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'the Water Murders'

the Detective 3

©08 The Media Desk

Some details of this story may upset more sensitive readers. Thank You

      My 'talent' for solving unusual cases hadn't come into play for a couple of years after what we now referred to as 'the Sun Club incident'. I had been told, and did agree with those that told me, that both of my previous experiences had been enough for one career and that I could expect the rest of my years in law enforcement to be quite dull. I usually said something like, 'I hope they are'.
      And then another 'case of a lifetime' came my way.
      On a Sunday Morning.
      When I was in church with my family.
      I remember exactly when I was called onto it.

      "Praise God from whom all blessings flow...."
      We had just stood to sing "the Doxology" when my cel phone rang with the special tone that let me know that it was not only work, it was extremely important.
      I silenced the phone immediately and went back to the cry room to answer it while one of the elders prayed up front.
      I kept thinking about that juxtaposition during the next three months. And even longer. And asking 'why?'

      From when I got the message about the case in church, I spent three months in hell.
      A wet hell.

      I went back to our pew and told my wife I had to go. She assured me she could get a ride home. Then I drove straight to the crime scene.

      It was in an apartment building. A young man had been found dead by the landlord.
      There was nothing odd in that fact in and of itself. But the condition of the apartment made it special. And also raised the probability of a serial killer operating in the area.
      I parked next to a marked patrol car, showed my ID to the officer at the perimeter then walked to the crime scene.
      "There's water everywhere." The uniformed officer said. "Watch your step."
      "So I see." I answered. "Where's the body?"
      "Over there sir."

      The man had been killed by strangulation. I know I'm not the Medical Examiner, but when you see somebody with a dark blue face and a belt wrapped around their neck, you can make an educated guess on the cause of death. And as his both of hands were tied to opposite ends of the headboard, it didn't look like some sort of autoerotica episode gone wrong.
      "OK. Let me take a look around."
      "Yes sir."
      This was one of the things I liked to do when I was able to go over a crime scene before anything had been disturbed. Take a long slow walk around and look at everything. And no, I didn't hold a flashlight over my head and stare wide-eyed at things like they do on TV shows. Yes I have a flashlight, and at times I use it, but the lights were on in the room and bright sunlight streamed in the open windows, so I used the ambient light to full advantage.
      The man was nude on the bed, still wearing a condom. It looked like he had died in the throes of passion, except some things just didn't add up. I'll try to be delicate but still factual here. Some things were just wrong. And again, I am not the final expert and I would withhold judgment until the medical examiner had done his work, but the condom looked like it was an after thought.
      But what puzzled me was the water and how the killer get out of the apartment.

      The room had been sealed. The sink and shower drains had been blocked and the water turned on full. Also, the heater vents on the floor had been covered in plastic and the bottoms of the outside doors had been taped. Even the power outlets near the floor had been taped over. The only way out would have been for the killer to have climbed out of one of the windows. But I couldn't tell by just looking which one they had used.
      The officer said the landlord had turned the faucets off in the kitchen and bathroom when he had come into the apartment. He had only seen the body when he turned around to walk out of the bathroom. Then he panicked that he had tampered with a murder scene.
      To the landlord's credit he did call emergency services straight away. When I talked to him after my walk through, he told me all about the quiet young man and how he 'never seemed the type' to go into bizarre sexual practices. I nodded at the statement without argument. Over the years I have learned that there is no such thing as 'the type' for anything.
      The paramedics from the fire department had tried to revive the man, but he was pronounced dead at the scene within minutes. I was called shortly after EMS had left the scene.

      There had been another murder not long ago where the crime scene had been flooded.
      A week or so ago a woman was found in her mobile home where everything had been sealed up, like in the young man's apartment, and the water had been turned on.
      It was the sergeant that had made the connection between that murder and one about a month ago where water was again a factor. Except in that case, the killer had missed a large floor drain under a table and the water from the sink in the office bathroom had simply flowed down it. But the fact that every other possible way out for the water had been blocked off had been in the report. The sergeant thought there was enough similarity to call for greater expertise than our basic homicide unit possessed.
      The watch commander agreed. He thought that if we did have a serial killer obsessed with water on our hands, then they should call me.

      Back downtown I pulled the reports on the other two deaths.
      The only similarity between the victims seemed to be that their bodies were either nude or almost nude, and the water.
      Victim three, the young man in bed, had been tied up and strangled and made to look like it was during an extreme sexual encounter.
      Victim two, the middle aged woman in the trailer, had died of an overdose that was not self inflicted. It had been determined that she had already been unconscious when she had been given the two further injections that had killed her. Also during what appeared to be a sex act.
      Victim one, the man in the office, had been severely beaten, then had his throat cut. Again, during what appeared to be a sexual encounter.
      Of the crime scene evidence there had been a few bad fingerprints taken from various objects. Most belonged to the victims or to their roommates or others who had access to the property. Of the killer, there didn't seem to be anything conclusive. The reports also confirmed the first impression I had with the third victim, there was no DNA that was not otherwise accounted for. If the killer had had sex with their victim, it didn't involve bodily contact of any kind that I was familiar with.

      At first I had thought the killer to be male. But after reading the autopsy report on the first victim I wasn't sure. If it had been a man, he would appear to be rather small of build. While the victim had taken a lot of damage, it had been inflicted over a long period of time, and some of the more severe wounds had been done after the man was already dead. The killer had broken his ribs with repeated kicks after cutting his throat. We knew that because even though two of the broken ribs had punctured his lung, there was very little blood in the lung, so he had been dead when it happened.

      And then there was the water.
      I had no idea what the water was about.
      It wasn't an attempt to cover up the crime. Or if it was, it was both very poorly conceived and badly executed. Then I thought it might be some sort of absolution or symbol of washing away the blood from the crime, which made some sense, but two of the victims hadn't bled to death, and only the man in the office had been where the water might have gotten to him before discovery, the other two were found laying on furniture well off of the floor. Then it occurred to me that maybe it wasn't symbolic at all, but something to confuse the investigation.
      Something else I have learned over the years. When I start second guessing myself, I need to move on to another aspect of the investigation and to come back to the details that gave me pause later with a fresh perspective. And it usually seemed to work.

      I went through my normal investigative inquiries for all three victims to determine if they were connected in any way. Did they work together, use the same dry cleaner or dentist, go to the same high school, any possible connection that might lead me to how they had met their killer. It seemed to be a dead end. There were some normal overlapping of details, like two of them used the same cable TV company, but nothing which you would think would make them the target of a killer.
      Was there anything that made them stand out from the general population that might have caught the killer's eye? The man killed in the office was married and the tax accountant for an insurance office. The woman in the trailer had been divorced for years, a part time student and a waitress, as for the usual suspect in her case, her ex-husband was in the service and on his base in Korea. The young man was unemployed and seemed to have spent the last two weeks trying to beat an online adventure game. None of them had much of a social life where a relationship could have gone sour enough to result in murder.
      There was one woman and two men. One was a racial minority. Of other factors such as personality I could only take an educated guess at. But for now, I didn't see anything they had in common. Other than the fact that they were killed by somebody that liked to flood the scene after the fact.

      Wednesday I got back the autopsy results and the crime scene report on the third victim. The preliminary reports indicated that he had been drinking, possibly with the killer, but his blood alcohol level would suggest that he was still quite functional. There was no indication of sexual activity in or on the condom. The condition of the condom indicated that it had been put on him after he was either unconscious or already dead. The coroner also confirmed my suspicion that he had died from strangulation, but the evidence suggested that it had been sudden. That the belt had been put around his neck and then jerked tight and held that way. The report added that the victim had struggled against the bindings around his wrists as the skin under them was severely abraded and one of his wrists had become dislocated, however, he had not been able to free himself.
      As for the room and my request that they check the windows to see if somebody had climbed out them, the results came back negative. Two were built not to open, the bathroom window was painted shut, and the two others were locked from the inside.
      I made an appointment to go back out and look at the apartment again. If I could figure out how they got out of the building, I would be one step closer to identifying the killer.

      But sometimes other things interrupt one's plans.
      A week or so before I got on the 'water killer' case I had also been assigned another murder that, compared to the water case, had been rather straight forward in the beginning. An armed man had shot it out with an off duty state trooper while trying to rob a gas station outside of the shopping mall. The robber had lost, badly. But in the process the clerk in the kiosk had been shot twice. Thankfully, he lived and would be OK.
      One bullet was definitely from the bandit's weapon. However, we were still working on just where the other bullet had come from because it did not match the trooper's or the robber's guns.
      I had a theory that the robber had an accomplice outside that had fired both at the clerk and the trooper, but that hadn't been proven yet by either evidence or testimony.
      Then we got a break in that case. A camera in a store across the street that was aimed at their door had caught part of the shootout. It clearly showed someone with a pistol firing toward the cop and the tiny building from the far side of the gas pumps, then that shooter ran away into the night. Unfortunately, while it did show them firing the weapon, the detail was poor and there was no way to identify them.
      We traced back the angle where their shots had to have gone and found two other bullets from a small caliber revolver embedded in the fence in the other direction from where the robber had been firing. Both matched the bullet removed from the clerk. Now we had confirmed that we had a second shooter to find.
      Then the gas station shooting got taken from my hands by the chief for something more important.

      There had been another 'water murder', and now it was all over the TV news that there was a serial killer in the city.
      The statement the mayor made on TV said that the department had its officer who had the most experience in dealing with 'unique' cases assigned full time to the lead the team working on the case.
      I guess that would be me. I'm not sure if I was, or now am, flattered or depressed about that designation.

      In any case I drove out to the latest 'water killer' crime scene determined to find something of use in solving the case.
      The latest was at an RV dealer. One of their lot guys thought they had a leak in the kitchen of a small motor home so he went to check out the unit with the puddle under it. Instead of a broken pipe, they had found a dead body. The water had filled the inside of the camper to where it was coming out of every seam on the vehicle. The lot guy had opened the door and a tidal wave of water rushed out at him. He didn't even go into the camper because he saw the dead salesman on the couch.
      The water was even still on when I got there. I asked them to turn it off at the spigot.
      Once again, every possible outlet in the motor home had been sealed with plastic or duct tape. Then the killer had turned on the various fixtures and evidently run a hose to the outside faucet on the sales office and turned it on. But this time I could see how the perpetrator had gotten out of the unit. They had shimmied out the skylight, damaging its frame in the process. I made a mental note to myself to check the apartment of the third victim on the way back to the station for an attic or roof access.
      From looking at the dead man, I couldn't tell how he had been killed, only that, once again, it appeared he was expecting to have sex instead of being murdered. But unlike the last victim, he was unrestrained, but he was still just as dead. The coroner on the scene estimated that the fourth victim had been killed the day before, but couldn't give me a closer time or cause until the autopsy.
      Other than the water damage, there was no sign of violence or a struggle in the camper. The manager of the dealership said the water damage was enough to render the seventy thousand dollar camper a total loss. I requested that they leave the unit in place until the crime scene team was done with it, then it would be moved to the police impound lot. The dealer assured me that his insurance adjuster would cooperate fully.

      I called the landlord and stopped by the third victim's apartment on my way back to the station.
      I told him I wanted to check the attic access. The only way into the attic was through the heater closet. It didn't look like it had been used as there was a great deal of junk in the closet and a thick layer of dust on everything in it that could be used to climb up.
      Then I walked back through and just looked around again, except this time I was looking up thinking about how the killer had gotten out of the camper.
      There was a ceiling fan and light unit in the bathroom. I stood on the toilet and pushed on one corner of it with my belt multi-tool. It moved. It shouldn't have moved that easily. I called the crime scene guys and the rest of my team. Then I asked the landlord if he had a ladder.

      We had the killer's way out of the apartment. They had pushed the vent up and climbed out that way, then put the vent back. They had exited the building by climbing down through another apartment's attic door. And they had been very careful, but we did get a couple of viable fingerprints that did not match the landlord or his heating contractor.
      I went back to the other crime scene reports. There was no mention of the mode of egress from the scene by the killer. But I had to assume that it was something similar as both noted that the doors and windows had been sealed from the inside.

      I laid it all out with my team. Everything we knew about each victim, each location, and everything else we could think of. I worked with the corners office, other specialists in the department, I interviewed the neighbors and co-workers of the victims again. But there was just nothing there.
      It was a terrifying prospect.
      As far as I could tell these were totally random crimes.
      I began looking online to see if there was some sort of sexual fetish with death and water that I had never heard of.
      We knew this killer would strike again, it was only a matter of time. And we, I mean... I, had no way to stop them. Every day without another body I marked off on my calender and read the autopsy report of the last victim and compared it with the others. And wait. There was nothing else I could do.

      Then the call I had been dreading came.
      Victim five was in a nearby town.
      The woman had been discovered in her basement by her husband. The basement was three feet deep in water. The town police had called me immediately after they arrived at the scene.
      The woman had been hit hard in the back of her head with a skillet, then stabbed multiple times and left to bleed out. The basement sump pump had been unplugged and the floor drains covered with plastic and tape. The husband had left for work early that morning and had an absolute alibi as his wife had been seen alive that morning by a delivery driver. The water had come primarily from the washing machine hoses that had been cut, and left to run full stream along with the laundry sink next to where the body had been found.
      The only difference seemed to be that this victim hadn't been engaged in sex with the killer. But there was some evidence, namely the fact that the victim's robe was undone, that maybe the topic had come up. And this time the killer had simply walked out of the house and locked the door behind them.
      Then we got a break. The delivery driver said she had been talking to a short girl when he had delivered the package. He thought she looked like she was in her twenties, but didn't notice anything overly remarkable about her. His description consisted of the fact that she was a little heavy set but not fat, and had dark hair. When pressed he guessed that she was about five foot five or six.

      A short girl.

      I went back to the medical reports.
      The first victim had been beaten by somebody smaller than him. Somebody that had to kick him repeatedly to break his ribs. It fit.
      The second victim had been drugged by somebody she didn't feel threatened by.
      The third victim had been seduced to death.
      The fourth victim, the RV salesman, had been killed by a quick acting poison that had been administered to him in a soft drink.
      None of those three victims gave any indication that it had been anybody other than a 'short girl'.
      And now the woman that had been stabbed in her own basement had been hit first in the back of her head hard enough that the blow alone may have been fatal. But the stab wounds did not penetrate as if they had a great deal of force behind them. Again. It fit.

      But the statement by the driver and my series of suppositions scarcely led to a prime suspect.
      In the city there was easily several thousand women and girls within five years either way of their mid twenties between five three or so and about five eight.
      Then I started putting together common aspects of how the various sites had been 'waterproofed' for lack of a better word.
      She, if indeed the killer was a she after all, had used things on hand in every location. Plastic bags, towels, even a bag of kitty litter, to block any outlet for the water. But there was one key thing that had been used at every location, but never found.
      Duct tape.

      Our crime lab had matched the thread patterns in the tape used to seal the third victim's apartment with samples from the RV. They were still working on the samples from the first two scenes and the latest crime.
      The roll of tape in the basement with the fifth victim had not been touched. What had been used to seal the floor drains had come into the house, and left with, the killer.
      During our now daily debriefing I had to propose that since the killer had used so much tape, that she may have to buy more. But there was no way for the department to monitor every outlet for silver duct tape in the city.
      After some discussion, we tabled the idea to have a plain clothed officer stake out every hardware department and home center in the area.
      We had a piece of the puzzle. A lead. An idea of who we were looking for. But nothing else.
      None of the fingerprints we had matched any in the various databases we had access to. We had run them against everything from known felons to the US military and even various private employer files. There was no matches.
      Just before the meeting broke up I looked around the room and said something that was more a prayer than a statement to the other officers.
      "We need a lucky break."

      One week without another death turned into two. But then...
      There were six.
      The sixth victim was another young man.
      He was found in a flooded storeroom in the basement of a restaurant downtown. The morning crew had come in to open up for breakfast. About seven that morning one of the cooks had gone downstairs to get some supplies and stepped into water above his ankles. A few minutes later they saw the dishwasher slumped over some boxes with his pants around his knees. His throat had been slit from ear to ear.
      The floor drains had been taped over, the water was from a wall spigot that had been turned on.
      This time there was no mystery how the killer got out of the restaurant. There was video tape of a short dark haired woman walking out past the cash register up front just before closing, and from the tape, it looked like her shoes were wet. But the video wasn't enough to get an ID on her other than she matched the general description we had from the delivery driver.
      The night shift manager said he checked the basement before he left. The lights had been out and there was no answer when he called down as he always did. Then they locked up and turned on the alarm. Nobody had needed anything for the first couple of hours after they opened, so nobody went down there until later.
      I interviewed the entire night shift. The victim was one of the dishwashers. His supervisor thought he had left work early and as the late night back of the house help seemed to come and go at will, nobody missed him.
      Then one of the waitresses said she remembered the dishwasher coming out of the kitchen on his break to talk to a girl that he seemed to know. The waitress described her in basically the same terms as the delivery driver. Short, dark hair, slightly heavy but 'kinda pretty'. She didn't notice when they left or which way they went.
      There is one thing I do know, when one dishwasher at a restaurant talks to a pretty girl on the job, the other dishwashers know about it. It took a bit of official deceit on my part, but I finally convinced one of the other workers that I wasn't going to deport anybody for not having their green card if they helped me track down the killer.
      And now I had a name and a bit of a description of where she lived.

      According to the pot and pan guy at the restaurant who had been pretty good friends with victim number six the woman's name was Maritza. He thought she lived in a set of apartments where a lot of Puerto Ricans lived, but he didn't think she was from the island.
      That was something he kept saying, she carried on like she was 'Rican' as he put it, but he thought she was Chicano. Then as we were wrapping up he said that her Spanish wasn't very good either.
      It wasn't much, but it was something.
      A short dark haired woman in her mid twenties that spoke bad Spanish and hung out with Puerto Ricans.
      And one that carried around duct tape and killed whoever she had sex with.
      How hard could it be to find her before she killed again.

      I didn't even have the medical report back on the dishwasher when we were on the scene of another one.
      This time it was a couple. They were nude on a bearskin rug, bound and suffocated with the duct tape. The entire house had nearly a foot of water in it as the killer had totally sealed the ranch style house from end to end. It must have taken them an hour after they had killed the couple to seal everything up in every room. They had even taped the sliding glass double patio door with tape.
      Then I found another break in the case.
      The killer had run out of their duct tape and had used electrical tape they had evidently found in the house to seal the side door, and they had evidently taken the roll with them as we couldn't find it.
      We went through everything in the house looking for clues. They had eaten dinner together, then it looked like the killer had helped the female victim with the dishes, and then they started the dishwasher. Obliterating any fingerprints or DNA on the utensils.
      But then I saw one of the victim's cel phones with their clothes.
      It was a camera phone.

      We had a couple of pictures of the killer with the female victim when they weren't expecting to be photographed.

      The pot and pan guy at the restaurant IDed Maritza. The delivery driver said it sure looked like the woman that had been at the fifth victim's house that day. From the restaurant register monitor video, it could have been her that had walked out with wet shoes although in two of the photos from the telephone, she wasn't wearing shoes.
      We had a partial ID. Now we had to find her before she killed again.

      The married couple had exchanged emails of a very personal nature with one MariPRgirl.
      I had enough probable cause for a warrant to get the various Internet firms involved to give me the account information for the owner of the email account.
      I hoped the information would break it.
      About the only thing accurate in the entire profile was the postal code.
      But in the emails themselves there was an angle that might pay off.
      MariPRgirl had met the couple at an ethnic food store.

      The woman found in her basement had shopped at the store. One of the bags from the store had been used to block the drain in the laundry sink.
      It was something.
      I took the picture and went to the strip mall with the store and waited a day.
      Two days.
      By noon on the third day I was wondering if maybe she had found another store.
      But just after the store opened on the fourth day of the stakeout I got a call from one of my backup officers. A woman that fit the general description had just gotten off the city bus.
      I watched her walk through the center. She stopped at another store for a few minutes, then walked toward the Spanish store.
      I got out of the car and called for my backup.

      But when Maritza came out of the store, she wasn't alone. She was walking with a young guy I had seen go in not long before she did.
      I had no choice. I didn't want the guy to be number nine.
      I stepped onto the sidewalk and called her name with my badge in one hand and the other on my service pistol.
      She froze, then grabbed the guy by the arm. In a split second she had a knife to his throat and was calling me names in English with no hint of a Spanish accent.
      I drew my weapon and told her to drop the knife.
      Again, she called me names and pulled the guy toward the store.
      Behind her two other officers were approaching with drawn weapons.
      Maritza swore she wouldn't be taken alive and jabbed her knife into the guy's throat.

      Within seconds Maritza was on the ground having been shot multiple times by several different officers.
      It was also the first time I had ever fired my weapon at a suspect in the line of duty. Years of training had made it a reflex action. I did it without thinking about it, I don't think I could have done it otherwise.

      She was still holding the bloody knife. I pulled it from her hand as she waved it at me. One of the officers was tending to the wounded young man. He would survive his encounter with Maritza.

      Maritza started to say something in Spanish. But then she fell silent, and never spoke again.

      In her purse we found the role of tape from the couple's house, and the wife's cel phone.

      The more I learned about her, the more the mystery deepened.

      To begin with, her name was not Maritza. But what it was is not important now.

      I was afraid her reasons for everything she had done had died with her.
      We searched her apartment in the complex.
      Her rooms could have belonged to a militant Puerto Rican nationalist. But we learned many things about her that filled out our profile of a very disturbed young woman.
      She was American, and from what we could tell, she had never been to the island. But she confided to her diary several times that she felt like she should have been born there. She supported Puerto Rican independence, and saw her crimes as making a statement to that end.
      She was also an amateur gymnast, and, from her scrapbooks, had tried out for the US Olympic team, but did not make the cut. In her diary she mentioned that if she had lived in Puerto Rico, she would have been the captain of the team.
      To me at least, it seemed that she had more than her fair share of problems. The least of which was her mild obsession with her weight.
      But there was nothing that explained the water.
      While she mentioned several of her crimes, even calling the dishwasher by name, she never mentioned flooding the basement of the restaurant. It was just something she had done.
      Was it symbolic of the island being surrounded by water? I couldn't even venture a serious guess.

      I closed the case.
      While we had solved the case, and prevented another murder, we had not answered that nagging question that still haunts me every time we sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below...."

End water

For more adventures with The Detective see:
1. The Robbery
2. murder and other fun at The Sun Club
3. The Water Murders
4. Amused To Death
5. Too many suspects spoil the case.
6. The Grand Conspiracy.
7. Murder isn't a Joke.
8. "Sometimes you can't arrest the perpetrator."
9. A Partner In Crime.
10. "Somebody is killing all the bad guys."

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[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]

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