Ripper by Isabel Allende
Publication Date: January 28th
“Mom is still alive, but she’s going to be murdered at midnight on Good Friday,” Amanda Martín told the Deputy Chief, who didn’t even think to question the girl since she’d already proved she knew more than he and all his colleagues in Homicide put together. The woman in question was being held at an unknown location somewhere in the 7,000 square miles of the San Francisco Bay Area; if they were to find her alive, they had only a few hours and the Deputy Chief had no idea where or how to begin.
On the morning of October 13, 2011 at 8.15am, the fourth-grade students of Golden Hills Elementary School raced into the gym to whistle blasts from their coach in the doorway. The vast, modern, well-equipped gym – built using a generous donation from a former pupil who had made a fortune in the property market before the bubble burst – was also used for graduation ceremonies, school plays and concerts. Normally, the fourth-graders would run two laps around the basketball court to warm up, but this morning they came to a shuddering halt in the middle of the hall, shocked by the grisly sight of a man sprawled across a vaulting horse, his pants pooled around his ankles, his buttocks bared and the handle of a baseball bat inserted into his rectum. The stunned children stood motionless around the corpse until one nine-year-old boy, more daring than his classmates, bent down and ran his finger through the dark stain on the floor and realized that it was not chocolate but congealed blood; a second boy picked up a spent bullet cartridge and slipped it into his pocket, intending to swap it during recess for a porn magazine, while a girl filmed the scene on her cellphone. Just then, the coach bounded over to the little group of students, whistle trilling with every breath, and seeing this strange spectacle – which did not look like a prank – suffered a panic attack. The fourth-graders raised the alarm and other teachers quickly appeared and dragged the children kicking and screaming from the gym, followed reluctantly by the coach. The teachers removed the baseball bat, and as they laid the corpse out on the floor, they noticed a bullet hole in the center of the victim’s forehead. They covered the body with a pair of sweatpants, closed the door and waited for the police, who arrived precisely nineteen minutes later, by which time the crime scene had been so completely contaminated it was impossible to tell what the hell had happened.
A little later, during the first press conference, Deputy Chief Bob Martín announced that the victim had been identified as one Ed Staton, 49, a school security guard. “Tell us about the baseball bat!” a prurient tabloid journalist yelled. Furious to discover that information about the case had been leaked, which was not only humiliating to Ed Staton but possibly damaging to the reputation of the school, the Deputy Chief snapped that such details would be documented during the autopsy. “What about suspects?” “This security guard, was he gay?” Bob Martín ignored the barrage of questions and brought the press conference to a close, assuring those present that the Personal Crimes Division would keep the media informed of all pertinent facts in the investigation now underway – an investigation he would personally oversee.
A group of twelfth-graders had been in the gym the night before rehearsing a Halloween musical involving zombies and rock ‘n’ roll, but they had not found out what had happened until the following day. By midnight – some hours before the crime was committed, according to police – there had been no one in the school building. Three teenagers in the parking lot, who had been loading
their instruments into a van, had been the last people to see Ed Staton alive. In their statements they said that the guard had waved to them before driving off in a small car at about 12.30. Although they had been some way off, and there was no lighting in the parking lot, they had clearly recognized Staton’s uniform in the moonlight, but they could not agree on the color or make of the car he was driving or whether there had been anyone in the vehicle with him. The police quickly worked out that it had not been the victim’s car, since Staton’s silver- gray SUV was parked a few yards from the band’s van. It was suggested that Staton had driven off with someone who had been waiting for him and came back to the school later to pick up his car.
At a second press conference, the Deputy Chief of the Personal Crimes Division explained that the guard was not due to finish his shift until 6am and they had no information about why he had left the school that night, returning later only to find death lying in wait. Bob Martín’s daughter Amanda, who was watching the press conference on TV, phoned her father to correct him: it was not death that had been lying in wait for Ed Staton, but a murderer.