When Killer Collide
Under a cloudless sky, the soft wind failed to cleanse the air of the past, while history eroded the present. Abandoned buildings interrupted miles of the soy and cornfield horizon with a grim reminder of failed dreams. Passing visitors never heard ghosts festering in the desolate soil of disappointment. Legions of buried families bequeathed their genes for future generations to inherit and act upon.
Infertile dirt blew across the fading shrubs that thirsted for rain. Gray remnants of a wooden fence joined with the rusting barbed wire that surrounded the parcel of land off the highway. East of the property, cars raced past on Interstate Road 65, between Chicago and Indianapolis. The license plate description of Indiana as the Heartland of America often amused truck drivers as they hurried across the flat mundane landscape with minimal observations. On that day, the roadside was a beehive of police activity.
At the small barren plot in Lebanon, Indiana, Scott Avilia mingled with his crew. They had just begun to dig the foundation for a new Happy Hoosier gourmet pork tenderloin restaurant the day before. The springtime sunshine reflected off the yellow and green John Deere digger, as past and present collided, and workers unearthed the first human bones.
“Hey, buddy. We hit something bad,” announced the helmeted worker to Avilia, who shined in a white shirt and tie.
Scott Avilia felt his high hopes for the corner location plummet. He bought the site on the cheap at an auction after the county assumed ownership of the lot when taxes weren’t paid. . His construction team was there to excavate for his future business.
The two men noted the grassy mound with darker soil and peered into the hole. A white skull faced them from the dirt—like it was shouting for release. Unable to avert their eyes from the sight, the men retrieved their cell phones, pressing numbers with their nimble thumbs. The worker called his construction boss for direction, and Avilia dialed 911.
The highlight of Detective Robert Mannion’s workdays came at lunchtime, which was ruined. He asked for a to-go container and briskly walked to his Lebanon Police car. There weren’t many murdered bodies found in rural Indiana, so he appreciated the gravity of the message. Still annoyed at his interrupted meal, he tossed the Styrofoam container onto the car seat, turned on the siren and squealed out of the parking lot.
Mannion arrived on scene and approached the man in the shirt and tie.
“You the guy who called 911 and said there were dead bodies buried here?”
“Yeah, we found one here…” Avilia answered.
Mannion glanced at the skull.
“…and it looks like there may be more,” he nodded, referring to the other grassy mounds.
“I’m on a deadline. I need to get this cleared up,” Avilia insisted.
Mannion ignored the comments and called for assistance. Within the hour, uniformed police personnel with shovels and sniffing German Shepherds overran the property. The cops came in all shapes and sizes, with the youngest doing the digging. Police gathered across the landscape, like the clouds that had suddenly accumulated in the Indiana sky.
Ginger Adams from the police communications department joined Mannion. Her thick auburn hair blew in the breeze.
“When you look at it now, you can see some minor mounds where the spring grass looks a little greener,” Detective Mannion mused. “You would never notice it before this skeletal discovery.”
Mannion was a Crime Scene Supervisor and one of the two detectives in the Lebanon Police Department. Among the uniformed cops and jean-clad workers, he stood out in his navy Stein Mart polyester suit. His shoulders remained broad from high school football, but his stomach strained his shirt buttons with each passing year.
“I see what you’re saying. It doesn’t look good,” Adams agreed.
Across the pebbles in the faded soil, they walked to find a clear space.
“It must be a killing field,” Mannion muttered.
Searchers discovered additional graves in the distance
“Maybe it all happened a long time ago and the killer is dead?” Adams suggested.
Ginger Adams possessed natural enthusiasm that enhanced her technical skill. She would deal with the media and frame the stories instigated from the horrific discovery.
“This is all very exciting. Before my media buddies arrive, you may want to order tarps to cover each located remain… in case it rains.”.
Mannion called out the order to a uniform.
“I can’t imagine who could do this,” he complained.
“You know, Detective, there is a murder every 36 minutes in the US, and only about thirty percent of all murders are solved,” she informed him as Mannion walked over to coach a young officer.
Robert Mannion came from an Irish family of saints and sinners. His deceased parents had been teachers. Both his uncles had been police officers while his aunt had a criminal past. Bernie was a decorated hero in the Midwest who had retired in North Carolina. Emmett was killed as a 9-11 first responder at the World Trade Center. Aunt Rosie idled in prison for grand theft auto after assorted run-ins with the law.
Most people that Robert met on the job seemed just as destined for existence at the extremes. The good people became pharmacists, while the bad element, who engaged in all manner of criminal activity, were eventually incarcerated. The bad players created outcomes like the one before him. That killing field demonstrated the legacy of a bad person, and it was Mannion’s job to find the bastard who was responsible.
“Be real careful,” Mannion told the man with a shovel. “Just identify where there’s a body, and stick one of these little Neon cones at the location. The forensic guys from the city will bag the results, and share what they discover.”
To those rural Indiana cops, “the city” usually referred to nearby Indianapolis.
For the time being, the techs controlled the crime scene. Over time, police presence would increase with inquisitive captains and crime scene specialist. Perhaps even the Chief would show up for a crime of such magnitude. The FBI would investigate, and like green flies on dog crap—the press would swarm over the debacle.
He listened to his supervisor on the cell phone.
“Make sure your guys do everything by the book, Robert. We’ll have more scrutiny than ever on this one.”
Mannion nodded habitually, despite speaking with someone who couldn’t see him. While speaking, he glanced at his car, hoping he could go finish his sandwich in the air conditioning—something that would be impossible.
A young cop approached with a cloth parchment in his hand. His tan uniform appeared cleaned and ironed.
“Hey boss. Check this out!” he exclaimed, holding out a tattered small black eye patch. “It looks like we have a one-eyed killer… maybe a pirate?”
“Listen Cyclops,” Mannion scolded, “you know this is a crime scene, right? Where are your gloves? Put that patch back exactly where you found it and act like you’ve been to a crime scene before. Don’t remove anything else, okay?”
The man left as Adams approached.
“Finding evidence?” she asked.
“At this stage—who knows? There is so much debris here. He’s new and learning. But I don’t get it. This is Indiana! We don’t have serial killers here. Bank robbers like Dillinger—we have. Drunk drivers, domestic partner abuse and Breaking Bad methamphetamine labs—we have. But a true serial? Probably never! You expect that in LA or Boston…”
“Well, we have one now,” Adams interrupted. “And don’t you remember?—we had that Baumeister guy, over in Westfield a few years back, who killed gay men from Indianapolis? And before that, there was ‘Mad Dog’…”
“I got it. I guess there are crazies everywhere.”
Mannion watched the officer’s movement for any discrepancies to his orders.
“Do we know who owned this land previously?” Adams asked.
“This used to be known as the ‘goat house’ years ago. It was a little gray and white shuttered house that always seemed empty. Goats wandered from the bordering farm. Best we can tell, the old house they demolished yesterday has been vacant for several years.”
“Are you getting enough resources to help on the facts?” Adams injected. “The media will have a hundred questions.”
“I’ve also got the city boys doing some computer searches,” Mannion nodded. “But a house like this might have had renters and welfare tenants, and maybe even some squatters. It might be a challenge to find the actual proprietors. Over the years, anyone could have used the lot as a burial ground. Anyone from the highway could stop here. The killer could be someone from Chicago, or anywhere. Time destroys many things, including evidence,” “True, but there may be a link why the killer chose this location. My bet is the perp was an Indiana resident,” she guessed.
“Yeah probably, but there aren’t many witnesses to this burial ground. Someone once thought this area could be a new housing development. They even built the Trophy Club Golf Course down the road and there are a few nice brick homes nearby. The plan didn’t work and the area became just another forsaken American dream.”
He hated rambling, which he usually did in front of a pretty woman. Adams brushed dirt from her suit as a sudden breeze came from the cornfields.
“Looks more like a nightmare now. How many have they found?” “So far—six skulls and bones, but it looks like there’ll be more. Apparently, this collection isn’t recent,”
He realized the timeframe of these murders coincided with his Uncle Bernie time with the Indianapolis Police Department, which meant he would have to interrupt Bernie’s retirement in North Carolina.
Scott Avilia approached the officers while wiping the sweat from his brow.
“So, what’s the deal, officer? When can I resume digging the foundation for my restaurant?”
“It’s Detective Mannion, and your sandwich shop will have to wait until we sort out the dead bodies. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Mannion glared at Avilia, challenging him to respond. The landowner scurried back to his SUV and drove off.
“He’s probably rushing off to see his lawyer, like a concerned citizen. The media will be here soon,” Adams advised as she surveyed the application of crime scene tape.
Mannion’s attention was suddenly diverted to an oncoming vehicle.
“Yeah, and it looks like our esteemed ME has arrived.”
Adams walked toward the highway to re-direct the slowed vehicle. A dirty Ford station wagon with plastic wood panels chugged into the lot. Dr. Ikram Patel, the Medical Examiner, held the steering wheel with both hands. His faded brown suit, elbows and knees shining, looked like he had slept in it. .
He walked around to peruse the coned areas, mumbling advice to several young cops. He knelt to poke at some of the remains with a yellow pencil.
The men shook hands.
“So, what’s the word, Doc?” Mannion asked.
“Hello Detective. So far, I count eight remains—all women. They were relatively young, maybe in their twenties. Like her—”
He nodded toward Ginger Adams as she walked away.
“We’ll need to wait until I examine them on the table. They’ve been here for maybe a decade, more or less, the poor souls.”
“Were any of these remains recently added to this graveyard, Doc?”
As the grizzled man with thin gray hair shook his head, Mannion smelled a hint of booze. “Graveyard, hardly—”the doctor answered with bloodshot eyes that had no doubt seen too many horrors. “It’s more like a collection of connected bones from a torture chamber, vestiges thrown into the ground. Maybe those damn goats ate some of the remains. But horrific actions were perpetrated on these young women. Burial was not done with any care. It’s more like a dumping site, actually. None of the remains here are recent… and there’s something rather unusual I observed,” said the doctor.
He looked about in a surreptitious manner, as if sharing a state secret with Mannion.
“No doubt—murder is the ultimate destruction of the victim’s dignity and is surely the cruelest of deaths. But Detective, I had a brief look of several of the remains, and there’s something very odd.” “Okay, I’ll ask…” Mannion sighed. “What’s so odd—beyond eight dead women buried in a goat farm, ten years ago?”
“Well, in those remains … in the cervical area … I found the skeletal remains of another creature in each of the dead women—a skeleton inside a skeleton, as it were. Very odd indeed! I can’t determine yet if it was inserted pre or post mortem. Another revelation I expect when I examine them on the table. But it seemed very odd to say the least. I thought you should know.”
“You say creature? So what? There are mice and squirrels all over these empty lots, Doc!” “So true, yet this may have been… inserted. I can’t be sure…”
Mannion shook his head and looked across the field of activity. A simple lunch had already evolved into all hell breaking loose.
“Are you saying the killer inserted vermin into the privates of these women, while they were being murdered? Let’s keep that tidbit between you and me for now. We don’t need to exacerbate a media feeding frenzy. And you said that none of these women were killed recently…” Mannion asked.
The medical examiner nodded.
“It appears that way. At least none of these poor souls unearthed so far today, Detective. But the man who did this… these killer types don’t just stop. You can be sure there are other sites somewhere. They keep killing until they are caught or die. Just like this ground…somewhere you’ll find other killing fields.”
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