DANGLING motionless from a single tree branch is how they found her. A noose wrapped tightly around her thin neck dripping with blood. Flies were swarming around the body that dangled. Officer Wilma Slate kept shooing the flies away, but all the blood that pooled below the teenagers bare feet was too much. And the smell started making her nauseated to the point that she ran behind the squad car to vomit.
Police vehicles were scattered everywhere in the park. Thankfully, the press did not arrive yet before any more officials arrived on the scene. Capt. Lewis Strickland kept calling Detective Bill Sanderson, and kept reaching his voice mail. He became annoyed.
The officers all nodded, agreeing while they talked among themselves. Wilma did not pay any mind to what was going on; let alone what Sgt. Strickland said. Nausea ran through her like a funnel cloud. She was on her knees, nearly in a fetal position, still vomiting.
“Bring all of us back some coffee. It’s too early to be at work, and I can’t work without coffee,” yelled Sgt. Hoyt Lawson, lighting up a menthol cigarette that he pulled out from the side of his left ear. “I barley came off my beat from working the graveyard shift when I received the call from dispatch to get right over to Redding’s Park.”
“That seems to be your problem, Hoyt. You should’ve thought about that when I radioed you from the parking lot when I saw you sitting in the back seat of your squad car at
“I’m not your damn servant. Be lucky I don’t suspend your lazy ass for sleeping while on duty,” Capt. Strickland yelled back, sounding stern more so than he ever has.
Capt. Lewis Strickland has been having marital problems for quite some time, and seemed to take it out on everyone during the past three months. After peeling out of the parking lot, he drove quickly through town to Detective Bill Sanderson’s house.
Capt. Lewis Strickland rubbed the side of the curb with the tires outside of Bill’s house, slammed the car door, and walked briskly to the porch. When he reached the front door, he knocked several times while looking through the glass window, but could not see much of anything with the sheer curtain over the window.
After several minutes without any sound of footsteps, or sign of life indicating anyone home, Capt. Lewis Strickland walked over to the driveway and saw Bill’s convertible parked, and figured he was home, and still sleeping.
He attempted to call Bill’s cell phone again. Without an answer, he waited impatiently looking at his watch. He knocked on the door, but harder and louder.
Bill opened his eyes, looked over at the nightstand to see what time it was. “7:30 am, too early,” he said and reached for his cell phone that’s next to the alarm clock. Bill noticed he had five missed phone calls, and one voice message. But he ignored the messages and tossed the phone on the floor. It was his day off and he did not want to be bothered. Bill pulled the feather pillow over his head, curled between the red satin sheets, and drifted back to sleep, dreaming of his upcoming vacation to the Bahamas.
Capt. Lewis Strickland paced back and forth on the covered porch. He walked to the front door, curled his hand into a fist, and beat on the door. The Widow Thurman heard the noise, and quickly grabbed her broom, and came running out of her door yelling obscenities. When she saw that it was Capt. Lewis Strickland, she wrinkled her face like an accordion and waved her broom towards him.
“I don’t care that you’re a police captain. It’s much too early to be coming around, disturbing others.”
Lewis smiled and waved a friendly hello. “Sorry, ma’am for any inconvenience I may have caused. By any chance have you seen Bill this morning?”
“His car is in the driveway isn’t it? That should be a good indication that he’s still home,” she said cantankerous, in a deep scratchy voice and walked down the porch stairs to get the newspaper. “All of you cop’s are all alike, always asking dumb questions.”
Capt. Lewis Strickland shook his bald head, and continued to knock heavily on the front door. Ms. Thurman glared, and walked into her house, slamming the door.
Wrestling between the red satin sheets, Bill woke from a sound sleep after hearing a loud beating noise at the front door. He stumbled out of bed, making his way downstairs. He noticed Capt. Lewis Strickland
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” said Bill sleepily, yawning widely. “I was dreaming of my upcoming vacation to the tropics.”
Bill scratched his balls, and yawned again. He stood in the doorway and looked past Capt. Lewis Strickland’s shoulder when a Collie ran on the sidewalk across the street chasing the Widow Morgan’s Tabby. Capt. Lewis Strickland gave a quick glance at the same scene, and slightly chuckled.
Then it dawned on Bill that today was Monday, and he promised to play golf with Mayor Alfred Jackson and Commissioner Andy Crumpet. He was especially looking forward to playing golf with Mayor Jackson since he’s friends with Tiger Woods thinking that he could give him some pointers on his swing.
“Sorry I slept in, give me ten minutes for a quick shower, I won’t be long. My clubs are right by the door,” Bill said as he hurried up the staircase.
“Not so fast, Bill, we have a bit of an issue.”
Bill stopped dead in his tracks, and slowly walked down the stairs. “What kind of issue? Today's Monday, remember it’s my day off and we’re going to play golf with the mayor and commissioner. I’ve been looking forward
“Our golf game is going to have to be postponed. There’s been an apparent homicide. The mayor and commissioner are on their way to Redding’s Park.”
Bill scratched the top of his head. “A homicide, uh, well that sure does put a damper on things. Are you sure it’s a homicide?” Bill walked towards the kitchen. “There’s other detectives and an entire precinct that can handle that situation.”
“Never mind, Bill, you’re the best we have and I need you for this case.” Capt. Strickland followed behind Bill, reached for his cell phone in his pocket when a message from Sgt. Hoyt text reminding him to bring coffee. “What’s the big idea for not answering your cell phone? Was it on vibrate again?” Capt. Lewis Strickland sent a quick reply to Hoyt of ‘no’ to his request for coffee.
Detective Bill Sanderson nodded his head. “I wanted to sleep in and forgot all about the golf game. How can I sleep with the smartphone beeping and buzzing every five seconds?”
“You’re on call and on duty at all times even on your days off, Bill. You know that.”
“You want some coffee? You look like you need some caffeine, your trembling,” Detective Bill Sanderson replied, nonchalant. Bill reached into the cupboard, and pulled down two large coffee mugs. “Do you take cream and sugar? I know I have some here somewhere. It’s hard to keep track when I’m hardly home and my housekeeper, God love her is always moving things around.”
“Bill, we need to get to Redding’s Park right away. It won’t look good if Mayor Jackson and Commissioner Crumpet arrive and I’m not there.” Lewis sounded nervous, too nervous. He fiddled with the change in his pocket, clanging it around.
“Make yourself at home,” said Bill, sounding calm. “Have a cup of Java while I take a shower and I’ll be down in ten minutes. We’ll get to the scene before the mayor and commissioner arrive. Besides, they probably haven’t left the country club yet.”
Capt. Lewis Strickland wrinkled his brow, looked down at the tile floor. Perspiration soaked through his blue dress shirt, and fidgeted with his tie. “Bill, a young teenage girl was found this morning hanging from the large oak tree in Redding’s Park. It appears to be a suicide. But, I have my doubts,” he explained, his voice shallow.
Detective Bill Sanderson curled up his lower lip. “A suicide? Didn’t you say homicide when you walked in a few moments ago,” he said, placing his finger in his left ear, giving it a quick shake. “I guess I need to have my hearing checked because I could have sworn I heard you say there’d been a homicide.”
There has never been a teenage suicide in Erie, and Detective Bill Sanderson hated the thought that there is one now. Bill was planning to take a vacation to the Bahamas next month, and if this death turned into something more, he knew he would have to postpone the trip for the third time.
Bill pressed his small lips together, poured coffee in both mugs, handing a cup to Capt. Lewis Strickland. Bill’s face turned solemn, seeing flashbacks of what happened five years ago.
Detective Bill Sanderson took a drink of coffee. “This is puzzling. Any idea who the teenage girl might be?” Bill’s voice sounded saddened.
“Not real sure,” Capt. Lewis Strickland replied, taking a drink of coffee. “Officer Slate thinks the girl might be Myra Gray. But, I didn’t get a good look at the body. I tried calling you right away,” said Capt. Lewis Strickland, sounding hesitant.
Detective Bill Sanderson
After arriving at Redding’s Park, Bill scampered to the oak tree when he saw the teenager dangling from the tree branch. He looked up and could not figure out how the girl was able to climb the one hundred year old oak tree, tie a rope tightly around the branch, slip the noose around her neck, and hang herself.
She was slender, and appeared anorexic.
Bill scratched the side of his cheek, looking peculiar up at the girl. He suspected a homicide as Capt. Lewis Strickland suggested, knowing too well this suicide appeared too inconspicuous. Detective Bill Sanderson concealed his suspicions until further investigation and evidence was conducted.
“I just don’t understand it,” said Bill, deeply. He pulled a pack of Winston’s from his shirt pocket, lighting the tip with a silver-tone Zippo. Bill continued to look up at the tree, studding the way the girl dangled from the rope. He walked all around the tree looking at all angles.
The Jogger who called 911 stood at a distance while Sgt. Hoyt Lawson questioned him, asking a series of questions, causing the jogger to become nervous. Sgt. Hoyt Lawson kept pressing the jogger, being suspicious that he could be the killer. The jogger started to stutter, badly. Sgt. Hoyt Lawson asked the jogger why he was jogging in the park before the sun rose, as if this was anything new. A few people in Erie jogged each morning, even walking their dogs in the park before the heat of the day.
“I always jog this early in the morning. Sometimes, earlier,” the jogger explained anxiously. “You don’t think I did this, do you?”
“Just give us the facts. No one has accused anybody just yet,” a young rookie cop replied that was standing next to Sgt. Hoyt Lawson.
The rookie cop was fresh, and out of the academy. During the weeks that followed until now, he had hoped to be part of a homicide. A piece of the action anyone, even a young, good-looking officer could hope for. And in a small, quiet town as Erie, his wish came too soon.
Detective Bill Sanderson had been talking to his sergeant just last week about how
“He looks more like a model for Apollo, then an officer,” Detective Bill Sanderson said, grunting beneath his breath.
No one was standing close when he made the remark, but Detective Bill Sanderson would not have cared if anyone
More cars pulled into the parking lot; all of them black, and with a long stretched limousine following between two others. When the car door flung fiercely open an older man, distinguished looking, stepped from behind the door. He was well dressed in a black three-piece suit, long red tie, and dark patent leather shoes. When he stepped from the car, he had already put his dark lens glasses on; shielding his bloodshot eyes from the roast that he attended last night.
When Detective Bill Sanderson glanced over when he heard the sound of car doors shut, he noticed Mayor Alfred Jackson walking towards him; until the journalist stopped him dead in his tracks for a photo opt.
Mayor Alfred Jackson didn’t seem to mind the attention. It was an election year, and he planned to run again. He already started campaigning, trying to get a step ahead of the game, and with his polls being at 65 percent, he had a great start already in winning a second term.
Detective Bill Sanderson nudged Capt. Lewis Strickland arm. “I told you we’d get here before the mayor and commissioner.”
Capt. Lewis Strickland nodded his head, and smirked. “Would you look at that, he’s such a ham for publicity.”
“He’s been hanging around his
More journalists bolted from trying to get a statement from the jogger to speak to Mayor Alfred Jackson. His pearly whites were as wide as a slice of watermelon, and his brown eyes twinkled like Polaris.
As Mayor Alfred Jackson spoke, he already sounded well polished from the event, answering each question perfectly, before knowing every detail or fact of the incident. He loved the attention. He turned and smiled with each click of the camera as if knowing when a picture was about to snap. Mayor Alfred Jackson’s adviser hurried to his side like a new puppy, waiting to be petted. There were times he’d make whimpering noises while standing behind the mayor. It seemed comical, and the press ate it up like a Chinese Buffet.
The older women and young teenage girls loved it as much.
Detective Bill Sanderson turned up his lip, not likening attention from the journalist and news media and continued his investigation while the press was out of his way. Capt. Strickland signaled to Mayor Alfred Jackson so he could fill him in on the details. But, like every politician, Mayor Alfred Jackson ignored the wave Capt. Lewis Strickland gave him.
It seemed clear to Capt. Lewis Strickland that Mayor Alfred Jackson was more concerned about his mug being in the news than the death of the teenage girl.
Capt. Lewis Strickland shook his head back and forth displeased. Mayor Alfred Jackson has been just like every politician, campaigning every chance he got. Friend or not, Capt. Lewis Strickland was going to vote for someone else.
Detective Bill Sanders
Unable to look at the body dangling another minute, he yelled out to Burt Hemming. “Call the coroner to take her down,” Detective Bill Sanders said profoundly, puffing deep on the Winston.
It did not take Burt Hemming long before he had his cell phone pulled out from his back pocket, dialing the coroner’s office.
Burt Hemming was not on his cell phone long. Nor would it take long for the coroner to arrive. The coroner’s office was only five minutes down from the park where Myra Gray was found. And it was not long before the newspaper team, along with the local news stations to arrive at the park, pulling their equipment from their SUV’s.
The whole news crew waited for the go ahead to snap shocking pictures of the teenager who hung lifelessly from the tree.
Detective Bill Sanderson shook his head with disgust. “Vultures,” he said, blowing smoke from his nose. “I guess this will sell a lot of newspapers, Burt.”
Burt Hemming did not utter a comment. Instead, he raised his right hand up signaling for his crew to start flashing shots of Myra Gray dangling from the tree branch.
Detective Bill Sanderson would not take his eyes off, Myra Gray’s lifeless body. He noticed how her head leaned to one side, and the markings around her neck. He waited for the photographers to finish flashing pictures and for the journalist to speak to Mayor Alfred Jackson before he continued the investigation.
Detective Bill Sanderson didn’t want to cause anymore reason for the press to be in his way. And knowing Burt Hemming’s, he’d have a journalist snap a few pictures of him examining the crime scene.
More vehicles with logos on the side of each car door indicating the news stations followed behind the black coroner’s van. Before the vehicles came to a complete stop, teams of journalist jumped out, pulling their camera equipment out of their trucks, and vans. They wanted to film for the early edition. Once they set up their cameras, they began filming, and snapping pictures. Well, until Detective Bill Sanderson became annoyed.
Detective Bill Sanderson wrinkled his forehead while slipping a pair of non-latex gloves on his hands that he pulled from the black satchel he had around his shoulders. They were blue gloves and without the white powder inside the gloves. He’s allergic to the powder that comes with most latex gloves braking his hands, and arms out in hives. But with so much flashing of the news crew’s cameras, Detective Bill Sanderson became more irritated.
“Would you mind Burt, and stop flashing that camera in my face.” Burt used a Nikon 2000, F-stop with fancy lenses. “Wait until I’m finished, then feel free and take all the pictures you want.”
Burt Hemming’s backed away, motioned for the newspaper crew to step forward for a closer shot. Each camera had wide lenses. The film team kept their distance, waiting for the go ahead to film.
Detective Bill Sanderson unzipped the black satchel he had strapped around his shoulder, laid it on the ground, and took out a pair of tweezers, and a glass jar. Burt Hemming raised his brow and started to wonder if Detective Bill Sanderson had anything else in the satchel because he seemed to pull out everything he needed from his bag of tricks.
Burt Hemming’s stood and watched as Detective Bill Sanderson carefully gathered the smallest particles of dirt, and hair near Myra Gray’s body.
Detective Bill Sanderson shook his head back and forth, grimacing at the poor girl’s body, wondering what caused her to commit suicide.
For a moment, Burt Hemming’s started feeling guilty. Just three days ago, he argued with his teenage daughter, Nancy, grounding her for a month for staying out all night with her new boyfriend. Burt Hemming’s thought he had been too strict thinking that his daughter could have committed suicide also. She was upset when he told her that she is forbidden to see her boyfriend anymore.
“Don’t you think it would be more productive to examine the body at the mortuary, Bill?” asked Burt.
Detective Bill Sanderson muttered as he continued to pick the debris off her chest, shoulders, and underneath each fingernail. “Maybe,” said Detective Bill Sanderson, and he continued gathering evidence before the body started to decay in the heat.
John Holms the owner of the Holms Mortuary waited from a distance until Detective Bill Sanderson was finished gathering clues. He thought this was an unusual way in getting evidence. But everyone has their own style.
“Too many old reruns of Colombo,” replied John, smirking to one side.
Detective Bill Sanderson glanced up meeting John Holms gray eyes. “One of my favorite shows. I catch all the episodes on Netflix at the end of my day before bed.”
When John Holms had the go ahead from Detective Bill Sanderson, he ordered his assistant to bring over the gurney. He placed the black body bag onto the gurney, wheeling it slowly where Myra Gray lay on the ground, right under the oak tree. The rope was still tied around her neck. John Holms wanted to leave everything intact while performing the autopsy. But Detective Bill Sanderson asked him to remove the rope since it looked too mortified. John Holms carefully slipped the rope off the neck, tossing it to the ground.
Detective Bill Sanderson placed the evidence he gathered into the satchel. He glanced at John Holms, puzzled. “I’m finished. Take her to the morgue before the whole town is here, snooping. I don’t want word to get out before we notify the family.”
No sooner, when Detective Bill Sanderson walked towards his car, Burt Hemming motioned his camera crew to gather closer.
Several pictures were rapidly taken. John Holms placed the gurney next to the oak tree. His assistant, an intern from the local college, helped John Holms lain Myra Gray on the gurney. He looked over at Detective Bill Sanderson, giving him an irritated glance.
“Can you get these people out of my face, Bill? Haven’t they taken enough pictures?” John Holms shrugged his shoulders, covered the body as quickly as possible. The news team continued snapping shots, following close behind, all the way to his van.
“This story will be big news tonight,” said Burt Hemming, knowing a killing will be made selling newspapers. And the local news station will be giddy to report on this story tonight. Not much ever happens in Erie, at least, not in a while. It has been five years since anything big took place.
Burt Hemming’s being the owner of the local newspaper, small town stories are not really a big deal unless there is a tornado that touches down, wiping out part of a town, and causing thousands of dollars in damage.
It was hot with the sun already beating down at half past nine o’clock. There wasn’t a time had been mentioned when Myra Gray committed suicide, but that would not be determined until the full autopsy was conducted. And if so, John Holms was not talking, at least, not yet. He would wait until his report was finished before handing over any information to Detective Bill Sanderson.
Detective Bill Sanderson took off his satchel from around his shoulder, opened the trunk to his ‘57’ Chevy, taking out a small red cooler. He placed the satchel in the trunk, and took out a ginger ale from the cooler. He leaned on the side of the car, lit a Winston, and watched the news crew film their report.
Some of the newspaper team was still snapping pictures, following John Holms to the van.
Mayor Alfred Jackson returned to the stretched limousine along with the others and drove off, forgetting that Capt. Lewis Strickland wanted to speak to him, but Capt. Lewis Strickland knew better. The only reason the mayor came out to the site was obvious. He wanted his name in the press, projecting that he is concerned about the citizens in his community. This of course gave Capt. Lewis Strickland suspicion, putting friendship aside and the golf game the four of them missed.
“C’mon, give me a break, and let me do my job,” said John Holms angrily, as his face turned a shade of crimson. “You’ve taken enough pictures.” Beads of sweat dripped from his brow from the heat, and just maybe, from him being overweight.
Burt Hemming’s snickered childishly, only thinking about the money that is going to be made once this story is printed. He has connections with other newspaper companies, and news stations that would love to get a piece of the pie. That’s one thing to say about Burt Hemming. He’s a devil when it comes to the First Amendment. And that is freedom of the press.
Burt Hemming’s has never been afraid to exercise his right under the First Amendment. It was just last year when a small town robbery happened. Three high school students, all seniors broke into the school, ransacking the administration office, and tapping into the computer system. Hundreds of grades were changed, mostly seniors on the football, and basketball team. The principal’s iPad was reported missing, along with two laptops, and some other electronics.
Everything was recovered from a pawn shop over in the next county. The three seniors were charged, expelled, and banned from attending the local college. But Burt Hemming’s painted the story up to the hilt. His interest was to land a great story, not giving any remorse for the three lives that were ruined. That was all water under the bridge now, and this suicide would make headlines. Burt Hemming’s could not wait to get this story to print.
Walking around the news crew, Burt Hemming’s told the crew that they shot enough picture and footage, and to head back to the station right away.
“Good job everyone,” said Burt Hemming’s happily, in his deep voice.
It was not long before everyone gathered all the equipment into three SUV’s, driving back to town. The reporters from WNBL 24 hour news finished their segment, loaded their cameras into the minivans, heading back to the station. They could not wait to have the story edited for the early edition at five o’clock.
Burt Hemming’s pulled a Cuban cigar from his front pocket, lighting it as he walked towards Detective Bill Sanderson. He too appeared puzzled about the suicide and started dropping hints to Detective Bill Sanderson, trying to find out more. But Detective Bill Sanderson was not talking. He knows how reporters are always trying tactics to get a story so they can turn around and embellish the article.
And Burt Hemming is a master with his craft: sly and sneaky.
“What do you make of this, Bill?” asked Burt Hemming’s, scratching the top of his head, the part where he is going bald.
Detective Bill Sanderson knew he was being inconspicuous, and continued peering at the oak tree.
“If you ask me the girl was murdered. But hey, you’re the detective. I just report the facts.” A slight devilish grin came from the side of Burt Hemming’s large lips, with cigar smoke leaking from the side as well.
“You’re still smoking those same Cuban cigars. You know, Burt…,” said Detective Bill Sanderson
Burt Hemming grumbled, deeply, clearing his throat. His large neck became buried beneath his white shirt collar
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Burt,” said Detective Bill Sanderson as he waved his index finger around. “This is one story to keep a lid on, for now. I don’t want the wrong story to leak-out or I’ll have you by the balls!” Detective Bill Sanderson sounded stern, in a deep, scratchy voice. He coughed a few times. “I really should quit smoking.”
Detective Bill Sanderson pulled another Winston from his pocket, walked slowly to the oak tree, and looked up. After lighting the cigarette, he puffed hard, taking a small tape measure from his back pocket, and held it up.
“It doesn’t add up,” he said with confidence. “Simply impossible!” Detective Bill Sanderson flicked the unfinished cigarette to the ground, smashing the remains with his heel of his black patent leather shoe.
Burt Hemming smirked slightly to one side. The man had a devilish nature about him. With his dark eyes narrowed together, he had a sinister appearance. He always would scheme a plan of some sort, devising other means of making more money. He knew the newspaper industry wouldn’t be the same in a few years. Not with the Internet being around with sites posting news as it breaks. Millions of people read the paper and other news sites on the Internet each day.
Two years ago, Burt Hemming’s wife left him, nearly bankrupting his newspaper company. He was forced to mortgage his home in order to keep his families Newspaper Company afloat. He retained a lawyer when his wife demanded the house, cars, and half the business. Burt won his lawsuit with keeping the house in town, one car, and the family business.
The judge awarded Samantha a portion of the newspaper company since they were married fifteen years into the business. Soon after the settlement was awarded, Samantha packed up, and moved to Florida with her lover, leaving both kids behind.
“I don’t believe it either, Bill. The girl from what I’ve heard was very popular. If you know what I mean.” Burt Hemming smiled slightly.
Detective Bill Sanderson shrugged his shoulders. He did not care much for rumors, especially from any journalist even if Burt Hemming was a friend.
Burt Hemming glanced up at the tree branch; the image of Myra Gray dangling embedded his memory. He picked up the rope, without regard, rolled it up tightly handing it to Detective Bill Sanderson
“You’ll need this, for evidence.”
“Yes. A model student,” said Detective Bill Sanderson mumbling gravely. “Myra was an honor student, and a cheerleader. That’s why this suicide doesn’t make any sense. It simply doesn’t add up.”
Burt looked peculiar.
“Yes, she was a model student. She tutored my son with Algebra,” Burt Hemming said dimly. He reached into his pant pocket, pulling out a brown handkerchief. He wiped his brow from the sweat that formed. “It’s going to be another humid summer.”
“It’s going to be another late night with more paperwork to write, and file. And just when I thought, I would take a vacation to the Bahamas. I’ve always wanted to go to the Bahamas, never got a chance.”
Burt Hemming’s did not comment. He placed his hand on Detective Bill Sanderson’s shoulder as they walked towards their cars. He knew the pain that Detective Bill Sanderson’s still has, and this Fourth of July would mark the fifth year anniversary of the accident.