NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
She Bugged Him
July 23, 2013
His gloved hands encircled her throat, choking the life out of her. Alisha Fuller offered limited resistance, just the way he liked it; looking into his eyes as she died. After admiring his handiwork, Andrew calmly went back to his hotel room to sit and relax for the hour before the evening’s social gathering. As was tradition, the Entomological Society of America’s Annual Meeting always had a banquet at the end of the three-day event.
“I love Philly and I love the ESA banquet,” Andrew said to a colleague. “It’s the highlight of the meeting for me. Five years straight, I’ve never missed the banquet. Too bad not everyone feels the same. Many of the older faculty and most of the students leave the meeting by noon on the last day.
Alisha Fuller, a post-doc from Colorado, wasn’t at the banquet. Housekeeping discovered her body late the next day after all the participants had returned to their universities.
“Gees Mac, this is awful. Fully dressed, by looking at her throat, she appears strangled. Look, she’s holding her shoes. Do you think it’s some sort of signature?” Detective Nick Bubar said to his partner, John “Mac” MacDonald.
“Don’t know. The ME should be here soon. We can move the body when he says so,” MacDonald replied.
“Photograph the hands holding the shoes,” MacDonald instructed the crime-scene photographer. “Get a close up of her neck, too.”
“Mac, this isn’t my first rodeo. I got this,” the photographer answered.
“Mac, what we got here?” Asked the ME as he entered the room.
“Female victim, 25 to 30 years old, about 5 foot 3, 115 pounds. Brown eyes, shoulder-length brown hair. Fully dressed. Waiting for you before we touch her. Doesn’t look like a sexual attack; she is wearing business clothes. The hotel says the registered guest is Alisha Fuller from Colorado State University. Here on a conference rate for the… Entomolecule… Society of America’s Annual Meeting.”
“Perhaps, Entomological?” asked the ME.
“Yes, that’s it. What it that?”
“Study of insects, Mac.”
“Thanks, Doc. Let me know what you find out. One more thing. Nobody hears about her holding her shoes. Nobody. We need to keep it out of the press.”
“Bubar, contact Colorado State University and start the process, I’ll start with housekeeping interviews.”
“Got it, Mac.”
The murder was news for only two days before the television reporters were onto something new. Alisha wasn’t the only murder toward the end of July in Philadelphia.
“Four weeks. Nothing. I hate cold cases. A murderer goes free,” said MacDonald as he pounded on the lid of the evidence box so hard the cardboard bent.
July 22, 2014
Clam Harbor is a quiet little coastal town in Maine. Merchants there were enjoying record sales in July. Petty crime and usual annoyance complaints in the town were way down. Good thing as the town’s sole detective, Jed Calhoun, was in Portland, Maine for advanced forensic training with the top detectives in the state. Jed was the youngest of the twelve detectives in the training, but his breaking up of a major drug ring earned a spot.
“Training has been extended, officers,” the head instructor announced. “We have a murder of a young woman outside a hotel in the Portland riverfront district. Just came in. Report from the officer on the scene is one fully dressed female victim. Idaho driver’s license lists her as Heidi Calburn, 28 years old, 5 foot 4, 120 pounds, brown eyes and hair. We have a field trip.”
Jed and the other detectives made their own notes as they observed the experienced homicide detectives work the scene. The dozen detectives in the training returned to police headquarters.
“Observe, photograph, catalog, think. These steps are essential,” the head instructor said. “Look for a signature and avoid crime scene contamination above all else,” he continued.
The Portland police labeled Heidi Claburn’s death as a mugging gone wrong.Friends, family, and University of Idaho colleagues hounded the Portland police for most of a year afterward, but her death had become a cold case. But not for Jed.
“Chief, I have followed Heidi Calburn’s murder case for eleven and a half months. No new leads, no similar murders. Am I getting obsessed with this case?” Jed asked.
“Nobody likes cold cases, but they happen. Don’t let this case eat you from the inside, Jed. Anyway, don’t you have a wedding to attend?”
“Yes, my favorite niece, Janet. In Austin this week.”
“Find some shorts, Jed. Third week in July, Texas will be hot,” said the Chief shaking his head.
July 21, 2015
The wedding was beautiful and Janet was radiant. Jed was the proud uncle and danced with the bride. Settling in for the evening in the hotel, he turned on the late news.
“Shit!” Jed said as the remote bounced off the nightstand when the newscaster reported the tragic death from the night before of 27-year-old Helen Wright.
“My God–she could be Heidi Calburn’s twin.” He dialed the Austin PD from his cell phone.
“This is Detective Jed Calhoun of the Clam Harbor, Maine Police Department. Badge number 14188. Please contact the detectives investigating Helen Wright homicide. I have information on the case. I’m in the Hampton Inn, room 411. They can call the hotel or call my cell. I will be waiting for their call.”
Jed got dressed and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. Ten minutes later, the room phone rang.
Jed answered the room phone “Detective Jed Calhoun speaking.”
“Detective Calhoun, this is Sergeant Porter of the Austin Police. Dispatch said you may have some information about the death of a young woman.”
“Was she holding her shoes, Sergeant?
“Let’s talk about a few things first, Detective. I’m ten minutes out. Can you wait?” Porter asked.
“Room 411. Waiting,” responded Jed.
A tall, African-American man entered the room eight minutes later. Imposing size and demeanor, confident gait and intense eyes, Sergeant Porter was not someone to be trifled with.
“I’m Sergeant Porter. Dispatch got your Chief out of bed. He vouched for you. Said you were here for your niece Jane’s wedding.”
“Janet,” Jed said automatically. Sergeant Porter smiled.
“Let me see your credentials.”
“Okay, Detective Calhoun, the holding of the shoes wasn’t released to the public. How did you know?”
“We had a similar murder–the girls could have been twins. I saw Helen Wright’s face on television and dropped the remote. Same age, height, weight, hair and eye color as the unsolved in Portland, Maine. Name is Heidi Calburn.”
“It didn’t pop up on our database.”
“She was part of a convention on entomology; you know, bug study. Strangled in her hotel room, no sexual assault. Her holding shoes was the signature. We didn’t release that information.”
“We? Your Chief says Clam Harbor is a sleepy tourist town.”
“Well, the Portland Police didn’t release that information. Heidi Claburn was murdered while I was participating in an advanced forensic training course. We went to the crime scene. I’ve been following the case ever since.”
“We have a Police Conference the first week in June every year,” Jed said.
“We have ours the first week in October. So?”
“Sarge, the Portland murder occurred, twelve months ago this week. I’ll bet the Entomological Society of America meets the same week every year, too.”
“Yes!” Jed exclaimed as he checked his phone. “The Entomological Society of America is meeting this week in Austin.” Jed scrolled down his smartphone. “And Portland the year before; Philadelphia the year before that. San Diego, Indianapolis, and Knoxville before that. I wonder if those cities had murders with the signature of holding shoes?”
When Jed arrived at his desk a day later, there was an urgent hand-written message: “Call Sergeant Porter at the Austin PD.”
On the other end of the phone, Jed heard, “Calhoun, we checked with local PDs. Philly, San Diego, Indianapolis, but not Knoxville, had murders with the same MO and the same signature as yours and ours. You were right. I have DMV photos of the victims. These women could have all been sisters or cousins they look so similar.”
“We have attendance lists for the last five meetings, all of which had a murder at the same time of the meeting. The society says it will be a day or so before they will be able to supply the older attendance lists. My tech guy is cross-referencing the names on the five meetings. I wanted you to know that we’re progressing on this.”
“Thanks. And please keep me posted,” Jed said.
The cross-referencing narrowed the list down to eighteen members who attended all five of the most recent meetings. Ten left the Portland meeting before Heidi Calburn was murdered, leaving eight suspects. Hotel and air travel receipts provided by the universities ruled out five more from at least one of the murders. Sergeant Porter called the Society headquarters and asked to speak with someone who would know many of the members.
“Hi, this is Lori Bell. How can I help you?”
“I have three names and am wondering if you could tell me anything about them.”
“Sergeant, I’ve been ESA’s membership director for almost thirty years–been to every annual meeting in that time and I know most of the members. I am at the meetings to help out with registration. I like to go and chat with…”
“Oh yes, Detective, I get talking and, well, just keep talking. My husband says that I was born talking…”
“Can you tell me anything about three specific members?” Porter interrupted.
“Of course. Fire away with the names.”
“What can you tell me about M. Bucher?”
“Oh, Mabel is such a sweetheart. She retired three years ago and misses her friends. I think she has come to 50 straight annual meetings. We gave her a plaque in Austin last week. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s an entomology joke, Sergeant.”
“So she’s old?”
“Sharp as a tack, but she has trouble getting around and I don’t know how many more meetings she will be physically able to attend.”
Porter mentally crossed her off the list.
“Frank’s a cutup. Everyone likes him. He’s on just about every committee we have because he won’t say no. There was this one time that Frank was giving a toast…”
“Is he a big guy?” Porter interrupted again.
“Average height and weight, I would have to say.”
“How about A. Merchant?” Porter said before Lori could reload.
“Ms. Bell, I have five dead young women. I need some information,” pleaded Porter.
“Andrew is moody, I guess. He ran into some trouble a few years back.”
“Legal problems? Porter asked.
“His wife left him. She caught him in bed with a graduate student. It wasn’t his graduate student or Michigan State University would have fired him. He is doing better and adjusting. He is a regular attendee at our meetings. Oh, and he’s a big, big guy. Played football in college until he hurt his knee.”
“Was the graduate student in her late twenties and a big girl?”
“She was in her late twenties but a size 6, same size as his wife.”
“And how big is a size 6 person?” Porter asked.
“Sergeant, that’s a dress size. She is small, about 5 foot 3 and maybe 115 pounds. She is now a faculty member at Iowa State University and seems to have put the unfortunate incident well behind her. She never goes to the annual meeting. I know because everyone has to go through the registration desk. I try to talk to all of them.”
“Brown hair, off the shoulder, brown eyes?”
“Brown hair, quite pretty, but I don’t know about the eyes. Am I helping Sergeant?”
“Yes, Ms. Bell, you are,” Porter said.
Sergeant Porter arrived at Lansing, Michigan and was picked up at the airport by a patrol officer.
“Sergeant, the suspect is waiting in an interrogation room at HQ,” were the only words the driver said.
“Dr. Merchant, why did you kill these women?” Porter asked.
“You can do better than that, Sergeant.”
These self-absorbed egotists were Porter’s favorite to crack. “Alright. Your wife left you because you couldn’t keep your pants on. Shows she smarter than you are. How’s she doing these days. Ever wonder who she’s with?”
Merchant shifted ever so slightly in his chair, catching himself before Porter noticed.
But Porter noticed. “Maybe a big man like you has a ‘little man’ problem? Is that it? Maybe she’s with a man without a ‘little man’ problem. Maybe she’s with a pretty young brunette? That’s it, after you, she switched sides didn’t she?” Porter peppered him with questions before he could answer. Now the pause…“What was her name anyway?”
“Elizabeth,” Andrew said through clenched teeth.
Before Merchant could take a breath, Porter started in again. “Elizabeth. That’s a pretty name. I’ll bet she still has that long hair. Still pretty, too. I’ll bet she’s rolling in the hay right now. Yeah, rolling, hair flowing,…
“STOP!” Merchant yelled.
But Porter didn’t even blink. “And wearing those fancy shoes. Does she wear those ‘do-me heels’ the young women wear these days? You know, those stiletto heels, make lots of noise when they walk. Real attention getters. Make me notice every time. But I don’t have any problems down there like you do. No, I’ve never sent a woman to the other team…”
“SHE’S A DEAD BITCH AND SHE’S NEXT!” Merchant was as far out of the chair as the handcuffs chained to the table would allow.
Merchant sat back down and his head drooped. All the cockiness was gone. “Took you long enough to find me.”
“Again, Dr. Merchant, why did you kill these women?”
“She ruined my life and I was killing her over and over.”
“How did she ruin your life?”
“My wife left me because of her. My colleagues hate me. I made one mistake–her. If she had only removed her shoes when she left the room, my wife would have never heard her and found out about our one time together.”
“How many times did you kill her?”
“Five. Austin, Portland, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Indianapolis. She shows up at meetings to mock me.”
Thirty minutes later, Dr. Andrew Merchant had written out a confession to all five murders.
From the station, Porter called Detective Jed Calhoun in Maine.
“Calhoun, we got him. Confessed to all five murders. Your Portland case is closed,” said Porter.
“Squished him like a cockroach,” was Jed’s reply.
“Squished him like a cockroach,” was all that Sergeant Porter said to the driver on the way to the airport.