by Krystal Mossbarger
“What do you have?” Detective Loughty asks when he enters the room. What I have is a stomach threatening to ruin my career. The grotesque scene surrounding us is my first case since being promoted to detective.
I attempt to adopt Loughty’s casual attitude; he looks as if he’s attending a party instead of standing in a bloody mess. The steam from his coffee drifts toward me.
“Kevin Villin, a thirty-two-year-old male, discovered by Mrs. Yablon, a nosy next-door neighbor. She let herself and his cat in this morning using his hidden key. He was stabbed to death approximately two days ago. There are ligature marks on his wrists and ankles, a skinnier wire was used as opposed to thick ropes and was removed after death. No signs of forced entry. We have a partial shoe print in blood on the kitchen floor. Most of the fingerprints found match the victim.”
I intentionally omitted the weird stuff, the source of my stomach’s rebellion. Detective Loughty appreciates the basic facts first.
I continue. “Kevin lived alone, other than his cat, never been married, no children. His employer is Rowdy Rhonda’s, a strip club on 37th Street.”
“I’m familiar with it. The detective admits without any shame. He pulls the sheet down, exposing only the victim’s face. “I don’t recognize him, but I don’t go to Rhonda’s to check out the men.” He winks and slurps his coffee.
“Are you ready for the crazy part?” I ask.
“A section of the victim’s chest is missing. It’s a messy, amateur cut. Kevin’s body is covered in tattoos. I’m wondering why the murderer chose to take his chest tattoo as a souvenir.” I hold up a Facebook photo of Kevin from a happier time, shirtless on a beach. I zoom in on his chest. There’s a blurry, classic bad tattoo: a sword with a snake wrapped around the blade.
“It gets crazier. His dick and balls were lopped off. His dick was peeled just like a potato by a potato peeler. A partial fingerprint was found on it and it has been bagged for evidence. Why take the time to meticulously peel a penis? Guess where we found ‘em?”
“In a pot on the stove. Thankfully, the burner was off.”
Avoiding the red smears, we head to the kitchen. He glances into the pot. The seasoned detective cringes, his face scrunches in disgust. HA, he’s not immune to everything. Maybe his balls ache like mine since I discovered the genital stew. They almost curled into my stomach, sloshing in the bile.
The detective recovers quickly. “Fuck. Well, the poor bastard didn’t lose much, small potatoes.” He laughs.
“The killer is using Kevin stew to send a message,” he says. “What’s your next step?”
I commend myself for having the same conclusion regarding a message, although any rational person would have made it. “Interview the employees at Rowdy Rhonda’s and try to trace his last few days. Once the evidence is examined-the victim’s laptop, shoe print, and potato peeler- and the autopsy report comes back, begin a list of suspects.”
Loughty nods and says, “Do not let the stew details leak to the press. It’s too juicy. They’ll have a field day with it.”
The owner of Rowdy Rhonda’s is Francine Levy; a spunky, older woman adorned in gaudy jewelry. She greets me with “How you doin, honey?”
I flash my gaudy jewel, my badge. “I’m here to ask you a few questions about Kevin Villin.”
“Who?” She asks.
“Kevin Villin. He was a bouncer at your club for the past two years.” I show her his picture.
“Oh, you mean Scrappy.”
I guess the strippers are not the only ones who adopt names. “Scrappy?”
“Yes, Scrappy, he loves to scrap. You know, fight. He often has black eyes, fat lips, or scratches. Bar fights. Toughness is a requirement to be a bouncer. He was a perfect fit.”
A fighter could have many enemies. “He LOVED to fight,” I say.
“What do you mean?” Francine asks.
“He’s dead.” I may have been too blunt, but bluntness is probably the norm for her.
She doesn’t seem troubled by the news. She lights a cigarette and offers me one. I decline.
“So what do you wanna know about him?” Her smoke attacks my face.
“Was he a good employee?”
She shrugs. “He was always on time and never missed a day.”
How did he treat the strippers?”
She corrects me. “They are dancers or entertainers, Mr… what did you say your name is?”
“Detective Gray,” I say.
“Well Detective Gray, Kevin was good to the girls, however, I did have a few complaints about him.”
“What sort of complaints?”
“Karma claimed he was snapping pictures in the back room; you know the one where the girls get ready?”
“How did you handle the complaint?”“To be honest, I thought she was lyin’, tryin’ to start drama, you know? These girls roll in drama like pigs in shit. Why would he need to sneak into the changing room and take pictures when the girls are nude on stage each night? It doesn’t take a detective to realize it doesn’t add up.”
“Good point. What about the others?”
“Cookie claimed he grabbed her butt and Dreama claimed he offered her $1000 for sex. I questioned him about both, and he denied them. Good help is hard to find, Mr. Gray.” She says as if defending her actions.
“Do you do background checks on your employees?”
“Hell no! Shit, I wouldn’t have any employees if I did. Most of ‘em are here because they’ve been through something, you know?”
“Are any of the girls that filed complaints working tonight?”
“Dreama is.” She points to a busty blonde who is busy working the room. “If you want to talk to her, you need to buy her time. You might as well get a lap dance.”
I consider her offer. I’m sure Loughty wouldn’t mind if I indulged. After all, he’s a customer himself. “Deal,” I say.
This case is hard on my dick. The stew caused it to shrink and retract. Once Dreama begins her dance, it stands at full attention. “How did you feel about Kev,er…Scrappy?” I ask.
She breaks eye contact for a second. I’m struggling to focus. “He was a dick!”
“Care to elaborate?”
“He was always up to somethin’. He crept around taking pictures, grabbed us, and offered money for sex. And not to mention, old what’s-her-name claimed he raped her! Rumor has it he was on trial for rape in the past. We begged Franny to fire him. She wouldn’t.”
The sympathy I originally had for Kevin Villin begins to dissipate.
The next morning at the office, Police Officer Roy Grotto approaches me. “Sir, I have some information about Kevin Villin’s case.”
I glance to see if Mr. Loughty is standing next to me. I have never been addressed as Sir before; it’s something I can get used to. “I’m listening.”
“His rap sheet is longer than a CVS* receipt, everything from robbery to rape.”
“Tell me about the rape.” The message meant to be interpreted from the removed genitals could be a response to rape.
“He was on trial for three victims. All charges were dismissed. The first and second charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. The victim of the first died before trial. The third was dismissed because the victim changed her story multiple times.”
From my research, I know rape cases are the hardest to prosecute and they are often dismissed. “Give me the names and addresses of the two victims.”
“Shelly Snider, age 25, 127 Main Street. She is a previous employee of Rowdy Rhonda’s. Lisa Helm, age 30, 35 Beamer Street. Here are the case files.”
I start the interviews with Shelly.
Shelly Snider fidgets constantly. Her eyes dart around the room often, even though we are the only two people present. Her actions show she’s either a nervous person or an addict.
I can see why she could be doubted as a witness.
“How long did you work at Rowdy Rhonda’s?”
“Um, about six months.”
“Why did you leave?”
“That bitch, Franny, fired me.”
Shelly doesn’t like to offer up details. “What for?”
“Conflict of interest. Kevin raped me. Franny didn’t believe me. She fired me instead of him! Can you fucking believe it? The court didn’t treat me any better. They couldn’t believe the testimony of a low-life like me.” She puts air quotes around low life. Her tone bumps up and down, however, the rage exiting her mouth does not change her facial expression. It’s hollow and withdrawn.
I find it odd that Francine failed to mention the biggest complaint. “I understand this is a hard subject, however, can you walk me through the night of the rape?”
Her eyes search longer this time. She spins the ring on her finger faster. “What do you wanna know?”
“Where did it happen?”
“At my apartment. My car wouldn’t start when I was leaving the club. He offered me a ride.”
“What happened next?”
She looks down. “I invited him in. I know you’re thinking the same thing as those other assholes. I brought it on myself.”
“No, ma’am, I’m listening with an open mind. Why did you invite him in?”
“Ugh, honestly? He had blow*. Free blow, no strings attached, he said.”
Bingo! I knew she was an addict. “What happened next?”
“Didn’t you read the papers in the folder? Shouldn’t you already know? I don’t want to do this. You are trying to solve the bad guy’s murder. I don’t see how my case has anything to do with it.”I pull back to an easier line of questioning.
“Do you remember any of his tattoos?”
She scoffs. “Yes. All of them were horrible, but the worse was on his chest; a sword with a snake on it. I remember it because it was in my face each time I opened my eyes while he was RAPING me!” Her eyes bulge.
“One last question: what’s your shoe size?”
“Thank you for your time, Miss Snider.”
“You know what, Mr. Gray? I’m glad that asshole is dead. Serves him right. Fuck him and fuck the unjust judicial system.”
I nod and get up to leave. She’s wrong about one thing; I do believe her.
Lisa Helm refuses to speak with me without a warrant. I can’t say I blame her. I file a warrant request. It will move at a snail’s pace since she is a victim and not a criminal under investigation.
Over the next few weeks, I receive the reports from the crime scene analysts. The shoe print is most likely a woman’s, size six. The partial fingerprint lifted from the potato peeler is too small. It is not able to be used in a comparison test.
The autopsy report shows traces of cocaine and chloroform, which adds to my suspicion of the murderer being female. It would be impossible for a small woman to overtake this burly man. I think of Shelly’s small frame and the bloody, drag marks in Kevin’s apartment. If the victim were incapacitated, she could have moved him. In the case of revenge, my assumption is she would have wanted him to be awake during the torture.
As I’m reviewing my notes, my phone rings. “Detective Gray speaking.”
“Hello, Mr. Gray, I’m Steve Simmons, a Forensic Computer Analyst. Man, this guy you are hunting is a sicko.”
I realize his confusion. He isn’t aware the owner of the computer is the victim of this case. “Go ahead,” I say.
“His computer is full of pictures and videos of women. Some of the videos are a voyeur nature, it’s obvious the victims didn’t know they were being recorded. Other videos are consensual sex. I gotta tell you though, one video gave me nightmares. Mr. Gray, we have rape on tape, solid evidence if you catch this guy.”
I expel a long breath. “Can you email me your findings, please? I don’t want to see that video but include the clearest picture of the rape victim’s face. Thank you.”
The picture of Kevin’s video victim is slow to load on my computer. I’m anxious as it folds out in front of me. Once I have the full view, my suspicion is confirmed. It’s Shelly Snider. Too bad his laptop wasn’t checked at the time of her accusation. And too bad he will not be punished for his crime legally, although Shelly seems avenged. Shelly may have served her own justice.
My thoughts drift to how often rapists are not prosecuted and of the thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested. I’ve made my decision regarding this case.
Mr. Loughty may disagree with me. I’m nervous as I approach his office. He’s on the phone, but he waves me in. While waiting for his call to finish, I go over my speech in my head.
“Yes?” He asks.
“I want to discuss the Kevin Villin case. Do you have a moment?”
“Sure, have a seat.”
“Kevin was a sick bastard. The computer forensic guy mistakenly believed he was checking the computer of a criminal, not a victim. This man was accused of rape three times, and all three were dismissed. I was able to interview one of his victims, Shelly Snider. One of the videos from Kevin’s computer showed Shelly’s rape. Who knows how many other victims this monster had. His employer advised he was nicknamed Scrappy due to always having marks on his face from fighting. My bet is they were from his victims fighting back, not bar fights. My decision is to let this case turn cold, chalk it up to justice served. A bad man is off the street thanks to some vigilante. My time and resources would be better spent on other cases. I’m going to take a look into some of the cold case rape files instead of pursuing Kevin’s killer.” I await his response on the edge of my seat.
“My best advice has always been not to give up on a case, however, some people do not deserve justice. You should not openly admit your decision to anyone but go ahead and toss this one in the freezer. Good work, Detective Gray.”
I’m relieved. “Do you wanna go grab lunch? Maybe some stew?” My stab at his dry joke humor.
“Sure, but I won’t be eating stew. I have always had an aversion to pot roast, the pot-o-Kevin helped seal the deal.”
I laugh. “Let’s go to Rowdy Rhonda’s.”
*Blow: slang for cocaine
Bio: Krystal Mossbarger is a writer from around Dayton, Ohio.
Read more Detective Stories at The Yard: Crime Blog.