When Eric Ward and Sharon Owen defend suspected serial killer Raymond Conroy, they win an acquittal on a technicality thus incurring the wrath of CI Charlie Spate. Ward has no desire to act further for Conroy when the man decides to remain in the north east. Instead he concentrates on issues arising from Sharon's family trust, though harassed by a journalist who seeks to interview Conroy. But when Conroy disappears, and the Zodiac Killer strikes again, this time on Tyneside, Ward finds himself involved once more, alongside CI Spate who is under pressure for his apparent incompetence in tracking Conroy. Complications arise from mysterious dealings in Scotland in the seventies, but it is only during a murderous climax in a remote Northumberland farmhouse that the truth finally emerges in the hunt for the Zodiac Killer.
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Design for Murder
By Roy Lewis
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2010 Roy Lewis
All rights reserved.
Inevitably, the courtroom at Newcastle Crown Court was crowded.
There had been the expected considerable inquisitive and noisy crowd gathered at Wesley Square but not many had managed to obtain entry. The courtroom was packed and the seats allocated to the press were full: the accredited representatives seemed to have flooded in from leading nationals and local weeklies, and radio and television reporters were also present. The public seats held a wide variety of individuals, but women were notable by their presence in numbers, and there had already been some scenes during the presentation of the evidence for the prosecution, with two people being ejected after demonstrations of their anger and hatred in court, directed towards the man charged with being the Zodiac Killer.
Eric Ward leaned back in his seat, watching as Sharon Owen prepared herself to attack the witness on the stand. He had briefed her and she was responding with all the skill that he knew she possessed. He glanced across to the prosecuting counsel. Quentin Pryce, a hook-nosed, middle-aged barrister of gloomy disposition, had been drafted in from the Midlands, presumably because of his earlier knowledge of the case, and he was looking distinctly uncomfortable, as he had good reason to be. The prosecution was foundering, he was aware of it as much as was the judge.
Mr Justice Abernethy, a portly, red-faced man with a suspicious eye and a stubborn chin, was leaning back on the bench, his brow furrowed thoughtfully, his pendulous lip thrust out as he watched Sharon flip quickly through the papers in front of her before raising her head to stare intently at the witness. He was aware it was all a performance, a slow building up of tension before she spoke to the witness. He had seen it all before: he knew the tricks of counsel. But Eric was also aware Abernethy was concerned at the thinness of the prosecution case. He would know which way Sharon was heading.
She was a different person in the courtroom, Eric thought. He had known her in a professional capacity for three years now but it was only six months ago that he had finally allowed himself to respond to the clear attraction she had shown for him. They had met for lunch several times – her chambers were close to his own office on the Quayside – but their relationship had only become close after an initial weekend at a hotel in the Cheviots where nothing had been hurried, but each had taken the opportunity to get to know the other better, away from the courts and professional business. It had been a pleasurable experience, and after that first time they had seen a great deal of each other, taking opportunities to meet two or three times a week at the Quayside for lunch, weekends at the coast, an occasional visit to London when one or the other had business there. In the country they had enjoyed taking long walks; they had discovered tucked-away restaurants in small villages in the Northumberland countryside; in Newcastle they had attended concerts at The Sage, and drama productions at the Theatre Royal in Grey Street. She was an intelligent, beautiful woman, they were both single and attracted to each other, and they were enjoying their time together.
'So is it serious?' his ex-wife Anne had asked him when they happened to meet at a charity dinner in Morpeth.
'Is what serious?' he countered.
'Sharon Owen and you.' When he raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, she said, 'Oh, come on, Eric, it's hardly a mystery. You've been seen together often enough recently. And don't try telling me it's just a professional relationship!'
It was some years since he and Anne had divorced; he supposed they had each been partly to blame for the collapse of their marriage. There had been some difficult moments during the early years after the break-up but any hints of acrimony had long since passed away. They were now friends, occasionally a little edgy in the relationship, but essentially they had gone their own ways, Anne with her business interests and the management of her estates at Sedleigh Hall, Eric with his Quayside law practice. She still called upon him for his professional services from time to time, but he retained his independence in his own practice, even though she constantly told him he could do better in the commercial sector in Newcastle. But his was a practice which suited him after his years on the beat as a police officer on Tyneside and it was a practice that had grown considerably in the last two years. His secretary, Susie Cartwright, had become much busier since briefs from the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office had started coming in. The increase in activity had led to his taking rooms on another floor of the building overlooking the river, and he had found it necessary to employ two junior solicitors to assist him in the general running of the business.
Their presence allowed him to concentrate on the extension of his criminal practice. It was work he was at ease with and he had been able to hand over to them most of the extra work that had come his way: it was interesting how his client list had grown once it was known he was handling government briefs. And that extension had led to a consequent greater use of the forensic skills of Sharon Owen.
'Let's just say Sharon and I enjoy each other's company,' Eric had insisted to Anne. 'And leave it there.'
She had had the good sense to do so.
The present brief, of course, had not come from the official sources that had been developing ever since his involvement with the Anubis affair: Guardian of the Dead, he thought grimly, an apposite name, given the circumstances of the case that had led to several deaths. But one of the results of that affair had been a flow of briefs for prosecutions: he had reached a certain tacit agreement with the Home Office. His discretion and silence were assured by their becoming a client of his.
This case had come out of the blue. On this occasion he was acting for the defence, and he had had no hesitation in briefing Sharon Owen to act on behalf of Raymond Conroy.
He and Sharon had discussed the matter at some length over dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Tyne. From where they sat they were able to see the gleaming outline of The Sage Centre and the Millennium Bridge. The floating nightclub located on board the Tuxedo Princess had now left the river, the boat having sailed to a new home in Greece, but lights still gleamed along the quayside, gaudily lit pleasure boats sliding downriver to the mouth of the Tyne. The river had swirled blackly below them, glittering balefully in the full moon, as he and Sharon had talked.
'I have to admit, I have reservations about taking this defence brief,' Sharon had said quietly. He could detect the anxiety in her tone and see it in her eyes.
'The nature of the case, you mean. I understand. But we're officers of the court,' Eric had reminded her. 'In situations like this we ... or you at least ... have little choice but to agree to act.'
She shook her golden head. 'I know we barristers have an obligation to act for a client whether we like it or not, but I have to admit this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not exactly looking forward to meeting this individual.' She grimaced, glancing doubtfully at Eric. 'I would have expected this case to have been heard in the Midlands. It was a surprise when it was scheduled for Newcastle.'
Eric shrugged. 'You can see the reasons for it.'
'Too much local publicity? Prejudice?' She grimaced. 'It's usually the defence who raise that as an issue and ask that the trial be moved to a court outside the immediate area.'
Eric nodded. 'That's right. Usually on the grounds that local feeling is running too high and it would be difficult to empanel a jury who would not be biased.'
'Precisely. But in this case it's the prosecution who made the request to the Lord Chancellor. It's unusual.'
Eric picked up his wine glass, stared into the twinkling red of the liquid and grimaced thoughtfully. 'Yes ... I've been thinking about it. I've got this suspicion that they're worried. Fine, they've got the CPS go ahead to agree that the prosecution could be brought but I wonder whether they really believe the case against Conroy is all that strong. It's circumstantial, of course —'
'Nothing wrong with that.'
'I agree. But I've spoken at length with Conroy, and he's raised some doubts about motives, and actions, and the evidence they're going to bring, well ... if you agree to take the case you'll see it raises certain problems for the prosecution. I think they've acted precipitately.'
'You might be right. Anyway, you want me at least to talk to Conroy,' Sharon said soberly.
'If you're going to take the case, you'll need to see him.'
She sighed. 'As you say, I don't have much choice since I've no excuse to offer by way of pressure of work. And the seniors in my chambers are more than happy to leave it to me. In fact, I have the distinct impression most of them don't want to touch this particular piece of business. I have to admit I'm reluctant because of the details that have already emerged in the press, after the preliminary hearing. As far as I've already read in the newspapers, the facts are pretty grisly, and if this is the guy who committed these horrific murders —'
'The prosecution have yet to persuade a jury of that,' Eric reminded her.
She glanced out of the window at the dark river and nodded in resignation. 'I know. Well, better fix it up, Eric.' She shook herself and smiled at him. 'Now ... I think we ought to concentrate on enjoying our dinner.'
Eric glanced at the man in the dock. Conroy had dressed as he had been advised by his lawyers, in a well-cut, sober, dark grey business suit, white shirt, neat tie. His short black hair had been recently trimmed, black curls thinning at the crown of the head. He had grey eyes, heavy lidded under arched, clearly defined eyebrows, and a soft-lipped, sensuous mouth. His features were lean, slightly hollow-cheeked, his nose thin and straight, his cheekbones prominent. Overall it was a handsome face and yet there was something unmade about it. Eric was left with the impression that something was missing in the man's appearance. It was difficult to be precise but perhaps it was in some strange way a lack of humanity: there was a coldness about his appearance, an arrogant detachment as though he was divorced from his surroundings, watching what was happening around him with a cool distancing, an indifference not only to what was happening in the courtroom but to life in general. He was an unmoved, uninvolved observer – or at least gave the impression of being so.
There had been the same kind of cold indifference on Conroy's part when Eric had interviewed him with Sharon Owen in the holding room at Durham Prison.
The two lawyers had sat facing the accused man for almost two minutes, saying nothing. Conroy had sat there in his standard prison uniform, arms folded over his lean chest, his breathing apparently well under control, a vagueness about his glance as he waited for Sharon Owen to speak. She had stared at him, watching him, studying him, weighing him up. He seemed unmoved. Eric felt the unease in her, aware that she was trying hard to control her tone, so that her own personal prejudices were not displayed. At last, she murmured, 'Mr Conroy.'
It was as though she had flicked a switch: he blinked, he smiled, he leaned forward. 'You can call me Raymond.' His voice was well modulated, quiet, reserved but friendly in a surreal way. 'Please do.'
'Mr Conroy,' Sharon repeated firmly, 'you are accused of the murder of three women in the Birmingham and King's Heath area: Jean Capaldi, Dorothy Chance and Irene Dixon.'
Raymond Conroy smiled lazily. 'Charges to which I pleaded not guilty when arraigned at the magistrates court.'
Conroy's eyes seemed carelessly unfocused, but his tone was deep, lacked strain, and underlined the confidence he displayed in his bearing.
'The details of these crimes are of a particularly horrifying nature,' Sharon went on coldly. 'They involve torture, mutilation and strangulation. You are aware of these details?'
Raymond Conroy twitched his nostrils in distaste and raised his head. He shrugged indifferently. 'Isn't everyone? We all read the newspapers, watch television. The gutter press have had a field day. What do they call the man who did these things? The Zodiac Killer. A cheap sensationalism. Even the more respectable newspapers have run leading articles. Oh, yes, I've read the details ... at least those which have been stated in the media. Torture, the carving of what the newspapers have described as esoteric designs on the breasts of these unfortunate women, final strangulation.'
'No rape,' Sharon said quietly.
'As you say.' In the short silence that followed he held her gaze, his grey eyes betraying nothing. 'Not what one might call a normal sexual motive, then. If rape can be regarded as a normal activity in the human male. The curious thing is, so many women have written to me since I was arrested. Offering sympathy. And other things. Even marriage. Odd, isn't it? I wonder what motivates them to wish to form a relationship with me.' He smiled thinly. 'Rather ghoulish, don't you think? But apparently not unusual. The fact that I might be the killer, or not, seems to make little difference.'
Sharon shuffled uneasily on her chair. 'What are your personal views about these killings?'
Raymond Conroy's eyes were glazed and icy. He lifted one shoulder in a deprecating gesture. 'Do I need to have any? I have no particular feelings about them. They don't affect me. I never made the acquaintance of any of these unfortunate women.'
'But you're charged with the murders.'
He nodded, a mock-serious frown appearing on his brow. 'Yes, I have been charged, but it's clear I've been set up – framed as our American cousins would say – to hide what can only be described as police incompetence. The police have to find someone, don't they? It's been over a year since the first murder was perpetrated. They've been under considerable pressure. The media have been on their backs. There have been questions asked in parliament. A chief constable has been forced to resign after one botched operation, when the man they arrested turned out to be innocent. Demands for action have been made. Public demonstrations, slogan chanting, banner waving, the kind of public hysteria one associates normally with the French. Over there, they are so addicted to their manifestations, aren't they? But among the sober citizens of towns in the Midlands? Perhaps it's a result of so much immigration from excitable foreigners gathering in hysterical communities. Not realizing we don't do things that way in this country. Till now, at least. However, a deal of pressure. So the police had finally to take action. But they've brought trumped-up charges against an innocent man. Me. They won't get away with it. At least,' he added with a wintry smile, 'not as long as you do your job properly.'
Sharon glanced at Eric, took a deep breath, leaned back in her chair, and said to the man facing her, 'You seem unusually relaxed about all this, given the nature of the accusations.'
Raymond Conroy raised an interrogative eyebrow as though he considered the comment quaintly obtuse. 'I believe in the English legal system. The prosecution have to prove my guilt. And I'm an innocent man. Should I display anxiety? Should I be demonstrably unnerved?' He smiled. 'Who knows? When this is all over, I might find a wider clientele for my work. My painting, that is. Not the handiwork the prosecution is attempting to thrust upon me. Zodiac designs carved on human flesh. Art? Really!'
Eric could sense Sharon's anger at the man's cold insouciance. She was silent for a little while, then she shuffled among the papers Eric had supplied her. 'There seems to be little in the prosecution case that clearly links you with the first two killings: Dorothy Chance and Jean Capaldi. The prosecution is proceeding on the basis that there are considerable similarities in the modus operandi of the three murders. Their main effort will be devoted to an attempt to establish your guilt in relation to the death of the third woman.'
'So it would seem.'
Excerpted from Design for Murder by Roy Lewis. Copyright © 2010 Roy Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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