Authors: Bill McGrath
We had wanted to get an early start for our big day at the flea market so I had set my alarm clock for eight A.M. However, when I got out of bed at seven I found Jill already awake and the coffee already made. I peeked out the window and the weather looked to be just perfect for a trip to the flea market which was quite
large and would take a good portion of the day. Things should have started out nicely, and we should have enjoyed a very nice Sunday buying treasures for pennies, but it didn’t turn out that way.
When I had bought the desk the day before I had in mind a spot for it in my den, but as we were drinking our coffee Jill mentioned that she wanted me to put it in my front room which was originally the living room and dining room, but has been converted to one large room and I currently use it as my office. Her idea, of course, was that since she was now my partner, she would need a desk in the office and she had assumed that I had bought the desk for that purpose. I reminded her that she was not exactly my partner in my detective business, she was more friend that helped out on my last two cases. That sort of started a little lovers quarrel even though we were platonic. Well that was exactly the wrong thing to say to her at that moment and it probably would have been a long miserable day with her mad at me but my cell phone saved me.
I answered the phone and found my friend Senior Detective Eric Samuels of the Dallas Police Department on the line. I said “hello” and he immediately asked me if I had been at Lola’s Attic the day before. When I admitted I had he told me that I better get back over there immediately, and when I asked why he wasted no time in telling me that Lola Martin had been murdered.
I asked him if I could bring Jill along because she had been at Lola’s with me and he told me to bring her.
Pretty much stunned I told Jill what was going on and we quickly hopped in my six year old Taurus and headed back into Dallas and over to the Antique Alley.
An efficient young female medical examiner was one of a dozen people already inside the yellow tape at the crime scene, so Samuels had her show me Lola’s body. Lola’s face had been bruised up a bit and she had a bullet hole in her forehead so determining cause of death would be quite simple. My first thought was that at least Lola hadn’t suffered much but then the medical examiner pointed out Satan’s Path.
Satan’s Path is an interrogation technique very bad people use when they want to get information out of you. They had started by shooting Lola in the right ankle so that she could not run, and then they had asked her whatever it was that they wanted to know. Probably something like “Where do you keep the cash?”
As she resisted answering them they then shot her again in the same leg but a few inches higher than the previous wound. They would have slowly continued to give her individual wounds to the leg always going closer to her torso until she either told them what they wanted, or they decided she was not going to tell them.
Either way, Satan’s Path almost always ends with a bullet to the head. A lot depended on how desperate they were to get the information and how much
privacy they had. The medical examiner counted seven separate wounds between her right ankle and her right hip. Those seven wounds could have been delivered over several hours which would have been a horrible couple of frightening and painful hours, or they could have been done more quickly. Here in a business district, and considering that seven gun shots would have caused a considerable amount of noise, I expected that the entire interrogation would have taken only a couple of minutes. Either way Lola’s last few minutes on earth had not been pleasant.
The medical examiner then took out a large thermometer. I knew she would poke it into Lola and take the temperature of the inside of Lola’s liver. The body cools at a specific rate of speed when it dies so by finding the current temperature of the liver they could calculate the time of death to within the hour. That would help a lot in their investigation.
I did not wish to see Lola poked so I turned away. Samuels took the opportunity to ask me to tell him about our visit to her store the previous day. I went over everything I could remember including my two purchases, and then asked him how he had known we had been there. He answered that one of the cops had turned on the computer and found my name in her address book along with a date and time stamp on the record.
Jill and I were pretty much in the clear because there were four names added to the list after my name so it was obvious that we had not been her last customers.
The medical examiner fixed the time of death between six and seven P.M. and Jill and I told Samuels that we had been with a dozen witnesses at Feldman’s on Fifth eating dinner during that time frame. I am sure he believed me but being ever the professional, he wrote down our alibi statement which he would verify later.
Six P.M. made sense because the sign on the door proclaimed the shop would close at that hour. It would be assumed that the bad guy had lain in wait for the shop to close so he could do his dirty work.
Detective Samuels, noting that the cash register was empty, asked Jill and I to estimate how much cash had been in the cash register when we left the store.
Neither of us had any memory of Lola opening the cash register and I informed Samuels that I had handed her the cash out on the loading dock when we had first seen the desk. He had one of the crime scene investigators go through Lola’s pockets, and they found nearly a thousand dollars cash spread out in three or four pockets.
Samuels asked me to take a look around and see if I could tell where the bad guys had searched. It was kind of weird. I mean the place was a mess, but it had been pretty much a mess when we had shopped there. It really did not look much like they had searched through the store front at all. I did open the door to the room my desk had been in and reported to Samuels that it was empty and there had been
several pieces of furniture there the day before. Of course, I also mentioned to him that the desk I had bought had been out there in the back room, and not on the sales floor.
A young cop interrupted my report to Samuels to tell him that several of the other stores in the neighborhood had security cameras outside so there would be a chance we could see something about who had entered the store last, but that Lola had no cameras either outside or inside.
I was over by the cash register looking through things when I noticed that the sewing basket Lola had put my business card into was missing. I explained to the detective the joke Lola had made about it being her backup system. Of course being the professional he is Detective Samuels probed deeper wanting either me or Jill to completely describe the sewing basket and its contents but what can you say when you truthfully do not remember. I mean I could estimate the size and I was pretty confident about that, but when he asked what color it was neither Jill or I could conjure up an image we were comfortable with. In addition, I clearly remember that the cards were not just tossed loosely into the basket. She had some sort of tray in the basket that was the right size for holding business cards but I could not remember much about what type of tray it was or even if there was a single tray, or more than one.
By now there were about a dozen crime scene technicians crowded into the store all photographing or dusting or measuring and we were in the way. Eric Samuels, Jill, and I stepped out the front door of the shop to find a small crowd of people gathered there. It was time for the shops in the area to open for their day of business and many of the shop owners and employees were curious about what was going on.
The cops had brought an ambulance with them but there were none there needing medical attention so the vehicle was converted to a hearse. We watched Lola’s body bag being loaded into the ambulance, remorseful like she was a dear longtime friend, even though we had met her just half a day ago.
As soon as the ambulance took off Eric Samuels addressed the assembled crowd and announced Lola’s death. He told them all that the best thing they could do was just open their shops as if nothing had happened and go on with business as usual. He did implore them to cooperate when the detectives came by to ask questions and promised that they would do so with the intention of causing as little disruption to their businesses as possible. There were several quick questions about when the funeral would be and Samuels had to tell the crowd that he would get word to them when he had that information.
Someone in the crowd asked if it was safe for them to open for business and to appease them Samuels told them he would have extra patrols in the area for a few days. With that the crowd slowly dispersed.
It was a beautiful Sunday in April in north Texas with the temperature already above sixty and headed for the mid seventies. There were light clouds in the sky but no forecast for any rain, which meant it would have been a perfect day for two young ladies like Jill and myself with a little money in their bank accounts to go treasure hunting at the southwest’s largest flea market. Instead Jill and I spent most of the afternoon sitting at the messy table in the police department lunch room with a very frustrated sketch artist.
Our assignment was to describe for the artist the other pieces of furniture that had been out on the loading dock with my desk. They seemed to be the only things missing other then the card file in the sewing basket, so they were the only real leads the cops had to go on until after the finger print analysis could be completed and until all the outside security footage could be gone through.
The artist was frustrated because his usual assignment was to construct a face from an eye-witness description and here he was drawing old furniture instead. To complicate things Jill and I did not turn out to be very good witnesses.
We started with a serious discussion about how many pieces there had even been. I could clearly remember about six other pieces and vaguely remembered what some of them looked like. Jill remembered eight pieces other than my desk and her memory about the other pieces seemed clearer than mine. Complicating this even more, there was one specific piece Jill and I both clearly remembered, but I remembered it being on one side of the room and Jill insisted it was on the other side.
Here we sat each holding a cell phone capable of taking digital pictures and it would have been so easy to simply snap a few pictures of the room while all the furniture was there, but why would we have done that? Eventually though we, with a lot of help from the artist, described four of the pieces with enough detail to pretty much identify them, and we also constructed a map of where the pieces had been in the room at the time we had seen them.
Later, while Jill was still haggling with the artist I snuck away and ended up in Eric Samuels’ small office having a private conversation with him. He told me that they were having trouble finding anyone who could be considered next of kin.
Lola’s body would go through an autopsy and then be cleared for final preparations but to whom he had no idea. He also gave me a printout of the last two weeks from her computerized address book and asked if I could go through it later and see if I recognized anyone on it. I folded up the three page report and shoved it into the back pocket of my jeans. I asked if there was anything I could do to help out and he sternly told me that it was a police matter and that they could handle it without the interference of a snooping private eye, but then almost in the same breath he
suggested that someone might need to talk to other shop owners to find out if they knew the woman at all so that they could get started finding her family. I did tell him I would be happy to speak with them. He thanked me and also asked if I would check with them about any breakins or robberies they may have suffered recently.
I gathered Jill up and we headed back to the Antique Alley for what would be the last three hours of business on this Sunday.
For the second time in twenty-four hours Jill and I walked into Parnell’s Prize Antiques. The shop owner turned out to be Parnell Erickson. Tall and thin looking about thirty years old but probably a little older. His hair was just too black. It was obviously died and well kept, but he either didn’t dye his eye brows or they grew way to quickly because they were laced with a lot of gray. His vanity though was not in question. His shop was neat and clean and he obviously worked hard to keep it that way. His treasures were mostly Victorian furniture that had been severely refinished and polished to a very high sheen. The furniture was still lined up in rows but the rows were not as crowded as the other shops owners kept them. He probably didn’t sell more than one or two pieces each day but the profits on them more than made up for the low volume.
Parnell was flamboyantly gay and did nothing to hide it which was quite O.K. with me. He was one of those people who never apologized for himself and if anything he did made you uncomfortable it was simply your problem, not his.
As soon as we introduced ourselves and our purpose he immediately let us know that he considered himself to be one of Lola’s closest friends. If we could believe him, he and Lola would have coffee and pastries each morning half an hour before the shops all opened. He questioned us on the funeral arrangements which we had no answer for. He reported no recent breakins to his store but told us that there had been at least one other recent breakin he had heard about and that was only about a week ago at the store called Uptown Treasures which he said was three or four shops down the alley.
When I questioned him about Lola’s next of kin he could give me no help at all. Jill asked him what he and Lola would talk about each morning when he and Lola would share coffee. He told us that Lola spoke mostly about current events and steered clear of any nostalgic trips down memory lane. To him she seemed to always be living in the present and looking to the future which seemed odd to him seeing as how everyone on the block made their living dealing with furniture from the past.