that with the three strike law, any sex offender with two convictions would likely escalate their crime to murder in order to avoid having any evidence that would allow them to be convicted a third time, which would result in getting life in prison. Statistically, the most violent sex crimes are committed by repeat convicted offenders. So it would be those repeat offenders that would become their targets.
Excerpted from DEATH List by Edwin F. Becker Copyright © 2012 by Edwin F. Becker. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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