By J.P. Seewald
A short, heavy-set man bustled into Lieutenant Bill Granger’s office with an air of authority. Sergeant Karen Maitland raised her eyebrows questioningly.
“Dr. Cannard is an entomologist at Michigan State University. He’s here to help us solve the Larson case.”
The professor of science, dressed in a funereal black suit worthy of an undertaker, extended a thick hand that both homicide detectives shook in turn in an equally solemn manner.
“I’ve run those tests you asked for, Lieutenant, and I believe you’ll find the results interesting.”
Granger eagerly rolled up the sleeves of his conservative white shirt and got ready for business. A creature of habit, he wore a long-sleeved white shirt to work each day, each season, just as he kept his graying hair cropped short. His years as an army officer had caused him to believe that a man worked best in uniform. The suits he wore were drab black, brown, navy or gray.
In contrast, Karen Maitland wore hip, brightly colored clothes and often kidded Granger about his boring predictability.
“So do we have a case or what?”
“I’ll let you decide,” the professor said cryptically.
During the summer, divers exploring the Muskegon River spotted a submerged car. Peering through the windshield, they saw a dead woman. Granger and Maitland had gotten the case. They traced the car to a Jeannette Larson. Meanwhile, the ME found bruises on the dead woman’s head suggesting she’d been beaten.
“What do you think?” Karen had asked.
“No way that this could be an accident,” Granger said grimly.
The first person they interviewed was quite naturally the woman’s husband. They found Mr. Larson at home on a warm summer evening. Granger studied him thoughtfully. The husband looked ordinary enough, clean-cut, average height and build, nothing in any way remarkable, except that he appeared nervous, and his eyes didn’t quite meet theirs. Then again, a lot of people were nervous around cops, so Granger didn’t see that as particularly significant. He gave the husband the bad news about his wife and watched carefully for a reaction. Larson didn’t look especially surprised, even if he did manage to let out a small gasp.
“Mr. Larson, we’re here to investigate your wife’s death. How is it you never reported her missing?”
Larson’s face wore a shuttered expression. “She wasn’t missing. She just up and left me one night after we had an argument.”
“When was that?” Karen asked.
“Sometime in June. I forget exactly.”
“You don’t remember the day your wife left you?” Karen’s incredulity was obvious.
Larson pulled at the collar of his shirt. “I think maybe it was the fifteenth.”
“What were you arguing about?” Granger asked.
“Same old. We just weren’t hitting it off anymore. She drove off in an angry mood and never came back.”
“And that seemed normal? Did she often leave after an argument?” Granger knew it was more usual for men to leave the house after a quarrel.
Larson shrugged. “She said she was leaving me for good and she did. End of story.”
“So what do you think happened to your wife?”
“I don’t know.” Larson’s eyes were fixed to the carpet.
Granger glanced around the house. Nothing special here. An ordinary development house. Nothing expensive in the way of furnishings, a house decorated in modern non-distinction. “Anyone else live here? You have any kids?”
“No, just me.”
Granger estimated Larson to be in his thirties. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. Somehow Granger didn’t think he would be living like a monk, but there was no sign of another woman. Granger had the feeling that Larson was a careful man.
After they left the house, Karen turned to Granger. “So what do you think?”
“That we should talk to some of the people who live close by.”
Karen nodded her agreement. The two detectives broke up and started canvassing the neighborhood. They each spoke to neighbors, taking the closest ones in order.
Granger spoke first to the people living to the right of the Larsons. Agnes Rainey, a plump, elderly widow, recalled hearing the couple arguing loudly on occasion but added that she hadn’t seen Mrs. Larson for months.
“I am not nosy. I always mind my own business.” The woman had a hearty voice and a rosy complexion. “But I couldn’t help hearing them argue. Then suddenly, one day, it stopped. And I noticed her car was gone.”
Meeting up with Karen Maitland, he compared notes. “Larson admitted arguing with his wife in June. The neighbors don’t remember seeing her for a while before that. Kind of suspicious.”
“I’ve got a gut feeling about the guy. He’s a liar,” Karen said.
They went over the ME’s findings back at the office. Just as Granger had suspected, the head injuries suffered by Jeannette Larson didn’t appear to be caused by the accident. Someone had obviously knocked the victim unconscious, hitting her more than once. Jeannette Larson was dead or close to it before she hit the water, indicated by a lack of water in the lungs normally found in drowning victims. So there was a very good chance she hadn’t been driving her car. It appeared she’d been attacked, then placed unconscious, dead or dying, in the driver’s seat. Afterwards, the car was pushed into the deepest part of the river where it might never be found.
“Larson’s story smells worse than week-old fish,” Karen said. “Certainly, worse than his wife’s decomposed body.”
“We always consider the husband or boyfriend first as the perp, but it could have been a hitchhiker,” Granger said, taking the part of devil’s advocate.
“Yeah, but how likely is that?”
“A good defense attorney could make do with it. We need solid evidence or the D.A. will never take it to trial.” Granger was in his bulldog mode. If Larson had killed his wife, as they suspected, more hard facts had to be provided. You didn’t build a case on a hunch or on a suspicion alone.
Karen sighed. “I guess that means we keep digging.”
“We do,” Granger concurred.
It didn’t take long to discover that Larson had taken out a large insurance policy on Jeannette’s life. Further checking brought out the information that he had pawned her jewelry.
“No woman leaves a man for good without taking her jewelry with her. I wouldn’t consider it for a second. It just doesn’t fit.”
“Good point,” Granger agreed. As a bachelor, it hadn’t occurred to him. Maybe it wasn’t so bad being partnered with a woman, he decided, gave him another perspective on things. “Clearly Larson didn’t expect her to come back. If he did, he wouldn’t have pawned the stuff, because he’d be afraid of having to account for it to her. Still, he didn’t try to sell it.”
Granger was convinced that Larson had murdered his wife. The trouble was that he still needed more proof. None of the neighbors had witnessed him hitting her, nor were there any police reports of domestic violence related to the Larsons.
They found no one who remembered seeing Mrs. Larson in the last few months, but it seemed she hadn’t been particularly sociable. She didn’t even have any close relatives who expected to hear from her. Worse still, there was no way to establish the exact time of her disappearance. Granger went to the medical examiner, Cal Webber, and explained the problem.
Cal listened thoughtfully but then shook his head. “That river is deep. The water was cold, and so the body was fairly well preserved, considering it had been down there for some time. Bottom line, it’s difficult to determine date of death. The husband could be lying. Then again, he could be telling the truth.”
Granger shook his head, feeling deeply frustrated. Like Karen, he was certain that Larsen had murdered his wife, but proving it was a different matter entirely. But Granger was determined to get the crucial evidence one way or another.
Going over the car again, they located insect pupal cocoons and larval cases attached to the car’s fenders. It was a small detail, however, one previously overlooked. That was when Granger called the university and got the name of Dr. Cannard. He didn’t even discuss his idea with Karen Maitland because it might not prove relevant. It was a long shot, but he was determined not to overlook anything.
The professor had gone over the automobile carefully and seemed to think what they found was significant. He’d taken specimens back for forensic study.
Granger now waited impatiently for Cannard to explain his findings. “Well, Doc, did you discover anything that would help us make our case?”
Cannard placed a typed report on his desk. “What we’ve got here are black fly cocoons, those of a species that pupate in late April and May. It proves the car could not have gone into the water any later. No way Mrs. Larson went into the water in June.”
Granger felt a rush of excitement. “How can you be sure?”
Cannard licked his lips. “Black flies spend the winter as larvae in water. In spring, they weave cocoons around themselves and cement to a streambed rock or some other solid base—in this case a sunken car. If the car had gone into the river in June, it wouldn’t have had the cocoons on its fenders.”
“And you’ll testify to that in court?”
“Thanks, Doc. Now that we’ve caught Larson in one lie, it should be easy to catch him in others.”
“We’ll nail him,” Karen Maitland agreed.
Using scientific methods to catch a killer made a lot of sense. Science was okay, Granger decided. It had provided the necessary forensic evidence to solve a difficult case. Brains over brawn. He hadn’t even needed to reach for his Police Special to hunt down this killer.
Bio: Jacqueline Seewald has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Twenty of her books of fiction have been published for adults, teens and children. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies. Her new historical mystery novel HEART OF WISDOM will be published in early September by Level Best Books. This book along with her other books can be purchased at Level Best Books or at Jacqueline’s Website below.
She can be found at her website HERE.
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