Ten years ago, Carolyn Sullivan recommended a forty-four year sentence for vicious murderer and serial rapist Carl Holden. Cold, cunning, and without remorse, Holden was the kind of criminal the death penalty was made for, and the forensic evidence had him nailed – or so everyone thought. But when the evidence is discredited, Holden is a free man again, and Carolyn is his assigned parole officer.
To the state, Holden is a man who has served his time. But Carolyn still remembers the grieving family and the victims who have been betrayed by a miscarriage of justice. She knows Holden for what he is – a stone-cold sociopath – and she’s determined to see him behind bars forever. Then a chance traffic accident introduces Carolyn to charming and wealthy Marcus Wright, a man who seems to have as many secrets as he does bank accounts. Marcus wants Carolyn, and for the first time in a long time, Carolyn likes being wanted.
The killings start again. A body is found in the same location where Carl Holden buried his first victim. As more shocking crimes are uncovered, everything Carolyn has trusted as a professional is put to the test. With the stakes rising higher and time running out, Carolyn takes the biggest gamble of her life, one that could catch a killer or take her straight into her worst nightmare.
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By NANCY TAYLOR ROSENBERG
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
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Chapter OneSt. Louis, Missouri
As the sun disappeared and darkness fell, death lurked in the shadows. Outside the winds were howling, causing the shutters in the cramped living room to rattle. Eleanor Beckworth headed to the bedroom to change into her nightclothes. Even when she wore her slippers, the cold hardwood floors chafed her feet. She was a petite woman. Her weight had never risen over one twenty. When she was younger, she stood almost five four, but now she was barely five feet. Age had not only shriveled her skin, it had compressed her spine.
Eleanor stopped walking, sensing something. The atmosphere in the room felt different. Was it a change in the barometric pressure? Maybe the storm they were predicting for tomorrow was moving in early. She hoped not, as her roof was badly in need of repair and the boiler was acting up again. Reluctantly, she had called her handyman, Mitch, today. She had space heaters, but she knew they weren't always safe, and she was terrified of fire. Maybe Mitch could patch the roof as he'd done the year before.
Eleanor tried to live on the money she received from social security, which was barely enough to pay the mortgage and buy groceries. She had twenty thousand in her savings account and a modest amount of equity in her house. She had pulled out most of the money over the years, but she wanted to leave something for her granddaughter when she died.
Glancing at Elizabeth's pictures lined up on the walls in the hall, she touched her finger to her lip, and then pressed it against her granddaughter's face. She'd raised the girl from the age of three after her daughter, Anna, had died of leukemia. Since Anna hadn't married the child's father, the young man had left town, never to be heard from again. Eleanor gladly served as Elizabeth's mother.
Elizabeth was such a darling girl, Eleanor thought, but terribly unlucky when it came to men. Her granddaughter had dated one young man for five years, letting him live with her in her apartment. The man had never contributed a dime, worked only a day or two a week, and refused to commit to a permanent relationship. Elizabeth had finally had no choice but to toss the freeloader out. Her little heart had been shattered.
Men living off women! Eleanor thought in disgust. She remembered the days when a man opened your car door, took you out for a nice dinner, treated you like a lady. They didn't swoop down like vultures on lonely women, use them like prostitutes, then take off as soon as they got bored or decided there was nothing more they could take.
"Oh, well," she said, entering the bathroom. She hung her clothes on a hook so she could wear them the next day and stepped into her blue flannel nightgown. Once she had removed her dentures and was bundled up in her bathrobe, she performed her nightly rituals: checking to make certain all the doors and windows were locked, watering the plants on a ledge above the kitchen sink, then selecting the pills she took every night and placing them inside a plastic lid.
Eleanor had always thought her granddaughter would live close by. She glanced at the clock and wondered why Elizabeth hadn't called yet. They spoke on the phone once a week, and Sunday was her night to call. Eleanor rarely phoned Elizabeth, as the girl sometimes talked for hours, and Eleanor couldn't afford to run up her bill calling California. Elizabeth must have lost track of time. She was a computer technician who worked out of her home.
When the phone rang, Eleanor rushed over and grabbed it. "Is that you, darling?" she said. "I was worried I wasn't going to hear from you tonight."
"I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier, Mom," her granddaughter said. Since childhood, she had called Eleanor "Mom." "Matt and I had a terrible fight."
"Oh my," Eleanor said, "I thought your marriage was working out wonderfully."
"So did I," Elizabeth said, her voice cracking with emotion. "Matt's not the man I thought I married, though."
"Dear, dear," Eleanor said, taking a seat on a stool beside the phone, saddened by what she was hearing. "Maybe you've been on your computer too much and not paying him enough attention. A man needs to be doted on, honey. I'm sure you'll work things out. Where's Matt now?"
"I don't know. He got so angry, Mom. I've never seen him that mad. He's been stomping around all day. About an hour ago, he left without telling me where he was going."
"It might make him even angrier if he hears us talking, honey. What goes on in a marriage should remain between a husband and wife. No man wants people poking around in his private affairs."
"You're right," her granddaughter said, sighing. "I'm sorry I said anything." She paused, then whispered, "I think I hear Matt now. I'll call you next week."
"I love you," Eleanor told her, hating to end the call so abruptly.
"I love you, too, Mom."
* * *
Eleanor was asleep when she heard a noise. Glancing at the clock on the table by the bed, she saw that it was a few minutes past five in the morning. She was certain the noise she heard was the garbage truck, but she decided to check. Putting on her robe and slippers, she made it halfway down the hall when she saw a large, dark figure standing in front of her. "Get out of here!" she shrieked, her hand over her chest. "I have a gun. If you don't leave, I'll shoot you."
As she turned to run back to the bedroom to call the police, the intruder grabbed her around the neck, then released her. She fell face first onto the wood floor. The man was on top of her, his hot breath in her ear. "My purse is in the kitchen," she panted, pain shooting through her left hip. "There's cash ... take it ... you can buy drugs with it."
"Drugs, huh?" the man said, wrenching her arms behind her. "I don't need drugs. Killing is a natural high. Are you afraid to die? You should be."
He rolled off and yanked her to her feet. She sank against his arm, unable to stand. "I think my hip is broken," Eleanor said, moaning. Breaking a hip at her age was worse than a heart attack. If she couldn't care for herself, she would have to go into a nursing home. "I'll never walk again, you evil man," she spat at him. "God is going to strike you dead."
"Really?" he said, grabbing a handful of her hair and pulling her along behind him. "If there was a God, he would have struck me dead already. The things I've done, the things I've gotten away with. Shit, killing an old woman like you is like swatting a fly."
When they reached the bedroom, he picked her up and tossed her on the bed. Eleanor made a frantic move to grab the phone, but the man ripped it from the wall. The phone tumbled to the floor with a loud thud. She saw the awful man wrapping the phone cord around his wrist, and scooted up close to the headboard to get away from him. "Oh, no, please!" she pleaded. "Help me! Please have mercy on me!"
He squared his shoulders and faced her. The seconds ticked off inside her head. Through a crack in the blinds, a beam of light from a passing car struck his face. "You!" Eleanor shouted, her body shaking in terror and outrage. "For the love of heaven, it can't be you!"
The man circled to the side of the bed, leaping on top of the mattress behind her and planting his feet on either side. "Your eyesight is pretty good," he said, bending over and wrapping the cord around her neck. "Too good."
He twisted the cord in his hands, watching as it cut into the crinkly skin on Eleanor's neck. Placing his foot on her collarbone, he extended his leg, pushing her toward the foot of the bed until she began to struggle. "Sorry you're not happy to see me," he said. "I'm the last person you'll ever see. Don't blame yourself. I was going to kill you even if you didn't recognize me."
Eleanor tried to scream but couldn't. There was no air. Her body buckled, her eyes felt as if they were going to burst out of their sockets.
"Just relax, old girl. It'll be over in a few minutes. All you're going to do is take a long nap." The attacker stood, the muscles in his leg shaking from exertion until Eleanor's body became limp and lifeless. He stared down at her, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Once he was certain she was dead, he wrapped the cord around the bedpost and tied it into a knot. His victim's head dangled several inches off the pillow.
Jumping off the bed, he tossed the electric blanket over the body, turned on the bedside lamp, and began rummaging through Eleanor Beckworth's drawers and closets.
Chapter TwoVentura County Corrections Services Agency Ventura, California Thursday, September 14-2:10 P.M.
"Have you heard anything about the DA's office cutting a deal with Robert Abernathy?" Carolyn Sullivan asked her supervisor. As usual, she had walked into his office unannounced. Anyone else would have been tossed out. Most people knew Carolyn had been a close contender for Brad Preston's job and that the two of them almost ran the unit in concert.
"What happened to your hair?" he said, moving a stack of file folders to clear a spot on his desk. Outside his open door, phones jangled and voices rang out, mixing with the brushing sound of shoes moving rapidly across carpet.
Carolyn ran her fingers through her new short haircut, causing several curls to stand up on top of her head. She would turn forty next year. From someone who'd never given much thought to her appearance, she'd changed into one who tried on three or four outfits each morning before deciding what to wear. Her once slender hips and waist had expanded, and her clothes were not only snug, they seemed as if they belonged to a much younger woman. She wasn't sure what a woman approaching forty was supposed to wear, and she was convinced that she'd suddenly become hideously ugly. Today she was wearing a cream-colored dress that was a hand-me-down from her mother. "I went to Supercuts on my way home yesterday, okay?" she told him. "I wanted to look like Meg Ryan."
Preston flashed a smile. "I kind of like it. It makes you look cute and innocent, something we both know you're not. I'm sure you'll be a big hit at the jail. From the way you're dressed today, I gather you've given up trying to get criminals to talk by dressing seductively."
"I've given up a lot of things," Carolyn said.
"Abernathy's got you down, huh?" he said. "Take a seat."
Brad Preston was an exceptionally handsome man. His blond hair was fashionably cut, his eyes a vibrant blue, his skin bronze and unlined. He was a natural athlete, but more than anything, Brad was a thrill seeker. The walls were lined with photographs of him standing in front of high-powered race cars.
Carolyn walked over and flopped down in one of the two blue chairs facing his desk, inhaling the scent of freshly brewed coffee. Brad's assistant, Rachel, made him a pot every morning, using the gourmet blends he brought from home. His favorite was vanilla mocha. He offered her a cup, but she declined. "One of the DA's investigators said they were going to let Abernathy plead guilty to two counts of tampering with evidence if he agreed to spend thirty days in a mental hospital," she told him, swinging her leg back and forth. "What happened to the perjury counts? Every case Abernathy processed evidence in is up on appeal. Jesus, he even handled the DNA testing on the Tracy Anderson homicide. The next thing I expect to hear is that Carl Holden is back on the streets."
"I'm sorry, Carolyn," Preston said, avoiding her eyes. "Holden's conviction was overturned almost two years ago. The DA's office decided not to try him again because they felt certain they couldn't obtain a conviction without the DNA evidence. After what's come to light regarding Abernathy's lab work, of course, it's been ruled inadmissible. If you recall, none of the surviving rape victims were able to positively identify him. The entire case hinged on the DNA."
Carolyn closed her eyes, appalled at what she was hearing. She had known it was bad, but she hadn't known it was this bad.
A fresh-faced woman in her mid-twenties walked into the room. "Harry's back from court," Rachel told Brad, referring to the agency's superior court officer, who represented other officers' recommendations on routine felonies, thus saving them the time of juggling scores of court appearances. "Do you want his report now, or do you want him to come back later? He said everything went pretty good. Walker's recommendation was the only one that didn't fly." She saw Carolyn in the chair behind her. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were in a conference, Brad. Should I close the door?"
"Please," her boss said, taking a swallow of his coffee.
Carolyn straightened up in her seat, her face frozen into hard lines. "Why didn't someone notify me about Holden?"
"I only found out myself a few months ago," Brad said, cracking his knuckles. "I knew how much it would upset you, so I decided there was no reason to tell you. Holden is only one in God knows how many cases that were affected. As far as Abernathy is concerned, it's taken the county years to unravel what he did and put together accurate accounts as to which cases were compromised. The man was the chief forensic officer for the county. The poor guy had a nervous breakdown. The cops and prosecutors put tremendous pressure on these people, and the amount of evidence they process is enormous. They aren't miracle workers. Abernathy decided to give them what they wanted, probably just to get them off his back." He cleared his throat. "The DA didn't have much choice but to cut a deal with him. They want to keep as tight a lid on this thing as they possibly can. The only person willing to testify was Warner Chen, and Abernathy's attorneys have painted him as a disgruntled employee who intentionally set out to discredit the boss so he could inherit his job."
"Why would they give Abernathy's job to Chen?" Carolyn asked him. "He went and blabbed everything to the press. They ran an article in the paper just last week. If the cat's already out of the bag, why let Abernathy skate?"
"They fired Warner Chen last week," Preston said. "That's when he got pissed and went to the press."
"Abernathy's not crazy, Brad. He's a lazy, incompetent moron. They say he didn't run tests on half the evidence that came into the lab. He simply fabricated reports, or he used the DNA samples collected from the suspects after their arrests, and then claimed they matched whatever was found at the crime scene. The man had a God complex. He probably got off on the fact that he could control who went to prison and who walked. Sure, he was influenced by the investigating officers, but there's no excuse for what he did. He should have received the same treatment as any other criminal. With his position and the opportunity it presented to destroy lives, if it were up to me, he would have received twice as long a sentence as the average offender." She slumped back in her chair, disgusted with the whole situation. "This is a disaster. Now even I don't have faith in the system."
Preston tapped his pen against his teeth. "We cut deals with murderers all the time. Why not one of our own? I'm not saying I agree, just that I understand why the DA's office felt they should run damage control. The more this is played out in the media, the more cases will come up on appeal. The courts are already swamped. How can we come up with the resources and manpower to retry half the crimes committed during the eleven years Abernathy ran the lab?"
Carolyn didn't answer. Discounting Robert Abernathy's gross misconduct, forensic evidence was not always accurate for a variety of reasons. Samples could be corrupted, or too small for the necessary tests to be conducted. Evidence could be contaminated at the scene or during processing at the lab. Sometimes equipment malfunctioned. Bias was another problem, as demonstrated by Abernathy's desire to please the police and prosecutors. Courts and juries had learned to rely so heavily on forensic evidence, particularly DNA, which was presented as irrefutable, that eyewitness testimony, logic, and material facts were no longer sufficient to bring in a conviction.
Preston stared up at the ceiling, then slowly met her gaze. "I have more bad news. Holden's been convicted of a new crime. I want you to handle the report. The offense is destruction of private property. Judge Reiss placed him on summary probation, so no one's asking you to supervise him."
"Summary probation!" Carolyn exclaimed, bolting to her feet. "Carl Holden is a serial rapist and murderer. And you're telling me Reiss didn't think someone should actively supervise him? We've got a violent criminal on the street and no way to keep tabs on him. He's not even on parole. Christ, how irresponsible can we get?"
Excerpted from Sullivan's Evidence by NANCY TAYLOR ROSENBERG Copyright © 2007 by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg. Excerpted by permission.
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A page turner, just when you thought you had it figured out........another twist in the life of the Sullivan family. A good blend of the old and new characters.
Knowing that the author has many fans, I looked forward to reading this book. I was sorry to learn that Rosenberg isn't for me. I found the plot so convoluted and unbelievable that I just couldn't enjoy the book.
I hope someone gets a movie out on these books, they are about the best ones out there! You should read one. I know that i have everyone that she has written.
Eight years ago vicious and remorseless Carl Holden was found guilty of the rape of four women and murder of a thirtyish housewife everyone knew he was guilty and based on the recommendation of parole officer Carolyn Sullivan he received forty four years. However, Ventura County, California forensic lab chief Robert Abernathy tampered with evidence in the Holden case and others Holden is free on probation with Carolyn as his officer.--------------- New murders like those that fit Holden¿s M.O begin. Carolyn, a single mom of two teens, believes beyond a shadow of the doubt that this evil man walking the streets on a state technicality caused by a lazy bureaucratic moron is the killer she plans to prove without a shadow of a doubt that is the case. However, a desire to do something does not prevent someone one, probably Holden, wanting in turn to destroy one of the key people who locked him away for eight years. To succeed her children make a fine first target.---------------- The third Sullivan legal-crime thriller (see SULLIVAN¿S JUSTICE and SULLIVAN¿S LAW) is a superb tale that provides readers with a deep look inside the California criminal justice system. The heroine is a terrific protagonist struggling with a case that is so personal, her mind cannot forget the images of the Anderson family, relatives of the housewife Holden killed while also battling as a single mom with teens. Carolyn¿s time is so tight that a fender bender with Marcus Wright seems right for a relationship but when. With fabulous forensic support (especially the bungling) and an incredible climax, Nancy Taylor Rosenberg writes a superb thriller that will make all the short mystery lists for top books of the year.----------- Harriet Klausner