Truman’s department resources were pretty small, leading him to assume that fifteen years ago they had been even smaller. What had made the chief confident his department could handle two murders? And the cases were still unsolved. Where was the follow-up?
That chief had passed away ten years ago. Truman wished Ben Cooley was back from Mexico. Cooley had been a cop in Eagle’s Nest for thirty years but was currently in Puerto Vallarta for his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He wouldn’t be back on the job until next week. Truman hoped he’d gotten an international calling plan for his cell phone. He might need to call the older officer.
He set the box on the table and lifted the lid. Inside, the six cases were individually sealed. He’d been right that the other four cases were represented by small files. They barely took up two inches of space. The other two cases had multiple notebooks and manila envelopes in their sealed plastic covers. He grabbed the largest one, which matched the case number on Lucas’s sticky note, unsealed it, and handed it to Mercy. “Nothing leaves this room.”
“Of course not.” She pulled out a chair and immediately started flipping through the biggest notebook. It was the Jennifer Sanders murder book. Autopsy report, evidence reports, all officer notes, photos. A copy of every piece of the paper trail from the case was in the notebook or referenced. Truman read over Mercy’s shoulder for a few moments. Long enough to learn that Jennifer had died a horrible death. A senior school photo was in the front of the book. Jennifer had had long, dark hair and an incredible smile. It was a startling contrast to the images of her dead body, with its swollen face and purple lividity on the bare limbs.
He saw Mercy pause at a candid photo of Jennifer with three other laughing girls. Mercy slipped it out of its plastic envelope, flipped it over, scanned the names written on the back, and looked at the photo again. Truman read fast enough to know that the second girl was Mercy’s sister Pearl. He leaned closer. The Pearl he knew today no longer looked like that vibrant teenager.
What is Mercy thinking?
He pulled the second fat case out of the box, checked the remaining cases to be certain they were still sealed, and ran his fingertips along the bottom of the box to check for any loose papers. All clean. He set the lid on the box and pushed it away, then sat down to open the second packet, placing plenty of space between himself and Mercy. Every piece of paper should be labeled with a case number, but he wasn’t taking any chances on mixing things up between the two.
Gwen Vargas had been twenty-two. Truman skimmed through her book, noting that Mercy had been right that she’d been strangled and raped. Photos of the scene showed a broken hand mirror on a small table in Gwen’s bedroom, and shattered mirrors in her bathroom and her parents’ bathroom.
According to the officer’s notes, Gwen had been home alone. Her father and mother found her when they returned home late that night from a rodeo. Her boyfriend had been at the same rodeo and was alibied by several witnesses. The officer had written that the boyfriend’s grief appeared sincere. Truman looked at the officer’s signature and smiled. Ben Cooley. At least he had one person he could ask about the investigation. He flipped through the book. Interviews. Pictures. Outside of the boyfriend, there didn’t seem to be any suspects.
No other suspects?
“Anything jump out at you?” Mercy asked, her gaze still on Jennifer’s murder book.
“Not yet. Where was Jennifer killed?”
“Her apartment. Her roommate had moved out two weeks before.”
“How many broken mirrors?” he asked.
Mercy flipped a few pages. “Four. Two bathrooms and two other small mirrors in the apartment.”
“What’d he strangle her with?”
“His hands,” Mercy said shortly.
“Same happened with this one. Left naked?”
Truman took some time to carefully read the fingerprint report. “This fingerprint report is no help. And it’s been noted that there’s no crossover with Jennifer’s case. Both murders had several unidentifiable prints, but they weren’t present at both scenes.”
Mercy nodded. “But so much else is the same. It must have been done by the same person. This autopsy report says there was no semen to examine from the rape. He must have worn a condom.”
“I saw the same results in Gwen’s report. Someone came prepared. I wonder if the police looked into other rapes or attempted rapes in the surrounding areas.”
Mercy looked up, her green eyes wide. “Lord, I hope they did. That seems like a basic step.”
“I’m sure that’s noted in here somewhere. I spotted the signature of one of my men in this book. He’s out of town right now, but I can call him if we have questions. He’s pretty sharp for seventy. I have no doubt he remembers these cases.”
“I suspect everyone in town remembers these cases,” said Mercy. “Nothing rocked the community like these girls’ deaths did.”
“And still unsolved after all these years. I assume there are no obvious suspects in your notes?” Truman asked quietly.
Mercy shook her head.
He flipped to the back of Gwen’s book. “I don’t see any follow-up records. How about yours?”
Mercy scanned through her book. “None. No one did anything? That’s unheard of. Someone should have talked to the people involved every few years to see if they remembered anything new. What about the families? Surely they hounded the police to not give up!” She gave Truman a stricken look, and he was surprised by the dark circles under her eyes. “Why? Why no follow-up?”
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