Lan went over to the counter and returned with a folder. Isaac took it and slid out an x-ray image, holding it up to the light.
‘I don’t have a light box anymore, the old one has conked out and I’m waiting for new bulbs,’ he said ruefully. ‘One of the hazards of x-rays going digital… But this is taken from dental records in July 1989. Jessica Collins was playing in the garden and was hit in the jaw by a cricket ball. She was six years old. If you can see here, there was no damage, but the x-ray showed that the front teeth are indented and slightly twisted, and the bottom set too is uneven. It’s a perfect match.’
They looked back at the skeleton. The top teeth, brown and crooked, the jawbone lying neatly beside it, missing teeth, both giving up the secrets of the skeleton’s identity.
‘I’ve managed to extract a small amount of bone marrow, and it’s going off the lab shortly, but I’m just covering all the bases. I can confirm this is Jessica Collins.’ There was a pause. Erika ran her hand through her short blond hair. ‘When did you come to the UK, what year?’
‘It was September 1990,’ she replied.
‘Do you remember the Jessica Collins case?’
Erika paused for a moment and raked through the memories of when she moved to the UK from Slovakia, aged eighteen to work as an au pair for the family with two small children in Manchester.
‘I don’t know. I didn’t speak much English, and it was all a culture shock. For the first few months I was working in their house, and I stayed in my room, didn’t have a TV…’ Erika stopped and realised that Isaac’s assistant was watching her closely. ‘No, I’m not aware of the case.’
‘Jessica Collins went missing on the afternoon of the 7th of August 1990. She left her parents house to go to her friends birthday party in the next street. She never arrived at the party. They never found her. It was as if she’d vanished into thin air. It was a major headline story.’
Isaac took another piece of paper from the file. It was a photograph of a young blond haired girl with a wide smile. She wore a pink party dress with matching thin belt, a blue cardigan with a white trim, and white sandals with a multi coloured pattern of flowers. In the picture she posed in front of a dark wooden door in what looked like a living room.
There was something about her toothy grin, with the crooked bottom teeth in the picture, which she could see replicated on the jawbone with matching teeth laying on the autopsy table, which made Erika gasp.
‘Yes, I remember,’ she said softly, now recognising the picture. It had been used in every newspaper story.
’And right now, we’re the only three people in the world who know what happened to her,’ said Lan, speaking for the first time.
‘Apart from the bastard or bastards who killed her,’ added Erika.
It got dark as Erika drove back to her flat from the mortuary in Penge. There was little traffic on the roads, and as the light faded, a low fog descended, and so did the gloom in her heart. Throughout her career cases came and went, but there were always some which affected her. She didn’t need to work out any dates, for it was always there in the back of her mind. She’d become pregnant, quite by accident late in 2008. She’d fought with her husband Mark, he wanted to keep the baby and she didn’t. She’d had the pregnancy terminated. Mark hadn’t given his blessing, but he had told her that he would support her in what she wanted to do.
It had been a rough year in the aftermath, she’d lurched between relief and revulsion. She’d blamed herself and she’d blamed Mark for not fighting her hard enough.
It had been a very early on in the pregnancy, but she had been sure it was a girl. If she’d gone through with it she’d now be seven. A baby would have changed things. Mark had offered to be a stay at home dad.
The roads slid past, grim and grey and the tears poured down Erika’s face. If Mark had stayed at home, he wouldn’t have been there at work that fateful day when he was gunned down. She gulped and sobbed, and then suddenly a woman with a little kid darted out from behind a parked car. Erika slammed on the brakes just in time, and came screeching to a halt. The woman was young and dressed in a thick pink bomber jacket. She waved that she was sorry and pulled the little kid who was dressed in a skeleton Halloween costume. It turned its little head and a tiny skeleton face stared into the bright headlights. Erika closed her eyes tight, and when she opened them, they were gone.
* * *
When she arrived home. She flicked on the central heating and kept her coat on as she made herself a large coffee and then settled down on the sofa with her laptop. She went straight to Google and typed in “Jessica Collins Missing Girl” a whole page of results came up and she clicked on the first, a Wikipedia entry.
* * *
Jessica Marie Collins (born 11 April 1983) disappeared on the afternoon of 9 August 1990. Shortly after leaving her parents house in Avondale Road, Hayes, Kent to attend the birthday party of a school friend.
On the afternoon of 7 August at 13.45 Jessica left her parents house, alone, to make the short walk to a neighbouring house 1 Avondale Road where her friends birthday party was being held. She never arrived. It wasn’t until 16.30, when her parents, Colin and Marianne Collins arrived to collect her, that they raised the alarm.
The disappearance quickly attracted wide media coverage in the UK press. On 21 August, Scotland Yard released photo-fit images of a dark haired man that they wanted to trace in connection with Jessica’s disappearance. The man had been seen walking with a young girl close to a local parade of shops three hundred yards from Avondale Road on the afternoon of 7 August 1990. The dark haired man was never found.
In September 1990, another man, 33 year old Trevor Marksman was arrested by police and questioned, but was released six days later without charge. Police enquiries continued into 1991 and 1992. The missing persons enquiry was scaled back in late 1993.
No further arrests were made and the case remains open. Jessica Peter’s body has never been found, and the case remains unsolved.
* * *
She checked out the location of Hayes quarry on Google Earth. It was less than two miles from Avondale Road where Jessica went missing.
‘Surely the quarry must have been dredged when Jessica went missing?’ said Erika to herself. She then logged into HOLMES the online police database. The HOLMES system had been in use since 1985, but it took several years for all forces to adopt it fully, and much of the older casework was still recorded on paper. Details of the Jessica Peter’s case were sketchy. Erika tipped her head back against the sofa cushion and tried to absorb the information.
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