THE DEATH OF ANYONE
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Detroit homicide Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of the killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which has not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to authorize an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer. Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie’s frailty and the two detectives become inseparable as they track this killer of children.
The underlying theme in my new mystery, The Death of Anyone from Melange Books, poses the Machiavellian question: Does the end justify the means? Bonnie Benham, the lead detective in my story, has her own answer. But the legality of this question will be answered in a real life courtroom in the California trial of a serial killer called The Grim Sleeper.
Lonnie David Franklin, the Grim Sleeper, was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest match to DNA collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin’s son led them to investigate Lonnie Franklin. But there was no direct DNA evidence that linked Lonnie to the crime scene until they obtained a sample from him after his arrest. Lonnie Franklin will be the first person in the U.S. to ever stand trial based on this type of evidence, and its admissibility issues in court will be thoroughly tested by defense attorneys.
Only two states at this time, California and Colorado, have a written policy concerning the use of Familial DNA in an investigation. The admissibility of Familial DNA has never been tested in court. The California trial of Lonnie David Franklin will become a landmark case for the future use of Familial DNA Searches by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
I first heard of the technique while working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing the mystery some three years later after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft of The Death of Anyone in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper’s capture in Los Angeles was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the problems confronting prosecutors. All of which are explored in The Death of Anyone.
The death of anyone lessens us. The death of a child devastates us. Bonnie Benham, ex-narcotics officer, ex-narcotics user, now in homicide, forced herself to look at the body of the small girl. Why am I looking at this? I could be arresting dopers, living beings, okay; somewhat living beings. Instead, I’m looking at this child. Instead, I’m here in an alley looking at death, a miserable death, an unnecessary death, the handiwork of the most miserable excuse for a human being on the planet.
Bonnie leaned over and looked closer. The little girl’s skirt was lifted up, her panties torn off and lying next to her body. She was bruised and torn, bloodied in the vaginal area. Her throat was crushed, the deep imprint of thumbs indented in the tissue, the hyoid bone broken, Bonnie guessed. I hope she was dead before the assault, Bonnie found herself thinking.
“What a way to start the weekend,” Detective Lagrow, Bonnie’s young partner, said. His shoulder touched Bonnie’s as he took a closer look.
“Won’t be any weekend,” Bonnie answered. “I’m gonna get this asshole. I’m gonna get him and I’m gonna do it before he kills another one.”
With his pen Lagrow lifted the hair up off of the dead girl’s forehead, pushed it to one side, looking for bruises, or any further evidence of physical battery, where DNA, or a fingerprint might have been left. “I was just joking about the weekend. I’ll be right with you. We’re gonna get him.”
Bonnie nodded. “I’m not gonna let this happen again.”
Two medical techs arrived; Bill Jameson, a well-fed veteran, and Pierangeli, a good-looking younger woman, smart, with lots of energy.
“What have we got?” Pierangeli asked.
“Female, nine or ten maybe,” Bonnie answered. “Strangled, I think, molested. We’ll need a rape kit.”
Bill looked at the young girl and shook his head. “Sick, huh?”
“It makes me fucking sick inside.” Bonnie said. “Makes me think I could kill someone. I could kill the man that did this.”
Bill didn’t reply to Benham’s outburst. He looked away, at Pierangeli who was kneeling over the girl, examining her neck, moving her head slightly to expose the side. “Yeah, she was strangled. That’s what the autopsy will show. Look at the indentions,” Pierangeli said, pointing with a finger. “They’re still visible. He had to have choked her for quite a while, wasn’t strong enough to really cut off her air, she was able to breathe a little, suck some wind. He wasn’t strong enough to just crush her neck. This took some time. That’s what I see anyway.”
None of this made Bonnie feel any better. Worse, the idea the child suffered, struggled, the idea of her wheezing, fighting for a breath, didn’t help. “I’ll talk to you later,” Bonnie said. “I need to find out who she is.”
“She’s a Jane Doe? We have no ID?” Pierangeli asked.
Bonnie shook her head. “No ID. Some kids found her, went home and told their mother and she called us. But they didn’t know her. And nobody’s come forth. Got lots of lookers,” Bonnie said, pointing to the uniform and the crowd behind the yellow tape. “Nobody says she belongs to them, or seems to know who she is.”
“I’ve got the 911 center going over complaints for any missing kids,” Lagrow interjected.
“No, Be on the Lookout, issued for missing kids?” Bonnie asked.
“Nope, no BOL put on the air. And nobody’s called in. Not from this area, anyway. They’re checking other centers. Maybe she hasn’t been missed.”
Pierangeli stood up. “She hasn’t been dead long. My guess is a couple of hours. She was probably taken just a short while ago. There’s no rigor. She’s hardly cold.”
“This is Friday, she should be in school,” Lagrow said, thinking out loud. “Maybe she got snatched on the way to school and the school just marked her absent, and the parents don’t know she’s missing. And won’t until she doesn’t come home.”
Bonnie dialed her cell and got Lieutenant McCants on the phone. “I’m gonna need some more help here. We’re gonna need to canvas.”
Do you have anything on her right now?” McCants asked.
“No, we have no ID. No witnesses to anything, just the kids who found her. I’m gonna go talk to them right now. Lagrow’s got the center going over their calls for any missing kids. We need to canvas here. Someone has to know who she is.”
“Right, okay, I’ll get a team together. This kind of shit always stirs up a lot of publicity, we’re gonna be answering a lot of questions.”
“I don’t give a fuck about questions,” Bonnie shot back, and then thought better about popping off. “I just want to get on this while it’s still warm, fresh in everyone’s mind. You know how it is after a case gets cold. People tend to forget about it, and don’t want to get involved, and then you gotta work twice as hard to get anything out of anyone.”
“Right, I know. I’ll get a couple of men down there and start to canvas. Call me after you talk to the kids. Keep me on top of this.”
Bonnie turned to Lagrow. “You got the names and the address for the kids who found her?”
“Yeah, right here,” Lagrow answered, tearing the page out of his notebook and handing it to Bonnie. “I’ll start the canvassing with the people right here.”
Bonnie nodded. “Good, I’ll catch up with you after I talk to the kids.”
Two young brothers, seven and nine, on their way to school had found the girl. As they passed the alley they saw her lying there. Curious, they walked over to her. When she didn’t get up they knew something was wrong and went back home and told their mother who called 911. Bonnie showed Mrs. Abel her ID and introduced herself. “Bonnie Benham, Detroit Homicide,” she said. “I’m here about the girl in the alley you reported.
Mrs. Abel, a short, compact woman wearing a cotton dress, seemed apprehensive, not welcoming. “My boys said they saw her lying in the alley. They asked her to get up and she didn’t. So they came and told me. That’s all there is. I don’t know who she is, why she’s in the alley, or what’s wrong with her. I don’t know anything.”
Bonnie smiled at her. “I need to make out a report. I just want to hear from the boys, in their own words, what they saw. I don’t want anything else from them. It’s just for my paperwork. Can I talk to them?” Bonnie asked, very polite, more polite than she felt at the moment. But she knew this neighborhood. She had worked the lower midtown area in narcotics, people living here don’t see much; they don’t want to see much. She smiled again at Mrs. Abel, as warmly as she could.
“I’ll get the boys and you can talk to them,” she answered, but didn’t offer to let Bonnie in. “Just wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Bonnie stood in the hall, and peeked inside the door. The house looked neat, but sparse, little in the way of furnishings, an old couch, a chair, an ancient television in one corner. Mrs. Abel reappeared from back down a hall with the two boys in front of her. “This is officer Benham. She wants to talk to you about the girl you saw in the alley. You tell her what you know. And you tell the truth, no lies, no stories,” she said to the tallest one.
Bonnie looked at the two boys. They were scrubbed clean, but the clothing was old, hand-me-downs. The pants on the taller boy were too short, and the ones on the smaller boy were too long. But the boys looked well cared for, clean, and both a bit shy. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know you didn’t do anything. I just want to ask you a couple of questions. I need to take your statements for my report. You’re gonna both be in a police report. That okay?”
Being in the report seemed to loosen both of the boys up, especially the taller one. “Is she dead?”
“She’s dead. What’s your name?”
“Marcus, he’s Donte,” Marcus said, tilting his head towards his younger brother. “What happened to her? She didn’t look dead. She looked like she was sleeping.”
“I don’t know exactly how she died. I need to find that out. I’m going to find out. Do you know the girl?”
Marcus shook his head. “No, she don’t live around here.”
“You’re sure. She couldn’t just be in a different grade, or go to a different school?”
“No, she doesn’t live around here. I’d have seen her before if she had. I’ve lived here a long time.”
“A long time, huh,” Bonnie said with a chuckle.
“My whole life. And I know every kid that lives around here.”
“Marcus is very friendly. He’d know her if she was from the neighborhood,” Mrs. Abel said, backing him up.
“The call to 911 came in at 9:40 am. Isn’t that a little late for you to be going to school?” Bonnie asked, direct at Marcus.
Again Mrs. Abel interjected. “They got up late. It was my fault. I overslept. I worked late last night at the hospital.”
Bonnie smiled. “It’s okay. I’m not a truant officer. I’m just trying to build a timeline, and it’s important I have the right time they found her, gives me some idea when she was killed.”
“We was late,” Marcus answered, before his mother could interrupt.
“I called the school and reported they’d be late, but would be coming in for the rest of their classes. You can check with the school,” Mrs. Abel said. “They’re good boys. They like school.”
At this Donte kind of scrunched up his nose and looked away. He’d have whistled if he could, but didn’t know how.
“They do very well in school. I’m very proud of them,” Mrs. Abel said.
Bonnie looked at their well scrubbed faces and bright eyes, they looked like nice kids, happy, like kids should be. “That’s all I have. I’m going to give you my card. If you think of anything else, you call me. Please.”
Marcus beamed. “You’re gonna give me a number I can call you on your cell?”
“Yes, it has my cell number and my phone at the station. And you can call me anytime. Or if you need anything, you call me, okay? I mean that.”
Marcus smiled. Bonnie had won him over. “I will.”
Bonnie held out her hand and they shook hands. “Thank you very much. You and Donte have helped. And thank you, Mrs. Abel. They really are great boys, good looking, too,” she said, smiling at Mrs. Abel; then winked at the boys.
“I’ll ask all my friends,” Marcus said. “I’ll see if anyone saw her, or if they know what happened to her. But she’s not from around here. I’d know her if she was.”
“I guess that’s all I have for now,” Bonnie said, then reached in her jacket pocket and took out a couple of her cards. She gave each of the boys one of the cards, then handed one to Mrs. Abel. “Thank you for your help. You’ve got a couple of very nice young men here. Would you call me if you hear something?”
Mrs. Abel nodded, pulled the boys back inside the apartment and closed the door.
Bonnie stood on the porch for a moment, thinking. Okay, this girl has to be from somewhere. She didn’t fall out of the sky. Somebody knows her, she’s someone’s little girl and she’s dead, somebody is going to be missing her. She was beautiful. Somebody loves her and will miss her. All this went through her head as she walked back down the street towards the alley. The crowd had pretty much dispersed and a lone officer stood at the yellow tape. The techs, Bill and Pierangeli, were placing the girl in the body bag, and an ambulance had parked on the street at the entrance to the alley to take her to the morgue. Bonnie climbed under the tape. “Give me a call when you’ve had a chance to look at what you’ve collected.”
Pierangeli nodded as she zipped up the bag. “As soon as we get her out of here we’ll go over the alley. I’ve got another tech coming to help. I won’t miss anything,” she said, standing up. “I want to see you get this guy. I want it as bad as you do.”
“Okay, then. I’m going to get out and help with the canvassing. Any other officers show up?”
Bill shook his head. “Not that I noticed. Nobody came over to us.”
Bonnie flipped her phone open and dialed McCants again. “I’m clear of the two boys that found her. Have you got anybody else coming down here?”
There was a pause on the line. “Not yet. I had to send a team over to a shooting at a Seven Eleven, one dead and four injured, and the shooter got away. And they found a body in the back of a bar on Cass Avenue, a bar owned by a councilman. I had to get someone over there. As soon as someone clears you can have them.”
Bonnie understood. But it still made her angry. “Look, I know my victim isn’t going anywhere. But whoever did her is. He’s gone. And I want to talk to everybody I can down here before the case gets cold. You know how that goes.”
“I know. I know damn well how it goes. And you know how it is. We’re a little short. I’ll do what I can, Benham. I’m not putting you off. You’re priority one as soon as I get some reports filed on the other complaints and a detective freed up.”
Bonnie did know how it was. always a little short, never enough manpower. Seventy percent of the homicides in Detroit never got solved. We go to the scene, we ask some questions, we file a report, and we wait for a tip. If nobody turns them in, we usually don’t catch them. We move on to the next case. And there’s always a next case, always somebody else dead, and another report to file.
She walked over to the uniform manning the yellow tape, keeping people out of the crime scene. “I’m Detective Benham. I’m gonna start canvassing the neighborhood. If anyone comes forward with anything, anything, call me, here’s my card with my cell on it,” Bonnie said, handing it to the officer. “And if a couple of more detectives show up tell them to get in touch with me.”
The officer nodded, and took the card. Bonnie walked to the corner and up to the first house she came to. She knocked, nobody came to the door. She proceeded down the street. It seemed nobody knew the girl, knew anything about a missing girl, anything about what happened, or who might have made it happen. Nobody knew anything. Or nobody wanted to know anything. These are silent streets, noisy, loud, backfires, gun fires, shouting, screaming, crying, but nobody hears anything, they live in silence, see and hear nothing. And Bonnie understood.
Bonnie’s phone rang. It was Dean Russo, another homicide detective. “McCants sent me and Jensen over to give you a hand with the canvassing. Where can we meet you?”
“Damn, I feel honored, McCants actually is giving you guys to me. I can use the help. I’m not getting anywhere. I’ve done the street around the crime scene- nobody’s seen anything-nobody’s heard anything. You know how that goes.”
“Yeah, it’s like this guy I found with six bullets in his chest, and the coroner rules it a suicide. Suicide isn’t murder-somebody didn’t want it becoming a murder case. Me and Jensen will buy lunch. Meet us somewhere and we can talk. We’ve been assigned to the case with you.”
“Okay, how about Bouzoukis in Greek Town? Best spanakopita and pastitio in the country, better than in Greece.”
“Spanish pastitty? ” Dean said, laughing.
“Fucking spinach pie and Greek lasagna,” Bonnie said, terse, but with a smile when she said it.
“Is it expensive?”
“I don’t know. Don’t care. You said you’re buying.”
“Yeah, right, fuck, I don’t care. Jensen’s got lots of money. In about thirty minutes then, Bouzoukis.”
“Right, that’ll be good. Lagrow is around here somewhere, I’m gonna give him a TX and ask him to join us. Maybe he’s got something.”
“Right, see ya’ll there.”
Bonnie dialed Lagrow. “Russo and Jensen are coming in on this case with us,” she said. “I’m going to meet them for lunch at Bouzoukis in about a half hour. Can you meet us there?”
“Yeah, I’m hungry. And it looks like we’re gonna be down here all day.”
“Nothing from 911?”
“No, no missing kids anywhere.”