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Laurel Hill Cemetery was a hell of torture and death for the victims of the serial killer, but it was like heaven for him. He couldn’t have imagined a better place to practice his dark art.
Founded in 1836 on eighty acres of steep hills and plateaus on the western edge of Philadelphia, overlooking the Schuylkill River, the massive old graveyard was filled with a menagerie of some of the world’s most impressive architecture of death. There were hundreds of large elaborate crypts, some standing alone, some built in a line next to others, and several dozen gathered together into a section called Millionaire’s Row that looked like a small town growing in the middle of the grounds. The thousands of other residents of the cemetery didn’t have their own buildings to rest in, but their graves were marked with an awe-inspiring array of symbolic Victorian sculptures: obelisks, columns, towers topped by angels and other mythical creatures, arches, draped urns, and small-scale Gothic cathedrals. The stone sarcophagi were adorned with lions, winged faces, broken urns, cherubim, anchors, ivy, and ornate books too large for any human to hold.
The light from the full moon, in the early hours before dawn, created an odd grayscale twilight in the cemetery when it hit the stone and the snow. Neither was completely white anymore, the stone because of its age and the snow because of the atmospheric anomalies that were affecting the whole East Coast. But there was nothing gray about the van that pulled down the access path in the northwest corner of the grounds, stopping between a long row of crypts overlooking the river and the steep hill descending to it. The van was jet black on the outside and hell black on the inside, accommodating an evil man and his foul work.
He was known to the police and the terrified citizens of Philadelphia as the Full Moon Kidnapper—or Full Moon Killer, for those who were less hopeful—because in each of the last six months women had disappeared from the streets on this night, their bodies never to be found. But the man’s name was Carl Roonan, and he was actually an employee of the cemetery, a member of the maintenance staff. He had applied for the job initially because of an unhealthy preoccupation with death—which he’d hid during the hiring process, of course—and that obsession had only grown during the year he had worked there. So had the plans that began to form in his sick mind when his boss introduced him to the wall of old brass crypt keys in a room behind the cemetery office, and the logbook that recorded the names of the tombs’ owners and the last time they had been used for family burials. He was able to tell which ones would never be used again, especially in the northwest corner, which was over a hill from the office and was the most quiet and private part of the cemetery. With the river below and only a wooded mountain on the other side of it, no one could see what he was doing, especially at the early hour of the morning when he got to work.
On this particular gray morning, even though he was already confident that he was alone, Roonan looked around carefully when he exited the van to make sure there were no witnesses—except for the already dead, and the woman who would be soon. He opened the back door and lifted her out, sensing the body bag move slightly and hearing a drugged moan from inside it.
He became fully aroused, now that he was feeling safe and anticipating what he would do to the woman, and carried her to the crypt he had chosen for her final resting place.
* * *
Damn, he’s big, Detective Jon Phillips thought to himself as he watched from his hiding place about fifty yards away, up on the crest of the hill. Jon realized that Roonan might be too big for him to take by himself, but he couldn’t call for backup even if he wanted to. He had left his cell and radio at home, for several reasons: he didn’t want his superiors to have any possible way of tracking him down and putting a stop to this un-condoned investigation, and he worried that the killer might be sophisticated enough to be using some kind of an electronics detector. He also had to admit that he wanted to take this scumbag down all by himself, because of his competitive nature and the fact that no one on the force had taken his theories seriously. Even his partner had been unwilling to join him on this out-of-jurisdiction stakeout, saying “I’m not getting fired or freezing my balls off for one of your fucking hunches.” Which was probably good in the end, because this would have been harder with two people.
Jon had walked into the cemetery a day earlier during a time when there were other visitors, and lay down at this spot to test his hunch by seeing if the Full Moon Goon happened to bring his victims here.
His investigation had started with the disappearance of a woman from his rural hometown who had been partying in the city, and some rather thin clues had led him to this cemetery employee and a macabre notion of what he might be doing with the bodies. Jon wanted to check it out during the full moon night, but knew that the perp might have a way to make sure no one entered the cemetery in the hours prior, so to be safe he had to find a good hiding spot and stay there as long as needed. And this spot was ideal for several reasons: One was that it was a square family plot set apart from the other graves by a wrought iron fence that sat on a low brick wall, so no one would be walking through it and no one on the outside could see Jon when he lay prone next to the interior of the brick wall. But when he poked his head over it, he could see the entire northwest section of the cemetery, because the plot was on the top of the hill above it. He could also see two terraced rows of crypts almost as high as him to the right, in case Roonan might use one of them, and he could see a long row of crypts to the left that were built into the bottom of the hillside, next to where the black van was now parked.
Jon had guessed this particular part of the huge cemetery because the hill and river made it very private, and the guess had paid off. The only problem with his plan was that it was very cold lying in the snow, and Roonan hadn’t come during the middle of the night as he’d suspected but in the early morning, when his shift started. So Jon was already suffering symptoms of hypothermia by the time he pushed himself up and out of his hiding place to head down the hill. His body shivered, his heart and lungs raced, and the hand that gripped his gun was numb enough that he dropped it once during his descent. He also felt light-headed by the time he reached the van and pulled the keys out of the ignition, throwing them into the snow far away from the vehicle. Then he turned to gaze at the long row of crypts nearby, and was no longer entirely sure which one he had seen Roonan enter. But when he trusted his first instinct and pulled on one of the big iron doors, it was indeed unlocked and swung open. It took so much effort for Jon to move it, in his weakened state, that he briefly questioned whether or not he should enter and confront the big psycho. It also didn’t help that opening the door made a lot of noise, so Roonan probably knew he was coming.
Jon started down the steps with his gun and small flashlight extended. But when he reached the burial chamber at the bottom of the stairs, all he could see was the bound victim lying on her back in the middle of the cement floor. Half her clothes had been cut off, several small wounds had been inflicted on her exposed skin, and beside her lay a set of sinister-looking knives. As Jon knelt down beside the woman to check her pulse, he pointed the weak beam from the little flashlight toward the walls on every side of him, wishing he had brought a bigger one because he couldn’t see into some of the crevices and alcoves of the chamber.
Finally he swung the light back to the steps he had come down, and wondered if Roonan could have snuck out that way or some other. The woman still had a pulse, however, which meant he had to be concerned with her, so he put the flashlight in his mouth and the gun in its holster, and started to untie her feet.
As he did this the killer leapt toward him from one of the dark recesses, slamming into him and slashing at him with a knife. The flashlight flew out of Jon’s mouth as he sprawled onto the floor in the darkness and felt the skin on the lower back of his neck being sliced open, and then a similar sensation on his upper right arm after another thrust of Roonan’s blade. But before he could be cut again, Jon somehow liberated his gun and fired two shots into the darkness in front of him. He could see in the momentary light from the muzzle flash that he probably hadn’t hit anything except the walls of the crypt, but the roar of the weapon was so deafening in the enclosed space that afterward he could hear the killer scramble to find the steps and then run up them to get away. By the time Jon managed to grab the flashlight, Roonan was gone.
Jon stuck the flashlight into the limp hand of the victim, forced himself to his feet, and rode a surge of adrenaline up the steps and out of the tomb. Roonan had obviously discovered the keys were missing from the van, judging by its open door, and now was running up the hill behind the crypts—because the one on the other side, which led down to the river, was much too steep to navigate. He was also probably thinking that he could lose his pursuer in the maze of tight city streets on the other side of the cemetery. And he was right about that, because Jon was highly unfamiliar with Philadelphia, having been to the city only a few times in his life.
Jon yelled, “Stop!” but didn’t wait long to begin firing at the man. And it didn’t take long to realize how bad his aim was going to be. In addition to the numbness from the cold night, the recoil of the gun caused sharp pain from the wounds in his neck and arm. He looked back at the van and briefly thought about trying to find the keys for it in the snow, but remembered that the driving paths in the cemetery were very circuitous, and the man would probably be out of it and into the city before Jon could catch him in a vehicle. So he switched the gun to his left hand and took off after Roonan on foot.
The big man disappeared briefly over the crest of the hill when Jon was about halfway up, but fortunately there was a wide plateau at the top, and when Jon reached it he could see Roonan again. He was halfway across an especially ornate and crowded section of graves containing many obelisks and large markers. Fearing that his quarry would disappear again soon on the downward slope on the other side of the plateau, Jon stopped momentarily and fired several shots with his left hand. He gave up after just a few attempts, because he could immediately tell the difference from the way he would normally be shooting, and vowed that if he got out of this alive he would spend a hundred hours at the range working on his left-handed aim. He also cursed himself for ignoring the standard spiels of his captain, who repeatedly advised him and the other detectives to “prepare for anything” in such ways.
The other reason Jon only fired a few shots was that, just as he did, Roonan bounded through a cluster of large sarcophagi and was then hard to see on the other side of it. Jon forced himself forward, noticing that the shivering and racing of his internal organs had returned with a vengeance since the recent surge of adrenaline had worn off.
By the time he reached the group of tall graves that Roonan had passed through, the big man had crested the hill on the other side and was almost to the much larger cluster of crypts and tombs they called Millionaire’s Row. Knowing that he definitely wouldn’t be able to see the killer once he disappeared inside that small town of cement and marble, and that Roonan would be able to exit it in several directions, Jon braced his left arm on a sarcophagus next to him—not able to use his wounded right one for support—and fired a few more shots. They sailed closer to the target than they had when he’d been freestanding, but they failed to connect again, except with a wall or two in the collection of big cubic tombs that the man now disappeared into.
Jon dropped his head, sucked in a big breath of the freezing air, and leaned back on the cement structure next to him. As time slowed for a few surreal seconds, he noticed that he was resting between two sarcophagi that both seemed to be telling him that he was about to end up in a cemetery like this. One was topped by a stone casket whose lid was partially open, allowing a small cherub to escape, and the other one had an angel that was missing half of its right arm. This caused Jon to also notice that the right arm of his own coat—and his entire back—were now wet with blood, and there was a small trail of it that marked the path he had taken to get here.
He pushed himself off the cement coffin, leaving a big smudge of red on it, and headed toward Millionaire’s Row.
He faced a choice when he reached the little City of the Dead—he could dart as quickly as possible through the dozen or more structures and hope to see which direction Roonan had fled out of the other side, or he could move slowly through them in case the big man was catching his breath somewhere inside of them. He chose the latter, mostly because he was tired himself by now, but also because he could always find a phone and call for a dragnet of the nearby parts of the city if the perp got out of the cemetery.
Jon also thought he might have heard some heavy breathing from within the crypts, but that could simply have been the wind whistling through them.
He moved slowly through the narrow openings between the ten- to fifteen-foot whitish buildings, holding the gun in front of him with his shaking left hand, trying unsuccessfully to clench the empty fist of his other one in case he needed it.
He was musing on the ironic prospect of dying in a cemetery when Roonan threw himself out from behind a crypt and smashed Jon into the side of an adjacent one. The impact on the front of his weakened body and the back of his wounded arm caused the gun to fly out of his hand, and the killer began stabbing at his left side with the knife. Jon was thankful now that his left arm was the one working, because he managed to block the first two blows with his left forearm against the man’s right, keeping the blade from penetrating too far into his coat or skin. He then thrust his right knee—one weapon he still possessed—into the man’s groin, causing him to buckle slightly. But when he did, Roonan thrashed wildly toward him again and slashed across the underside of his chin with the knife, slicing open the skin there.
An involuntary scream escaped and Jon’s head jerked back against the stone wall behind him, but he also instinctively rolled away from his opponent. He staggered away from Roonan into a small open area between the crypts to get some space, but there were a few short gravestones on the ground and he stumbled over one of them. As he fell he twisted himself around so he could still see his attacker, and landed on his back in the snow between the graves. The big killer, having recovered quickly and now angrier than ever, launched himself toward Jon in another attempt to pin him, this time on the ground. But he rolled to one side, and Roonan hit only the bloody snow he had left below him.
Jon couldn’t get far from him, however, because his roll was stopped by a gravestone, which he hit with his back and slopped with more of his blood. But fortunately he saw the other man making a critical mistake by pulling himself up on his knees to stand up, the process of which would leave him unstable for a few crucial seconds. So Jon fired his wounded body off the gravestone and barreled into the big man, driving him hard for a few feet before they hit the ground again and slammed into another marker in the little plot.
Jon chopped hard at Roonan’s wrist with a clenched fist and freed the blade from his hand, then grabbed it himself and rolled off his body to the side, staining the snow with more blood but using the newfound adrenaline enough to stand up with the knife ready in his hand.
The killer stood up, too, shaking his head from the concussion of hitting the stone, but with enough presence of mind to see Jon’s gun lying in the snow about ten feet to his left. He looked back at Jon and the knife, quickly contemplating, and Jon muttered, “No, no” through lips that were even more numb now with the loss of blood from below his chin. But Roonan chose his fate and dove for the gun, barely reaching it before Jon’s own dive toward him resulted in a knife thrust into the big man’s throat. This was the only way to be sure that Roonan couldn’t use the gun on him, and though he didn’t take pleasure in the near decapitation, Jon did think it was well deserved.
He pushed himself away from the spreading pool of blood around the killer’s body, noticing the various other spots of dark red staining the off-white of the snow and cement, and leaned his ever-more-dampening back against the nearest gravestone. He felt a mixture of satisfaction at his success in the investigation, and dread that he probably wouldn’t live to celebrate it.
Unable to move anymore, with no cell phone or radio, and the cemetery not opening for hours yet, his only hope of survival would be if the victim back in the crypt woke up in time to go for help, and if the Philly police happened to come to the scene and follow the blood trail before he died. But he couldn’t even remember if he had untied the woman’s legs well enough for her to get free, and he didn’t think he had. Someone would eventually find her and she would probably survive the ordeal, but it was very unlikely that he would.
Still, this is a good way to go, was his last conscious thought.
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