Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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The crime scene techs and the coroner were already there when I pulled my unmarked sedan in behind the two squad cars and other vehicles. It was a two-story home that sat about a hundred feet from the curb at the end of a cul de sac. The neighborhood was one of the upper-class suburbs of the city and probably the least likely place in Nashville I’d have expected to be investigating a murder. From the looks of all the neighbors standing in their yards and watching, they were pretty surprised by all the activity too.

The 911 call had been from a woman who said she found her friend lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The 911 operator told the woman the police were about ten minutes away and that she should leave the house and wait for them.

Jimmy, one of the officers already on the scene, filled me in before I went inside.

“The woman who made the call is in the first squad car, but she doesn’t seem to know much. She says she knocked on the door but didn’t get an answer. She tried the knob and it opened so she walked in. She called for the victim, but didn’t get any answer then either so she started looking. She found the victim on the floor of the kitchen.

“When I went in there to look, I figured the victim was gone because of the size of the blood pool. I didn’t want to mess anything up, so all I did was check for a pulse. The woman was dead, but she hadn’t been very long. She still felt warm to me. Rudy and I checked the rest of the house in case who ever did this was still there, but it was clear.”

I asked if there were any signs someone had broken into the house or if there’d been a robbery. Jimmy said both the front and back doors were unlocked but it didn’t appear anyone had gone through any drawers or closets.

I walked in the door and followed the voices into the kitchen. Other than the body on the floor and the blood pool, nothing looked out of place. There was nothing to indicate there had been any sort of a struggle. It just looked like the woman had been standing in front of her kitchen sink, and then fell down on her front and bled out.

The coroner and his assistant were just turning the woman over, but I didn’t need to see that to know she’d either been shot or stabbed with a pretty big knife. The blood pool was almost four feet in diameter. It had clotted a little but hadn’t dried except around the edges, so I figured Jimmy was right. The woman hadn’t been dead for very long.

Barbara, one of the techs, was taking pictures of the scene. Jason, the other tech, saw me and handed me a pair of latex gloves and a pair of booties.

“She was killed by a gunshot, probably a.38 or 9 mil, but we’ll have to look at the bullet to tell you for sure. Hit her dead center in the chest and probably got her heart. She’d have bled out in a couple of minutes. It’s odd though. It wasn’t through and through like I’d expect. Maybe it hit her spine and bounced around instead of making an exit wound. We’ll wait here until the coroner gets through and transports the body to the morgue. Then we’ll finish up and head back to the shop.”

I asked if he’d found any evidence so far.

“No, not really. There’s no gun, so that pretty much rules out suicide. There’s also no spent case, so the shooter must have used a revolver. Either that, or the shooter was calm and cool enough to pick up the case before leaving. I do know she was facing away from the sink when she was shot. There’s a small blood spray on the side of the refrigerator. It’s not really big enough for a normal gunshot either, but the pattern is the same. We’ll lift fingerprints from everywhere, but I’d bet my left nut they all belong to the victim. Once the coroner takes the body, we’ll collect anything that was under her.

The victim was a woman about thirty-five or so it looked to me. She didn’t have the lines in her face that would indicate she was much older. She was, or had -been, a pretty woman — not beautiful, but pretty enough most men would have looked. I felt my neck getting hot because I was getting pissed.

It doesn’t do much to me when I see a guy lying dead, but women are a different story. Some would call me a chauvinist, I suppose, but I tend to think of most women as gentle people who are usually far away from any type of crime. There are exceptions, I know, but women aren’t supposed to be murdered in their own kitchens.

The woman sitting in the back of the squad car looked to be about forty or so and was also a woman who would turn any man’s head. She was still shaking when I introduced myself.

“Hi. I’m Detective Mason. Are you the woman who made the 911 call?”

“Yes. I found Judy like that and called 911.”

“Judy? That’s the woman’s name?”

“Yes, Judy Green.”

“What’s your name?”

“Melissa Grady.”

“Melissa, I know this is hard, but can you tell me what you did and how you found Judy?”

Melissa nodded.

“We were going to have coffee at two this afternoon. We’ve been doing that on Tuesday and Thursday every week since we met. çankaya escort I got here about ten ’til two and knocked on her door. I knocked three times, but she didn’t answer. I tried the doorknob, and the door wasn’t locked, so I went in. I thought she might have been in the bathroom or something.

“I called her name several times, but she didn’t answer, so after I looked in the bathroom and didn’t find her, I went into the kitchen. It’s hard to hear someone in the living room from the kitchen, so I thought she was probably in there making something for us and just didn’t hear me. When I walked in, there was Judy, laying…”

Melissa sobbed and then wiped her eyes with a tissue.

“She was laying on the floor and there was blood all around her. I called 911 on my cell phone then. The woman who answered said I should leave the house and wait for the police to come, so I did. Is Judy…”

I nodded.

“There’s nothing you could have done for her.”

Melissa started crying then, and I let her cry herself out before asking any more questions. I’ve learned it’s easier on us both that way. Once she stopped and wiped her eyes again, I went through the normal set of questions I use.

“Melissa, do you know of anyone who would want to hurt Judy, maybe an ex husband or ex boyfriend?”

“No, she didn’t have either. She was single and not dating anyone that I know of. She’d have told me if she was.”

“Where did she work? Maybe it was someone from there.”

Melissa shook her head.

“Judy worked from here. Her spare bedroom is her office and where she keeps all her computer stuff. She designed web sites and did computer assistance to several companies, but she did it all from here.”

“How about any friends other than you? There’s no evidence someone broke into the house, so she must have known whoever did this.”

“I think she had several, but they were all on that professional site we both belong to. As far as I know, she never met any of them in person. Judy was pretty careful that way. She wouldn’t even put her picture on her profile.”

“How did you meet Judy?”

“I’m a real estate agent and I sold her this house. We sort of hit it off over a couple of weeks of looking at different houses, and kept seeing each other after she closed.”

“And you’ve been having coffee twice a week since then? How long is that?”

“Oh, let’s see, about three years, and every week except for during the holidays. My daughter and her husband come to visit me then.”

I decided to wrap things up with Melissa for now, though I’d talk with her again. She didn’t seem to know much more and I wanted to do some checking before I did. It was possible I’d find some information that would trigger her memory. The coroner had left with the body just as we started to talk and the crime scene techs were packing up to leave.

“Melissa, is there anybody I need to call about Judy — parents, brothers or sisters, anybody who needs to know?”

“Her parents are both gone and she didn’t have any brothers or sisters. I don’t know about any other family. She never mentioned any.”

“OK. That’ll do it for now then. I’ll see if I can find any relations to take care of the arrangements. I might want to talk with you again though. Where can I find you?”

“I’ll either be at work — that’s Fuller Realty, or at home, 3324 West Ashland. My home phone is in the book, but it’s better to call my cell phone because I’m not usually at home. I’ll always answer my cell phone.

Melissa gave me a business card from her purse and touched my arm when she handed it to me.

“Detective Mason, if you don’t find any relatives, please let me know and I’ll take care of Judy’s arrangements. She’s the best friend I had. It’s the least I can do for her now.”

My next task was interviewing Judy’s neighbors to determine if any of them had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary that morning. I didn’t get much, but what I did get was interesting.

Mary Connors, Judy’s neighbor to the left said Judy was a quiet but friendly neighbor who always said hi when she saw her. Mary didn’t remember Judy having any visitors except for the same woman, a redhead, on most Tuesdays and Thursdays. Melissa’s hair was red, so that jived with what she’d told me.

When I asked about any loud sounds that day, she said she didn’t hear anything unusual but that her air conditioner had some sort of problem and it was pretty loud. I asked if she’d seen anybody going into Judy’s house. Mary said she hadn’t watched to see if he did, but there was a man going door to door asking for contributions to a charity. She thought the name was something like “Support Our Schools” and they were trying to put computers in the poorer schools in the school system, but she wasn’t sure. She said he was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed like a nice man. She didn’t give him any money because she already paid taxes on her property and that should be enough. cebeci escort I asked if he’d given her a business card. Mary said he told her he couldn’t give her a card because he was just starting with the charity and hadn’t gotten any printed yet, but he said his name was William Drake.

Elizabeth Marsh, Judy’s neighbor on the right said she hadn’t heard or seen anything unusual that morning, but she’d been in her basement doing laundry since about ten. She didn’t know anything about a man asking for contributions.

I started going down the block on the left side of Judy’s house and got the same story. Judy was a nice woman who always waved or said hello. None of the people had heard anything or seen anything except the charity guy. The woman who lived four houses down told me the guy had parked a red SUV in front of her house for about half an hour. She thought the guy got there a little before one because she was eating her lunch and watching a TV program that starts at noon, and the program was almost over.

The people on the right side of Judy’s house were the same except they hadn’t seen the charity guy or any SUV.

When I got back to the station, I went to see the coroner first. Cause of death might tell me something about who might have killed Judy Green. Matt grinned when I walked into the morgue.

“Thought you’d probably be in a hurry so I pushed her ahead. Your victim was shot once in the chest. By my measurement of the bullet, it was a.38 or nine millimeter. The techs can tell you for sure, but I’m guessing nine millimeter because of the size and because it was a copper jacketed bullet like are used in most semi-autos. It went in through her sternum, punched through the left ventricle of her heart, and then hit her spine and stopped.

“There is one weird thing though. The bullet was in nearly perfect shape. It wasn’t deformed much like it should have been considering what it hit. The velocity must have been pretty low, like maybe if it was fired from a long distance. That’s why it didn’t leave an exit wound too.”

“Well, that kitchen was pretty small. The shooter couldn’t have been more than ten feet away. Were there any powder burns or traces of gunpowder around the wound?”

“I didn’t find any but she was wearing clothes. The techs might find some on her clothing.”

I knew the techs would still be cataloguing and beginning to evaluate everything so I didn’t go to the lab. Instead I went to my desk to find out as much as I could about both Judy Green and Melissa Grady. I wanted to know Judy’s history to see if there was anyone in her past with a grudge against her. I wanted to know Melissa’s history for a different reason.

More often than you’d think, the person reporting a murder is actually the killer. I suppose they think reporting the murder will eliminate them as a suspect. If anything, that makes them very interesting and someone I’ll investigate further. I wanted to know more about Melissa and what kind of relationship she might have had with Judy. It wouldn’t be the first time one friend killed another over some argument. Maybe Judy wasn’t happy with the house because Melissa had lied to her about something. Maybe they had been friends at one time, but had some sort of falling out.

According to the DMV, Judy Green was thirty eight, so I was off on my age estimate a little. She was five-seven and had blue eyes. The digital license photo showed her with blonde hair about shoulder length. Evidently she hadn’t changed it, because the woman on Matt’s autopsy table was blonde. She didn’t need glasses to drive and she’d gotten one ticket four years earlier for speeding.

Melissa had been right about Judy being cautious about the professional site. I found her name there with no picture, but with a pretty lengthy resume. Judy had a master’s degree in computer science with a minor in math, and a long list of clients and projects she’d done for them. Evidently Judy was one sharp woman, because there were several testimonies thanking her for the job she’d done on web sites for some pretty large and well-known companies. Her overview said she also did computer forensics.

The computer forensics was a maybe as a motive. I called Roger, the Crime Scene Tech Lab manager and asked if he’d send someone to Judy’s house and pick up all her computer equipment and see what they could find. I thought it possible she’d exposed someone for at least unethical conduct and that person had decided to get even. It was likely Judy had kept the files from that investigation and the name of the person or persons involved stored on her computer.

I requested a copy of her birth certificate and any other documents with her name from the County Recorder’s office. If she was born in the county, they’d have her birth certificate and it would give me the names of her parents. The deed for the house would also be registered there as well as any other property transactions she might have made. There was always çukurambar escort the possibility somebody thought they’d been cheated when she bought or sold something and decided to settle the score. It sounds stupid that one person would kill another over money, but more often than not, that ends up being the motive.

I’d also find out if Judy had ever been married and divorced. Most women of her age are or have been married at some time. If she was divorced, maybe her ex decided if he couldn’t have her, no one else could either. I’d seen that before. Since Judy seemed to be pretty careful about her personal life, she might not have told Melissa. It was also possible Melissa knew but wasn’t telling me for some reason.

I did the same for Melissa Grady including checking the professional site. Her page there had her picture along with pictures of houses with Melissa and seemingly happy new owners, but not much else other than she sold houses and would do her best to fit you to the house of your dreams.

The DMV records showed Melissa was forty-one, five-six, and had hazel eyes. She didn’t need glasses to drive either and she was an organ donor.

I didn’t think I’d find anything with the local and state police files, but I checked them for both women. Neither the local or state records departments had anything on Judy other than the speeding ticket. They did have something very interesting on Melissa. She’d been issued a carry permit eleven years before, but hadn’t renewed it. I made a note to ask her about the permit and if she still had the firearm. If she did, I’d get a warrant, confiscate the weapon, tag it as evidence and give it to the lab. They’d be able to tell me if the bullet that killed Judy had come from Melissa’s firearm.

I ran the name William Drake against the local and state police and DMV records and turned up nothing of use. The only William Drake on file with the DMV was eighty six. He’d never been arrested and his license had expired a year earlier. Either William Drake was an alias or he lived out of state.

I sent a request under his name to NCIC, and then as an after thought, a request for both Judy Green and Melissa Grady. If William Drake was an alias for some guy they had on file, I’d find out who he really was. If he’d been in trouble before, I’d find that out. I didn’t think I’d get anything on Judy or Melissa, but it’s always the things I haven’t checked that have let me go down the wrong path in the past.

As I’d anticipated, neither Judy or Melissa had ever had any trouble with law enforcement. The results for William Drake were disappointing but not really unexpected. A couple criminals had used the alias William Drake before, but both were currently in prison.

Charities relating to the education system are exempt from registration requirements, so the city had no records of any charity soliciting money for the school system. Most charities do have an internet presence though, but I didn’t find any in the Nashville area. It was looking to me like the charity guy was a potential suspect, though he might have just been a con man out to make a few bucks.

I’d have to wait for the records from the Recorder’s office at least a day or two, so I went to see if the techs had any answers yet.

Barbara told me she and Jason were still analyzing the evidence and the pictures and would have their report finished in a couple of days. I told her I’d asked for the computer equipment in Judy’s house to be brought in and what I was looking for. Barbara said she’d make sure their computer guru would start work on it as soon they dusted it for prints. I hadn’t thought of that, but it was a good idea. If the shooter was out for revenge for something Judy had found out, he or she might try to erase that record and they might leave a print or two in the process.

There’s a white board in my office I’ve used since I made Detective to put some methodology into figuring out cases. On the right side is where I put the timeline of the crime. On the left are four columns — POI for person of interest, Means, Motive, and Opportunity. I began by putting the date and time Melissa said she arrived at Judy’s house and the time she made the 911 call in the center of my timeline. That was my starting point, and I added the charity guy’s appearance at ten ’til one based on the neighbor’s statement.

From there, I began writing sticky notes with the information I had so far. Along the left side of the columns I put a sticky note with the name of each person who could be connected with the crime.

Melissa came first, and I put the time of her visit to Judy’s house on a sticky note and stuck it in the column for Opportunity. Another with a question mark and the words carry permit and firearm went on her row in the Means column.

The charity guy I called “Charity Guy” because I wasn’t certain William Drake was his real name. He had a sticky note in the column for Opportunity and I added his probable arrival time at Judy’s house, if he’d actually ever been there, to my timeline as one thirty. It seemed suspicious to me that he’d been to all the houses on the left side of Judy’s, but none on the right. If he’d also knocked on her door, he could have been the shooter, and posing as a charity worker to Judy’s neighbors would give him a believable alibi for being in the area.

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