Read an Excerpt
THE LAST TIME WE SAW HER
By Robert Scott
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Robert Scott
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTerror on a Dark Street
Albuquerque, New Mexico November 29, 2004
Natalie Kirov was a beautiful young woman. Twenty-two years old, blond, petite, and vibrant, she was very far from her native country of Russia. An exchange student at the University of New Mexico (UNM), in Albuquerque, Natalie had learned to love the area that was so different from her own homeland. Every morning colorful balloons rose from the fields around the Rio Grande and wafted aloft on winds that made them soar along the Sandia Mountains. Old Town, with its collection of historic buildings dating back to the early 1700s, was just down the hill from the campus. And as each day went by, Natalie's English skills improved, and she became more and more a part of the student life on campus.
Natalie worked part-time on campus to make ends meet, and on the evening of November 29, 2004, she left her job at a day care center at UNM, around 5:30 P.M. She took a shuttle bus to an area near the duck pond on campus and then started walking home through a neighborhood where many students lived. This was an area that Tony Hillerman had written about on several occasions in his series of Navajo mysteries. As Hillerman noted in Coyote Waits: It was a neighborhood of small frame stucco bungalows left over from the 1940s with weedy yards and sagging fences. By 2004, some of the homes in the area were newer, with well-kept yards, but there were also empty lots filled with weeds and overgrown shrubbery, and still those that had "weedy yards and sagging fences."
The residential area below campus may not have been the most luxurious in the city, but it was filled with plenty of students returning to their residences and commuters arriving home from work at 6:00 P.M., so Natalie felt safe as she walked along. There was one drawback to this illusion of safety, however. Much of the street upon which she walked was unlit, and at this time of November, it was already dark. There were also gaps in the rows of houses with screens of dark vegetation. As Natalie neared the intersection of Harvard Drive and Garfield Avenue, there was even an old barn sitting on a wooded lot next to the street, which made that locale look more like country than city.
Suddenly, as if in a nightmare, a shadowy figure came up behind Natalie. Without warning his hands clasped around her waist and throat. In a rough voice the stranger whispered into her ear, "Come with me! Get in my car! I have a knife!"
For a brief moment Natalie thought it was all a joke. After all, this was the heart of the city, just a little after six o'clock. She thought it was someone she knew from school who was playing a prank on her.
That perception quickly disappeared as the man pulled a knife out of his pocket and placed the sharp blade against her neck. Its cold steel dispelled any more thoughts that this was a prank.
Knowing that she had to comply, or die right there on the street, Natalie allowed herself to be manhandled toward the assailant's vehicle. She was thrust into a small red Honda and told not to move or scream.
Her assailant got into the car right behind her through the passenger door. He climbed over her, moved behind the steering wheel, and started the engine. As the car began moving down the street, she could see in the dim light that her attacker was about thirty years old and scruffy-looking. She also noticed that he was very agitated and his eyes had a wild look.
Even though the car was now moving, Natalie decided to take her chances. She grabbed the passenger-door handle and jerked on it, deciding it was better to throw herself from a moving car than to end up wherever this man was taking her. But to her surprise and horror, the door would not open.
The man growled at her and flashed his knife. "Don't do that again!" he snarled. "Or I'll hurt you!"
Extremely frightened now, Natalie complied. She even obeyed him when he said, "Take off your clothes and put them on the backseat." He pointed the knife at her once more with his free hand. Natalie disrobed, item by item, until she was completely naked. He glanced at her momentarily and then kept driving.
Even under these extreme circumstances, Natalie kept her wits about her. She told the man, "Please don't take me far away. I don't know the area."
Surprisingly, the man agreed, and replied, "I won't take you far."
True to his word, he drove only a little farther down to an area near Princeton Drive. Natalie had no illusions about what was coming next. Even as he drove, the man reached over and let his free hand roam all over her naked body. He inserted one of his fingers into her vagina and then into her anus. It's not exactly clear at what point this happened, but he soon parked in a dark area. He then unzipped his pants and told her to "go down on it."
Natalie cried out, "I don't know how! I've never done that!"
"I'll show you how," he replied, and forced her head down.
But it wasn't working. The man became more and more angry and agitated. "We need another spot," he said, perhaps worried that they might be seen on Princeton Drive.
He started the vehicle again and drove away. As he did so, he told Natalie not to look out the window. She disobeyed him, however, wanting to know where he was taking her. She thought she was being cagey about this, but he spotted her. Her captor snarled, "I told you not to peek!"
Natalie's memory of what occurred next became jumbled in its images of this nightmarish ride. It might have been on the side of a street, but more likely the man stopped in the parking lot of an apartment complex. He pulled out a small item, which, at first, she thought was a pen. It was, in fact, a small crack pipe. The man loaded the pipe with some crack cocaine, lit it, and then blew smoke into her nostrils. He told her to open her mouth and inhale. But Natalie didn't want to do that.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Shut up!" he replied. "Just do as I say! This will relax you."
But it didn't relax her. It only made her more frightened about the whole situation.
Natalie cried, "Can't I just go home?"
The man answered, "If you make me happy, you have a better chance of going home."
He climbed on top of her and kissed her neck and breasts. Despite fondling her some more, inserting his finger once again into her vagina and anus, the man could not stay erect. Frustrated and angry, he made her lie on her stomach as he searched around for something to tie her up with. Eventually he bound her wrists together with laces from one of her shoes and bound her ankles with her scarf. Then he stuffed her panties into her mouth and bound it to her head with another shoestring. He draped a coat over her head and fastened it there with a belt. Then he told her, "Don't move. I'm watching you."
Satisfied with his handiwork, the man suddenly and unexpectedly exited the vehicle and went walking away toward a row of apartments near the parking lot where they were now situated. Once he was out of sight, Natalie began thrashing, twisting, and wiggling with all her might to loosen her restraints.
She said later, "The scarf was kind of loose, and I got that off easily. Then I loosened the shoestring that bound my wrists." She pulled the panties out of her mouth as well, but she was in such a hurry, she did not remove them from around her neck. That accomplished, Natalie didn't even bother dressing. She just grabbed her coat, managed to unlock the car door, and vaulted out into the open. Then, without a backward glance, she took off running.
Clad only in socks and a coat, which barely covered her naked body, Natalie went running down the street until she came to the vicinity of Louisiana Boulevard SE. But this wasn't the best part of town, and as she tried to flag cars down, they must have thought she was some whacked-out druggie or prostitute. No one stopped to help her.
Natalie was eventually able to speak to one group of people in a car near a stoplight. She begged, "Please help me! Let me in!" But the people stared out at her in dismay. One of them said, "Our car is too full." And then they took off.
Natalie ran across the street to a small Mexican restaurant. There were people inside there, but they, too, were reluctant to help her. Perhaps they had limited English, and the Russian-accented words pouring out of Natalie's mouth were hard to understand. And then, unexpectedly and almost by a miracle, a car with a woman and some children pulled over near the restaurant. The car was driven by Dara Finks, and one of Dara's daughters was in the front passenger seat. Seeing the strange young woman running down the street, clad only in socks and a coat, Dara nonetheless had decided to pull over in the dark to see if she could help.
Dara and one of her daughters went into the restaurant and spoke with the strange girl, who was so scantily dressed. Natalie's story came tumbling out; she spoke of how she had been attacked by a man with a knife and was forced to disrobe. Dara offered to call 911, while Dara's daughter offered Natalie an extra pair of pants, which were in the car.
All three women got into Dara's car; and as they took off, Natalie could see her attacker across the street getting into his red Honda and starting the car. She was afraid he might follow them, but he took off in another direction.
Natalie got on Dara's cell phone and spoke to a 911 dispatcher. Natalie told the dispatcher what had just occurred and gave a description of her attacker and the car he had been in. Natalie was given instructions where to meet a police officer, who would then handle her report.
The first law enforcement agent to arrive was Officer Aragon of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). Officer Aragon spoke with Natalie and Dara and began a report on the incident. Natalie told about being abducted at knifepoint, driven away in the car, forced to disrobe, and then sexually molested. She also spoke of the last location she had been when she'd managed to escape. Because she knew from what area she'd started running to seek help, Officer Aragon was able to take Natalie back to the exact block of Louisiana Boulevard SE. With any luck the red Honda might have returned to the lot, and an arrest could be made.
The car wasn't there, but Natalie's description of the vehicle was very good. She told Officer Aragon that it was a red Honda with a red-and-gray interior and a stuffed-animal monkey in the back window. The monkey had suction cups on its hands and feet, which allowed it to be attached to a vehicle window. The Honda had been in the apartment complex parking lot at the location where they now were. It was there that the man had tied her up and then exited the vehicle, looking for something or someone.
Soon other officers arrived on the scene, including APD detective John Romero. Detective Romero had his crime scene technicians spread out and search the area. One of them found a shoestring that most likely had been used to bind Natalie. And then a real piece of luck occurred. Officer Aragon went to an apartment close to where the red Honda had been parked. He contacted a woman there named Zoraido Oviedo. Oviedo told Officer Aragon that she knew a man named "Joe" who owned a red Honda. In fact, Joe had just left her apartment in a hurry, saying, "I gotta get outta here!" He had been very agitated and afraid of something.
Oviedo didn't know Joe's last name, or where he lived. But she thought it was somewhere in the area of Yale and Gibson boulevards. In fact, she didn't even know if Joe was really his name. It's just what he called himself.
Natalie was transported to a hospital for treatment by Officer R. Sanchez. Meanwhile, Officer E. Taylor drove to the area of Yale and Gibson where Oviedo had indicated Joe lived. As Officer Taylor cruised up and down the streets, he spotted a red Honda with a toy monkey in the back window. And as Taylor got out to inspect the vehicle, as if by magic, a man who matched the description that Natalie had given approached the Honda.
Officer Taylor detained the man and asked if his name was Joe.
The man corrected Taylor and said that his name was Joel.
By the incredible survival instincts of Natalie Kirov, the timely and brave intervention of Dara Finks, and the good police work by the Albuquerque Police Department, a chain of events was about to go into effect. A chain of events that would lead back through a man named Joel to a kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young woman in Oregon months prior to that November evening. Just like with Natalie, Joel had snatched the young blond woman off a "safe street." That young woman was a college student as well. Joel drove her to a remote location, made her disrobe, sexually molested her for more than a day, and then killed her in a patch of lonely dark woods. What had begun to unravel in New Mexico in November 2004 had only started to transpire in Oregon in May 2004.
Chapter TwoClose Calls
Corvallis, Oregon, May 24, 2004
The man named Joel was in a bad mood on the morning of May 24, 2004. He'd spent a long night of drinking and snorting cocaine at a party in Portland, Oregon. Now overdue for a DUI court appearance more than 150 miles away on the Oregon coast in Newport, Lincoln County, he was tired and hungover. There were no direct freeways from Portland to Newport, and he knew he was going to be late for his "driving under the influence" charge.
Joel called the court and left a message on their answering machine about his late appearance. Then he decided to drive down Interstate 5 to Albany and cut across to the coast on Highway 20. This highway would take him through the college town of Corvallis, on the Willamette River.
Corvallis was a city of fifty-five thousand residents and nineteen thousand college students at Oregon State University (OSU) in 2004. Corvallis went by the title "The Pacific Northwest's Most Beautiful College Town." Noble Prize–winner Linus Pauling had been an OSU graduate, and inkjet printing and the computer mouse had been invented there. In fact, Corvallis had one of the highest per capita number of computer users in the nation. Up until the year 2004, Corvallis had one other statistic: It was the twentieth safest city of its size in the United States out of a list of 344. But all that was about to change.
As Joel drove through Corvallis around nine-twenty on Monday morning, May 24, he began to spot more and more young college girls walking toward campus. They were just the kind of girls he liked. And even better, as far as he was concerned, these girls were walking alone on the residential streets beneath the shady trees.
In some areas there were no other people around, or even passing traffic. All of this was just too tempting for Joel. He'd been in similar situations in the past when he'd spotted a young woman walking alone on a street. He'd taken advantage of the situation in the blink of an eye, forcing them into his vehicle and making them disrobe, before having sex with them. And besides, now he was driving a minivan with tinted windows. Even in the daytime no one could see into the back of the van. He could hustle a girl into the van's interior, threaten her, and then drive to some remote location. Then he could do whatever he wanted with her.
Joel started cruising the streets of Corvallis, closer and closer to campus. On the southwest side of campus, he spotted a young woman walking into the parking lot of the Oak Park Apartments, about a block away from OSU's Reser Stadium. There was no one else around that he could see. Here was his chance.
Diane Mason was twenty years old in May 2004, and a student at OSU. She lived not far off campus, and on that morning she began her usual walk to class by cutting through the Oak Park Apartments complex. As she did so, she noticed a green minivan enter the parking lot from a side street. As the van drove in, Diane exited the parking lot and crossed Western Boulevard, walked past the Reser Stadium parking lot, and headed for Thirtieth Street, on the edge of campus. There were a few cars going by on Western Boulevard, but no people or cars at all on Thirtieth Street.
Suddenly the green minivan she had seen at the Oak Park Apartments pulled up and actually blocked her path. Diane had to walk out into the street to move around it. The van's engine was still running; and as she approached the driver's side of the vehicle, the driver rolled the window down. As soon as Diane was adjacent to the window, the man inside spoke to her.
Excerpted from THE LAST TIME WE SAW HER by Robert Scott Copyright © 2012 by Robert Scott. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.