A SCHEMING KILLER –
A REPORTER IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Previously: Police reporter Sandra Cordero opens a padded envelope with a red flip phone inside. The phone contains photos of the murder victims in Healdsburg and Sonoma, plus a strange text message: “Do your job. Save a life. One more thing: I pray sic.”
Chapter 5 – Why Sandra?
By LINDA C. McCABE
Sandra stared at the blank computer screen and repeated her mantra, “Deadline. I have a deadline.” She typed “CELL PHONE PHOTOS SHOW SERIAL KILLER IN SONOMA COUNTY.” Looking up from her computer monitor, she noticed Detective Zach Brown emerge from a closed-door meeting with the newspaper’s editors. He was walking toward her with an evidence envelope tucked under one arm.
“Can we go someplace private to talk?”
Sandra nodded and led him to a small conference room. He waited until the door was closed and they were sitting across a table from each other before he asked, “Who else besides you touched this cell phone?”
“No one. I showed it to my editor, but he didn’t touch it.”
“How did you find out there were photos on it?”
“It’s an old cell phone without password protection. As soon as I opened it, I saw a text message alert. I didn’t know until I saw those pictures that the victims had town names scrawled on their arms. Why are you keeping that information from the public?”
“Law enforcement investigations routinely keep certain details secret until the trial.”
“What kind of person would write on a dead body?” asked Sandra.
“I don’t speculate, I investigate.”
“That phone had to have come from the killer. Sending it to the press is pretty brash. Here’s the phone number that sent the text message,” she said, passing Brown a slip of paper. “You should be able to track down who owns the phone, right?”
“Yes, we can track phone accounts. Off the record, it might only lead us to the phone of one of our victims. We think this red one here might have come from the woman in Healdsburg. We haven’t yet found the phone of the dead man in Sonoma.”
Sandra’s stomach turned at the thought of holding something once belonging to a murder victim. “I thought you said you didn’t speculate.”
“Only the guys in the mail room.”
“I will need you and everyone in the mail room who could have touched this envelope to come to the Sheriff’s Department this afternoon to be fingerprinted.”
Sandra swallowed hard.
“Ever had a fingerprint check?” he asked.
“After today, your prints will be on file in the federal database just like a common criminal or a school teacher. Tell me, was there any note inside the package?” he asked.
“Nothing, just the phone.”
“Why did you open the package?”
“Because I am a reporter and naturally curious.”
“Curiosity can kill. Ever heard of the Unabomber? He killed and maimed people with bombs sent through the U.S. mail. Our postal regulations changed because of him. This package got through with stamps because it’s lighter than 13 ounces.” He ran a hand over his buzzed scalp. “Why was this addressed to you and not just the newspaper?”
Sandra began fuming. She knew it may have been foolhardy to open the package, but it was outrageous for him to ask her to speculate. “I wrote the article about the murders in Healdsburg and Sonoma. Perhaps the murderer is keeping press clippings.”
“Yours wasn’t the only byline covering the murders.”
“Maybe my writing style.”
“Maybe. Or maybe there is something more behind his choice.”
“His choice?” asked Sandra. “Have you determined the killer is a man?”
Brown gave her a cold stare. “No, I’m simply playing the odds. Most serial killers are heterosexual white males who act alone. But I haven’t eliminated anyone from suspicion. Promise me if you receive any more such packages in the future that you’ll call us so we can open them. We wouldn’t want to read a story about you in the paper.”
She looked at the clock. “I have a deadline soon. What did you say to my editors?”
“I asked them not to run anything about the package or its contents.”
“But the public has a right to know that this killer plans on striking again in Sebastopol. Or at least that’s what those pictures say to me. Why shouldn’t we print that and warn the public?”
“You mean terrorize the public? The public already knows two people have been murdered. Telling them these crimes are linked and that some psycho might strike again will only cause people to live in more fear.”
“It could also save someone’s life,” argued Sandra.
“Are you going to make him famous? Other serial killers have toyed with the media. Son of Sam, the BTK killer, the Zodiac Killer, as well as the Unabomber. You’re the reporter. Just remember it could get dangerous on a personal level.”
“What steps have you taken to prevent a murder in Sebastopol?”
“Off the record, I’ve spoken with the Sebastopol police. They’re aware of the threat. On the record, we aren’t prepared to say these murders are connected.”
There was a knock on the door, and her editor walked in.
“We came to a decision,” said Doug.
“And?” said Brown.
“I need to talk with Sandra so she can make her deadline. Our editorial assistant will be happy to show you out. I’ll call you soon. We’ll talk.”
Brown scowled, scooped up the evidence envelope and walked out the door.
Doug turned to Sandra. “We decided for now against using the photos. But we want you to mention the phone and a description of those photos, as well as the text message. You’ve got forty-five minutes to get something up on the web.” He gave her a broad smile. “This is a big story. It’s going to shake things up in Sebastopol.”
Linda C. McCabe is the author of “Quest of the Warrior Maid,” an epic historic fantasy set in the time of Charlemagne. She has also had several op-eds published in the Press Democrat, one of which was about the serial killer Wayne Adam Ford. She is a past president of the Redwood Writers branch of the California Writers Club. Linda can be found online at her website www.LindaCMcCabe.com and her blog: lcmccabe.blogspot.com. She lives in Windsor with her husband and teenage son.
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Edited by ROBERT DIGITALE
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