I don’t know where to start. I was never the one who was supposed to be sitting here in an interrogation room, filling out a statement. There is a part of me that wishes I had just called in sick last month. It was just another Monday morning, sucking down my hot coffee and trying to motivate myself to go to the station. My cell phone rang, and I saw my partner Gun Che on the caller i.d. He said, “Barry, we have a body in the alleyway two blocks from the station. I told Captain Jones that we would handle it. When can you be here?”
“Right away.” I hung up the cell phone, hopped in my car and sped towards work. Everything felt so out-of-place. The sun was shining, and roses were blooming. Spring fever had already hit me hard. I was not due for time off for another month, but I was ready to hit the beaches yesterday. Yet, here I was, driving to a murder scene. Death in the midst of all the beauty passing by my car window. My old silver Dodge came sliding to a stop near the patrol cars blocking the alleyway. Gun motioned me over to where the tarp covered body was. I remember thinking it was a lousy place to die.
The body lay in the middle of the alleyway where the water drains. A shower during the night had left a small pond of dirty water pooled where the victim and tarp were. There was a distinct lack of blood. I started to pull back the tarp, but Gun stopped me. “You may want to prepare yourself.” was all he said. I gave him a puzzled look, but I knew something was up. I will admit, I was not ready for what I found.
Under the tarp was a ten-year-old girl of mixed African-American descent. She looked just like my niece, and at first, I feared the worst. Gun grabbed my arm and showed me a tattoo on the back of the young girl’s neck. It looked like a sword pointing down with I loop at the top of it. I knew then that she was not my niece. The tattoo was indicative of girls branded by a human trafficking gang. Of course, that is just a polite way of saying this ten-year-old was a modern-day slave. Judging by the state of dress she was in, she was likely working when she was killed. Put on the streets for perverted pleasure. Looking back, I can’t say I regret any of my actions after that moment.
We found out later her name was Kathy. She had wavy black hair that dropped below her shoulders, but her pimp had put her hair into two ponytails. Whoever enslaved Kathy had dressed her in a yellow mini-skirt, and had attempted to make her look closer to sixteen. There were finger bruises on her neck. The killer had used his bare hands to stifle the breath out of her young body. It could have been her pimp or john. The medical examiner showed up, and Gun and I decided to join the other officers combing the alley for clues.
On one side sat an elementary schoolyard, and on the other a row of modest single-family homes. Well, moderate by most of the world’s standards. Here in sunny southern California, these houses were worth well over a half-million dollars each. Insane prices paid for by insane people who were seduced by the weather and surroundings. Many of the people living on this small block would not live to see their mortgages paid off. To them, it’s a small price to pay to have a piece of paradise. Most are snowbirds from the northeast where dense populations have caused the same sort of housing crises. To pay California prices and still get a yard, plus no snow, is a bargain. Many of the three bedroom homes had security cameras on their detached garages that faced the alleyway.
Gun and I thought we were in luck. A few door knocks, and we should have a picture of our killer, and perhaps help vice stop a sex trade of minors. Of course, we should have known it would not be that easy. Many neighbors had left for their jobs in Los Angeles or the surrounding area. It is not unusual to have a two-hour commute to work. If you start for work at the wrong time, that two-hour commute could merely cover a ten-mile drive. Of the ten homes, we found three occupied that morning, and only one with of the three had an active security camera. Unfortunately, the very dated unit was on a thirty-minute cycle, so the data was useless.
We walked back to our car and found an officer waiting for us. She had discovered a locket. Inside was a photo of a beautiful couple. There was an African-American gentleman in his mid-thirties. The woman was of European descent and appeared close to his age. On the other side read, “With love from Mom and Dad.” This couple had to be our victim’s parents. I had to stifle back my emotions. Maybe we did not find a picture of the killer that morning, but we had a lead on the young girl’s family.
If I had known where this lead would take us, I probably would never have followed-up. Perhaps that couple would still be together if I had just stayed out of their lives.