The Rose Slayer by Stephen Bentley
Six murders. Two detectives. More than four million LA residents. “That’s a hell of a lot of suspects,” Bill Pawson said. His partner, Sean Wells shrugged.
Pawson and Wells, Detectives First Class of LAPD Robbery Homicide Squad, had been working this homicide case for the past three years. It was cases rather than a case. It was clear to them, their Captain, the Chief of Detectives, the media, and the public there was a serial killer at large in Los Angeles. What wasn’t clear was the identity of the killer. The cops had no clue as to who it was or why.
The modus operandi told them it was the work of one person: all middle-aged female victims; all single or divorced, lived alone, only had a cat or cats as a pet, no dogs, and no kids.
All the vics’ homes’ rear windows jimmied, night-time entry believed to be between three to four in the early hours; cause of death identical in all cases: a .22 slug in the brain fired at not more than two-feet away, using a pillow to muffle the sound. A rose left on or next to the vics’ bodies. A single red rose the first time. Two roses on the second vic. Yeah, you got it – six roses on the sixth victim. The media called the perp, ‘The Rose Slayer.’
The crime scenes yielded no clues. No prints, no fibres, no DNA. No witnesses. Nothing. Nada. Before you ask: no, have you any idea how many florists there are in and around LA? Not to mention rose growers.
Casts were taken of the jimmie marks on the window frames and preserved in the evidence store. They were as useful as an Eskimo’s refrigerator. Without the bar used to force entry there was nothing for the CSI lab to compare.
Sure, there were the slugs recovered during the autopsies. They were all from the same weapon but where was that gun? Detective work is easy once you have the perp’s identity, search his place, find the bar and gun. He can lawyer up as much as he wants. The DA will have a field day in court. Juries love CSI.
“Hey Sean!” Pawson shouted, “wanna beer or three before we knock it off for the weekend?” The robbery homicide squad room was full of detectives’ noisy banter about the Lakers. Wells called back over the hubbub, “Yeah, sure thing. Just give me two minutes, will ya?”
Pawson impatient and sighing, pulled his Glock .45 and holster from a desk drawer, secured them to his waist belt and threw his jacket over one shoulder ready to leave. Moving his shield clipped to his shirt breast pocket, to his belt, he muttered under his breath. His partner had taken a new incoming call.
Wells listened while holding his free hand ramrod in the air. Pawson recognized that was a signal to wait. Over the next thirty seconds, they both realized the weekend was cancelled.
“Wait up,” Pawson heard Wells say as he listened to one side of the conversation.
“.22, okay, yeah could be.”
“Point blank in the head. Pillow?”
“Yeah sounds like our perp. Waddya mean, different?”
“Okay, be there ASAP. Depends on the freeway traffic.”
Wells grabbed his gun, holstered it, and threw on his jacket.
“What’s with the ‘different’?” Pawson said.
“He wouldn’t say. Just said, ‘you can see for yourself.’”
An Echo Park side street was the location of the single-storey home of Mary O’ Connell, a divorced woman aged forty-five years. The crime scene tape in place when Detectives Pawson and Wells rang the front door bell. A twenty-two-year uniformed veteran, Jim Cowie, opened the door. “Holy Moly, what brings Laurel and Hardy out here? Not seen you two for years.”
“Knock it off, Jim.” Pawson said.
“Please yourself,” Cowie snapped, “but let me tell ya this - when I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O'Connell."
“What! Who?” Wells said and immediately regretted it.
“The Rose Slayer, is who.” Cowie guffawed.
“Go fuck yourself,” Wells said.
Ignoring the uniform cop, the detectives walked through to the bedroom. They had witnessed a similar crime scene on six previous occasions. The ME spoke, “Thought it’d be you two. You got a seventh vic now but there’s a difference.”
Mike Nakamura, the ME, pointed at the corpse on the bed, “Looks like a .22 entry wound here. No exit as usual. I’ll dig it out for comparison later. And, there’s the pillow used to muffle the noise.”
Pawson moved over to the other side of the bed taking in her face and front of her body. “Holy crap!” Pawson said, “she has no fingers.”
“That’s what’s different. I was about to tell you,” Nakamura said, “if you look at her mouth, the perp cut them off and stuffed them down her throat.”
“Sick fuck!” Wells said.
“Time of death, detectives, was about three this morning. Three a.m.”
The phone on the bedside table rang. Wells picked up on the second ring. “Hello. Who’s this?”
“Uh huh. Uh huh. I see. Okay. Thanks,” he said before hanging up.
“Her boss. He called it in when she didn’t show for work this morning. Cowie caught the despatch and found the back window forced.” Wells said. He added, “the thing is, her boss asked us to check if her laptop is on the kitchen table.”
“What for?” Pawson asked.
“He says there’s a load of commercially sensitive info on it.”
“Cowie!” Pawson yelled. “Go check the kitchen. Find me a laptop and bring it here. Put some gloves on though, won’tcha?”
There was no laptop in the kitchen or anywhere else. It had gone.
Captain Charlie Hills called a case conference for first thing Monday morning at the Robbery Homicide Squad’s downtown HQ office.
“Any of these other vics have laptops missing?” Hills said.
“No way of knowing. We can’t trace family or friends for any of them. Co-workers either said ‘yes, they had one, but, no, they hadn’t got a clue if it was missing or sorry, don’t know.’” Pawson said.
Hills said, “I’m sure this is the key to cracking this case wide open. Think. Let’s assume they all had something in common. Something that would be revealed in emails or on a website, even Facebook.”
“We don’t have the smartphones, laptops or any devices of these vics.” Wells said.
“No, but we have their details. Let’s get on to the service providers – the internet and telephone companies, and email providers. Check with them. I’ll get the DA on to it now. We’ll need subpoenas.”
Captain Hills pulled some strings in arranging for twenty academy recruits to scour through voluminous records provided under subpoena. It took them five days working fifteen hours every day to make the breakthrough.
He wrote down the essential piece of information, before summoning Pawson and Wells to his office.
“Here it is,” he said as he waved a sheet of paper in the air, “GreatReads.com!”
Pawson and Wells looked at each other, baffled. “So?” They said in unison.
“So, you go get a warrant right now. We got the “Rose Slayer.”
The front door of the apartment crashed inwards. Detectives Pawson and Wells shouted in unison, “Police! Robbery Homicide LAPD!” Fanning out, Glocks drawn, they both entered the first room off the small hall. The door was open.
A man, about thirty-five years’ old, swivelled on an office chair to face them. His hands left the computer keyboard as he raised them in surrender. “Don’t shoot,” Tommy Queen said.
“Where’s the piece?” Wells said.
“There. In the second drawer,” Queen said pointing at his desk drawer.
As Wells gave him his Miranda rights, Pawson pointed at the computer screen and asked, “What’s that?”
“My latest novel.”
“You’re a writer?”
“On Greatreads?” Wells asked.
“No that’s just a place for authors and readers to hang. Readers leave reviews there.”
“Readers like Mary O’ Connell?”
“So, tell me, Tommy. Why did you kill her?” Pawson said.
“I’m sure you’ll find out anyways. She trashed one of my books. Gave it a one-star review.”
“Why chop off her fingers?” Wells said.
“She refused to apologize.”
“For writing such lies about my book.”
“Are you saying all the others apologized before you shot them dead?”
“I am. They died happy, detective. Believe me. I saw them smile after I asked them to say sorry.”
“Sonofabitch,” Wells said.
“Enough, Sean, enough. Tommy Queen. I’m arresting you for the first-degree homicide of Mary O’Connell and six other of your victims. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I do. I am a good writer and now I’ll be famous. They were all liars, I hope you know that.”
As Wells snapped the handcuffs on Queen’s wrists, he noticed a single red rose in a vase on the writer’s desk. “Who’s that for?”
“Number thirty. There were way more than seven bad reviews. Detectives, you need to check my frequent flyer points.”
©2019 Stephen Bentley All Rights Reserved