August 10, 2005, 3:20 p.m.
A map of the United States glowed on the flat-panel monitor at the front of the room.
“You’ll remember the first two bodies were found in Darien and Greenwich,” FBI analyst Bob White, a forty-something former street cop, said.
Two stars glowed over Connecticut.
“August and October, 2003. Both deep in the woods. The bizarre condition of the corpses got headlines, but things quieted down within a couple months.” He cleared his throat, but his gravelly voice didn’t change. “Until last year,” he said. “The third body. A twelve-year-old boy in Big Timber, Montana.”
“He crossed state lines, we got involved. Now, two more in the last six months: Southampton, New York . . .”
A fourth star.
“The press is all over us.”
Forensic psychiatrist Frank Clevenger, forty-nine, looked over at Ken Hiramatsu, the agency’s chief pathologist. “Tell me about the bodies.”
Hiramatsu motioned the control room for the next series of images.
The screen filled with what looked like a photo from Gray’s Anatomy.
“His dissection is beyond competent,” Hiramatsu said, with what sounded like admiration. “In each victim, a different organ or vessel or joint is masterfully exposed. In Darien, it was the heart of a twenty-seven-year-old woman.”
Clevenger could see the sternum and rib cage of the victim had been neatly cut away, the muscles and fascia beneath them held back by silver nails, giving a full view of the heart, freed even from the fibrous, pericardial sac that normally clings to it like a glove.
“He goes deep,” Hiramatsu said, motioning the control room again. “He wants to see everything.”
The image on screen changed to a close-up of forceps holding open a window cut into the left ventricle, revealing the aortic and mitral valves. It changed again to show a second window onto the tricuspid valve, inside the right ventricle.
“You get the idea,” Hiramatsu said. He twirled a finger in the air. The slides began cycling.
Clevenger watched one image of meticulous carnage after another. A section of abdominal wall excised to reveal the kidney of a teenage boy, the renal artery and ureter brought into view by threads tied around them, pulled tight and anchored by silver nails. The right hip of a middle-aged woman open to show the neck and head of the femur, with the gluteus medius, quadratus femoris, and iliopsoas muscles stripped clean. The jugular veins and carotid arteries of a beautiful, thirty-something woman. The spine of a man face down in a bed of leaves.
“The spine is the one from Michigan,” Hiramatsu said. “His most accomplished work.”
Clevenger glanced at him.
“In its attention to detail,” Hiramatsu said quickly. “Each and every spinal nerve tied off. The vertebral arteries pristinely dissected. Not one of them torn. Not even a nick.”
“Any evidence of sexual abuse?” Clevenger asked.
“None,” Hiramatsu said.
“Cause of death?” Clevenger asked.
“Poisoning.” Hiramatsu said. “We found traces of chloroform and succinylcholine in every body.”
Chloroform was a sedative-hypnotic agent. Succinylcholine was a potent paralytic. Just three milligrams would freeze every muscle in the body, including the heart.
“We’ve thought about a surgeon,” Dorothy Campbell, an older, elegant woman who ran the profiler computer system, said. “The blade is consistent with a scalpel.”
“You’d think he’d get enough in the O.R.,” Clevenger said.
“Maybe some hotshot fired for drugs or malpractice,” White said. “Out to show everyone just how competent he is.”
“Possible,” Clevenger said.
“What we know for sure,” White said, “is that he’s got a ticket. All five victims are from serious money, even the kid.”
“He can’t meet these people by chance,” Campbell said. “They know him. They trust him.”
“Do they know each other?” Clevenger asked.
“The husband of one victim and the father of another served on the board of National Petroleum together,” White said. “We could never make anything of it.”
“Other leads?” Clevenger asked, looking around the table.
A few seconds passed in silence before White cleared his throat again. He winked. “If we were making a lot of headway, you wouldn’t be here.”
Copyright © 2005 by Keith Ablow