We would have examined the bodies sooner if it weren’t for all the blood and random internal organs spread around the floor. It appears every ounce and each drop that is the human essence has been spilled and spread evenly – so evenly from wall to wall there isn’t even space between the walls and door.
I’ve been the primary on a number of scenes, but this is all of them wrapped into one. As the uniforms taped back the gawkers; I continue my investigation through a window. I’ve been able to squeeze up against the great bay window facing the street by standing on a milk crate between the house and the shrubs, nuzzling my right eyeball and cheek against the divided pane.
Despite the sun’s glare on this clean, crisp day, I spy a modestly decorated model of suburbia awash with a family dissected and turned inside-out.
We force our way in through a back door, at the kitchen, where the floor is cleanest and the largest pieces of body lie; neatly aligned side by side, seemingly, according to height and age—husband, wife, eldest son, eldest daughter, middle son, middle daughter and youngest son.
Their severed heads, standing on neck stumps, are placed between their feet – looking back at me, the door and their own bodies – minus eyeballs and eyelids.
They’re nude. Their arms are cut loose at the shoulders and carefully arranged on their chests with palms down, up where their hearts would be. Their torsos too are cut loose just above the pelvis and quartered. The trails of blood and organ spread outward from the kitchen: first to the adjacent dining room; then through the ironically named living room and down the hall to a bedroom. The stench is as overwhelming as the sight. I excuse several patrolmen and detectives so their puke won’t taint the scene.
A canvas reveals it’s been three days since anyone reported seeing a member of the family, and yet the medical examiner’s gut tells him they’ve been dead and dissected for at least six.
The bedrooms appear undisturbed. The bathroom adjacent to a closet and the kitchen is where the cutting was done: chainsaw, knives and tweezers are all taken into evidence.
What we can’t find is the family’s youngest child, a daughter; age five according to neighbors who say they last saw her sitting alone in the backyard, approximately seventy-two hours ago.
We put out the Amber Alert and scour the basement; orderly and clean.
We extend the perimeter to include the neighboring yards in search of a doll, a shoe, a piece of clothing or even, dare I say, her body. But nothing; not a footprint, a broken twig or a bent blade of grass turn up.
Inside we continue our search for clues. No discernible footprints, no fingerprints. The DNA tests are going to be a mess. No forced entry. No broken furniture or glass. All the art and plants adorning the walls, hang straight amidst some splatter.
We find a hatch tucked inconspicuously in the ceiling of a closet in the master bedroom; overlooking shelves buried full of hat boxes, shoe boxes and one metal box containing a loaded .38.
We’re detectives. We have to look. I pull the rope and drop the hatch. Drying, sticky blood glows against the dust on the steps. My partner and I draw our guns.
A long sliver of chain dangles down below the opening, about six or seven inches or so. I make my way up, avoiding the blood. I can yank the chain, light the space and who knows – maybe get a shot off at the killer if he’s here.
My partner reminds me it would be difficult for the killer to have barricaded himself in the attic. But after what I’ve seen today, logic doesn’t dictate.
The light is brighter than I expected, like the day dawned early. Of course, we’ve been here all night and the contrast may simply be masking reality.
The blood stops at the top step: none on the floor of the attic, just dust and boxes. And a muffled sound – a song. Like any song for the alphabet or for counting, taught to and sung by little children in playgrounds everywhere.
But here the song is coming from a little girl, innocently and melodically. Our little girl, our missing child is alive. We make our way to the other end of the attic, towards that head of long, straggly blonde hair. She doesn’t notice us. She’s sitting, hunching over a circle drawn in the thick attic dust, engrossed in a game of marbles.
I turn her around and look into her angelic face. She drops the marbles from her right hand. The tiny orbs independently clunk to the floor and roll away from out shadows and into the light: varnished hard and perfectly round these are the missing eyeballs of her parents and siblings.
By Joseph J. Patchen