Authors: Kendra Elliot
Ray hung up the phone on his desk. “That was an odd one. We’ve got a guy who just came in claiming to know one of the original women who was found in the circle decades ago.”
“Seriously? Where the hell’s he been all these years?” Mason was irritable after the long morning at the medical examiner’s office and glad to be back in the familiarity of his office. Watching beautiful girls get sliced up did that to him. He’d left with an overwhelming sense of urgency to solve their senseless deaths. And figure out what’d happened in the same spot decades before.
Digging into the old case, Mason was amazed at how little information there was on the original women. Like the recent
scene, the old photos showed women with long dark hair, wearing white dresses. The bodies were arranged in the same circle. The main difference was the women hadn’t been discovered for nearly a week. Back then, Forest Park hadn’t been the mecca of popular hiking trails it was now.
The three girls who had been claimed all had similar sketchy histories. They hadn’t gotten along with their parents and had run off, or they’d simply wanted a fresh start and left town for a new life. One had been arrested for prostitution in Seattle and Portland in the months before her death. Her arrest photos were in his growing file. Susan Wilbanks had been an attractive young woman from Idaho. Her dark brown eyes had stared blankly at him from the photo, her mouth downturned. She looked like a woman with a lot of regrets.
What had driven her to prostitution?
It bugged the hell out of Mason that no one had stepped forward, looking for the other three women. The detectives from the old case had been unable to draw any connections between the three women who were identified. Besides Susan from Idaho, one had been from Montana and the other from Pendleton in eastern Oregon. The women back then had been slightly older than last night’s teens. The original women had been in their early twenties, possibly late teens. He wondered if Dr. Peres had made headway on clues into the women’s history. Old bones could tell amazing stories through science and technology in ways they didn’t know about in 1968. And if anyone could find something new, Victoria Peres would be that person.
How much crap would they dig through to find the truth? The story was bringing the nuts out of the woodwork, claiming they had information on the old crime.
What were the chances the guy in the lobby was legit?
The desk sergeant had screened walk-ins with stories all morning. This was the first one he’d put through since the transient, Simon Parker. A preliminary search on Simon had turned up an honorable discharge from the military and a work history in construction until three years ago. Mason wondered if an injury had put a halt to the construction jobs. Or was it the recession? No priors, nothing suspicious at all. It confirmed Mason’s gut feeling that Simon wasn’t their man.
Mason stood up and pushed in his chair. “Let’s see what he has to say.”
Ray slipped on his sports jacket over his long-sleeved peach Polo shirt. Mason eyed his own wrinkled jacket on the back of his chair and decided to skip it. He followed Ray down the hallway and into the same interview room where they’d talked to Simon.
A man paced the small room as the detectives stepped inside. His hands were clamped behind his back, his shoulders stooped, and his face set with heavy lines that spoke of a life of stress. His hair was a pure white, but his eyebrows were thick and black. Old-man brows. Coarse and spiny. Mason made a mental note to check his own brows when the interview was over. Usually Ray was good about letting him know if he was looking straggly. Ray noticed things like that.
The man eyed them from under the thick brows. His dark gaze assessing. He stepped forward and held out a hand. “Lorenzo Cavallo.”
He pegged Lorenzo’s age at late seventies. His speech was thickly accented. The detectives both shook hands and introduced themselves. Mason gestured at the chairs and Lorenzo sat heavily, sighing. He had an old manila envelope that he set on the table before him. Mason eyed it as he and Ray sat.
“What can we do for you, Mr. Cavallo?” Ray asked.
“Lorenzo, please. I heard on the news this morning about those young women they found in the forest.” Lorenzo met Mason’s gaze.
Mason nodded but said nothing.
“The newscasters talked about women who’d been found the same way there a long time ago.” Lorenzo lay a gnarled hand on his envelope but didn’t open it. “They’re saying these young women had long black hair like the women did back then. And that no one had ever identified three of the women from before.”
Mason kept his mouth shut. If Lorenzo was fishing for information, he wasn’t going to get it from him.
The old man moved his gaze to his envelope, his finger toying with a ripped corner. Mason noticed the envelope was weathered and thin at the edges. It’d lived in someone’s storage for a long time.
“My family moved here when I was twenty. There were eight of us. My parents and my younger four sisters and brother. We didn’t speak English. Us children picked it up pretty quickly. My parents not so much. They eventually learned enough to get by, but either kept to themselves or socialized with other Italian-speaking families. There weren’t many of us in the city back then.”
“You lived in Portland?” Ray asked. “And you came from Italy?”
Lorenzo nodded but still kept his gaze and hand on the envelope. Mason noticed he wore a plain gold band on his left hand. He had working man’s hands, the nails short and stained. The stain looked permanent.
“My father opened a garage. He knew automobiles. Especially Italian ones, but there weren’t many of those here. He
learned the American autos very quickly and gained a reputation as an honest man.”
Mason looked at Lorenzo’s nails again.
“My brother and I worked in his shop. We did well.”
Mason mentally patted himself on the back.
“One of my sisters did the books. The other girls were much younger and stayed home with my mother.” Lorenzo paused, his lips pressed tight as if they were reluctant to pass on the words. “My youngest sister, Lucia, was a disappointment to the family.”
What the hell did that mean?
Mason raised a brow but kept his jaws shut.
Lorenzo opened and closed his mouth a few times as he tried to phrase his next sentence. “I was gone, you understand, by the time she was grown. I had a family and had moved south to open a garage in Medford. I didn’t pay mind to my parents’ complaints about her wild ways. I thought they just didn’t understand young people, especially American young people. My sisters wanted to be American teens. They wanted to dress and speak like the others they went to school with. My parents struggled to keep up.”
Here it comes.
“Lucia had been gone for two weeks by the time my mother told me she’d left. She didn’t want me to know. My father was humiliated that his daughter had left him, and he wrote her off, declared she was dead to him. She had a boyfriend and had been out late a few times, but she’d never vanished before. According to my mother, her battles with my father were epic screaming matches. My mother sent her to live with my aunt for a while, hoping she’d settle down and get along with my father when she returned. It didn’t work. They fought worse. One day she left, swearing she wasn’t returning. And she never did.”
Lorenzo looked at Ray then at Mason. “I saw the old photos, grainy from the newspaper, on the news today. I’d never heard of the deaths before. I guess we lived too far away. Medford was very small and a good distance from the big city of Portland.”
“Surely your parents or siblings heard of the women’s deaths and wondered if one was Lucia,” said Ray.
Lorenzo shrugged. “To them, she wasn’t missing. She’d left. My parents never spoke of her again.”
“But what about your siblings? Your sisters had to wonder what happened?”
Lorenzo gave a sad smile. “You don’t know my father. If he said Lucia was dead to the family, then she was. My sisters may have wondered where she went, but as far as the few discussions I’ve had with them, they’ve always assumed she’d formed a new life elsewhere.”
“No one looked for her? No one asked questions?” Ray sounded flabbergasted.
Lorenzo shook his head. “If they did, I didn’t know about it. I had my own family to deal with. Five boys,” he added proudly.
Mason wanted to punch the old man.
What kind of family lets a sister vanish and not ask questions?
When’s the last time you talked to your brother?
Fuck that. Mason knew his brother was alive and ornery as ever in Washington.
“So you’re wondering if one of the women in the past was your sister,” Mason stated.
Lorenzo nodded. “The descriptions match. The date matches. Lucia vanished two weeks before the estimated date of those deaths.”
“You remember the date your sister left?” Ray asked, one brow rising. Mason had caught the same inconsistency in the
man’s story. If he hadn’t been around and had brushed off his sister’s disappearance, why did the date stick in his head?
Lorenzo fiddled with the envelope. “She left on my father’s birthday.”
Mason nodded. No doubt the father took that very personally and frequently commented on the disrespect. Sounded like something his old man would have done.
Scowling, Lorenzo shoved the envelope across the table to Mason. Mason wondered what kind of relationship he’d had with his father. An immigrant with old country values, trying to survive and keep his history in a new world.
“Those are the only pictures I have of Lucia. They are old, of course. Perhaps there are photos of the dead that were not released to the public. Maybe you have something else that you can compare them to.”
“Our best bet would be a DNA sample,” said Ray. “We still have the skeletal remains of the women. They can extract DNA and create a comparison.”
Lorenzo stared at Ray, his mouth opening slightly, his face flushed. “They were never buried? No prayers said over them?”
Mason shifted in his seat. He wasn’t religious, but he tried to respect the beliefs of others. “Uh… no. No one knew who they were, let alone their religion. They were kept in the hopes that someday their mystery could be solved.” He cleared his throat. “We’ve already got one of the best forensic anthropologists in the country examining them, looking for identity indicators that our predecessors may have missed or not had the knowledge of.”
Lorenzo leaned back in his chair, nodding. Mason could tell the lack of interment upset him, but he’d understood the reasoning.
“Do you remember if Lucia ever broke any bones?” Ray asked, his pencil poised over his notebook. “Or any unusual characteristics about her teeth? I’ll get a tech in here to take a cheek swab for DNA if you consent. That will get things moving in the right direction. It can take a few weeks to get results.”
Lorenzo gestured at the envelope. “You can see her teeth. I don’t remember if any of my sisters ever broke bones. And yes, I’ll do the DNA testing.”
Mason unfolded the flap of the envelope. It smelled old. Like a bookstore full of used books. He shook the contents out onto the table. Three black-and-white photos slipped out, yellowed and faded with age. Two were small photos with thick white borders. They were family pictures, informal groupings with two adults and six children clustered together. Mason glanced at them and quickly discarded them; the faces were too small. The large school photo was the one he wanted. A beautiful girl met his scrutiny; her strong will shining from her eyes.
Oh, yes. I bet you gave your father hell
. The picture was a formal school shot with her hair in the popular bouffant style of that decade. Dark eyes, dark hair, and distinctively crooked upper front teeth.
Mason’s day brightened. Victoria Peres and Lacey Campbell were going to love the photo.
Victoria opened the back of her vehicle to unpack her gear, feeling clear of the stress of yesterday. Last evening, all the girls had been identified. It’d been a dreadful day, but when the last girl was confirmed, she’d wanted to weep from the relief. Trinity’s friend, Brooke, was the girl fighting for her life in a hospital bed. Brooke’s parents had returned from a night at the beach to find their daughter near death. But they were the lucky parents.
Dr. Campbell had slowly gone through the questionnaires, eliminating the obvious and setting aside the possibles. It’d narrowed down to nine missing girls who fit the general descriptions. Victoria had heard the other three missing girls had eventually made their way home. All three had spent the night and day with
friends, either deliberately avoiding communicating with their parents or blaming dead cell phones.
The five dead girls were beautiful. Victoria and Lacey had looked at their school photos, tears streaming down their faces at the sight of the life and energy that leaped from the pictures. What a waste. Each attended a different local high school, but they all were cut from the same cloth. Vibrant, healthy, cheerful young women, whose parents all swore their daughters had no desire to kill themselves.