Read an Excerpt
Five hours had elapsed since the death of Fat Ollie Watts, his girlfriend, Monica Mulrane, and the shooter, as yet unidentified. I had been interviewed by a pair of detectives from Homicide, neither of whom I knew. Walter Cole did not participate. I was brought coffee twice but otherwise I was left alone after the questionings. Once, when one of the detectives left the room to consult with someone, I caught a glimpse of a tall, thin man in a dark linen suit, the ends of his shirt collar sharp as razors, his red silk tie unwrinkled. He looked like a fed, a vain fed.
The wooden table in the interrogation room was pitted and worn, caffeine-stamped by the edges of hundreds, maybe thousands, of coffee cups. At the left-hand side of the table, near the corner, someone had carved a broken heart into the wood, probably with a nail. And I remembered that heart from another time, from the last time I sat in this room.
"Walt, it ain't a good idea for him to be here."
Walter looked at the detectives ranged around the walls, slouched on chairs around the table.
"He's not here," he said. "As far as everyone in this room is concerned, you never saw him."
The interrogation room was crowded with chairs and an additional table had been brought in. I was still on compassionate leave and, as it happened, two weeks away from quitting the force. My family had been dead for two weeks and the investigation had so far yielded nothing. With the agreement of Lieutenant Cafferty, soon to retire, Walter had called a meeting of detectives involved in the case and one or two others who were regarded as some of the best homicide detectives in the city.Io I'll take it slowly." She paused for a moment. "Detective Parker, you may find some of this difficult." There was no apology in her voice; it was a simple statement of fact. I nodded and she continued. "What we're dealing with here appears to be sexual homicide, sadistic sexual homicide."
I traced the carved heart with the tip of my finger, the texture of the grain briefly returning me to the present. The door of the interrogation room opened, and through the gap, I saw the fed pass by. A clerk entered with a white I Love NY cup. The coffee smelled as if it had been brewing since that morning. When I put in the creamer it created only the slightest difference in the color of the liquid. I sipped it and grimaced.
"A sexual homicide generally involves some element of sexual activity as the basis for the sequence of events leading to death," continued Wolfe, sipping at her coffee. "The stripping of the victims and the mutilation of the breasts and genitals indicate a sexual element to the crime, yet we have no evidence of penetration in either victim by either penis, fingers, or foreign objects. The child's hymen was undamaged and there was no evidence of vaginal trauma in the adult victim.
"We also have evidence of a sadistic element to the homicides. The adult victim was tortured prior to death. Flensing took place, specifically on the front of the torso and the face. Combined with the sexual elements, you're dealing with a sexual sadist who obtains gratification from excessive physical and, I would think, mental torture.
"I think he -- and I'm assuming it's a white male, for reasons I'll go into later -- wanted the mother to watch the torture and killing of her child before she herself was tortured and killed. A sexual sadist gets his kicks from the victim's response to torture; in this case, he had two victims, a mother and child, to play off against each other. He's translating sexual fantasies into violent acts, torture, and, eventually, death."
Outside the door of the interrogation room I heard voices suddenly raised. One of them was Walter Cole's. I didn't recognize the other. The voices subsided again, but I knew that they were talking about me. I would find out what they wanted soon enough.
"Okay. The largest focus group for sexual sadists consists of white, female adults who are strangers to the killer, although they may also target males and, as in this case, children. There is also sometimes a correspondence between the victim and someone in the offender's own life.
"Victims are chosen through systematic stalking and surveillance. The killer had probably been watching the family for some time. He knew the husband's habits, knew that if he went to the bar then he would be missing for long enough to allow him to complete what he wanted to do. In this case, I don't think the killer managed that completion.
"The crime scene is unusual in this case. Firstly, the nature of the crime means that it requires somewhere solitary to give the offender time with his victim. In some cases, the offender's residence may have been modified to accommodate his victim, or he may use a converted car or van for the killing. In this case, the killer chose not to do this. I think he may like the element of risk involved. I also think he wanted to make, for want of a better term, an 'impression.'"
An impression, like wearing a bright tie to a funeral.
"The crime was ca refully staged to impact in the most traumatic way on the husband when he returned home."
Maybe Walter had been right. Maybe I shouldn't have come to the briefing. Wolfe's matter-of-factness reduced my wife and child to the level of another gruesome statistic in a violent city, but I hoped that she would say something that would resonate inside me and provide some clue to drive the investigation forward. Two weeks is a long time in a murder case. After two weeks with no progress, unless you get very, very lucky, the investigation starts to grind to a halt.
"This seems to indicate a killer of above-average intelligence, one who likes playing games and gambling," said Wolfe. "The fact that he appeared to want the element of shock to play a part could lead us to conclude that there was a personal element to what he did, directed against the husband, but that's just speculation, and the general pattern of this type of crime is impersonal.
"Generally, crime scenes can be classified as organized, disorganized, or some mix of the two. An organized killer plans the murder and targets the victim carefully, and the crime scene will reflect this element of control. The victims will meet certain criteria which the killer has set: age, hair color maybe, occupation, lifestyle. The use of restraints, as we have in this case, is typical. It reflects the elements of control and planning, since the killer will usually have to bring them to the scene.
"In cases of sexual sadism, the act of killing is generally eroticized. There's a ritual involved; it's usually slow, and every effort is made to ensure that the victim remains conscious and aware up to the point of death. In other words, the killer doesn't want to end the lives of his victims prematurely.
"Now, in this case he didn't succeed, because Jennifer Parker, the child, had a weak heart and it failed following the release of epinephrine into her system. Combined with her mother's attempted escape and the damage caused to her face by striking it against the wall, which may have resulted in temporary loss of consciousness, I believe the killer felt he was losing control of the situation. The crime scene moved from organized to disorganized, and shortly after he commenced flensing, his anger and frustration got the better of him and he mutilated the bodies."
I wanted to leave then. I had made a mistake. Nothing could come of this, nothing good.
"As I said earlier, mutilation of the genitals and breasts is a feature of this type of crime, but this case doesn't conform to the general pattern in a number of crucial ways. I think the mutilation in this case was either a result of anger and loss of control, or it was an attempt to disguise something else, some other element of the ritual which had already commenced and from which the killer was trying to divert attention. In all likelihood, the partial flensing is the key. There's a strong element of display -- it's incomplete, but it's there."
"Why are you so sure it's a white male?" asked Joiner, a black Homicide detective with whom I'd worked once or twice.
"The most frequent perpetrators of sexual sadism are white males. Not women, not black males. White males."
"You're off the hook, Joiner," someone said. There was a burst of laughter, an easing of the tension that had built up in the room. One or two of the others glanced at me but for the most part they acted as if I wasn't there. They w ere professionals, concentrating on amassing any information that might lead to a greater understanding of the killer.
Wolfe let the laughter fade. "Research indicates that as many as forty-three percent of sexual murderers are married. Fifty percent have children. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you're looking for some crazy loner. This guy may be the hero of his local PTA meetings, the coach of the Little League team.
"He could be engaged in a profession that brings him into contact with the public, so he's probably socially adept and he may use that to target his victims. He may have engaged in antisocial behavior in the past, although not necessarily something serious enough to have gotten him a police record.
"Sexual sadists are often police buffs or weapons freaks. He may try to stay in touch with the progress of the investigation, so keep an eye on individuals who ring in with leads or who try to trade off information. He also owns a clean, well-maintained car: clean so it doesn't attract attention, well maintained because he has to be sure he doesn't get stranded at or near the crime scene. The car could have been modified to allow him to transport victims; the door and window handles in the rear will have been removed, the trunk may have been soundproofed. If you think you have a possible suspect, check the trunk for extra fuel, water, ropes, cuffs, ligatures.
"If you go for a search warrant, you'll be looking for any items relating to sexual or violent behavior: pornographic magazines, videos, low-end true-crime stuff, vibrators, clamps, women's clothing, particularly undergarments. Some of these may have belonged to victims or he may have taken other personal items from th em. Look out also for diaries and manuscripts; they may contain details of victims, fantasies, even the crimes themselves. This guy may also have a collection of police equipment and almost certainly has a knowledge of police procedures." Wolfe took a deep breath and sat back in her chair.
"Is he going to do it again?" asked Walter. There was silence in the room for a moment.
"Yes, but you're making one assumption," said Wolfe. Walter looked puzzled.
"You're assuming this is the first. I take it a VICAP has been done?"
VICAP, operational since 1985, is the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Under VICAP, a report is completed on solved or unsolved homicides or attempted homicides, particularly those involving abductions or that are apparently random or motiveless or sexually oriented; on missing persons cases, when foul play is suspected; and on unidentified dead bodies, when the manner of death is known or suspected to be homicide. The report is then submitted to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime at the FBI's academy in Quantico, in an effort to determine if similar pattern characteristics exist elsewhere in the VICAP system.
"It was submitted."
"Have you requested a profile?"
"Yes, but no profile as yet. Unofficially, the MO doesn't match. The removal of the faces marks it out."
"Yeah, what about the faces?" It was Joiner again.
"I'm still trying to find out more," said Wolfe. "Some killers take souvenirs from their victims. There may be some kind of pseudo-religious or sacrificial element to this case. I'm sorry, I'm really not sure yet."
"You think he could have done something like this before?" said Walter.
Wolfe nodded. "He may have. If he has killed before, then he may have hidden the bodies, and these killings could represent an alteration in a previous pattern of behavior. Maybe, after killing quietly and unobtrusively, he wanted to bring himself to a more public arena. He may have wanted to draw attention to his work. The unsatisfactory nature of these killings, from his point of view, may now cause him to revert to his old pattern. Alternatively, he could recede into a period of dormancy; that's another possibility.
"But if I was to gamble, I'd say that he's been planning his next move carefully. He made mistakes this time and I don't think he achieved the effect he was looking for. The next time, he won't make any mistakes. The next time, unless you catch him first, he's really going to make an impact."
The door of the interrogation room opened and Walter entered with two other men.
"This is Special Agent Ross, FBI, and Detective Barth from Robbery," said Walter. "Barth was working the Watts case. Agent Ross here deals with organized crime."
Close up, Ross's linen suit looked expensive and tailored. Barth, in his JCPenney jacket, looked like a slob by comparison. The two men stood against opposite walls and nodded. When Walter sat, Barth sat as well. Ross remained standing against the wall.
"Anything you're not telling us here?" Walter asked.
"No," I said. "You know as much as I do."
"Agent Ross believes that Sonny Ferrera was behind the killing of Watts and his girlfriend and that you know more than you're saying." Ross picked at something on the sleeve of his shirt and dropped it to the floor with a look of distaste. I think it was meant to represent me.
"There was no reason for Sonny to kill Ollie Watts," I r eplied. "We're talking stolen cars and fake license plates here. Ollie wasn't in a position to scam anything worthwhile from Sonny and he didn't know enough about Sonny's activities to take up ten minutes of a jury's time."
Ross stirred and moved forward to sit on the edge of the table. "Strange that you should turn up after all this time -- what is it? six, seven months? -- and suddenly we're knee deep in corpses," he said, as if he hadn't heard a word I'd said. He was forty, maybe forty-five, but he looked to be in good condition. His face was heavily lined with wrinkles that didn't seem like they came from a life of laughter. I'd heard a little about him from Woolrich, after Woolrich left New York to become the feds' assistant special agent in charge in the New Orleans field office.
There was silence then. Ross tried to stare me out, then looked away in boredom.
"Agent Ross here thinks that you're holding out on us," said Walter. "He'd like to sweat you for a while, just in case." His expression was neutral, his eyes bland. Ross had returned to staring at me.
"Agent Ross is a scary guy. He tries to sweat me, there's no telling what I'll confess to."
"This is not getting us anywhere," said Ross. "Mr. Parker is obviously not cooperating in any way and I -- "
Walter held up a hand, interrupting him. "Maybe you'd both leave us alone for a while, get some coffee or something," he suggested. Barth shrugged and left. Ross remained seated on the table and looked like he was going to say more, then he stood up abruptly and quickly walked out, closing the door firmly behind him. Walter exhaled deeply, loosened his tie, and opened the top button of his shirt.
"Don't dump on Ross. He'll bring a ton of shit down on your head. And on mine."
"I've told you all I know on this," I said. "Benny Low may know more, but I doubt it."
"We talked to Benny Low. The way Benny tells it, he didn't know who the president was until we told him." He twisted a pen in his hand. "'Hey, it's just bidness,' that's what he said." It was a pretty fair imitation of one of Benny Low's verbal quirks. I smiled thinly and the tension in the air dissipated slightly.
"How long you been back?"
"Couple of weeks."
"What have you been doing?"
What could I tell him? That I wandered the streets, that I visited places where Jennifer, Susan, and I used to go together, that I stared out of the window of my apartment and thought about the man who had killed them and where he might be, that I had taken on the job for Benny Low because I was afraid that, if I did not find some outlet, I would eat the barrel of my gun?
"Not a lot. I plan to look up some old stoolies, see if there's anything new."
"There isn't, not at this end. You got anything?"
"I can't ask you to let it go, but -- "
"No, you can't. Get to it, Walter."
"This isn't a good place for you to be right now. You know why."
Walter tossed the pen hard on the table. It bounced to the edge and then hung there briefly before dropping to the floor. For a moment I thought he was going to take a swing at me but then the anger went from his eyes.
"We'll talk about this again."
"Okay. You going to give me anything?" Among the papers on the table, I could see reports from Ballistics and Firearms. Five hours was a pretty short time in which to get a report. Agent Ross was obviously a man who got what he wanted.
I nodded at the report. "W hat did Ballistics say about the bullet that took out the shooter?"
"That's not your concern."
"Walter, I watched the kid die. The shooter took a pop at me and the bullet went clean through the wall. Someone's got distinctive taste in weaponry."
Walter stayed silent.
"No one picks up hardware like that without someone knowing," I said. "You give me something to go on, maybe I might find out more than you can."
Walter thought for a minute and then flicked through the papers for the Ballistics report. "We got submachine bullets, five-point-seven millimeters, weighing less than fifty grains."
I whistled. "That's a scaled-down rifle round, but fired from a handgun?"
"The bullet is mainly plastic but has a full-metal jacket, so it doesn't deform on impact. When it hits something -- like your shooter -- it transfers most of its force. There's almost no energy when it exits."
"And the one that hit the wall?"
"Ballistics reckons a muzzle velocity of over two thousand feet per second."
That was an incredibly fast bullet. A Browning 9 millimeter fires bullets of one hundred ten grains at only eleven hundred feet per second.
"They also reckon that this thing could blow through Kevlar body armor like it was rice paper. At two hundred yards, the thing could penetrate almost fifty layers." Even a .44 Magnum will only penetrate body armor at very close range.
"But once it hits a soft target..."
"Is it domestic?"
"No, Ballistics say European. Belgian. They're talking about something called a Five-seveN -- that's big F, big N, after the manufacturers. It's a prototype made by FN Herstal for antiterrorist and hostage rescue operations, but this is the first time one has turned up outside national security forces."
"You contacting the maker?"
"We'll try, but my guess is we'll lose it in the middlemen."
I stood up. "I'll ask around."
Walter retrieved his pen and waved it at me like an unhappy schoolteacher lecturing the class wise guy. "Ross still wants your ass."
I took out a pen and scribbled my cell phone number on the back of Walter's legal pad.
"It's always on. Can I go now?"
"I want you to come over to the house tonight."
"I'm sorry, Walter, I don't make social calls anymore."
He looked hurt. "Don't be an asshole. This isn't social. Be there, or Ross can lock you in a cell till doomsday for all I care."
I stood up to leave.
"You sure you've told us everything?" he asked to my back.
I didn't turn around. "I've told you all I can, Walter."
Which was true, technically at least.
Twenty-four hours earlier, I had found Emo Ellison. Emo lived in a dump of a hotel on the edge of East Harlem, the kind where the only guests allowed in the rooms are whores, cops, or criminals. A Plexiglas screen covered the front of the super's office, but there was no one inside. I walked up the stairs and knocked on Emo's door. There was no reply but I thought I heard the sound of a hammer cocking on a pistol.
"Emo, it's Bird. I need to talk."
I heard footsteps approach the door.
"I don't know nothin' about it," said Emo, through the wood. "I got nothin' to say."
"I haven't asked you anything yet. C'mon, Emo, open up. Fat Ollie's in trouble. Maybe I can do something. Let me in."
There was silence for a moment and then the rattle of a chain. The door opened and I stepped inside. Emo had retreated to the wind ow but he still had the gun in his hand. I closed the door behind me.
"You don't need that," I said. Emo hefted the gun once in his hand and then put it on a bedside cabinet. He looked more comfortable without it. Guns weren't Emo's style. I noticed that the fingers of his left hand were bandaged. I could see yellow stains on the tips of the bandages.
Emo Ellison was a thin, pale-faced, middle-aged man who had worked on and off for Fat Ollie for five years or so. He was an average mechanic but he was loyal and knew when to keep his mouth shut.
"Do you know where he is?"
"He ain't been in touch."
He sat down heavily on the edge of the neatly made bed. The room was clean and smelled of air freshener. There were one or two prints on the walls, and books, magazines, and some personal items were neatly arrayed on a set of Home Depot shelves.
"I hear you're workin' for Benny Low. Why you doin' that?"
"It's work," I replied.
"You hand Ollie over and he's dead, that's your work," said Emo.
I leaned against the door.
"I may not hand him over. Benny Low can take the loss. But I'd need a good reason not to."
The conflict inside him played itself out on Emo's face. His hands twisted and writhed over each other and he looked once or twice at the gun. Emo Ellison was scared.
"Why did he run, Emo?" I asked softly.
"He used to say you were a good guy, a stand-up guy," said Emo. "That true?"
"I don't know. I don't want to see Ollie hurt, though."
Emo looked at me for a time and then seemed to make a decision.
"It was Pili. Pili Pilar. You know him?"
"I know him." Pili Pilar was Sonny Ferrera's right-hand man.
"He used to come once, twice a month, never more than that, and take a car. He'd keep it for a couple of hours, then bring it back. Different car each time. It was a deal Ollie made, so he wouldn't have to pay off Sonny. He'd fit the car with false plates and have it ready for Pili when he arrived.
"Last week, Pili comes, collects a car, and drives off. I came in late that night, 'cause I was sick. I got ulcers. Pili was gone before I got there.
"Anyway, after midnight I'm sittin' up with Ollie, talkin' and stuff, waitin' for Pili to bring back the car, when there's this bang outside. When we get out there, Pili's wrapped the car around the gate and he's lying on the wheel. There's a dent in the front, too, so we figure maybe Pili was in a smash and didn't want to wait around after.
"Pili's head is cut up bad where he smacked the windshield and there's a lot of blood in the car. Ollie and me push it into the yard and then Ollie calls this doc he knows, and the guy tells him to bring Pili around. Pili ain't movin' and he's real pale, so Ollie drops him off at the doc's in his own car, and the doc insists on packing him off to the hospital 'cause he thinks Pili's skull is busted."
It was all flowing out of Emo now. Once he began the tale he wanted to finish it, as if he could diminish the burden of knowing by telling it out loud. "Anyway, they argue for a while but the doc knows this private clinic where they won't ask too many questions, and Ollie agrees. The doc calls the clinic and Ollie comes back to the lot to sort out the car.
"He has a number for Sonny but there's no answer. He's got the car in back but he doesn't want to leave it there in case, y'know, it's a cop thing. So he calls the old man and lets him know what happened. So the old man tells him to sit tight, he'll send a guy around to take care of it.
"Ollie goes out to move the car out of sight but when he comes back in, he looks worse than Pili. He looks sick and his hands are shakin'. I say to him, 'What's wrong?' but he just tells me to get out and not to tell no one I was there. He won't say nothin' else, just tells me to get goin'.
"Next thing I hear, the cops have raided the place and then Ollie makes bail and disappears. I swear, that's the last heard."
"Then why the gun?"
"One of the old man's guys came by here a day or two back." He gulped. "Bobby Sciorra. He wanted to know about Ollie, wanted to know if I'd been there the day of Pili's accident. I said to him, 'No,' but it wasn't enough for him."
Emo Ellison started to cry. He lifted up his bandaged fingers and slowly, carefully, began to unwrap one of them.
"He took me for a ride." He held up the finger and I could see a ring-shaped mark crowned with a huge blister that seemed to throb even as I looked at it. "The cigarette lighter. He burned me with the car cigarette lighter."
Twenty-four hours later, Fat Ollie Watts was dead.
Copyright © 1999 by John Connolly