Her Last Word

Page 12


“Someone sent her flowers. They came with no notes. At first she thought they were from me. I assured her they weren’t, but I don’t know if she believed me.”
“Do you know which florist delivered them?” Quinn asked.
“Where were they delivered?” Adler asked.
“To her home, I suppose,” Keller said.
“When you dated, what was she like?” Quinn asked.
“Driven. Quiet and moody at times. Other times fun.”
“Was she safety conscious?” Adler asked, remembering the three dead bolts on her front door.
“Yes. She said you could never be too careful.”
“Any reason why?”
“Once I showed up late. She’d started drinking without me and was a little tipsy. She was looking at old pictures and pointed to one taken when she was about sixteen. She was grinning from ear to ear in the picture. Jennifer said it was the picture of ‘the girl she’d been.’ She spoke about herself as if that girl had died.”
“Did she explain the comment?” Adler asked.
“No. We ended up in bed and distracted. It was an amazing night.”
“Can we see her cubicle?” Quinn asked.
“Sure.” Jeremy led them through the cubicles overlooking the woods behind the building.
There were three stacks of papers on her desk. Three pencils were lined up to the right, as if standing at attention and waiting for orders. On her wall were her diplomas and professional designations.
Adler sat at her desk and opened the middle and side drawers but found nothing that caught his attention. Behind the desk on the credenza were a potted cactus and a picture of a smiling Jennifer standing arm in arm with her sister, Ashley.
“Call us if you think of anything else, no matter how inconsequential,” Adler said.
Jeremy escorted them to the reception area. Instead of leaving right away, Adler turned to the receptionist. “Did Jennifer ever receive any mail or deliveries that may have upset her?”
The receptionist glanced toward her boss, and when he nodded, she said, “She did receive a letter. She opened it in front of me and slammed it in the trash without saying a word.”
“Remember what was on the envelope and letter?” Adler asked.
“There was no return address. Plain white envelope. Handwritten. Block letters. I thought the sender had been a draftsman.”
“Good memory,” Adler said.
She shrugged. “Hand-addressed letters are out of the ordinary and stick out.”
Adler leaned toward her a fraction. “Did you look at the letter after she threw it in the trash?”
She looked sheepishly toward Jeremy.
“Tell them,” Jeremy said. “It’s all right.”
“Yes, I looked at it. I never look at personal information, but her reaction made me worry for her. It was just a hand-drawn heart.”
“In pen, pencil, ink?”
“Red ink,” she said.
“Any similar letters?” Adler asked.
“See anyone suspicious hanging around?” Quinn asked.
“Was she dating anyone else?” Adler asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Thanks,” Adler said. “Mr. Keller, we’ll be in touch.”
Outside, Quinn slid on her glasses with such deliberate slowness it was clear she was pissed. “Our victim has an ex-boyfriend, and a killer who had access to her house and lingered in her house for several hours before he killed her.”
“You think Keller killed Jennifer?”
“Stalkers generally have had some interaction with their victims before their behavior turns dangerous.”
“Fair point, but before we start chasing after Keller, I want to hear Jennifer’s interview with Kaitlin,” Adler said.
Everyone who came in contact with Gina on her final day second-guessed their last words. Would it have made a difference? Should I have told her to stay home? Was it smart to drink by the river at night? What if I’d called a cab for us all? Was there someone lurking around I should have seen?
There were a few who for a long time maintained hope she was alive. Maybe she was being held somewhere. Maybe she had escaped, was suffering from amnesia, and didn’t remember. One reporter wrote an entire article about women who’d survived years of captivity, even suggesting Gina might be her abductor’s sex slave.
The survival rates for girls like Gina drop substantially after twenty-four hours. And if the victim is a child, the window of rescue narrows to the first three hours.
As I tape this on March 1, Gina has been missing for 4,946 days. Her critical hours have long passed. And still I hold out hope she is alive.
“I’d like to see my baby brought home,” Audrey Mason said. “I want her eternal resting place to be beside me and her father. She deserves better than what life gave her.”
There were a lot of variables coming into play that night. Remove any one, and circumstances might have been different. Gina might still be with us today. But wishful thinking doesn’t do anybody any good.
Friday, March 16, 2018; 9:45 a.m.
Kaitlin had called Erika Travis Crowley, the fourth girl with Gina the night she vanished, several times for another interview. Erika had not returned any of her calls, so Kaitlin had gotten the hint and left her alone. But now that Jennifer was dead, she felt compelled to see her and tell her what had happened to a woman they both knew. Erika might have blown off Kaitlin, but surely she’d want to know about Jennifer.
It was raining when she parked in front of the large colonial in the upscale Far West End neighborhood. The yard was neatly manicured and the garden beds freshly mulched. She dashed up the long driveway to the front door, painted a shiny black lacquer, and pressed the bell.
Seconds passed, but there was no sound or movement in the house. Then she heard footsteps, and the door opened. Erika was dressed in a sleek black yoga outfit. Her hair was pulled back into a smooth ponytail, and her makeup looked immaculate.
Erika’s brows knotted as she focused her attention on Kaitlin’s face. “I told you I’m not talking to you again.”
“I’m not even here about that. I came to tell you Jennifer Ralston is dead.”
Erika nervously twisted the large diamond engagement ring nestled against a wedding band with her thumb. “What are you talking about? She’s fine.”
Rain dripped on her. “No, she was murdered in her home last night.”
Erika folded her arms, shaking her head. “Jennifer. Dead. I don’t believe it.”
“Yes.” Even though she’d been up half the night trying to process the news, she still couldn’t fully accept it. “The cops visited me last night and told me.”
Erika shook her head, but still didn’t invite her inside. “How did she die?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do they have suspects?”
“Not that I know of.” Kaitlin stepped forward slightly. She hadn’t intended to use Jennifer’s death to push her own agenda, but like it or not, she and Erika were the remaining survivors from the night Gina was taken. “Erika, we’re the last two girls alive who were with Gina that night. Don’t you think we should sit down and talk more? It can be off the record.”