Five Weeks Earlier
"ARE YOU TELLING ME SOME SERIAL KILLER took a twenty-year vacation and then all of a sudden started murdering people again last night?"
Police Detective Vera Demopolous put a pair of latex gloves on, and carefully removed the letter from the plastic evidence bag.
She had just walked through the front door of her first murder scene as lead detective–the single-family home at 53 Lakeview Street in the Indian Oaks section of Springfield. She was talking to Sergeant Jimmy Wong, who had almost twenty-five years on the job. Wong had been a rookie on the force back in the early '80s. Right around the time Vera was attending Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Jimmy laughed. "I doubt it. Willy Grasso put away the Springfield Shooter back in '84. Alan Lombardo. Real sick guy. I'm just saying, from what I remember, this scene is a little like those–including a note from the killer. At least from what I heard. I was doing mainly traffic control back then. Not too many murder investigations."
Vera turned her attention to the letter. It was on a plain white piece of paper, and looked like it had been run off a computer printer.
To the Detective assigned to this case:
First, please give my regards to Detective Grasso. I hope he is enjoying his well-earned retirement.
As I'm sure you must have surmised, this letter was written before I got here, so I will not, herein, be able to provide you with many details of my activities. But I'm sure the condition in which I leave Mr. Chatham will provide you with more than enough work to keep you busy for some time. Of course I will tape him up, and I will shoot him, but beyond that–well, I will just have to see how things progress.
What I can tell is that I'll be in touch with you soon about the next murder you'll be working on. (Oh yes, I'm one of those kinds of killers!!!)
But I don't want to distract you from Mr. Chatham. You're going to want to pay special attention to him, because he's our first. Go ahead, Detective, look for clues, ask around, see if you can find me before I kill somebody else.
But you won't.
When she finished reading it, she replaced the letter in the evidence bag. Jimmy gestured over his shoulder and said, "Body's over here in the living room."
Vera followed the sergeant as Wong turned left off the entry hall. Forensics and Crime Scene were already well into their work. "Can you fill me in on what you've got so far?"
Vera was lucky that somebody as experienced as Jimmy Wong was at the scene. Murder scenes were always complicated, and for now, Vera was working without any backup.
She had joined the force two years ago, but three of the detectives who had been working when she started were gone. Willy Grasso, the senior member, had retired and moved to Florida. His former partner, Ole Pedersen, was on medical leave recovering from surgery, and John Morrison had died in the line of duty.
Suddenly Vera was one of the most experienced detectives in the shorthanded precinct. When Lieutenant Carasquillo had assigned last night's murder investigation to her, he'd assured her that she'd be getting help soon. And he'd mentioned that he'd left word for Willy Grasso to call her because of the similarities to the Springfield Shooter case twenty years ago.
"Okay. Victim's name is Corey Samuel Chatham. Earlier this morning, around eight-thirty, a software engineer named Muhammed– No, wait"–Wong checked his notes–"Maleek Muhammed, pulled into the driveway to pick up Chatham to go to work. They carpool, and it was Muhammed's turn to drive. Chatham is always on time, ready to go, but today he doesn't come right out, so Muhammed honks the horn. Still no Corey. Muhammed gets out of the car, knocks on the door, rings the bell, no answer. Now he's getting worried, so he starts walking around the house, peeking in windows, and sure enough, he sees somebody sitting in a chair in the living room. He calls 911, the uniforms break in, and it's Chatham, DOA, duct-taped to a recliner. Looks like small-caliber handgun, maybe a .22. Shot twice, in the groin and the eye. There's some red marks on his neck and chest, maybe a burn. And one of his fingers is missing. Looks like it was cut off. The ME hasn't gotten here yet, but the body was cold when the uniforms found it."
Vera felt herself make the mental shift she needed so she could do her job. Her grandmother called it putting on Vera's grim suit. She had first named it that when she watched normally happy-go-lucky and bubbly ten-year-old Vera sit absolutely still with a frozen expression on her face and say nothing while getting stitches in her leg after falling in the playground on some broken glass.
The modest-sized living room where the corpse was found was furnished with the plush, leather recliner on which Chatham had died, which faced a wooden entertainment console that housed a flat-screen television and a stereo. The shelves of the large console contained an extensive collection of science fiction DVDs, books of art, and hardcover collections of comic strips. There were also framed photos, several featuring Chatham and an orange-striped cat, and a portrait of a young girl in a Catholic school uniform.
There was also one of Chatham, looking both embarrassed and thrilled, at a theme park, dressed in a Star Trek uniform.
At right angles with the recliner was a dark red leather sofa, marred only by a very small scratch on one arm. Yesterday's newspaper lay at one end, folded neatly.
In front of the sofa stood a wood-and-glass coffee table, on which sat a remote control for the TV, and two more art books.
The place was almost ludicrously neat.
Chatham, himself, was a very different story.
The victim was a light-skinned African-American, probably in his fifties, with curly black hair that had started to gray. He was average height, and maybe a little overweight. He wore khaki pants and a blue oxford shirt. His feet were bare.
In short, nothing out of the ordinary.
Until you looked at his grotesque wounds.
It would be up to the medical examiner to make the final call, of course, but from the marks around the eye socket, it sure looked like that shot was taken point-blank.
The one to the groin wasn't as clear, because the pants were so badly bloodstained.
And the missing right index finger looked like it had been severed before he had been moved to the recliner, because the upholstery on the arm of the chair under the missing finger had not been ripped or torn at all.
If the finger had been cut off while Corey sat here, you'd have expected the leather on which it had rested to have been damaged. Unless, of course, the finger had been snipped off with a tool of some kind.
Jeez. People could really suck, sometimes.
Blood had pooled on the seat of the recliner, and on the floor under the chair. It was pretty clear that the victim had been taped here, and then shot. There were no bloodstains anywhere else in the house.
After Crime Scene had taken photos of the victim as they had found him, Vera gently tried to tip the head forward a bit, to see if there was an exit wound, but rigor mortis had already set in, and the head remained rigidly fixed against the seat back. She turned back to Jimmy, and asked, "Where's the coworker–Muhammed–now?"
"We let him go to work after he gave us a statement. I told him you'd want to speak to him later today. I wrote down his contact information." Jimmy handed Vera a small sheet of paper with the witness's phone number and address.
"When was the last time anybody saw Chatham alive?"
"We're still canvassing, but we know that it was Chatham's turn to drive to work yesterday, and he dropped Muhammed home in Linwood last night at six-thirty. That's all we have so far."
Linwood was about fifteen minutes away. So the earliest Chatham could have gotten home was six forty-five. From the condition of the body, that sounded about right. Under typical room temperature conditions, rigor mortis would be at its peak between twelve and twenty-four hours after death. After that, the body would start to become limp again. It was close to ten a.m. now, and Chatham's body was positively rigid. Time of death was probably between six forty-five and ten o'clock last night.
"Uh huh. Muhammed's story check out?"
"Yeah." Jimmy read from his notes again. "Worked the day before. Wife saw him get out of Chatham's car around six-thirty. Spent the night with her and their five kids eating dinner and watching some Disney video."
Jimmy went over to speak to one of the Crime Scene guys just as Vera's cell phone rang. The display indicated that the call was from Florida.
"Vera, it's Willy. Was there a note?"
So retirement to Florida hadn't done much for Willy's social skills. Her grandmother would say the guy pretty much always had his grim suit on.
"Hi, Willy. Jimmy Wong just showed it to me a minute ago."
"What does it say?"
Vera read him the note.
"Yeah, that sounds about right," Willy said. "Check me on this, but I think it was after the third shooting, Lombardo started leaving little notes. Always addressed them to me. They were a little simpler than this one, though. More like, 'What do you think of this?' or 'How about them apples?' We couldn't do anything with them until we caught the guy. Lombardo ran them off his computer printer, too."
"He use a .22 in the other shootings?"
"Yep. Every one of the victims was tied up with duct tape and shot repeatedly with a .22 caliber handgun. Most of them lost an index finger just like your DOA. Sounds a lot like Lombardo."
Vera didn't believe in coincidences. It seemed obvious that last night's murder was connected to the ones twenty years ago. "So what do you think? Copycat?"
Willy sighed. "I guess so. Everything you found fits the pattern of the old murders–the weapon, the tape, the note, the finger, even the location. It's not too hard to believe, I guess. I mean all of this stuff was big news in the area when it was happening. Anyone who lived in New England at the time knew about the Springfield Shooter."
Even though a copycat seemed like the most plausible explanation, it still seemed far-fetched. Why wait two decades before deciding to replicate old crimes? "Any chance Lombardo was wrong for the shootings in the first place?"
"No way," Willy replied, gruffly. "It was a good bust. By the book all the way. Found tons of evidence in his home. Must have been thirty witnesses at the trial. He had no chance. The jury was out for all of twenty minutes. Nine indictments, nine convictions. Judge gave him nine life sentences."
But what had happened to Alan Lombardo sure didn't explain why twenty years later someone would start copying his homicidal pattern. She looked again at the killer's note. "And you didn't find any hidden messages in the words of the notes, nothing like that?"
"Nope. We couldn't figure anything out, and since he didn't confess, we never got an explanation from him. We ended up figuring the notes weren't anything more than a twisted creep getting his jollies."
It was worth looking back through the messages left at the nine old crime scenes to see if there was anything Vera could pick up. "Probably right." She idly turned the evidence bag over and noticed that there was something on the envelope that had contained the note. "What do you make of the fact that the words 'Welcome to my world' were on a sticker that was on the back side of the envelope that held the note?"
Willy didn't answer right away. When he did, his voice sounded tight. "Wait a minute. Did you say 'Welcome to my world'?"
Vera looked again at the envelope. "Yeah. It's pretty clear that it came from the same computer printer, I mean–"
But Willy interrupted. "You're telling me that on the back side of the envelope at your crime scene, the words 'Welcome to my world' were printed?"
Vera had no idea what was so important about the message being on the back of the envelope, but just to be sure, she read it again. " 'Welcome to my world.' That's what it says."
"Holy hell," muttered Willy. "That's not good."
"What?" Vera was completely confused. "Was that something that Lombardo used to put on his envelopes?"
Willy exhaled loudly. "Yeah, but that's not the problem. You ever work on a serial killer case before?"
"I only had two. This one, and another I helped with when I was in the FBI, a million years ago. Anyway, this agent taught me once that in high-profile cases, it's a good idea to try to keep a few specifics of the crime scenes out of the press. He called them hole cards. He'd hang on to them for interrogations, especially when there was a possibility you'd get crackpots turning themselves in. If the guy confessing didn't know about your hole cards, then you'd know he wasn't your guy."
"And–'Welcome to my world'–"
"That's right. Lombardo always wrote that on the envelopes which contained his notes. They were easy to keep out of the press. Those envelopes were my hole cards."
That took a minute to sink in. What it meant was that the person who committed this crime either had–just by chance–happened to commit a murder in the same neighborhood and in the same manner as a serial killer two decades ago, while leaving a clue common to the original crimes that no one knew about, or else . . .
"You know what that leaves you with," Willy said, as if he were reading her mind. "Either the person who did this crime is someone who has access to the original, confidential police files of the Alan Lombardo case–"
Vera finished the thought. "Or the Springfield Shooter is still out there."
Excerpted from Diary of a Serial Killer by Ed Gaffney. Copyright © 2007 by Ed Gaffney. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.