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Under the Bridge
By Rebecca Godfrey
Simon & Schuster Copyright © 2005 Rebecca Godfrey
All right reserved.
Prologue: Carefully Floated
You can't see anything. In the dark waters of a saltwater inlet known as the Gorge, Sergeant Bob Wall was underwater, searching for the body of a girl. Though he had been a member of the elite Dive Unit for twelve years and was properly and fully equipped with full scuba gear, insulated underwear, neoprene gloves, a buoyancy compensator, and a twenty-five-pound air tank on his back, his search for the girl was frustrating and difficult because underwater, everything was so dark. His eyes were open as he moved forward, yet he could see only blackness. He would have to look for the girl by feeling alone, feeling and touching the darkness that surrounded him, a cold, black depth below the surface of the world.
Concealed in his black wet suit, Bob Wall moved slowly, twelve inches at a time, while the other men held the rope taut and firm. Under water, he touched the detritus of suburbia. Bicycles, so many bikes. He touched beer bottles and rusted nails and shopping carts. "There's so much junk in the Gorge," the men of the Dive Unit say; they speak of the water as if it is their enemy. "The visibility's awful. The water's crap." You can't see anything.
When you're searching, you like to sink to the bottom, the men say.
You have to use your buoyancy compensator, make yourself "negatively buoyant," so you're almost prone on the bottom. It looks as if you're doing a push-up. You're as far down as you could possibly be.
Blind and feeling everything, Bob Wall touched the sand with a single hand. His other hand held tight to the rope. Two members of the Dive Unit sank with him, keeping the rope as taut as they possibly could, holding on with both hands, holding tight.
The girl who was missing was fourteen years old.
The girl, she'd been missing for over a week.
If the terrible rumor were true, she would have sunk to the bottom of the Gorge by now. Sergeant Rick "Gos" Gosling was glad he was holding the line and not the one doing the physical search. The "anticipation of finding a body is so stressful," he explains. "You always have that nightmare of finding the face looming up against you, like that scene in Jaws." You'd be pushing yourself against the dark water and knowing you might see a face, lifeless and still. You'd come up against the horror of death, right there, literally, before your eyes. Gos remembered the time he'd found an old woman trapped in her sunken Chevrolet. Her eyes met his; the old lady, she looked right at him and he jumped back, feeling nausea and sadness. The old lady's eyes were blue and her mouth was open, as if she'd died in the midst of a roar or a song.
Sometimes under water, there would be these strange moments of beauty, a light that would crack through the blackness and the sandstorms. In the darkness, the men say, sometimes, "You get swirls, a pale green, a glimmer."
It was a strange occupation -- looking for something you didn't really want to find. And on this pale, blurry day in November, the men really didn't want to find the fourteen-year-old girl because it would mean the rumors of murder were true. "You've got to be kidding," Gos said when he heard about who was alleged to have killed the girl. His partners scoffed as well, for the story of her supposed killers seemed such an absurd and impossible tale.
The absence in the water seemed to confirm their disbelief.
If you asked the men why they didn't believe the story, they would answer quite logically. This was Victoria, British Columbia, a small island in the Pacific Northwest famed for its natural beauty and easygoing lifestyle. Young girls did not get murdered in Victoria. Girls in this town, they grew up unharmed. They shopped at Hillside Mall, attended schools named after politicians and war heroes. Girls lived safely on streets named after trees and explorers. Girls may have been murdered in the closest big cities of Vancouver and Seattle; in these cities murders were common and no one would be surprised to hear the story of a young girl brutally murdered. But girls did not die young here on this idyllic island, a sheltered paradise. Gos never before had been asked to investigate the murder of a young girl.
Bob Wall reached the end of the line. Still nothing. The girl was supposed to have been killed right on the sandy shore, near the old white schoolhouse, now covered by lurid yellow crime scene tape.
Gos wished he could look at the sun, get a sense of the time of day. He did not know it was 11:15. He knew only that they'd been underwater for almost an hour. He wanted to lift the seaweed, which was clammy and cold against his cheek, but to remove his hands from the rope would cause the line to flail, cause his partner to drift off his path.
Suddenly, this: a tug on the rope. One tug, then another, then a third. Three tugs was the code for discovery.
All three men rose and left the dark below.
In the eelgrass, Bob Wall had seen something, a pale white strip of fabric. As he moved closer, he reached for the fabric, retrieving it from the rough stalks tinged with a color like ivory. His hands reached in; they found the fabric was a pair of girl's underwear. "Panties," he would later write in the Dive Unit Operation Log, "were retrieved from the eelgrass."
Using a camera floated out to him, Bob Wall photographed the underwear. He then marked the spot with a wooden stick known as a pelican marker. He kicked back to shore and placed the underwear inside a sterile Ziploc bag. Wall flinched slightly as water fell from the bag and as he touched the wet fabric and saw the label, so ordinary and familiar: Fruit of the Loom.
Several minutes later, at 11:29, Bob Wall made a second discovery.
The men holding the rope felt a sudden, sharp pull and thought together and silently, we found her. The young missing girl. She would be there, on the bottom of the Gorge.
But when Bob Wall rose, his left hand held something smaller than a body. In his hands, he held only a pair of blue jeans. The jeans were covered in silt as gray as ash.
Bob Wall photographed the jeans, stuck the pelican marker in, placed the jeans in the plastic bag, sealed the bag, returned to the marker, and went down again.
"We knew we were close now," Gos recalls. "We were expecting to find the whole package," Gos says. "We've got the clothing. She should be right there. That really did confuse us."
The men moved along westward more slowly, feeling every inch of the sand and the black water.
The line search continued until they had covered every inch of their planned path. The area under the bridge was still to be searched, but this search would require a new plan, for there were pillars to be navigated and the route was not as clear.
The men surfaced, kicking back toward the small Zodiac boat. They climbed aboard, lifted their goggles, and wiped seaweed away. A light mist fell on the surface of the water, and the air smelled like autumn bonfires. Near the schoolhouse, reporters, photographers, and onlookers gathered, all drawn to the scene by the obvious presence of something major going on. The men in black, the yellow crime scene tape, and this unusual site as well: in the sky, a red Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the Gorge.
The Dive Unit were slightly cynical about the presence of the helicopter. The Coast Guard was not trained to deal with evidence, and besides, what could you really see when you were so far above? To really find anything, you had to dive down.
The men drank coffee.
"We will do this," they said. "We will find her."
At 12:22, static came over Gosling's radio. The men shivered and drank their coffee. On the radio, a distraught voice said: "We've got something."
The vagueness, the Dive Unit knew, was meant to deter journalists. On the radio, searchers never say they've found a body. The men knew the code. And then the helicopter above them, on the other side of the Gorge, near lavish and proud homes, the helicopter suddenly started to descend.
When they received the oblique message, the four men jumped into their van without bothering to take off their wet suits. They drove quickly through the quiet streets of a suburb named View Royal, past homes still decorated with Halloween images of ghosts and falling spiders and lanky goblins. On reaching the home at 2814 Murray Street, they parked the van crookedly and ran past the stone pillars and scarlet foliage and through the backyard down toward the silver water. "It was a big frenzy there," Gosling recalls. "Everybody converged. The coroner, some journalists, investigators, there was everybody."
And there was the girl, who'd been found not by the men underwater but by the men up above.
She was floating in the reeds, her body hidden by the stalks, which were dry and close to the color of cinnamon. Her long, black hair floated like a velvet path, and the naked part of her body was covered by the cold rise of water.
In the water, the girl was floating while the men stood upright. They surrounded her in a circle, and the scene might have seemed like a baptism in reverse, a girl lifted from the water and placed on a gurney, her body in a black T-shirt instead of a white dress.
The body was carefully floated to the wharf by the men of the Dive Unit. Carefully floated was the term Bob Wall would choose for his police report. Carefully floated. The phrase, like the gesture, was poetic and kind, an act that might have been the only poetry and kindness shown to the murdered girl.
The men lifted her out of the Gorge, away from the spot of her secret grave.
Copyright © 2005 by Rebecca GodfreyChapter 1: Colin Jones
The girls liked Colin Jones. He could not get rid of the girls. In the months before the murder, the girls were always coming over to his house at 14 Marton Place. Colin Jones was that guy. Sixteen and laid back. Handsome and easygoing, with sandy freckles, a slim face, and a casual and constant grin. He was not the type of guy to become involved in a murder or the dreams of a murder. He was the kind of guy who lives in every small town -- a boy at the end of boyhood who dreamed of new cars and the next raging party. Colin Jones describes himself like this: "I had long hair, nice long curly hair. All the girls liked it. I listened to Guns N' Roses. I was a party animal."
"Those girls hung around me," he recalls.
Hung around me. Those girls.
Colin Jones noticed Nevada the minute she moved onto his street. She was long-legged and gawky, and her face was framed by ringlets the color of flames. She chewed bubble gum and wore tight jeans. When he said her name, he thought of American casinos, of rodeos, of cheerleaders and of gasoline. Nevada. Her front tooth was chipped and when she smiled, it seemed like she was winking at him.
Nevada lied, smiling shyly; she said she was seventeen.* * *
In View Royal, everybody knew everybody. The suburb was a village of fewer than eight thousand persons, a village full of cousins and old sweethearts and drinking buddies and lifelong friends. There were no bachelors in View Royal. There were no women called Ms. There were only families. Children went first to View Royal elementary, then to Shoreline Junior Secondary, and then to Spectrum Senior Secondary. College and travel were rarely considered. Men worked at the mills and the dockyards, and when the mills and dockyards closed, their sons worked at the Costco and the Wal-Mart and the lumber stores. Women worked at the nearby Helmcken Road Hospital, and their daughters worked at the many stores in the Tillicum Mall.
Colin Jones himself knew practically everybody in the town and could offer quick dismissals ("he's a little puke") or nods of respect ("that guy's hilarious"). He knew the older brothers of Nevada's two best friends, and he knew Nevada's dad rode bulls in the rodeo. Above all, he knew beauty and innocence, and Nevada -- okay, he'd admit it: he had a crush on her, but he lost interest when he found out she lied to him.
Nevada was, in truth, only fourteen.
Often, in the months before the murder, late at night, Nevada and her two best friends would sneak out of Nevada's home and walk down the lane, shaded and hidden by the high boughs of oak trees. The girls would sit on the curb of the cul-de-sac, under a street lamp, and they would smoke cigarettes and stare restlessly at parked SUVs and closed white doors. Autumn on Vancouver Island always is a gray, bleak season. That autumn the fog and rain were even more present. During the murder trial, James Stevenson MacDuff, an expert weather "interpreter," testified that in November 1997, "many days had no sunshine or less than one hour of sunshine a day."
The three girls would throw rocks at Colin Jones's window. Josephine flung the pebble to the glass. Josephine, like Nevada, was fourteen, and her features were as classic and delicate as those of a new doll. Her eyes were round and an icy blue; her lips resembled a full and perfect heart. Yet Josephine could be reckless and cruel, and her heroes included Al Capone and John Gotti. She longed to be gangster. This longing was not the idle dream of an adolescent teenage girl but a fervent and heart-felt ambition.
Although he did not know of her ardent affection for the mafia, Colin Jones was nonetheless unsettled by Josephine right from the start. He did not share the infatuation of his friend Paul who thought Josephine was "the bomb." Colin Jones was not fooled by the porcelain skin and sultry lips. Josephine, he said to himself, was "a twisted little troublemaker."
Kelly Ellard, on the other hand, was cute and awkward and seemingly ordinary. Her brown hair flipped up just below her tiny ears. Her manner was reminiscent of the little sister, annoying and desperate for her older brother's company. In fact, Colin had gone to school with Kelly's older brother and thought he was "quite the dick." He could gleefully recall the time her brother's obnoxious bravado resulted in a harsh beating from the notorious Barker brothers. ("He got beat up bad!") He knew that Kelly's brother owned a "sweet" Monte Carlo, with tinted windows and an "awesome" sound system. And he knew Kelly's stepfather, George Pakos, was a former soccer star, who had scored, according to the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame, "two of the most important goals in the history of Canadian soccer." During the 1986 World Cup, while playing for Team Canada, he'd stunned 50,000 Honduran fans with his winning kick, bringing victory to the Canadian underdog team. Everyone in View Royal knew George and said he was "a great guy." These were the notable and distinct facts to a boy like Colin Jones: fights, triumphs, and cars. As for Kelly herself, he knew little about the young girl, though she seemed more polite and less lascivious than Josephine. He could only later explain her fate by saying, with some sympathy: "She's been picked on most of her life by her brother. Her mother couldn't control her, but her brother could."
Kelly was not a troublemaker, he says. "She just seemed lost all the time."* * *
"They're like lost puppies," he thought as the girls came up the stairs and into his bedroom. Pillow creases marked Josephine's pale cheek, and her blonde hair was wild with static electricity. He was not sure if they came to him for company or weed. Nevada lay down on his bed, and her scarlet curls fell across the clean cotton of his pillow case.
Josephine seated herself before his mirror, her back perfectly erect. "Can we have some of your weed, Colin?"
"Yeah, Colin, please," Kelly begged.
Josephine stared into the mirror, and Kelly gazed at Josephine as one looks at a map.
"Pass me that joint, slut," Josephine said to Nevada.
Hey, Colin wanted to say, Don't talk to Nevada like that. But he was lazy and high, and he felt subdued by the onslaught of perfume and giggling.
Colin Jones had posters on his bedroom wall, posters of Metallica and a Ferrari and a Mach 1. Best of all, he had eight speakers. Awesome, he thought, gazing about his domain. Awesome cars, awesome speakers. The girls were ruining his reverie. Giggle, giggle.
The girls wanted to listen to Tupac Shakur, but Colin Jones possessed none of that "gangster shit." He did not listen to rap, and he scoffed at the younger boys of View Royal with their saggy pants and backward baseball caps, fronting like they were from the ghetto.
"Why are you such a headbanger, Colin?" Josephine said, giggling.
"You're like one of those guys in Wayne's World," Kelly said, looking up at Josephine to see if her remark garnered a laugh.
"Give me some of that Bacardi," Josephine said. As she took the bottle from Nevada's purse, she boasted to Colin that she had "jacked" it from Nevada's mother.
What kind of girl calls her friend a slut? Colin wondered. What kind of girl steals liquor from her friend's mother? Answer: a twisted little troublemaker.
Colin Jones knew then that Nevada was too far gone. "Basically, Josephine corrupted Nevada," he would later say. Though he was often high and always easygoing, he observed the corruption and felt concerned to witness this: the fall of the girl next door.
"Bring some women," his friend Tommy told him. Tommy had just moved into his own apartment and wanted to have a tequila party. Colin couldn't find any women, and so, as a "last resort," he brought the girls -- a decision he would later regret. The girls seemed so happy when he invited them. Awesome! Colin, you're the best! Josephine's smile was sincere, and her face was luminous. Nevada sat on his lap as they drove to the party in his friend Paul's station wagon. Kelly handed her last cigarette to Josephine, and as she did so, Colin observed the red dots above her eyes, on the skin where she'd plucked at her eyebrows. Josephine's eyebrows were thin and overly arched, and her skin was white and pure, without the slightest mark. Kelly, he thought, just doesn't really have the act of artifice down pat yet, and he remembered then that he'd heard the boys at her school teased her and called her "Grubnut."
"Hey," Josephine said to Paul, draping herself over the driver's seat. "Did you know that I'm going to New York? I'm going to join the mob. I'm gonna be a hit man!"
"They let girls do that?" Paul asked.
"Hell, yeah. They like women in the mob. They don't have to serve any time if they get caught."
"Well, good for you," Paul said, feigning support. In the backseat, Colin Jones shook his head, and it occurred to him then that most girls Josephine's age were watching Cinderella, but Josephine, here she was, abandoning dreams of princes and preferring the narrative of Scarface.
"The party was a total disaster," Colin Jones would later recall. "The girls said they were snorting speed, but I think it was just caffeine because Kelly started falling all over the place. Nevada looked really sick and I thought I better get them back to View Royal, so I had to leave the party and drive them all home."
It seemed an omen of sorts to him: the three ill girls.
He dropped them off at Nevada's house, vowing that he would never invite them to another party.
And then, only half an hour later, he heard the sound of a pebble chucked at his window. He ran down the stairs, eager to tell the girls to get lost and leave him alone.
But there was only one girl.
Josephine stood there, dressed as she had been dressed for the disastrous party. Barely dressed. A short black skirt, skinny legs, the rise of her black platform heels.
"We got kicked out of Nevada's house," she said, morosely.
Good, he thought, finally. He looked up the street and saw Kelly in her father's arms, being carried into her father's car.
"I've got nowhere to go, Colin," Josephine said.
"Why don't you go home?"
She looked intently at her blue fingernails. "I got in trouble at home, and my mom kicked me out and now I'm living at this group home and they lock the doors at 11:00. Can I just stay here?"
From the light affixed above the number 14, he could see Josephine's stomach, her belly button, and he knew she was a twisted little troublemaker and she'd want something from him eventually. If he did not give it to her, she would take it -- steal a CD or weed or his iguana named Steve.
For two seconds, she stood there silently. She did not swear or beg, but he knew she was waiting for him to take her in.
He looked away, over her thin shoulder, above her blonde head, toward the suburb, the ranch houses and bungalows, now unlit and closed. He shook his head, but she just stood there, and he thought he might never get rid of Josephine. She might be there at his window or door for the rest of his life, like a constant reminder of the soft and lost part of himself.
For some reason, he watched her, later, after he'd refused to let her in and gone back upstairs to his bedroom. She sat for a while on the curb in the cul-de-sac. He could not make out her expression, but he imagined it was hostile. Nevada was in bed, tucked under her down comforter, and Kelly was at her father's home, with the hot tub in the backyard and her brother's Monte Carlo all agleam. Josephine might muster herself forward by imagining she was possessed of the soul and bravery of John Gotti. Really, she was so wraithlike, dragging her feet as she began her slow walk away from Marton Place. He imagined she might look up and give him the finger. Fuck you Colin Jones. But she did not, and he put on his headphones and stared at the pulsing black net of his eight speakers, while Josephine walked away, into the darkness of the night, which was becoming darker and quieter still.
Copyright © 2005 by Rebecca Godfrey
Excerpted from Under the Bridge by Rebecca Godfrey Copyright © 2005 by Rebecca Godfrey.
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