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River Bones

River Bones

Book excerpt

Blood-red letters filled the top of the news page on the monitor screen…

Serial Killer Victim Identified

Each time Sara Mason went online to read and learn about the Sacramento River Delta, the hometown area she never had a chance to know, her homepage featured headlines about the elusive psychopath. She read the Internet posts with concern and remembered the fear caused by the Zodiac Killer of the 1960s and 1970s. Like with the Zodiac, authorities had no direct clues as to who the killer might be.

Reading the updates always set her nerves on edge. Just after moving into her home she thought she had heard someone walking around her property late at night but could never find a trace of anyone being there. Was she imagining things?

The news went on to disclose…

The graves of two unidentified skeletons did not contain ID and personal belongings, as was the case with previous burial sites found. Cat bones buried in the graves were the tie-in with previous victims, all found with bones of a small animal.

“A cat,” Sara said out loud. Then an intrusive old image came to mind: A pink dress and a small furry bunny.

Cold case detectives identified one of the two sets of remains as that of Paula Rowe, a convenience store night clerk from Sacramento. She had been missing twelve years.

Previous reports indicated the victims had been put into the ground with whatever they had on their person at the time. The killer dug the graves in remote areas near rivers and streams where the ground was soft and damp, promoting decay.

A police profiler indicated the perpetrator probably lived within the crescent shaped area where graves were placed. Remains were found beyond Interstate 80 to the west, Roseville to the north, and east of Rancho Cordova along the American River. Within that crescent lie the entire Sacramento metropolitan area and suburb towns. Most victims had been missing for years, some for decades. Since the graves discovered in recent times did not contain fresh skeletons, it was assumed the killer either left the area or simply quit killing, which law enforcement believed unlikely. Now and then, they added a new name to the growing list of missing persons.

One last item in the Internet article disclosed…

Since victims are both male and female, and of differing races, it is difficult to determine a possible motive, except that authorities have an elusive madman on their hands.

If she was not careful, Sara's imagination could get out of hand. Too many house break-ins in the barrio where she had lived in Puerto Rico for the last three decades left her looking over her shoulder. More and more, the need to find a safer part of town nagged at her. Some communities on the island were simply too dangerous and her neighborhood had become one of them. She needed a place where she felt secure, but never guessed she would find herself clear across the country.

Once deciding to return to live in her hometown area, her first major decision was to look for a house along the river, but not confined to Rio Vista in Solano County where she attended high school. Many people moved into the Delta and built multi-million dollar mansions along the river. That was not for her.

She slipped into town before Christmas a few months earlier, and bought an older house, a present to herself. Wanting to own a Victorian mansion was a lifelong dream that never faded. She found one such place, and to the astonishment of the real estate broker, immediately signed the sales agreement for the full asking price. Upon approval of her offer, she paid cash by way of a wire transfer.

After signing the documents, she overheard the hotshot Sacramento real estate broker boast to someone in another office, “Some wealthy middle-aged blonde woman—a real looker outa' Puerto Rico—just bought that damnable eyesore down along the river.” Sara wasn't offended and smiled secretly. She knew she held her age well and knew exactly how she would refurbish the old mansion.

Next, Sara contacted her alma mater, Rio Vista High School, about class reunions. Through high school records, she located Daphine Whelan, her best friend back then. If anyone else remembered her, it was probably as a quiet, backward girl with stringy blond hair.

“You know what they say about that house,” Daphine had warned over the phone.

“The real estate agent filled me in,” Sara said. “I don't believe most of it.”

Daphine's mood was upbeat, knowing her childhood friend was back in town. But her conversations about that house were somber. “Just be careful, okay? That maniac is still on the loose and the previous owner of your house is still missing.”

Most of the sketchy information about the estate seemed mixed with rumors and gossip. The only solid information came from the real estate agent. Orson and Esmerelda Talbot were the second owners of the dilapidated Victorian known as Talbot House. The original owners built the house in 1928. Because the house was a copy of a real Victorian, it couldn't be registered with any historical society. The Talbots wished to leave congested city life in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1928 was the year Orson Talbot was born, and they interpreted it as an omen to buy. Soon afterwards, Mr. Talbot went missing.

“Daph,” Sara remembered saying. “Ramshackle or not, I've got my dream house and nothing will keep me away. Just wait till you see what I do with it.”

Daphine's silence through the phone seemed more like a warning.


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