Her Last Word

Page 22


“The cork was not in the bottle,” Quinn said. “She was planning to drink more.”
“Liquid courage to listen to Kaitlin’s presentation?” Adler said, almost to himself.
Dr. McGowan repacked the organs in the body and sutured the chest cavity. She then made incisions on the side of her victim’s neck to expose the jugular. A clean cut had severed it. “As I suspected, this was the lethal wound. Once the killer severed this artery, she would have bled out in a matter of minutes. It explains the massive amount of blood loss as well as the arterial spray on the shower walls.”
No one spoke for a moment, before Adler asked, “Anything else you can tell us about her or her killer?”
“I’ll run toxicology screens, which will take a few weeks. The nail samples will be sent to the state forensic lab.”
“Thanks, Dr. McGowan,” Quinn said.
Adler nodded his thanks, turned from the body, and left the room. As he stripped off his gown, a primal urge rose up in him. He looked forward to hunting down this son of a bitch.
Quinn pushed through the double doors. “You look as pissed as I feel.”
He pulled out his phone and showed her the picture of the four girls by the river. “Found this in an album hidden in her house.”
Quinn frowned as she studied the image. “I barely remember this case. I was working as a summer lifeguard, and my mother heard about it. It freaked her out so badly she called me at work. Told me the world was full of wackos.” She shook her head. “Always listen to Mother.”
“Didn’t you say once your mom was part of the reason you became a cop?”
They’d known each other almost a year, but Quinn never discussed her mother. “Partly.”
Adler picked up on the awkward reply and pivoted. “There were notes that appear to be communication from a stalker.”
“But Ashley said there were no notes,” Quinn said.
“They were hidden in a drawer.”
“What do they say?”
“Nothing threatening. All beginning with ‘My Girl’ and each signed with a heart. I should have the Gina Mason files first thing in the morning. I’ll check through them and see if there’s anything that ties back to the Ralston case.”
“Do you really think the two cases are connected?” Quinn asked.
“I don’t have any evidence, but it’s just too damn odd that a young girl is taken and likely murdered, and then one of the three girls to see her last is brutally stabbed.”
“Someone doubled back to kill her after fourteen years?” She shook her head. “That is one heck of a long shot.”
“I know.” Adler then updated his partner on Kaitlin’s visit to Hayward. “He says he can tell us where Gina is. He may have proof.”
“He’s manipulating Kaitlin, and she’s too naive or emotionally attached to know otherwise.”
“I hear you. It’s likely a rabbit hole, but I’ll check it out anyway.”
She shook her head. “You’ve got a better chance of playing the lottery.”
“But you still scratch the ticket, don’t you?”
She muttered a curse. “The first lie out of that con’s mouth, you need to walk away, John.”
“Great minds think alike.”
The worst evidence is eyewitness testimony. Many people believe the human brain functions like a recorder. However, psychologists have proven it’s simply not true. We humans, in fact, recreate rather than play back recollections. We piece together the puzzle of the past with fragmented facts, stresses, biases, hopes, and emotions. The Innocence Project researchers reported that of the convictions overturned through DNA testing, over 70 percent had been based on eyewitness testimony. We want to remember, but most of us suck at it.
Friday, March 16, 2018; 7:45 p.m.
When Adler reached his desk, he discovered a large dusty binder. A quick look at the spine and he saw the label: MASON, GINA, AUGUST 15, 2004.
His office was in a small cubicle, offering him the illusion of privacy. Fluorescent lights hummed above his head and mingled with the buzz of conversations. There were a half-dozen detectives busy chasing leads. Others were on their computers tackling the everyday paperwork that cops had to slug through. How many nights had he wished to hell he could get away from this place when a homicide investigation ground on for days at a stretch?
Now after the bombing, he was so damn glad to be back.
He shrugged off his coat and draped it over his seat. Slowly he rolled up his sleeves and sat at his computer. He unwrapped a cold vending machine sandwich and took his first bite as he flipped the book open to Gina’s high school portrait, the same one Kaitlin had used for her presentation. Dark hair swept over a round face glowing with a summer tan. White pearls circled her neck. She was beaming with youth and excitement. Alive.
“Jesus,” he muttered. “I feel old.”
He flipped through more pages and came upon a DVD. It read DETECTIVE JOSHUA NORTH INTERVIEWING KAITLIN ROE, OCTOBER 4, 2004. He popped it in his computer and took another bite of his meal.
Kaitlin appeared, leaning back in a metal chair, her elbow resting on its arm. Her chin was raised, giving her a stoic expression. Detective North entered the room and dropped a file on the metal table. She flinched slightly, but recovered her composure.
“You know what I think, Kaitlin,” he said. “I think you’re a liar. A really good one at that.”
Adler checked the date. October 4, 2004. A little over two months into the investigation.
Kaitlin folded her arms over her chest. “Aren’t I supposed to have a lawyer?”
“You aren’t detained. You can leave anytime.”
“Really?” She rose. “Then I’ll leave.”
“I thought we were having a friendly conversation here.”
She faced him. “You released my name to the press. I can’t go into a McDonald’s without someone asking what I did to Gina.”
“We’ve tried to play nice with you, but you’ve not been cooperative.”
“He was wearing a mask!”
Despite her bravado, she was young and dealing with a seasoned homicide detective. North knew exactly how to push her buttons.
“Tell me what you do remember,” North said.
“I already have.”
“One more time. I’m getting old, and I don’t remember so well.”
Her eyes narrowed. “We were by the river.”
“You, Gina, Erika, and Jennifer.”
“That’s right.”
“Why were you there?”
“It was a celebration. The other girls were leaving for college soon.” Her fists clenched.
“And you girls were drinking.”
“We never found the bottle.”
She didn’t answer.
“Kaitlin, at this stage underage drinking is the least of your worries.”
“I threw it in the river. It floated away.”
“Did you spike it with Ecstasy?”
“Are you sure? I have your arrest records from Texas. You got yourself into some trouble, little lady. You strike me as someone who can get ahold of almost any substance.”
“I didn’t spike the bottle.”
North opened his file and seemed to read something. “You said you and Gina were walking to her house. That the other girls had left you.”