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The discovery of the first body

by  mongoose

Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Word Count: 2719
Summary: This is chapter 3 or 4 from The Archaeology of Murder. The dig team have returned to the UK, we have already seen them at the university and learned more about them. In the previous chapter, the detective has been introduced.

The discovery of the body/ Ch 3/ 4

The journey to 384 Bath Road was swift due to the use of the sirens on the marked police car. Detective Sergeant David McCoy was expertly manoeuvring the car across the busy town centre. Carolinne was watching the window-shaped snatches of sky pass by. The grey clouds looked like thumbprints of smudged cigarette ash on a white canvas and hidden away somewhere very far above, there would be the sun and the blue sky. But there was no sun today, only the ash grey clouds extending for as far as the eye could see. If this turned out to be a murder then the weather suited the occasion. Catherine often thought that investigating deaths in the glorious sunshine was incongruous. As they neared towards the end of their journey, the police car began to snake its way in and out of the backed-up traffic as the road outside the scene of the crime had been closed. Carolinne had noticed the relevant section of houses on many occasions before and wondered why they had never been renovated and rented out or sold.
The row of 10 properties stood to the left side of the road near a four-way traffic intersection. They were a series a three story houses with only the width of the pavement to separate them from the seemingly ceaseless flow of noisy traffic. A black painted and peeling iron fence ran along the length of all the faded properties. It was punctuated by a series of openings that gave entrance onto the stone flights of stairs that led up to the front doors of each property with a small staircase to the left of each opening that gave direct access down into the basement. The properties must have at one time all been painted white but this had turned a light shade of grey with the years of fumes from all of the passing traffic. Grey thought Carolinne, everything is grey today. The wooden front doors looked like they had once been elegant and had been painted with glossy blue or red paint but now they too were covered with a layer of grime and dirt. Surprisingly for a series of abandoned properties, not one of the tall sash windows in the row of houses was broken.

The immediate area around the junction had been cordoned off. Carolinne and David drove up to the outer cordon, got out of the car and walked towards the property. The marked police car that had answered the initial 999 call was parked behind the ambulance outside number 384. Carolinne had been told over the radio in the car on the way to the scene that the paramedics had officially declared the victim to be dead. Before they entered the property Carolinne and David put on the necessary protective white overalls before they crossed the inner cordon.

They entered the property by the lower door and walked into the dingy and dusty basement apartment. The sound of the traffic became slightly duller as they entered the room but it was loud enough to surely have always formed a continuous stream of background noise to whoever had once lived in this house. Some daylight was coming in through the grimy window that looked out partly onto the pavement of the street above and a sticky looking dust-coated single light bulb hanging from the ceiling shed a low artificial light over one half of the room. The daylight was half omitted by a thick blackout curtain that was strung across the window. Underneath the window was a dirty Belfast sink set into a wooden draining board with an old bottle of washing liquid and a stale smelling pile of fabric that must once have been used as a dish cloth.

Carolinne nodded a greeting to the Scenes of Crime Officer, Eugene Harrison, who had already arrived and who was busy making a preliminary examination of the room.
“These are the papers you need” said one of the paramedics handing them to Carolinne. “Nothing that we could do, he’s been dead a while. We’ll get out of your hair and leave you to it” he said as he picked up his responder bag and he and his colleague climbed back up the basement steps and out into clearer and purer air.

Carolinne glanced at the papers she had been given and turned her full attention to the room that they were in. To the side and at a right angle to the sink were some stained and scarred sea green work surfaces and wall mounted kitchen units that looked like they had been installed in the 1970’s. There was an array of dirty cups and plates and half a loaf of stale bread and a half empty pot of supermarket jam on the side. There were used match boxes, bits of tin foil and tobacco shavings all over the former work surface and mixed in were stale breadcrumbs and smears of food. The room extended further back to where there was an old tall fridge on the right hand side and a shabby beige corner sofa to the left. There was no light fitting at that end of the room so at first glance the kitchen area seemed to stretch back into some sort of infinite murky gloom. The kitchen half of the room was fitted with what had once been a cream linoleum flooring that was now stained, sticky and pitted with cigarette burns and small circular indentations that probably had been made by at least one pair of high heeled shoes over a number of years. The further half of the room was fitted with a well-worn carpet of now indeterminate colour but perhaps it had been once been a shade of green and chosen to match the work surfaces. To the back and to the right of the corner sofa was a door leading off into another room.

The room was dominated by the scene in the middle of the kitchen area. There was a well-worn and ring-marked rectangular wooden dining table surrounded by four matching and similarly stained wooden chairs. On the table were more dirty cups, empty beer cans, used syringes, empty packets of fizzy sweets, what looked like sugar cubes that had been dipped in something. Two saucers had been used as ash trays, both of which had been filled to overflowing with hand-rolled and packet bought cigarette butts that had long since brimmed over onto the surface of the table. Carolinne observed all this in a quick survey of the room.

At the table, in the chair nearest the door, was the body of a young man. He was slumped forward on the table with his head to one side and his arms resting up on the surface of the table with his hands and fingers splayed out almost as if before he died he was going to give an impression of how to play the piano. At the base of his neck below the line of his dark hair and above the slightly greasy collar of his maroon red shirt and black leather jacket was a small puncture wound that had bled slightly so that a thin trail of blood had trickled down the left side of his neck and congealed in a small pool, forming a new type of stain on the already discoloured table.

Carolinne turned a questioning glance to one of the PCs already on the scene.
“This is how we found him ma’am”, said one of the constables. “A call came through at approximately 2.00pm from one of the university security team to say that they had had a call from a lady who works in a clothes shop in the town. Seems she was walking into town and on her way to her afternoon shift, the store she works in is open for late-night shopping on a Thursday. She said she normally catches the bus but she had put on a bit of weight after the family holiday to Spain last month as so now she is walking to work whenever she can. She likes all those home make-over programs that are on the television and she always looks at these houses and imagines what she would do with them. As she walked by number 384, she noticed that the basement door to the front of the property was slightly open and being curious, she started down the first few steps. Thinking better of it and fearing that the drivers in the cars stopped at the traffic lights would wonder what she was doing, she walked further along and dialled the number on a board in one of the windows that stated that the properties were patrolled by the university security team. One of their security officers came over within ten minutes, discovered the body and put a call straight through to us. Myself and Constable Palmer were on the scene within five minutes.”

“Did the shop worker and the security guard both come down and find the body?”

“No ma’am, just the security guard. The woman was too wary of what she might find by that stage. I have taken the details of the security guard and the lady and they are up on the street talking to PC Palmer now. The security guard didn’t touch the body at all, thought it best to call us in. I haven’t touched the body other than just to check for a pulse but I knew that he was dead as he was ice cold. The paramedics arrived just after we did and declared him dead.”

Seemingly satisfied with his initial tour of the scene, Harrison began taking the photographic equipment out of a sturdy black box. Carolinne had worked with him before. He was a short sallow faced man with hunched shoulders, receding brown hair and slightly sunken eyes. All this combined to give him a slightly skeletal and deathly appearance. If owners start to look like their dogs then maybe professionals start to look like their professions, she thought to herself. She knew he still lived with his mother and reflected that having been named Eugene and in possession of an unprepossessing appearance it may be his fate that he was always going to live with his mother. He was called Harrison by most of the others in the police force as many people couldn’t keep a straight face whilst addressing him by his first name.

Carolinne turned to him. “So, what does it look like?”

“I’ll just have a little look” he replied. Harrison began slowly walking behind the body and studying its position from each angle. He held his own head slightly to one side as if looking at something that he had never seen before. To Carolinne, the mixed look of inquisitiveness and concentration on his face was almost comical.

He leaned closer over the body and visually examined it. “The paramedics said that he’s quite cold. The coroner will be able to say with greater accuracy but he probably died last night. It’s quite cool down here and a bit damp so the I should think that the body probably cooled down quickly.”

Carolinne moved over and stood next to him. “What about that neck wound? Does it look like the cause of death?”

“It’s hard to say at the minute but I can’t see any other signs of an external injury. The entry wound looks quite smooth around the edges and the skin doesn’t look distorted. Maybe the weapon was something smooth, thin and pointed. 4 to 5 millimetres in diameter or thereabouts? There’s some bruising around the wound so he was probably alive when the object was thrust in but no wider area of bruising around the outside so whatever it was may not have had a handle, or if it did, it didn’t forcefully hit the skin when the weapon was forced into the flesh. Some sort of skewer maybe? I’ll check all the kitchen drawers in here but it might be worth asking your men to look for anything long and thin with a pointed end that may have been dropped in the surrounding area.”

“So it was probably the fatal injury?” asked Carolinne.

“Like I said, the coroner will be able to say for certain but if the weapon was long enough and thrust in with force then it would have entered the brain or certainly severely damaged the brain stem so it isn’t likely that he lived long after the attack. I can’t see any obvious signs of a struggle, the chair isn’t pulled out at an angle and the body is sitting flush against the edge of the table. He couldn’t have made the wound himself and I can’t see the weapon so someone must have taken it away. So I don’t think it was an accidental death.”

Carolinne didn’t mind that Harrison volunteered his own theories about what may or may not have happened. She knew that he was an expert in his area and that he was known for being extremely organised and methodical.

“How many cigarette butts are there?” David said to Harrison whilst looking at the table with a smile.

“Enough to give someone at the lab a lot to do” said Harrison without returning the smile. “Plenty of DNA but not necessarily the particular sample that you may be looking for. I’ll get them tagged and bagged after I’ve done with the photographs.”

“OK” said Carolinne. “Well, if I’m not much mistaken this looks like some sort of squat. Drugs paraphernalia all over the place. It’s not one that is known to us, is it?” she asked turning to the constable.

“No Ma’am, I’ve not been aware of it before. Seems a bit risky with it being right on the main road and everything. I guess that’s what the blackout curtain was put up for.”

“What’s in the other rooms?” asked David, looking towards the door in the corner.

“I had a quick scout about when Harrison arrived and the paramedics were here. The whole place seems empty. There is a back entrance that leads onto an alley that looks like it goes behind all of the properties and then leads into a sort of overgrown wooded area between here and the next section of houses.”

“Well it’s possible that some of the other rooms in the building may be relevant for us” said Carolinne. Turning again to Harrison she said “start with this room at the bottom and work your way up if that’s OK? We’ll put a base of operations in a van outside for now. Constable, can you go up onto the street and ask PC Palmer to try and get some more information from the security guard about these properties and get a contact for who we need to speak to at the university?”

“Yes Ma’am” he said as he disappeared out of the doorway so that he too could breathe the clearer air.

“David, we’d best call in another unit and get a search going in the surrounding area for a possible weapon and get them to focus in the alley out the back and any of the overgrown areas where it could have been dumped.”

The team settled down to a methodical search of the room in order to get a clearer idea of what might have usually gone on in it before it became the scene of a murder. After the room had yielded up all its opportunities for forensic analysis and just before the undertakers were called, Carolinne slipped her gloved hands into the outer pockets of the black leather jacket that had become the death shroud of the victim. She pulled out a worn brown leather wallet and opened it. Pulling out the first plastic card in the series of card holders inside of it. “It’s a student union card for the University of Central Berkshire. Looks like the victim’s name is Peter Sacking.” Turning it over in her hands she said, “so, a university student killed in a university building that has been used as a squat for drugs and who knows what else. I think this will probably make the news of the local evening paper.”