A neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler discovers a genetic signature that produces psychopaths in The Ripper Gene, a thrilling debut novel from Michael Ransom.
Dr. Lucas Madden is a neuroscientist-turned-FBI profiler who first gained global recognition for cloning the ripper gene and showing its dysfunction in the brains of psychopaths. Later, as an FBI profiler, Madden achieved further notoriety by sequencing the DNA of the world's most notorious serial killers and proposing a controversial "damnation algorithm" that could predict serial killer behavior using DNA alone.
Now, a new murderer-the Snow White Killer-is terrorizing women in the Mississippi Delta. When Mara Bliss, Madden's former fiancée, is kidnapped, he must track down a killer who is always two steps ahead of him. Only by entering the killer's mind will Madden ultimately understand the twisted and terrifying rationale behind the murders-and have a chance at ending the psychopath's reign of terror.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
MICHAEL RANSOM is a molecular pharmacologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Ripper Gene
By Michael Ransom
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Michael Ransom
All rights reserved.
Anna Cross was a beautiful young woman, but if you looked at her long enough, her countenance soured, tainted by the pathos that only a wide-eyed dead girl could possess.
I started to stand, but found it difficult to remove my gaze. It was hard to imagine the young girl alive, before the crimson letter A adorned her otherwise unblemished forehead. The cuts covering her chest, arms, and legs were deep and nearly perfectly straight, but my eyes kept tracking back to her slender face and the obscene letter A smeared across her forehead — the tip of the A poised perfectly beneath her blonde widow's peak.
I noticed, too, that her left hand clutched outward conspicuously in cadaveric spasm, as though she'd prepared to scratch a chalkboard in the moment before she died.
The headlights of a lone car on Highway 49 shimmered through a distant line of pine trees in the gray dusk, and the delayed Doppler of its high-pitched engine eventually droned behind. I remained in a crouched position beside the body, not yet willing to leave.
"So what do you make of it, Agent Madden?"
I shifted my weight slightly toward the sheriff's voice behind me. The young girl's body had been discarded fewer than two hundred yards from the highway. She was still clothed in a blue-jeaned skirt and short, black tank top but propped in a sexually suggestive pose nonetheless, leaned carefully against an ancient oak stump in a small clearing in the woods. Her forearms rested on her parted knees and her head was cocked slightly to the left, as though she were a careless, sultry model adorning the cover of the latest men's magazine.
"Pratt," I asked, instead of answering, without looking in his direction. "The fingers of her left hand look like she was holding something but there's nothing there. Did your guys find anything I haven't seen yet?"
In the gathering twilight the sheriff walked in a half circle into my line of view and stood there like an older Elvis in silhouette, his jelly-doughnut belly hanging over a thick utility belt. He adjusted the brim of his hat and managed to laugh and cough at the same time. "Well, now that you say it, before you got here one of the boys picked up an apple a few feet away from the body."
I breathed in a short breath.
The sheriff's voice went up a notch and he held out his hands in placating fashion. "Don't worry, though. I had him bag it right away, all nice and proper. He signed and dated the Baggie, just like he's supposed to. We can get it for you, if you want to see it." His voice tapered off as he recognized that he'd just offered to make evidence from the crime scene available to me.
I was the criminal profile coordinator for the FBI's New Orleans field office, normally lending my profiling skills to murder cases out of New Orleans and surrounding parishes. The recent retirement of the coordinator in the Jackson field office meant that I'd be pulling double duty in Mississippi for a while. Based on the circumstances of the present crime scene I wasn't sure I was needed for this case, but I still wanted to cover all the bases.
I let a few more awkward seconds pass. "Yeah," I finally whispered, holding back my anger with a calmness that I'd always found far more effective than shouting or spewing profanities. "That might be a good idea."
His two deputies paced the perimeter of the taped-off crime scene, eavesdropping and casting sideways glances every few seconds to see my reaction. I assumed it was the one on the right who had picked up the apple, since he seemed more invested in the outcome of our discussion. He was looking over about twice as frequently as the other one.
I pursed my lips and finally smiled up in Pratt's direction. "Why don't you come with me for a second, Sheriff, so we can discuss this further in private," I said. I walked over and lightly clapped him on the shoulder.
We left the crime scene and walked toward the edge of the woods. The leather of Pratt's ancient belt and unused gun holster creaked as he followed along. "What's on your mind, Agent Madden?" he asked when we stopped.
I kept my voice low, but now let my exasperation seethe through every word. "You know good and fucking well what's on my mind."
I flipped open my pocket notebook and took out a pen. "First. Did that deputy mishandle the apple? Did he pick it up bare-handed?"
Pratt held up his hands again and shook them downward in the negative, eager to defend himself and his crew. "Hell, no. I teach my men better than that. He had on gloves, and the apple's in an evidence bag, all signed and dated, everything's in order."
"Okay, that's good. Anything else removed from the crime scene? Anything?"
Again the placating hands. "No. As soon as I found out he removed that apple, I had them shut it down immediately. Nothing else was disturbed."
I let out a barely audible sigh of relief. I needed only one more answer. "Okay, last question. Did your deputy get pictures of the crime scene before he picked up that apple?"
The beat before Pratt cleared his throat told me the answer before he even spoke.
"Oh, for shit's sake." I held up my finger to emphasize my next statement. "If that apple has the perp's fingerprints or saliva on it, and we're not able to use it in court because of some sort of evidence loophole ..." I stared at him a moment longer and let the empty threat sit in the air, then left him without another word.
The two deputies leaped to attention as I reentered the clearing.
"Which one of you found the apple?"
The one I'd guessed, a blond kid in his midtwenties with a splotchy mustache, stepped forward. "I did, sir."
"Show me exactly where you found it."
"It was right here." The deputy stepped a few feet away to the right of the body and pointed. I pulled out my pad and jotted down the approximate location of the apple next to the body. At that moment Pratt glumly reappeared.
I spoke without looking at him. "Go get me that apple, Pratt. I want to see it tonight, before it's transferred to the forensics lab."
He stopped midstride and, without another word, turned ninety degrees and walked back through the woods toward the police vans.
I was still angry, but as I watched him walk away I thought of something my chiropractor once told me, that anger only clouded the mind because it knotted the body. I fully endorsed that statement, as an expert in knotted body management. I used my hands to turn my head in either direction, attempting to release the tension in my neck. Anger never got me anywhere. Suppressed anger was even worse, and I'd had to employ it maximally to this point.
Later, I'd have to figure out a way to smooth things over with the local sheriff.
"Who do you think did it?" the young deputy beside me asked.
I flipped the pad closed. "Honestly? I think we're looking for a guy who thought it imperative to smear a bloody letter A onto his girlfriend's forehead. I thought of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter when I first saw it. Maybe that's what the killer wanted. Or maybe A for apple? Or A for Anna? Who knows? Whatever the meaning, it seems like a 'Find the boyfriend, find the killer' sort of case to me."
"You think her boyfriend did it?"
"Boyfriend, husband, significant other. You just don't see that kind of overkill every day. It's usually associated with the victim and assailant having known each other. Lot of hate and anger, usually."
The young officer shook his head. "I guess so," he said, still staring at the body.
"So," I said loudly, "we'll assume boyfriend unless we find other evidence that tells us differently. Let's get back over to the sheriff and wrap this up, okay?"
He nodded with that same blank stare, but then his face lit up. "You know, there was one other thing about that apple I forgot to mention."
"What was that?"
"It had a slit in it, about two inches long. I didn't look close because Sheriff Pratt yelled at me to bag it and take it to the van."
"I'm sorry, did you say a slit?"
After a few moments I realized the deputy was still staring at me, waiting for a pronouncement or some sort of response. And I wasn't about to reveal my thoughts.
"Okay, duly noted. Let's head back," I said, offering a forced smile that fell away as the younger man turned and made his way through the forest ahead of me.
I shook my head imperceptibly. I didn't want an apple in this case. I'd initially hoped the apple might harbor a careless perpetrator's DNA.
I had to fly back to Quantico in a couple days to give my yearly lecture at the FBI Academy. I didn't need this complication in my life, not now. Full of self-pity, I looked back at Anna Cross. Her decomposing eyes stared through me until I looked away, ashamed.
In the distance I saw the shadowy form of the sheriff stomping toward me in the dusk, the apple in the plastic evidence bag swinging in time with his angry steps.
In less than ninety seconds my profile had been turned upside down — something sinister waited inside the apple left in that young girl's dying grasp. An apple containing a thin, rectangular slit in its peel? I knew what lay inside.
I just didn't know why.CHAPTER 2
The next morning I found a yellow sticky note on my office door at the New Orleans field office: "Come find me when you get in." I tossed my jacket and satchel on the desk and headed down to the labs.
When I entered, Terry Randall, the head of our forensics unit, swiveled on his stool and held out a petri dish containing the razor he'd removed from the apple.
"Hi, Terry. What have you got on it?"
"As much as we're going to get, I think, which isn't much. But I'll take you through it." He motioned for me to sit beside him.
I'd discussed the case with Terry briefly last night and had made sure the apple was waiting on him in the laboratory this morning. He was my go-to guy in the New Orleans office, and my clear successor. He had rotated through our forensic laboratories while getting his doctorate at Tufts, and I'd hired him straight out of graduate school. He was the co-inventor of a genetics-based behavioral prediction algorithm we'd developed while he was in his PhD program, and we'd been a team ever since.
"Okay, first things first. The razor in the apple was a Gillette — no shit, the most common razor manufactured in America. The lot number came from a batch of razors that were cut and subsequently shipped out to thirteen different states and ninety-four different store chains. Seventeen in Mississippi alone. It's a black hole."
"We knew checking the razor manufacturer was a long shot, but at least now we know. Any trace evidence? Fibers, anything?
"Nothing. It's like the perp wore a giant Glad sandwich bag. We literally haven't found anything foreign from the crime scene yet. The guys haven't gone through all the vacuum bags though. Maybe something will still turn up."
"The apple may be our best lead. You asked me to find out what kind it was? It's something called an Ein Shemer. I called a local horticulturalist this morning and he identified it from the photo I e-mailed him. They're warm climate apples. They can be grown in Mississippi, and are actually pretty common down here. The guy didn't want to commit to a firm number, but he guessed there were probably several hundred orchards in Mississippi and Louisiana alone."
"So he agreed it was picked, not purchased?"
"We can't be one hundred percent sure until we do further analysis, but that's what he thought after seeing the photo. The extended stem and leaf, the overall poor quality — it was just his hunch but he thought we were probably right, that it likely came from a local orchard rather than a store, based on its appearance."
I stood. "Is that everything then? By the way, it's a whole lot further than I thought you'd get in the span of a morning."
"Yeah, that's it for now. We're still working here. The only fingerprints lifted from the apple match those of the victim, and all of the bloodstains found on her body and clothes match her serotype. No sexual intercourse of any kind on the body, no bite marks, no saliva or semen. Looks like at least the typical forensics are going to be a dead end."
This last batch of information suddenly gave me an idea. "Hey, did they swab the letter A smeared on her forehead and check its serotype?"
"Hmm. I think so, but hold on, let me check the coroner's report." He thumbed through a file on the end of the lab bench before looking back up. "Actually no, the CSIs didn't swab that area. I'm surprised they didn't. Maybe they just forgot."
I looked at my watch. "Listen, I need to finish up a couple reports today and I have to prep those slides for the lecture at the academy tomorrow. Do me a favor and call the morgue right away and find out whether they can still get a blood sample from that letter A on the body. It's just a hunch, but I want to know whether the blood used to smear that letter on her forehead came from Anna or from someone else."
"Consider it done." Terry raised an eyebrow. "You think it's not the victim's blood?"
"I don't know. But now I remember what struck me as odd at the crime scene last night. I remember thinking it was strange that none of the cut marks that were visible on the victim's body were smeared or smudged, which should have been the case if the killer had used the victim's blood to draw that A on her forehead. It's a long shot," I said, "but I want to know whether her blood or someone else's was used."
Terry tilted his head with a small shrug of his shoulder. "Okay, we'll look into it. I hope we can still get a sample. I'll call the morgue right now."
"Thanks, Terry. Call me in my office if you find anything."
* * *
I went back down the hallway and sat behind my desk. Yes, there were two reports to be written and that lecture wasn't going to prepare itself ... but Anna Cross's murder had suddenly gone to the top of the list. I had too many unsolved cases in my life, my own mother's murder being the first in a long line of too many failures, and I still held out hope that at least Anna Cross's demise would be an easily solved crime.
My mother, in fact, had been slain in the very same county twenty-plus years before. That sudden realization probably explained why this case was bothering me more than most.
Unfortunately, the interviews with Anna's family last night hadn't helped. They'd revealed that she'd been focusing on law school, hadn't been with anyone for more than a year, and that there had simply been no bad blood in any of her past relationships. We'd already phoned the last three boyfriends, dating all the way back to her senior year of high school, but each of them had provided an airtight alibi. Each of the three boys had been in public most of the night and they all lived with roommates or girlfriends who'd verified their whereabouts last night. The old boyfriends were looking more and more like a dead end.
At least the boyfriends that her family actually knew about. I kept reminding myself that it was still theoretically possible that Anna had been in the midst of an affair. And if she had been, then she just might have issued an ill-advised ultimatum that had turned sour in that worst of ways.
Suffice to say I thought it was still entirely possible that it was a boyfriend thing, just a boyfriend about which the family had no knowledge or clue.
In fact, the number of slashes was powerful evidence that still argued for a killer with passionate knowledge of the victim: Monsieur X. Young Anna bore a total of twenty-three slash marks on her body. Because of this overkill, I'd assigned one of Terry's people to call every female friend in Cross's e-mail and phone lists. While families were often unaware of their beloved's illicit relationships, girlfriends usually weren't.
The remaining details of the crime scene continued to gambol in my mind, and whether I liked it or not, the rest of the evidence added up in favor of a carefully orchestrated modus operandi rather than a crime of passion.
Excerpted from The Ripper Gene by Michael Ransom. Copyright © 2015 Michael Ransom. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. This book immediately caught my eye from the first time I heard about it because serial killers have always been so fascinating to me....and then this novel not only gave me serial killers, but another subject that's fascinating to me and that's DNA and the correlation! We start this story on a small town Halloween night as a little boy watches his good mother just go to help some kids....and he never sees her again. Fast forward to present tense and Lucas is working for the FBI as an investigator as well as having a history as a professor and Doctor but chose to stop teaching and researching and investigate instead. Lucas has stumbled upon a horrific crime scene and before he's even fully able to absorb it another crime scene pops up showing that this in not just a one time killer. But then Lucas is far more connected to this as one coincidence after another keeps pulling him into the case and exposing his family history as his higher ups are telling him to step down. The ending and all the connections are just insane! Not something I expected at all. I appreciate that this novel was tied up nicely at the end, but at the same time I feel like the author potentially left this open for us to continue with the dynamic duo of the FBI team. Really good thrilling novel, lots of mystery and twists and unexpected turns that just kept me hooked and I really enjoyed this novel. I would highly recommend it!
This was a fast paced thriller that was very hard to put down especially a little more than half way through. I had to stay up late to finish the ending. Something new happens around every corner. This is his first novel and I really look forward to his next one. I hope he will write more books that have Lucas and Woodson. I loved the science part of the story also. I received this book from Smith Publicity, Inc. For a fair and honest opinion.