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A Very Mersey Murder

A Very Mersey Murder

Book excerpt

Chapter 1

Liverpool, August 2005

The squad room of Merseyside Police Force's Specialist Murder Investigation Team was unusually quiet for once. The team of detectives led by Detective Inspector Andy Ross had enjoyed a successful year so far. Their latest case, the so-called 'Frozen Lamb Murders' had recently been solved and the killer, Byron Cummings was now behind bars, awaiting trial. His use of joints of frozen lamb as his weapon of choice in dispatching his victims had been ingeniously simple and at first, the police had found it impossible to identify exactly what the murder weapon had been in the cases of four almost identical, apparently motiveless murders. Who would have suspected the mild-mannered family man of being guilty of such heinous crimes? Using frozen leg of lamb joints, Cummings had bludgeoned his victims to death, cleverly disposing of the murder weapons each time by simply defrosting and cooking them in the oven, then serving them up as a tasty meal to his wife and two children.

Ross and his team had finally latched on to the killer by establishing a link between him and the four victims, all of whom had been customers at the barber shop Cummings owned in Speke. Precisely why he'd selected them was still a grey area, but it was thought they were all vegetarians who had somehow managed to offend their barber while sitting in his chair. That would be one for the psychiatrists to argue about, but for Andy Ross, it was another case closed.

The aftermath of the case involving multiple murders and kidnapping that revolved around the cargo liner Alexandra Rose had left its marks on Ross's team. Although Detective Constable Derek McLennan had recovered from his gunshot wounds and returned to work, D.C. Keith Burton hadn't been so lucky. His shoulder muscles had been badly damaged by the bullets that had ripped into him aboard the ship, and he was still undergoing a protracted period of physiotherapy. Whether he would eventually be declared fit enough to return to work was a matter for the doctors, though Ross wasn't too hopeful.

On a positive note, Acting Detective Constable Gary, (Ginger) Devenish who had originally been seconded to the team from the Liverpool Port Police, had been confirmed as a full-time member, much to his and Ross's delight. His position as a full D.C. was now pending and he would soon be able to drop the 'Acting' from his rank.

“When are we going to get a new case?” asked Detective Constable Sam Gable, as she and the others gathered in the squad room on a sultry August morning.

“Good question, Sam,” D.C. Lenny (Tony) Curtis replied. Nobody ever referred to Curtis by his given name any more. He would be forever Tony, a result of his remarkable likeness to the old movie idol of the same name.

“Yeah, I hate bloody office work,” D.C. Nick Dodds joined in.

“We should perhaps be careful what we are wishing for,” said Sofie Meyer. The German detective sergeant, on loan from the police force in Hamburg for two years had assimilated well into Ross's team and now felt perfectly at home with her new, British colleagues.

As the conversation began, so it was brought to an abrupt end by the entrance of Detective Inspector Andy Ross, closely followed by Detective Sergeant Clarissa (Izzie) Drake, his trusted right hand and long-time crime busting partner.

“Morning all, “Ross began. “Did I hear some mumblings of discontent in the ranks as we walked into the room?”

The smile on his face gave away the levity of his comment.

“We were wondering when we might be gainfully employed in our primary role again, Boss,” Curtis responded.

“Funny you should say that, Tony. As it happens, D.C.I. Agostini just handed us a nice juicy new case. Anyone know where D.S. Ferris is?”

“I'm here, sir,” Paul Ferris replied, as he and D.C. Devenish entered the squad room, loaded down with files that they proceeded to deposit on Ferris's desk. “Still bringing the system up to date, adding some of these older files to the computer records.”

“Ah yes, good man, Paul. Now, all we need is Derek and we can get on with this briefing.”

D.C. Derek McLennan, who'd now been with Ross's team for five years, had grown in that time, from a young, naïve newcomer to a seasoned trusted part of the team, and only recently had been honoured with a Chief Constable's Commendation for his bravery in attempting to foil a jewellery store robbery during his off-duty hours. A bullet wound to the chest had landed him in hospital where he met and fell in love with his fiancée, Debbie Tate, who'd been one of the team of dedicated nurses who had helped him in his recovery and wedding plans were already underway.

“He was here a few minutes ago sir,” Sam Gable commented, “I never saw him leave.”

The door to Ross's office at the far side of the room opened, and the man in question appeared with a smile on his face.

“I was under the impression that was my office, Derek,” Ross said, wondering why McLennan would have been in his office first thing in the morning. McLennan held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“Ah, you've got me, sir. I confess. I was trying to steal your supply of paperclips…no, really, I've left something on your desk. It's a surprise, so I hope you'll forgive me creeping around, all furtive, like.”

“I'm intrigued,” Ross replied. “I'll check out your surprise shortly. For now, I have some news for you all. It's time we got back to doing some work folks. Pull up a chair and listen.”

The team members all complied, each taking a seat and waiting expectantly for Ross to begin. As he prepared to outline the latest case the squad room door opened to admit Kat Bellamy, the team's civilian administration assistant.

“Come in and sit down, Kat,” Ross urged her and waited a few seconds as Kat, looking flustered, sat at her desk and nodded to him that she was ready to take notes of what he had to say.

“Okay people,” Ross began. “The boss seemingly got a call from D.C.I. Mountfield in C.I.D. Three weeks ago, the body of a young woman was found not far from the old ruined lighthouse at Hale.”

As he spoke, Izzie Drake moved behind him and began attaching a series of photographs to the whiteboard on the wall.

“I'll let D.S. Drake tell you the basics. Please, Izzie, tell 'em.”

“Right, everyone. This is Cathy Billings, aged twenty,” she indicated the photo of a pretty blonde with long, wavy hair, positioned at the top left of the whiteboard. “Cathy left her job as a barmaid at The Travellers Rest in Hale at closing time and was never seen alive again. Her body, as the boss said, was found not far from the old closed down lighthouse the next morning. She'd been beaten and raped. The local lads handed the case to C.I.D. who weren't getting far, when, last week, there was a second murder, an almost identical crime scene to the first, the body being found on the beach, close to the car park, again, near the lighthouse.”

“That's tragic, sir,” Tony Curtis spoke from the back of the room, “but it doesn't really sound like one of our cases does it?”

Ross provided him, and the others, with the answer to his question.

“Under normal circumstances, I'd agree Tony, but then, most cases don't have the strange connections this one has.”

“What kind of connections, sir?” Curtis continued probing.

“I'm coming to that, in a minute. Now, as I just said, under normal circumstances this would be handled by C.I.D. It's not a case for us, or so you'd think. Sergeant Drake, carry on, please.”

Izzie pointed to the second photo on the board, another young woman whose life had been tragically cut short by violent death.

“Victim number two,” she began, “was twenty-two-year-old Hannah Lucas, a trainee veterinarian nurse. Again, she'd been beaten and raped, but here's where things began to go a little screwy.”

As she paused for breath, a hush fell over the assembled detectives in the room. A sense of anticipation spread through the team. Drake continued.

“As luck would have it, or maybe bad luck, I don't know, when the second murder took place, and was reported in the press, a retired detective inspector who handled an unsolved case back in the 1960s got in touch with the S.I.O. a D.I. Morris.

Apparently former D.I. Stan Coleman had investigated a series of murders in 1966. The first victim was a barmaid at The Traveller's Rest, and the second one was a student at Liverpool University. Anyone want to hazard a guess at what she was studying?”

“Veterinary medicine?” Ginger Devenish piped up.

“Quite right, Ginger,” Drake confirmed. “Stan Coleman was able to tell Morris so much about the old case that Morris felt something must connect them somehow. Without telling Coleman a single fact about the new murders, Coleman was able to give Morris chapter and verse on the original killings that exactly match the current ones. D.I. Morris is no fool. She took Coleman's information to her boss and well, to cut a long story short, as nobody was ever convicted for the 1966 killings, the case has ended up in our lap, and, this is important, everyone. Remember that the original killer stopped his spree of killing after three murders. So far, we've only had two.”

Sam Gable wasn't the only member of the team to feel a tingle running through her body as she took Izzie Drake's words on board. She spoke in response to the information received so far.

“You said the original murders took place in 1966, Sarge? Surely nobody suspects that the same killer could have suddenly started up again after thirty-nine years?”

It was Ross who supplied her with the answer.

“We just don't know, Sam. It seems highly unlikely and yet the current murders are perfect carbon copies of the earlier killings, according to D.I. Morris. She was upstairs with D.C.I. Agostini when we were handed the case a few minutes ago and she seemed genuinely unnerved by the similarity between the current murders and the original ones. According to her, ex-D.I. Coleman has carried the case around in his head for all those years. It was his one big failure, in a career spanning thirty years. He hasn't forgotten a single detail.”

It was Sofie Meyer's turn to speak up, and she was her usual direct self in her words to Ross.

“Sir, I can see why we have been handed this case but there is one thing you have yet not told us.”

“Go on, Sofie.”

“Sergeant Drake has told us there were three murders in 1966. so far there have been two in the most recent ones. As we know the identities and occupations of the original victims, I think we should be made aware of the age and occupation of the third victim in 1966 and how long you think we have before the third killing will take place, assuming the killer is following the identical timetable as the original killer.”

“I was about to come to that,” Ross replied. “If the killer of Cathy and Hannah is indeed following the exact timetable of the 1966 murders, we can expect another murder one week from today and that, people, gives us a very precise time frame in which to identify and apprehend this bastard.”

“Sir?” Tony Curtis said, questioningly. “What was the occupation of the third victim in the original set of murders?”

Ross looked at Izzie Drake and nodded and she now took a third photo from the folder in her hands and attached it to the now rapidly developing murder board. As she did so and stepped back so they could all see victim number three clearly, there was an audible gasp from the assembled team members. Smiling at them, in the stark black and white photograph was a young and extremely attractive woman police constable.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Nick Dodds exclaimed.

“Shit,” Curtis added.

“Sick bastard,” said Sam Gable.

“This is not good,” Sofie Meyer added.

“Who was she?” Derek McLennan asked.

“This, ladies and gents,” Ross replied, tapping the photograph added by Drake, “was W.P.C. Elizabeth Warren, known to everyone as Liz. She was just twenty-one years old when the killer beat and raped her before killing her. Like the others, she was dumped near the old lighthouse at Hale. In her case, the original investigating officers were able to positively determine her movements up until a few minutes before she disappeared. She had been at a party in a friend's house in Hale, but she lived in Huyton. Her car was found a few hundred yards from the friend's house, and D.I Coleman concluded she must have stopped, possibly to offer help to someone, maybe her killer, who had possibly set up some sort of trap to lure her into his clutches. I don't have to tell you, we need to move fast on this one. D.C.I. Agostini is adamant there isn't going to be a dead woman police officer on his conscience so it's up to us to make sure we catch this bastard quickly.”

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the room as Ross fell silent. Nick Dodds finally broke that silence as he asked the question that was on most minds at that time.

“Sir, you've told us these women were raped and beaten but what was the actual cause of death?”

“Good question, Nick. D.I. Coleman's original investigation in 1966 showed that all three women had been strangled with their own tights. The killer either made them remove them or stripped them off the women himself before using them as the murder weapon.”

“That's gross,” Sam Gable commented.

“Women's tights are very stretchy,” Sofie Meyer commented. “He would have needed a high degree of strength to pull them tight enough to produce a killing ligature, I think.”

“You're right, Sofie,” Ross agreed. “D.I. Coleman and his people on the first investigation came to the same conclusion. The problem is, you can't arrest or interrogate every man in the city of Liverpool or beyond simply based on their strength. Their biggest problem was a total lack of forensic evidence at the crime scenes. There was no such thing as regular DNA testing back then, so even the presence of semen wasn't of any great help to the investigators.”

“When did DNA testing first become used here in the UK?” Meyer asked.

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