Sunday, October 24, 2010

I hate this

I really am sorry to say I am going to close this blog. My mind is not working as well as I had hoped so I can't really keep writing. Thing just kind of get lost and when I go back and read what I write it doesn't even make sense to me.

I'm not sick or anything just confused a lot. So good luck to you all.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I looked through the police report until I found the detective interview with the parents. Shanon had gone out with a friend. One she was supposed to pick up. She actually left the house alone in her car.

I went to my board and wrote. SOURCE OF THE CAR... GIFT OR ?

She didn’t mention the name of the friend, and no one came forward. For that reason her movements that night were a mystery. I would have expected her ten year old car to turn up outside a club, movie, restaurant, or some other place a young women might choose to spend her evening. Instead it turned up in the parking lot of a small strip mall. It was a shame that on one had a parking lot camera.

A canvas of the stores revealed that no one had noticed anyone leaving the car. It seemed that several car pools used that part of the parking lot, so it went unnoticed. One thing for sure, the car had not been wiped clean. It was a cornucopia of finger prints. Most were matched to her one friend, Martha Evans, none of the others popped out of the NCIC computer run. If someone else had driven her car that night, he or she had no criminal record.


So I knew Sharon left home in her car that night. She may or may not have been headed out to meet her killer. If she had not been on a date with her killer then where was she likely to have gone? I needed to talk to her friend Martha.

“Hello,” I said to the person who answered the cell phone of the only friend the police had interviewed. “Is this Martha?”

“No, it’s Martha’s mother. Who the hell are you, and what is a grown man doing calling my daughter?”

“I’m Chief Burke of security for the park service. I was calling to arrange a meeting. I would like to speak to your daughter about Sharon McDonald.”

“Oh, she has already spoken to Detective Edwards. I don’t know why the park service is interested.”

“Well Shanon might have been involved in some park activities the night she disappeared. Or at the very least park facilities might have been used in her murder, so if you wouldn’t mind, I need to speak with your daughter. Is there a time that would be convenient. You are more than welcome to be at the interview.”

“Even if Shanon was involved with something there, what has my daughter got to do with it?”

“Maybe nothing, but I won’t know until I ask her.” I was avoiding my sarcastic voice.

“It’s late now sometime tomorrow after school would be alright, I guess.”

“Is she home from school by 4pm?” I asked.

“Usually, I’ll make sure she is here tomorrow.”I made a note to be sure Jane asked the people she spoke to if they heard or saw anything the night Shanon died. It might not help, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. Just to be sure that I didn’t forget, I emailed the note to myself at the office.

“Thank you Mrs. Evans.” She hung up without even a goodbye. That went real well, I thought.

“Mrs McDonald?” I asked of the lady who answered the phone at the McDonald house.

“Yes,” she responded carefully..

I explained again about my need for information. “So I will probably be calling you now and then to ask question you have already answered. Lots of bits and pieces of information don’t make it into the police report. I’m just trying to do a thorough assessment of the facts to be sure our parks weren’t involved in her death.”

“Is this necessary, the police are investigating.”

“Mrs. McDonald, I was a regular police officer for 18 years before I transfered to the Park Service. All the security personnel here are sworn officers, so talking to me is just talking to another cop.”

“Very well, anything to help find who killed my little girl.”

“Thank you ma’am. Could you tell me if the car she drove that night was a gift or if she purchased it herself?”

“We didn’t give her the car, she saved her money to buy it.”

“Did Shanon have a job?”

Friday, October 15, 2010

The next morning I stopped by the Hobby House before I headed to the marina. I found sheets of cheap brown cardboard used to back picture in a frame. the sheets were thirty inches by forty inches. I figured i need at least three of them to start.

From the Hobby House I drove to my new almost empty office. The marina had to be the most beautiful spot in the whole damn town. Too bad the view from my office was of the parking lot. It seemed that the lake view was much too valuable for an employee.

I looked out over the parking lot and tried to concentrate on the over night report from Carlton. Carlton was one of those rangers who had been a city cop who retired early. He was putting in time until his Social Security and Medicare kicked in. I learned from Carlton that buying private medical insurance was prohibitive. He informed me that he worked mostly for the city provided insurance. The salary for a ranger was just a little over minimum wage unless you had 18 years in like me. Even then it had required a lateral transfer to keep my salery.

The total of his report was a list of his rounds followed by the short entry, all okay. I would have been worried that he wasn’t doing his job, except that I checked the parking lot tapes from every location he was supposed to visit I found the ranger car pulling into the parking lot on time. He left the car to do his walking rounds just as he was supposed to do.

That took me until noon, what with all the tapes I had to view. After I got back from lunch, I called Jane to ask that she stop by between rounds. She made it in around 1:30.

“What’s up boss?” she asked.

“Nothing really, I just wanted to ask if you remembered the day you guys found Shanon in the lake?”

“Sure, how could anyone forget that. Did anything happen around that time at the campground?”

“Not that I remember. The patrolmen and later the detective asked the same thing. I never could think of a thing.”

“I would go back and read Carlton’s reports, but I know how they would read.”

“Yeah all secure,” she replied. It must have been a well documented fact that Carlton didn’t like to write incident reports.

“If you have some spare time, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to get the
campground logs for that week and make some calls. Verify that all those contact phone numbers are real.”

“Why do you think that she went in from the campground?”

“I don’t really. I mostly want to rule it out before moving on. After all we don’t want to run a refuge for riff raff.” I laughed as i said it. There were two possibilities, even if she were killed at the campground. One was that the killer was just that a killer. If he planned to kill when he checked in, then his sign in info would be worthless. The other and more likely was that something just went terribly wrong and a young girl died during a crime of passion. In which case everything would be in order. So even if Jane found everything in order, I would have learned something.

“Ordinarily during an early fall week there would be very few campground visitors, but it was trade show week. The campground wasn’t full but it was damn close to full,” Jane informed me with an excited look. She had spent the afternoon assembling the list and checking just a couple of the phone numbers. I found her at the spare desk after a couple of hours. I checked on her because I knew her shift would be about to end.

“I got the list ready and made a couple of calls between rounds. At this rate it will take me at least till the weekend to get them all checked.”

“Well don’t make it a top priority just yet. You need to keep your park ranger job as priority one. This is just a diversion. Hell everybody needs one.” I smiled as I returned to my office.

Later that afternoon I stopped at the Food Warehouse, on the way home from work. I filled one of their hand held baskets with frozen dinners. I still had a couple of bags of frozen dinner rolls at home in the freezer, so the only other thing on my list was a dozen eggs.

With my grocery shopping done, I headed home. Home was a very small double wide mobile home. Whoever had owned the beast before me had been a Martha Stewart wannabe. It looked like an average double wide on the outside, except for the house grade vinyl siding and the real stone foundation.

Someone had added a concrete stoop complete with metal awning onto the front. It made for a small porch of sorts. I had sat there with a cup of bad coffee more than a few times. The small lot on which the beast sat was landscaped much better than any of the other double wide lots around it. Almost all my neighbors had no front porch, but they had a rear deck, I had the porch but no real deck. The rear deck was just enough for steps and an uncovered landing. If I tried to enter there during a storm, I got soaked. I had been meaning to add an awning over it for the five years I had owned the place. I just never got around to it. After all it was clear more than it rained, so it just kept slipping my mind.

I used the cardboard panels to create my own Murder Board. I attached the cardboard to the upgrade drywall with push pins. Those I found in my desk drawer where I knew they would be.

My first attachment to the board was a picture of Shanon McDonald on the autopsy table.

The question I wrote on the board was, HOW DID SHE GET IN MY RESERVOIR.

Under that heading, I put the chart from the city’s hydro engineer. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but I had a good idea who could get me an answer. It was way too late to catch my cousin Davie in his office at the University, but I had his home number. I got voice mail so I explained that I needed an expert. I sent him the data I had and asked that he check around the campus for me. Since David owed me, I figured he would find someone.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jay Jay arrived just after 9 pm. “So why are you interested in Shanon McDonald?”

“Is that the name of the girl who went into the lake.?”

“Why don’t you know that? I heard you picked up a copy of the police report today.”

“Damn woman, do you have spies everywhere?”

“Here and there, and they thought I would like to know what my boyfriend is up to.”

“I doubt they think of me as your boyfriend.”

“Well my secret lover, which is not even a secret from my mother.”

I smiled waited a couple of minute then asked. “So what’s the scoop on Shanon?”

“She was seventeen years old and a senior at Central High School.”

“Any extra curricular activities?”

“Do you mean like the marching band or like drugs?”


“She wasn’t the social type. Friends said she was voted most likely to wipe out the school and commit suicide.”

“Ah, black trench coat type?”

“Yeah Goth, or as much Goth as you a teen can be in a southern town.”

“Any drugs in her life?”

“None we could find, but the police report should answer that better.”

“I was waiting for your footage before I went into all that.”

“So are we going to watch an hour's worth of my coverage of Shanon McDonald, or are we going to screw?”

“Is that a one or the other option?”

“Afraid so, I have to be back at the studio in two hours.”

“Oh why do you have to go back in the middle of the night.”

“Buddy and I are going to take a train ride. The train only stops here in the middle of the night these days.”

“So why are you doing it anyway?”

“We are going to interview the last of the old black men Arlo Gutherie wrote about. You know the song “City of New Orleans” was actually about a conductor he met on a train. The last of the old timers on the New York to New Orleans run is retiring. Now everything is automated. Pa Systems to make the announcements and the trains have automated doors and steps. Just no need for conductors anymore.”

“Well then let’s get to bed, since I know that is the only reason you come here.” I said it with a smile. She placed the dvd on the kitchen table, then led the way to my bedroom.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One thing I learned that afternoon, water all looks alike. The secret was on the shoreline, not in the water.

We passed a restaurant and bar on the way to the recovery site. The parking lot was enclosed on the water side by a low concrete block wall. It would not have been difficult for an average guy to lift an average sized woman over the wall. I had assumed that the woman was average size.

“The woman, they fished out of here, wasn’t especially large was she?” I asked.

“Pretty average I would say,” Jane replied.

“Thanks, I couldn’t for the live of me remember that part of the autopsy report.”

“They say the memory is the first to go,” she suggested.

“It isn’t.” I said with a laugh. “It’s the legs.”

I sat quietly until she said, “We should be right on top of where they found her floating. Some guys on their way fishing saw her.”

“So we are about a mile north of the restaurant,”

“Yes but there are plenty of houses with lake access around here as well.”

“I guess you are right. So where is the campground from here?”

“Two miles north west of here. Why?”

“Just trying to figure out where she might have gone in.”

“She didn’t go for a swim chief, she was strangled then dumped.”

“Well that’s true enough. She wasn’t just strangled it was with a ligature. That is the kind of killing that is planned at least a little. Spur of the moment it’s done with the hands. Okay I have seen enough. It’s a little chilly on the lake.”

“Chief, you are going to need long johns if you plan to go out on the lake,”

“I suppose I’ll have to put them on my list. At least the uniform coat is pretty warm.”

“Yes it is chief, but it is so damn green.”

“Not your best color?”

“I look terrible in green. Not to mention how my legs seem to dangle out the bottom of that heavy parka.” I had to admit she had a point she probably looked like a chicken in the heavy parka. “Which is why I wear two sets of thermals and the lightweight jacket in the winter. I just hate that parka.”

“I think the parka is going to be my best friend,” I suggested.

I got home around six that evening with the pizza in tow. I immediately put it into the frig’ since Jay jay liked it cold. I had time to watch Jay Jay on the evening news. She was a little long in the tooth compared to the national new anchors, but in my opinion she was better looking than a lot of them. She looked more approachable which would be better suited to the regional all news channel. There catch phrase was All the local news from around the state, when you need it.” Jay Jay was at the station all day recording news events. When she left at five, the just reran them until the next morning.

If I missed her show at six, bits and pieces of it would be running all evening and all night. Jay Jay was quite the local celebrity. The dump job at the reservoir was long past being news. It would remain in limbo until something new came up. That most likely would never happen, but I was enjoying the intellectual pursuit of the unknown mooch.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The day was slow as I expected almost all days with the park rangers to be. That was most likely why it was filled with old men and anorexic women. They were more security guards, than sworn officers of the law. They did however have the power of arrest not in the parks but in the whole city. They had that more to hold the mooch till the real cops arrived, than to deal with infractions of the law. Everyone agreed that those actions were best left to the real cops. At that time even I agreed. I fully expected it to change before my two years were done, but slowly.

I managed to get down to the police station to get a copy of the file on the dump job, as I had come to think of it. The file wasn't all that thick,which led me to believe it went cold quickly. From the crime scene crew's notes I got the exact coordinates of the body when it was discovered. I made a note of them.

I also got the approximate time of death from the autopsy report. I did some math as to how long the body was in the water. The dumpee could have been in the water almost two days. It would depend on how long after death she was pushed into the reservoir.

What I wanted to know was could she have been tossed from the campground. Would the body have made it a half mile from the campground to the pickup spot in a lake with no real currents. The water moved from the feeder creeks to the overflow, which fed the family park with all the attractions. That movement was the only current and it should have been insignificant.

I had to admit I just didn't know enough about the science. What I lacked in science, I made up for with organizational skill. I figured a specialist would need the current rate as small as it might be, the wind speed and directions during that time, and a good map of the lake to work with.

So before I began looking for an expert, I worked on assembling those things. I called the water and sewer chief engineer. When I finally got him on the line I began with, "This is Chief Burke with the park rangers, yes I promoted myself, I need to know the rate of flow in the city's upper reservoir and marina."

"I have it somewhere. can I get back to you in a couple of hours?"

"That's fine just call the office at the marina they can take the information, if I'm not available." I suggested. "Oh one more thing, if the rate of flow varies, I will need to know the factors involved."

"Sure I can tell you now, it will depend on the amount of rain in the last 3 months. More rain the more current. I can get you a copy of the current chart broken down by rainfall. I have it somewhere on the computer. Give me your email address."

"Hold on, I'll get it for you." Maybelle provided the email and I passed it on to the city's hydro engineer. Maybelle also arranged for me to change the password on the account.

While I waited for the chart of current flow in the reservoir, I convinced Jane to stop by and pick me up again. Once in the car I asked, "Do we have a boat with GPS?"

"Sure our power boat has that," she informed me with great pleasure. Jane liked being a teacher and guide.

"Okay let's get it and go see the pickup site for the dump job last spring."

"We don't need GPS for that, I have been there a couple of time helping with the evidence search."

Monday, October 4, 2010

By Monday morning I had worked out my plan for the park rangers. Since I had old men and anorexic women in uniform. I decided that it was best that they do just as they had done all along, just as little as possible. The one change I did make was to insist that the dispatcher try me before she called the duty ranger. If I wasn't doing anything, I would handle any night calls myself. If the call became an emergency, I wouldn't have to feel bad that I let an old man or anorexic woman take the hit.

After I read the weekend logs and incident reports, I called JJ at the TV station. "J.J. it's Burke here," I said to her voice mail. "I need a favor how about giving me a call. You know the number call the cell phone."

It took about an hour but she did return my call. "Burke you calling me at work, did they finally fire you?"

"Not yet, but it might not be much longer. There just isn't anywhere lower they can transfer me."

"Well if you aren't in the hospital, and you aren't on the street, why the heck did you call me at work. Do you want to do lunch?" She laughed at the very idea of it.

"Tell you what, I'll take you to lunch, if you do me this favor."

"Oh what kind of favor is it. It must be really important for you to risk being seen with me."

"That's not as big a deal as it used to be. I don't think park rangers catch hell for their pillow talk with reporters."

"Yeah, so what do you need?" she had turned serious suddenly.

"I need everything you have on a dump job out at the marina last spring."

"Hey I did the initial report on that is there something new?"

"Only thing new is that I want to review the case file. I want to see the news coverage before I get the police file."

"Didn't you see it all at the time?"

"No I was working vice at the time. I heard about it but I had no contact with the case at all. I do know it went cold."

"Yeah cold because she was a local. If she had been a tourist, they would have worked it till hell froze over. It was during the time that the Mayor was trying to increase the size of the trade shows. He said the town could take in a few million more, if the tourist had a better impression of the place. That and if the citizens would vote for him again, of course."

"Of course," I said in agreement.

"I'll have Eddie make you some copies and put them on a DVD. I can drop it by tonight."

"That would be great, bring your notes as well. I know you found out things that didn't make it on air."

"I hate that you know me that well. Okay notes it is, and for this I want the deluxe pizza not the two topping one."

"Garbage can pizza it is. I'll pick it up and stash it in the refrig until you get there."

"You know I only do the six o'clock news now."

"Then you check the reaction of the focus group and then you set your appointments for the next day. If you get to my place before ten I will be shocked."

"Yeah, you do know me."