Roman covered his mouth with his handkerchief. I hate these kinds of mornings, he thought. The stench of the rotting corpse permeated his piece of cloth even from three feet away. The cold morning did little to abate the odor outside. A decomposing corpse lay exposed in the freshly open grave undulating with maggots crawling under its skin. Unfortunately, this was the third body Roman had been brought to like this in the last four weeks.
He had seen more than he wanted to. Roman looked around for a familiar face and walked over to Officer Piper. Roman could see she was visibly upset. That was understandable since all the crimes had happened in her jurisdiction. He walked up, patted her on the shoulder and said, “Tough month for you, huh? What does this make, three bodies found?”
Piper nodded, sniffed and spoke, “Yeah. I just wonder how so many female joggers are getting killed? I mean, they were all like this. Decomposing, bugs and still dressed in their clothes. That means they’ve each been dead for at least a month.”
Roman smiled and tried to lighten Piper’s mood a bit. “Very good, detective. Did you notice anything else?”
Piper gave a shy smile and continued. “I did. Why weren’t these women missed? It seems three women joggers, all in their 30’s, killed around the same period in the same park would draw attention.”
Roman thought of the phone call he had that morning with another victim’s husband. He was now a widower at age forty with two small kids wanting to know when mom is coming home. The only question he had for Roman was whether or not that had found his wife’s killer.
He gave Piper the only simple answer he could get out without losing his emotions. “They were missed.” Piper gave a slow nod and looked away as if scanning the scenery for clues. Roman followed her eyes.
All three women had been found in a grassy clearing along the jogging path. The path was surrounded by woods, except for the occasional small field like this one. It also ran along a soccer field closer to the interior of the park. Gray tree branches and a gray sky set the proper mood for this particular morning. Much like the other crime scenes, there was nothing in the area that sparked attention. “Where’s the woman who found the jogger?” Roman asked Piper.
“Over in the tent. She’s pretty upset.”
Roman thanked Piper and walked towards the white tent that had been set up to process evidence and provide a little warmth against the forty degree temperatures. He was sure he already knew the story, but he’d interview the witness anyway. Inside he found field techs assisting other detectives. It was going to be a long afternoon of meetings and brainstorming. What is it they say? Thought Roman, The third time’s the charm.
He stopped and stared. In the corner sat a young woman in her late twenties. Her raven black hair hung straight down over her shoulders. She wore a purple beanie and a black jogging suit with white stripes running down both sides. A feeling of Deja Vu swept over Roman. He didn’t have to interview the witness, he already had. Roman grabbed an empty folding chair and walked over. She looked up and gave him a surprised look. Without a word he sat the chair in front of her and sat down.
Roman smiled and said, “Hello, Ally. How are you holding up?”
Ally nervously played with the tissue in her hand. “Okay, I guess. I didn’t expect this again.”
Roman watched her every move. There was a slight twitch in the corner of her left eye. He wasn’t sure if that was from guilt or stress. “This is the second body you’ve found in two weeks. I’m surprised you still want to jog in this park.”
Ally took a long slow breath and then said, “I didn’t expect to find another one. I’m not sure I’ll ever jog again, anywhere, ever. What’s going on detective? Who are these women?”
Roman shook his head. “We’re still trying to figure that out. All I can tell you is that the freak rainstorms we’ve had over the last two months washed away some of the dirt from the shallow graves. That’s why these women are being found. Are you up to walking through how you found this woman?”
Ally nodded and said, “It’s exactly like last time. I stopped on the edge of the field to take a drink of water. Like I told you before, I have to stop every once in a while because I have runner’s knee. So, I was taking a breather, and there it was, just like last time. A woman’s hand was sticking out of the ground. I almost passed out. Everything just seems so surreal right now.”
Roman felt a tap on his shoulder, and he heard a familiar voice say, “Sorry to interrupt.” Bryson, his partner, stood behind and motioned for Roman to follow him. Roman turned back to Ally and said, “Excuse me, can you wait here for a few minutes in case I have any more questions?” Ally nodded, and Roman walked outside with Bryson.
Bryson kept walking until they were away from everyone. Roman spoke up first. “Good morning, any reason we are taking a stroll?”
Bryson spoke in a hushed voice, “Keep it down, I’m not sure who we can trust on the crime scene.”
Roman folded his arms and spoke quieter. “Care to explain the intrigue? I’m pretty sure we have our suspect inside that tent, and you interrupted my interview with her.”
Bryson slowly shook his head. “I don’t think so. Remember, I did her background. She owns a small shop in town where she sells her paintings. An artist didn’t kill these women. I think someone with police experience did.”
Roman looked past Bryson to the crime scene behind him. Ally was turning back the occasional jogger that stumbled upon the crime tape. The crime lab was busy taking photos and samples, and the medical examiner’s team had just arrived. Everyone seemed to be busy doing what they should be doing.
Roman looked back at Bryson. “Okay, what’s the angle? Why would a cop, or anyone from law enforcement, do this?”
“I don’t know yet, but here’s what I do know. All three crime scenes were hidden in plain sight. I will bet you money we find zero evidence in the area, just like that last two. That means whoever our killer is, they know what they’re doing. Also, the victims. No sign of sexual assault or robbery. Other than being joggers there is no link between the first two, and I bet this one won’t have any link to the others.”
Roman frowned. He didn’t like Bryson’s explanation. “So, that doesn’t point to a dirty cop. Any psycho could study police procedure on the internet and figure out how to avoid leaving clues behind. Besides, who would go into law enforcement and then become a serial killer, it makes no sense.”
Bryson stepped up to Roman and invaded his personal space. Roman could smell Bryson’s last cup of coffee as he spoke. “What if we’re dealing with someone more evil than we realize. Ever think what would happen if a psychopath managed to become a cop?”
A shudder ran through Roman. “That’s almost tin foil hat crazy. Let’s say you’re right for a moment. That would mean someone took years to set up the perfect murders.”
Bryson nodded, and Roman prayed he was crazy.