Officer Chuck “Skid” Skidmore wished he hadn’t
indulged in that last cup of coffee. If it wasn’t for the new
waitress at the diner, he would have stopped at just one. But damn
she was cute. So he’d sat at the counter the entirety of his
dinner break and sucked down caffeine like a ten-year-old gorging
on Kool- Aid. Brandy obliged by keeping his mug full, and
entertaining him with her twenty- something chitchat and a full two
inches of jiggling cleavage.
He’d been eating at LaDonna’s Diner every night for
two months now, since the chief assigned him the graveyard shift.
He hated working nights. He respected the chief, but he was going
to have to have a talk with her about getting back on days.
Skid turned his cruiser onto Hogpath Road, a desolate stretch of
asphalt bounded by Miller’s Woods to the north and a
cornfield on the south side. The cruiser’s tires crunched
over gravel as he pulled onto the shoulder. He was reaching for the
pack of Marlboro Lights in the glove box when his radio
“Three-two-four. Are you 10-8?”
Mona was the third- shift dispatcher and his sole source of
entertainment --- after the diner closed, anyway. She’d kept
him from dying of boredom many a night. “Roger that,
“So did you talk to her?”
“You ask her out?”
Throwing open his door to keep the smell of smoke out of the
cruiser, Skid lit the Marlboro. “I don’t see how
that’s any of your business.”
“You’re the one who’s been talking about her
for the last two months.”
“She’s too young for me.”
“Since when does that make a difference?”
“You’re tying up the radio.”
Mona laughed. “You’re chicken.”
Wishing he’d never told her about his crush on Brandy, he
drew on the cigarette. “What ever.”
“Are you smoking?”
He mouthed the word shit.
“You said you were going to quit.”
“I said I was going to either quit drinking or smoking. I
sure as hell ain’t going to do both in the same week.”
He sucked in a mouthful of smoke. “Especially when I’m
stuck working nights.”
“Maybe the chief’s still pissed about that old lady
you roughed up.”
“I didn’t rough her up. That old goat was drunk out
of her mind.”
“She was sixty- two years old --- ”
“And naked as a jaybird.”
Mona giggled. “You get all the good calls.”
“Don’t remind me. The sight of her wrinkled ass has
damaged me for life.”
He sighed, his bladder reminding him why he’d stopped in
the first place. “I gotta take a piss.”
“Like I need to know that.” She disconnected.
Grinning, Skid got out of the cruiser. The crickets went silent
as he walked around to the bar ditch. Dry cornstalks crackled in a
light breeze. Beyond, a harvest moon cast yellow light onto the
tall grain silo and barn roof of an Amish farm. It was so quiet, he
could hear the cacophony of frogs from Wildcat Creek a quarter mile
to the south. Skid relieved himself and tried not to think about
the long night ahead. Yeah, he was going to have a talk with the
chief. Get back on days. He’d had enough of this vampire
He was zipping up when a distant sound snagged his attention. At
first he thought maybe a calf was bawling for its cow. Or maybe a
dog had been hit by a car. But when the sound came again, he
realized it wasn’t either of those things. It was a
man’s scream. Looking out across the cornfield, he felt the
hairs on his nape stand straight up.
Skid rested his hand on the .38 strapped to his hip. He scanned
the field beyond where the corn whispered and sighed. Another
scream sent a chill scraping up his spine. “What the
Yanking open the door of the cruiser, he leaned in and flicked
on the strobes, then pulsed the siren a couple of times. He hit his
lapel mike. “Mona, I’m out here at the Plank farm.
I’ve got a 10-88.” They used the ten- code radio system
at the Painters Mill PD; 10-88 was the code for suspicious
“What’s going on?”
“Some crazy shit’s screaming his head
“Well that’s strange.” She went silent for a
moment. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know, but I think it’s coming from
the house. I’m going to check it out.”
Back in his cruiser, Skid turned into the long gravel lane that
would take him to the house. The Planks were Amish. Generally, the
Amish were quiet and kept to themselves. Most were up before the
sun and in bed before most folks finished their suppers. Skid
couldn’t imagine one of them out this time of night, raising
hell. Either some teenager on rumspringa --- their
“running around” time before joining the church --- was
drunk out of his head, or there’d been an accident.
He was midway down the lane when a figure rushed from the
shadows. Skid braked hard. The cruiser slid sideways, missing a man
by inches. “Holy shit!”
The man scrambled around the front of the cruiser, hands on the
hood, eyes as big as baseballs. Skid didn’t recognize him,
but the full beard and flat- brimmed hat told him the guy was
Amish. Setting his hand on his .38, Skid rammed the shifter into
Park and got out of the cruiser. “What the hell are you
doing? I almost hit you.”
The man was breathing hard, shaking harder. In the moonlight,
Skid saw sweat glistening on his cheeks, despite the October chill,
and he wondered if the guy was high on drugs. “Mein
Skid didn’t understand Pennsylvania Dutch, the Amish
dialect, but he didn’t need to be fluent to know the guy was
terrified. He didn’t know what he’d walked into. The
one thing he was certain of was that he wasn’t going to let
this cagey- looking sumbitch get any closer. As far as he knew, the
guy was on crack and armed with a machete. “Stop right
there, partner. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
The Amish man put his hands up. Even from ten feet away Skid
could see his entire body was trembling. His chest heaved. It was
tears --- not sweat --- that glistened on his cheeks.
“What’s your name?” Skid asked.
“Reuben Zimmerman!” he choked.
The Amish man’s eyes met his. Within their depths, Skid
saw fear and the sharp edge of panic. The man’s mouth worked,
but no words came.
“You need to calm down, sir. Tell me what
Zimmerman pointed toward the farm house, his hand shaking like a
flag in a gale. “Amos Plank. The children. There is blood.
They are dead!”
The guy had to be out of his mind. “How many
“I do not know. I saw…Amos and the boys. On the
floor. Dead. I ran.”
“Did you see anyone else?”
Skid’s gaze went to the darkened farm house. The place was
silent and still.
No lantern light in the windows. No movement. He hit his lapel
mike. “Mona, I’ve got a possible 10- 16 out
here.” A 10- 16 was the code for a domestic problem.
“I’m going to take a look.”
“You still out at the Plank place?”
“You want me to call the sheriff ’s office and get a
deputy out there?”
“I’m going to check it out first. Will you run
Reuben Zimmerman through LEADS for me?” LEADS was the acronym
for the Law Enforcement Automated Data System police departments
used to check for outstanding warrants.
“Roger that.” Computer keys clicked. “Be
careful, will you?”
“You got that right.”
Anxious to get to the scene, Skid approached the Amish man.
“Turn around and put your hands against the car,
Zimmerman looked bewildered. “I did not do anything
“It’s procedure. I’m going to pat you down.
The handcuff s are for your protection and mine. All
As if realizing he didn’t have a choice, Zimmerman turned
and set his hands against the cruiser. Quickly, Skid ran his hands
over the man, checking pockets, socks, even his crotch. Then he
snapped the cuffs into place. “What are you doing here at
this time of night?”
“I help with the milking. Work begins at four
“And I thought I had bad hours.”
The Amish man blinked.
“Never mind.” Opening the cruiser door, Skid ushered
him into the backseat. “Let’s go.”
Sliding behind the wheel, he put the cruiser in gear and started
toward the house. In the rearview mirror, dust billowed in the red
glow of the taillights. Ahead, a massive barn and silo stood in
silhouette against the predawn sky. The postcard perfect farm was
the last place Skid expected any kind of trouble. He’d lived
in Painters Mill for going on four years now. Aside from a few
minor infractions --- like that time two teenaged boys got caught
racing their buggies down Main Street --- the Amish were damn near
perfect citizens. But Skid had been a cop long enough to know there
was always an exception to the rule.
He parked behind a buggy, his headlights reflecting off the
slow- moving vehicle sign mounted at the rear. To his right, the
house stood in shadows; it didn’t look like anyone was up
yet. Turning, he made eye contact with Zimmerman. “How did
you get in?”
“The back door is unlocked,” the Amish man said.
Grabbing his Maglite, Skid left the cruiser. He slid his .38
from its sheath as he started down the sidewalk. Stepping onto the
stoop, he banged on the door with the flashlight. “This is
the police,” he called out. “Open up.”
That was when he noticed the dark smear on the jamb. He shifted
the flashlight beam and squinted. It looked like blood. A
handprint. Skid shone the light down on the concrete porch. More
blood. Black droplets glittering in the moonlight. Bloody
footprints led down the steps to the sidewalk that led to the
“Shit.” Skid twisted the knob and opened the door.
His heart rate kicked as he entered the kitchen. He could feel the
burn of adrenaline in his midsection. Nerves running like hot wires
beneath his skin. “This is the police,” he called out.
“Mr. and Mrs. Plank?”
The house was as silent and dark as a 1920s noir film. Skid
wished for a light switch and cursed the Amish people’s
aversion to modern conveniences. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the
semidarkness. Gray light from the moon bled in through the window
above the sink, revealing plain wood cabinets, a bench table draped
with a blue- and- white checked tablecloth. A lantern sat cold and
dark in its center.
“Hello? This is the police. Anyone home?” Midway
through the kitchen, he noticed the unpleasant odor. Not spoiled
food or garbage or pet smells. It was more like the plumbing in the
bathroom had backed up.
Skid entered the living room. The stench grew stronger,
pervasive. A chill crept up his spine when his beam illuminated the
body. An Amish man wearing a blue work shirt, trousers and
suspenders lay facedown in a pool of blood the size of a dinner
Skid couldn’t look away. The dead man had a horrific wound
at the back of his head. Blood oozed from his left ear into his
full beard and then trickled down to pool on the floor. His mouth
was open and his bloody tongue protruded like a fat slug. He hoped
Zimmerman was wrong about the number of victims.
He hoped the other lumps on the floor were piles of clothing in
need of mending or maybe feed bags someone had brought in from the
barn. That hope was dashed when the beam of his flashlight revealed
two more bodies. A teenaged boy wearing dark trousers with
suspenders. A little red-haired boy encircled by more blood than
could possibly fit into his small body. Both boys had gunshot
wounds to the head. Both had their hands bound behind their backs.
Skid knew without checking that they were dead.
He’d been a cop for going on ten years, first in Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and now here in Painters Mill. He’d seen
death before. Traffic accidents. Shootings. Stabbings. None of
those things prepared him for this.
“Holy Christ.” He fumbled for his lapel mike,
surprised when his hand shook. “Mona, I’m 10- 23
at the Plank place. Call the chief. Tell her I’ve got a major
fuckin’ crime scene out here. A shooting with multiple vics.
Fatalities.” His voice broke. “Shit.”
“Do you need an ambulance?”
He looked down at the staring eyes and the ocean of blood, and
he knew he’d be seeing that image for a very long time to
come. “Just send the coroner, Mona. It’s too late
to save any of these people.”
I’m caught in that weird twilight between wakefulness and
slumber when the phone on my night table jangles. The last time I
looked at the clock, it was just after three a.m. A glance at those
glowing red numbers tells me it’s now four-thirty. I feel
lucky to have gotten a full hour and a half of sleep.
“Burkholder,” I rasp.
“Chief, it’s Mona. Skid says there’s been a
shooting out at the Plank farm.”
The words jolt me upright. “Anyone hurt?” I envision
an accidental shooting; someone putting a bullet in his foot while
cleaning his .30- 06.
“He said it was a major crime scene with multiple
For an instant I think I’ve misunderstood. Then my brain
clicks into place, and I get to my feet. “He get the
“I don’t know. Skid sounded pretty shook
Four full- time officers comprise my small police force; Skid is
one of my most experienced. He’s not the sensitive type nor
is he easily rattled, so I know it’s got to be bad.
“Get an ambulance out there, will you?”
“Sure. And I called Doc Coblentz.”
“Good.” Dr. Ludwig Coblentz is a local pediatrician
and acting coroner for Holmes County. “Tell him I’ll
meet him out there.”
My mind spins through possible scenarios as I cross to the
closet and yank my uniform off a hanger. The Planks are Amish. I
know many Amish families keep rifles on hand for hunting and
livestock slaughter. They are a peaceable, pacifistic society;
violent crime is rare. I can’t get my mind around the fact
that there are multiple victims. Maybe because that tells me the
shooting was no accident.
Paint ers Mill is a small town located in the heart of
Ohio’s farm country. About a third of the 5,300 residents are
Amish. I myself was born Amish in this very town just over thirty
years ago. Though 80 percent of Amish children join the church at
the age of eighteen, I was one of the few who chose not to be
baptized. But roots run deep, especially if you’re Amish, and
it was those roots that brought me back.
I’ve been the chief of police for nearly three years now.
It’s a good job. Painters Mill is a good place to live. A
wholesome town in which to raise a family. I want to believe major
crime doesn’t happen here, but experience has taught me even
small, idyllic towns are not immune to violence. I’m
acquainted with most of the local families, both Amish and
I’m fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch, the Amish dialect.
Though I no longer live my life according to Gelassenheit
--- the foundation of Amish values --- I have great respect for the
culture. It’s a respect borne of genuine understanding, not
only of the people, but the Plain life in general, and the religion
so integral to both.
As I drive toward the Plank farm, it strikes me that I
don’t know much about Bonnie or Amos Plank. I search my
memory and recall that they’re new to the area, having
relocated from Lancaster County about a year ago.
They have several children and run a small dairy operation. As I
start down the gravel lane, I wonder what problems might have
followed them here from Pennsylvania.
I arrive to find Skid’s cruiser parked behind a buggy. The
emergency strobes cast red and blue light onto the house and
outbuildings, giving the farm the appearance of some weird rock
video. Grabbing my Maglite, I get out, draw my .38 revolver and
start toward the back door. I’m midway there when my beam
illuminates a bloody handprint on the jamb. A quiver of unease goes
through me when I spot the shiny black droplets on the concrete
porch and sidewalk. Shoving open the door, I step into a large
Moonlight slants through the window above the sink, but
it’s not enough to cut through the shadows.
“Skid!” I call out.
The stench of blood fills my nostrils as I traverse the kitchen.
I go through the doorway into the next room. The first thing I see
is the yellow-white slash of Skid’s flashlight beam.
We’re standing in a large room backlit by two tall, narrow
windows. I make a 360-degree sweep with my flashlight. “What
Even as I ask the question, my beam lands on the first body. A
middleaged Amish male lies facedown in the center of the room.
“We got two more over there.” Skid’s voice
seems to come from a great distance.
My hand threatens to shake as I run my beam along the floor, but
I hold it steady as the light reveals two more bodies. My vision
tunnels when I realize the victims are children. The first is a
teenaged boy. Gangly arms and legs. Bad haircut. Lying prone, he
wears a faded work shirt, suspenders and trousers that are slightly
too short from a recent growth spurt. His hands are bound behind
his back. I see the black shimmer of blood at the back of his
A few feet away, a younger boy lies on his side in an ocean of
blood, some of which has soaked into a homemade rug. I guess him to
be nine or ten years old. He’s wearing a nightshirt. Like the
other boy, his hands are bound. The soles of his feet are dirty,
and I know that just scant hours before he’d run barefoot and
carefree through this house. From the pale oval of his face, cloudy
eyes seem to stare right at me. I see blood on his cheek and
realize the bullet exited through his mouth, tearing through his
lips, blowing out several teeth.
It’s a surreal scene and for the span of several
heartbeats, I can’t get my mind around it. Shock is like a
battering ram, assaulting my brain. Dead kids,
I think, and a hot bloom of outrage burgeons in my chest. The
urge to go to them, perform CPR, try to save them, is powerful. But
I know they’re gone. The last thing I want to do is
contaminate the scene.
I shift my beam back to the adult. A hole the size of my fist
mars the back of his head. I see bone fragments, flecks of brain
matter and blood in his hair.
Exit wound, I think, and realize he was shot from the
“Did you check for survivors?” I hear myself
Skid’s silhouette looms against the window. Even in the
near darkness, I see him shake his head. “I checked pulses.
They’re DOA.” I look around, and it strikes me that the
son of a bitch who did this could still be in the house. “You
clear the place?”
I hit my radio. “This is 235. Mona, I’m 10-
“What’s going on out there, Chief?”
“I need you to call Glock and Pickles at home. Get them
out here 10-18.”
“Roger that,” Mona says.
“Use your cell, in case some insomniac has his scanner on.
Tell Glock we need a generator and some work lights, will
“Got it, Chief.”
I look at Skid. “Let’s clear the rest of the
I start toward the hall. I hear Skid behind me, and I know
he’s got my back. Our feet are silent on the oak floor as we
move toward the bedrooms. In the back of my mind, I wonder if there
are more victims. If anyone survived. I wonder what kind of a
monster could kill innocent children…
I reach the bathroom and shove the door open with my foot. My
.38 leading the way, I enter, drop low and sweep the room. I see an
old-fashioned claw- foot tub. A single window, closed and locked. A
porcelain sink. I check the tub. “Clear.”
I turn to see Skid start down the hall. I bring up the rear this
time, watching his back. He sidles into the first bedroom. I follow
close behind, my every sense honed on our surroundings. I see two
twin-size beds. Two windows, closed. A chest of drawers. A pair of
ice skates tossed in the corner. Skid shifts his weapon, yanks open
the closet door. I move in, but the small space is empty. I go to
the bed, drop to my knees and look beneath it.
“No one here,” Skid says.
“Let’s check the upstairs.”
“There a cellar?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Probably.”
It takes us ten minutes to clear the rest of the house, which
includes the basement, the second-level bedrooms and the small
attic. I’m comfortable working with Skid; I trust his
instincts as a cop, and we work well as a team. In the end, our
efforts are in vain. The house is vacant. We end up in the living
room. For a moment, neither of us speaks. We don’t look at
the bodies, and I get the sense that we’re both struggling to
comprehend the cold brutality of the crime.
“What do you think happened?” Skid asks after a
“Hard to say.” I glance down at the dead boy at my
feet. So young and innocent.
I look at the father and for the first time it strikes me that
his hands aren’t bound. As a cop, I know things aren’t
always as they appear at first glance. Preconceived notions are a
dangerous thing when you walk into a crime scene, so I strive to
avoid making snap judgments. But as I stare down at the dead man,
all I can think is, Why aren’t your hands bound,
“You find a weapon?” I ask.
My eyes follow his beam. Sure enough, protruding from beneath
the man’s right hand is the blue barrel of a semiautomatic
handgun. “Looks like a Beretta.”
“I didn’t know the Amish kept handguns.”
“They don’t, usually, especially a semiauto,”
I reply. “Rifles for hunting.”
“His hands aren’t tied,” Skid comments.
“That wound at the back of his head looks like an
Skid’s gaze meets mine. “You think he did
I don’t want to acknowledge the ugly suspicions knocking
at my brain. That this man snapped, murdered his two sons and then
turned the gun on himself. The scenario goes against every
conviction most Amish hold dear. I know it’s a
generalization. But murder is extremely rare in Amish society.
Suicide is almost as uncommon. It is the one sin for which
there is no redemption.
“I don’t know.” I look around. “Any sign
of the mother?”
“I think they have more kids,” I say.
“Girls.” I recall the bloody handprint on the back
porch, and I’m disheartened by the possibilities crowding my
brain. “Let’s check the yard and
Best-case scenario, we’ll find Mom and the girls hiding
and frightened, but alive. The knot in my gut tells me that hope is
optimistic. Without holstering our weapons, we pass through the
kitchen and go out through the back door. We glance briefly at the
“Could be a woman’s,” Skid says.
“Or a teenager’s.” If my memory serves me, the
two girls are in their teens.
His beam illuminates droplets of blood and a single bloody
footprint on the concrete. “Looks like someone ran out of the
“Toward the barn.”
After being inside the house, the moonlight seems inordinately
bright. My shadow keeps pace with me as I move down the sidewalk.
We’ve gone about ten yards when I spot the body. A mature
female wearing a plain dress, an apron and white kapp lies
facedown in the grass. But it is the sight of the dead infant in
her arms that rocks me.
“Jesus Christ.” Skid scrapes a hand over his face.
“A fuckin’ baby.”
The gray skin and glazed eyes tell me both mother and child are
deceased. Blood clings to the grass like a spill of motor oil. I
see a hole the size of a dime in the fabric between the
woman’s shoulder blades. “Looks like the bullet went
right through her and into the baby.”
“Shot her in the back.”
“While she was running away.”
“Chief, who the hell would do something like
“A monster.” Hoping the look I give him
doesn’t reveal the dark emotions thrashing inside me, I
motion toward the barn. “Let’s hope he left someone
alive to tell us.”
The barn is a massive structure with a stone foundation and
rusty tin roof. A cupola and weather vane jut two stories into the
night sky. Lower, half a dozen small windows watch us like old,
sorrowful eyes. Like many of the barns in the area, the building is
well over a hundred years old.
Skid and I move down the sidewalk in silence. The chorus of
crickets seems unduly loud, but I know it’s because my senses
are hyperaware. Somewhere in the near distance, I hear cattle
bawling. Having spent many a predawn morning pulling teats, I
recognize the sound. The animals’ udders are full, and
they’re waiting to be milked.
I reach the barn first and push open the door with my foot.
“Try not to touch anything,” I whisper. The hinges
creak as the door rolls open. Th e earthy smells of livestock, hay,
and manure waft out on a breeze. The barn is pitch black inside.
Holding my Maglite in my left hand, my weapon in my right, I step
in and quickly sweep the area. I’m aware of Skid behind me,
his beam cutting through the darkness to my left. I can hear his
quickened breaths rushing between his teeth.
“This is the police!” I call out. “Put your
hands up and come out! Now!”
We move deeper into the barn. The rush of blood through my veins
is deafening. If someone were to ambush us, I wouldn’t hear
them coming. I nearly jump out of my skin when I see movement
ahead. I straighten my gun arm, snug my finger against the trigger.
It takes a second for my brain to process the sight of a dozen or
so Jersey cows standing in stanchions, waiting to be fed and
“Glad I didn’t plug a cow,” I mutter.
“Some goddamn light would be nice.”
“There’s probably a lantern around here
I see the outline of livestock stalls to the left. Straight
ahead lies the milking area; from where I stand I discern the
curdled-milk stink common to dairy operations. I see the brick and
concrete floor upon which stanchions and hay racks were built.
Though many Amish have begun using modern milking machines powered
by either diesel or gasoline generators, I see no such machinery
here, telling me the Planks still milk by hand.
Catching Skid’s eye, I motion him left. I go right and
enter a wide aisle with a hard-packed dirt floor. Ahead is a large
equipment area. I see a steelwheeled plow with hit-or-miss shares.
A buggy missing a wheel sits propped up on a hand jack. A
wood-and-steel manure spreader gathers dust beneath a moonlit
window. To my right I spot yet another door. It’s closed. The
proximity to the stalls and equipment area tells me it’s
probably a tack room, where harnesses for the horses, grooming
supplies, halters and veterinary medicines are stored. Seeing no
movement in the aisle, I cross to the door, twist the knob and
shove it open.
The beam of my flashlight illuminates a large room with
rough-hewn walls and a wood plank floor. High ceilings transected
by beams as thick as a man’s waist. A rush of adrenaline
burns through me when I spot the girl.
On instinct, I bring up my weapon. At fi rst glance she appears
to be standing with her arms stretched over her head. Then I
realize her wrists are bound and tied to an overhead beam.
For a second, I’m so shocked I can’t speak or move
or even think. Then my cop’s mind switches on and the
horrific details of what I’m seeing slam into my brain. The
victim is young and female. Nude except for a kapp, she
hangs limply from the overhead beam. Her head lolls forward so that
her chin rests on her chest. I see dried blood, where it ran
between her breasts and down her abdomen. Her knees have buckled,
but the rope holds her upright.
“My God,” I hear myself say.
I shift my light, scan the rest of the room. I hear myself gasp
when my beam illuminates a second victim. A female, slightly older.
Also nude, but for her kapp. Like the other victim, she
hangs suspended from an overhead beam.
In the course of my law enforcement career, I’ve seen
death more times than I care to think about. I’ve seen
terrible traffic accidents. Death from natural causes, heart
attacks and strokes. A drowning occurred just two months ago out on
Miller’s Pond. I’ve seen murder in all its execrable
forms. But I will never get used to it.
My hands tremble as I reach for my lapel mike.
“Skid…I got two more.”
“Where are you?”
“Tack room. Just down the aisle.”
“I’m on my way.”
I train my flashlight beam on the nearest victim. I can smell
the blood now. Dark and metallic with the sickening undertone of
methane gas. I’m not unduly squeamish, but my stomach quivers
uneasily as I draw close. I can’t imagine what happened here.
I sure as hell don’t want to think about the horrors these
girls must have endured.
I nearly drop my Maglite at the sound of Skid’s voice. I
turn to see him standing in the doorway. He holds his revolver in
his right hand, his flashlight in his left. His eyes are fastened
on the two bodies.
“Jesus Christ, Chief.” He steps into the room, his
voice little more than a whisper. “What the hell
Skid is usually pretty laid-back. He’s cocky with a dry
sense of humor, a quick wit, and has never been overly sensitive to
some of the things cops are forced to deal with. As he takes in the
carnage before us, his brash façade falls away. His expression
relays the same horror and disbelief I feel burgeoning in my
He moves closer to me.
“Watch for footprints,” I tell him.
His beam illuminates the plank floor, sweeps left and right. As
if of its own accord, my beam paints the nearest body with terrible
light. Dozens of bruises, contusions and abrasions mar the dead
girl’s torso, arms and legs.
Small patches of skin are bright red. Other areas are nearly
black. At some point, she’d vomited. I can smell the sour
stink of it from where I stand.
“I got a footprint,” Skid calls out.
“Mark it.” I don’t take my eyes off the
corpse. “Looks like they were tortured.”
“Someone tied them up and just went to fuckin’ town
on them,” Skid says after a moment. He lowers his fl ashlight
and in that instant of light, I notice two small marks on the
“Wait,” I say. “What’s
I squat next to the marks. Upon closer inspection, I can see
there are actually three of them. They look like scuff marks in a
thin layer of dust. If I were to connect them, they’d form a
“What the fuck?” Skid whispers in a baffled
“Mark them, will you?”
“Keep your eye out for more footprints.”
I shine my beam around the room. A few feet from where we stand,
a propane torch, a small wooden club, a knife smeared with blood,
and a footlong skewer- like instrument sit neatly atop a workbench.
Not the kinds of things you’d fi nd in an Amish barn, and I
know that whoever did this left them behind. “We might be
able to lift some prints off those…tools.”
“Yeah.” Skid’s beam joins mine, and he makes a
sound of disgust. “How the hell could someone do this? I
mean, for chrissake, a couple of Amish girls?”
I have no answers. I have no words at all. For a moment the only
sound comes from the stirring of the cows down the aisle and the
muted song of the crickets outside.
“You think the father did this?” Skid
I hear doubt in his voice and shake my head because I
can’t imagine. “I don’t know.”
He shifts his beam back to the nearest victim. “Were they
shot?” he asks. “Stabbed?”
Taking a deep breath, I train my beam on the victim nearest me.
I see pale flesh speckled with blood. My beam stops on the black,
gaping hole just below her navel.
“What the hell is that?” Skid’s voice comes
from behind me.
“Knife wounds?” My voice is steady, but my beam
quivers as a tremor of revulsion moves through my body.
“It looks like someone cut her open.”
I move the beam lower. A lot of blood now. Caked in her pubic
hair. Dark rivulets that ran down the insides of both legs. I look
for evidence of a bullet wound, but see nothing. In the back of my
mind I wonder if she was alive when they did this to her.
The thought makes me sick. The terribleness of it frightens me
on a level so deep that for a moment I can’t catch my breath.
I’ve never been a crier, but I feel the burn of tears at the
backs of my eyes.
“Chief? You okay?”
I choke back a sound I don’t recognize. A sound that
echoes the barrage of emotions banging around inside me. For a full
minute, I don’t respond. When I’m finally able to
speak, my voice is level. “Call Glock and Pickles again. Tell
them we need those lights and generator yesterday.”
“Tell Mona to notify the sheriff ’s office. Let them
know what’s going on and get some patrols out. Tell her to
brief T.J., get him out patrolling. Until we figure out what
happened here, we’ve got to assume there’s a
cold-blooded son of a bitch out there with a gun.”
As Skid speaks into his radio, I look at the two dead girls, and
I feel the crushing weight of my responsibility to them settle onto
my shoulders. I’ve heard veteran cops talk about life-
altering cases. Cases that haunt a cop long after they’re
closed. I’ve had cases like that myself. Cases that
fundamentally changed me. Changed the way I view people. The way I
perceive my job as a cop. The way I see myself.
Standing there with the stench of death fi lling my nostrils, I
know this is going to be one of those cases. It’s going to
take a toll. Not only on me, but on this town I love and a
community that’s already seen more than its share of
I’m standing on the back porch one puff into a Marlboro I
bummed from Skid when a police cruiser hauling a small trailer
barrels down the lane. Light bar and siren blaring, it slides to a
halt behind my Explorer, stirring a cloud of dust that alternately
glows blue and red, lending yet another layer of surreality to an
already surreal scene.
Rupert “Glock” Maddox gets out of the car and goes
around to the trailer, opens dual rear doors and pulls down a small
ramp. A former Marine, Glock has the dubious honor of being
Painters Mill’s first African-American police officer.
He’s built like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, can shoot the
hair off a groundhog, and is one of the best cops I’ve ever
had the pleasure of working with. As I start toward him, I hope his
levelheadedness will balance out the jagged emotions roiling inside
He rolls a portable, diesel-powered generator down the trailer
ramp, then watches me approach. Under normal circumstances,
he’d probably give me a hard time about smoking. I might have
tried to hide the evidence if I hadn’t been standing in the
midst of a crime scene. I figure both of us are too distracted by
what we face in the coming hours to bother with something so
“Must be bad if you’re smoking,” he says.
“It’s bad.” The words feel like an obscene
“I would have been here faster, but I had to pick up the
generator and lights.”
“It’s okay.” A sigh shudders out of me.
“None of these people are going anywhere.”
“You get the shooter?”
“I’m not exactly sure what we’re dealing with
He looks at me a little too closely as I drop the butt on the
gravel and crush it out with my boot.
“Could be a murder-suicide,” I clarify.
I motion toward the generator. “Get some lights set up,
will you?” I start toward Skid’s cruiser.
“I’m going to talk to the witness.”
I’ve met Reuben Zimmerman several times over the years.
He’s a quiet, serious man, one of the few Amish I know who
does not have children. He and his wife, Martha, own a small house
on a couple of acres down the road.
Reuben is a retired carpenter and spends most of his time
building decorative bird houses and mailboxes for the Amish tourist
shops in town. I open the back door of the cruiser and bend
slightly to make eye contact with him. Zimmerman leans forward and
looks at me.
“Did you fi nd Bonnie and the other children?” he
Though Skid had only been following departmental procedure,
I’m dismayed to see the Amish man’s hands cuffed behind
his back. I pull the key out of my belt. “Turn around, and
I’ll take those off for you.” I speak to him in
Pennsylvania Dutch, hoping it will help break down the barrier of
mistrust that exists between the Amish and the English police. This
morning, I need his full cooperation.
Turning, he offers his wrists. I insert the key and the
handcuffs snick open.
“What are you doing here at this hour?”
He rubs his wrists. “I help with the milking.”
“Why does Amos need you when he has two sons?”
Zimmerman looks perplexed by my question, but only for a moment.
“He has twenty-two head of cattle and milks twice a day. I
deliver the cans to Gordon Brehm in Coshocton County.”
His answer is consistent with the absence of a milking machine
and generator in the barn. Without refrigeration, there’s no
way to keep the milk cold, therefore it cannot be sold as grade A
for drinking. Stored temporarily in old-fashioned milk cans, it can
only be sold as grade B for cheesemaking, which would require a
buggy trip to the local cheese-maker in the next county.
I tilt my head and snag his gaze. “Reuben.” I say
his name firmly, letting him know I want his undivided attention.
“I need you to tell me everything you saw when you arrived
He nods. “I arrived early, so I sat on the back stoop for
a few minutes. Usually, there is lantern light inside. Amos and I
have coffee. Sometimes Bonnie fries scrapple. This morning the
house was dark.”
“So you went inside?”
“I knocked, but no one answered.” He gives a small
smile. “I thought, Er hot sich wider
verschlofe.” He overslept again. “So I went
“How did you get in?”
“The back door was not locked.”
My brain files that away for later. Many Amish don’t lock
their doors at night. It’s not that locks go against the
Ordnung in any way; most simply don’t see the need.
And it’s not just the Amish who are lax. I’d estimate
half the folks in this county don’t lock up before going to
bed. Having been a cop in a large, metropolitan city for six years,
I don’t share the mindset. I snap my dead bolts into place
every night with the glee of a paranoid schizophrenic.
“Did you see anyone else inside the house?” I
“Just Amos…and the two boys.”
“What about outside? In the yard? Or the barn?”
“I saw no one.”
“Any vehicles or buggies?”
“Have you noticed any unusual behavior from Amos? Has he
been under any pressure? Or talked to you about any
“Amos?” The Amish man shakes his head.
“Was there any disharmony within the house
“Were there any problems between Amos and Bonnie? Or
between Amos and the children? Problems with outside friends? Money
He shakes his head so vehemently, his beard flops from side to
side. “Why do you ask these things, Katie?”
“I’m just trying to fi nd out what
Zimmerman stares hard at me. “Amos lived his life in the
spirit of Gelassenheit. He was a good Amish man. He was
modest and yielded to God’s will. He worked hard. And he
loved his family.”
“Did the Planks have any enemies?” I ask.
“Were they involved in any kind of dispute?”
Another emphatic shake. “The Planks loved their Amish
brethren. They were generous. If you needed something, Amos and
Bonnie would give it to you and were happy to go without
But I know that even decent, God-loving Amish families keep
For a moment, the only sound comes from the blast of the
generator on the back porch and the chorus of crickets all around
us. Then Zimmerman whispers, “Are Bonnie and the other
children all right?”
I shake my head. “They’re gone, too.”
“Mein Gott.” Bowing his head, he sets his
fingertips against his forehead and rubs so hard the skin turns
white. “Who would commit this terrible sin?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do not understand God’s will,” Reuben
I don’t think murder is what God had in mind for the Plank
family, but since my views aren’t popular among my former
brethren, I remain silent.
“I’m going to have one of my officers drive you to
the station so we can take your fingerprints. Can you do that for
“But what about the cows?” he asks. “They must
Dealing with cattle is the least of my worries this morning. But
having grown up on a farm much like this one, I know the animals
must be dealt with. “I’ll have Bishop Troyer send some
men over as soon as possible. They’ll take care of the
He nods. “It is the right thing to do.”
It’s no small sacrifice for Zimmerman to ride in an
English police car; it’s against the Ordnung, the
rules set forth by the local church district, but he nods. “I
will help any way I can.”
I close the car door and cross to my Explorer. Opening the rear
hatch, I pull out my crime scene kit. It’s not very high
tech. Just a box of latex gloves, disposable shoe covers, a sketch
pad and notebook, a stack of miniature fluorescent orange cones
used for marking evidence, a roll of crime scene tape, a couple of
inexpensive field test kits, and the new digital camera I recently
had approved for purchase by the town council.
I find Glock on the back porch, marking the bloody handprint for
the CSU, a work light in his hand. “Zimmerman any
help?” he asks over the drone of the generator.
I shake my head. “He didn’t see anything.”
“You believe him?”
We enter the kitchen. After being outside in the fresh air, the
reek of death is suffocating. Setting the kit on the table, I
remove a small tube of Vicks and dab it beneath my nose.
I offer it to Glock, but he refuses with his usual,
“Can’t stand the smell.”
It’s an ongoing joke that usually garners a laugh. We
don’t laugh this time around.
Quickly, we don latex gloves and shoe covers. This kind of crime
scene is every cop’s nightmare. It’s spread over a
large area, some of which is outdoors, which makes the collection
and preservation of evidence extremely difficult. Even though
I’m not yet sure exactly what we’re dealing with --- a
mass murder or murder-suicide --- I opt to err on the side of
caution and preserve as much of the scene as possible.
I hand the camera to Glock. “Photograph everything before
you touch it. You know the drill.”
Nodding, he takes the camera. Neither of us speaks as we cross
through the kitchen to the living room. Stopping in the doorway, I
shine my Maglite on Amos Plank.
“Bad fuckin’ scene,” Glock says.
“It’s worse in the barn.”
He casts a questioning look at me.
I tell him about the teenaged girls.
“Damn.” I see his cop’s eyes taking in
Plank’s unbound hands. The proximity of the handgun to the
body. The exit wound at the back of his head. Like any good cop,
he’s making judgments based on what he sees. “You think
he did this?”
“I don’t know.” It’s the most honest
answer I can give. By all appearances, Plank went berserk, murdered
his family, then put the gun in his mouth and blew his brains out.
But the part of me that is Amish, that will always be Amish no
matter how far I stray, can’t fathom an Amish man --- an
Amish father --- inflicting these horrors upon his family.
Granted, I didn’t know Amos Plank. But I do know the Amish
culture. I know violence is not part of it.
While Glock snaps photos, I walk the living room, trying to
envision what might have happened. I study the position of the
bodies. The wounds. The proximity of the Beretta to Amos Plank.
“What did you do?” I whisper.
It’s a keenly unsettling feeling to share such a small
space with so many dead, particularly those who’ve suffered a
violent death. In the periphery of my consciousness, I’m
aware of Glock moving around, snapping photos. I see the flash of
the camera. I hear the click and whir of the
shutter, the highpitched whine of the battery charging between
I glance at Glock to see him kneeling, looking at something on
I cross to him as he snaps the shot.
“Got a partial print here.” He takes a second
I pull one of the evidence markers from my coat. “Plenty
“Looks like a boot. Men’s. Size nine or
I arch a brow. “You’re good.”
“That’s what my wife says.”
We exchange small smiles, and I’m glad I have him to help
me keep things in perspective. I kneel beside him, study the print.
It’s a partial, the front half of a shoe or boot.
“Where did he pick up that blood?” I wonder aloud.
“Had to have stepped in it somewhere.” Glock glances
my way. “I didn’t see any other prints.”
“Gotta be.” I rise, look around, heartened by
the promise of evidence. He shoots a fi nal photo, gets to his feet
and we look around. He walks slowly toward the small boy on the
other side of the room and snaps a shot. I go to the nearest body
and kneel. It’s not easy looking at a dead teenaged boy.
He’s lying facedown, his hands bound behind his back. His
head is turned to the side and I see blood in his hair. Bits of
brain matter and tiny white bone fragments from his shattered skull
spatter the fl oor. His lips are parted. I see blood between his
teeth. The small pink nub of a tongue that’s nearly been
bitten off. Though I used the mentholated petroleum jelly, the reek
of urine and feces repulses me.
Then I notice the binding at the boy’s wrists and my petty
discomforts are forgotten. It’s some type of insulated wire.
Speaker wire, I realize. Something an Amish man would
never have in his home or anywhere else. The double knots are tied
off neatly. The wire is tight enough to cut skin.
The fact that the killer used speaker wire niggles at me as I go
to the kitchen. Who would have speaker wire on hand? Someone
putting a sound system into their home? Their car or RV? Someone
who works with audio or sound systems? Computers maybe? I’m
working the possibilities over in my head when Glock calls out.
“I think I found where he picked up that blood.”
I walk to him and he motions down at the dead little boy.
“There’s blood on that rug. I’d say the killer
stepped on the rug and tracked it.”
He’s right. Disappointment presses into me. “I was
hoping we’d find a better print.”
“Never that fuckin’ easy.” He snaps several
shots of the blood-soaked rug.
I go to the kitchen and pull the sketch pad from my kit. Back in
the living room, I begin a crude illustration of the scene,
concentrating on the location and position of each body. I’m
not a very good artist, but combined with the photos, this
depiction will be a good record of how we found the scene.
I go to Amos Plank’s body. He, too, lies facedown with his
head turned to one side. The pool of blood surrounding his head
glitters beneath the work light. I kneel next to him.
“Glock, did you get photos of the father?”
Lowering the camera, he comes up beside me. “A half dozen
or so from different angles.”
That gives me the go-ahead to move the body. “Help me roll
him over,” I say.
Squatting next to me, Glock places his hands on the dead
man’s left hip.
I put my hands on his left shoulder. “Go,” I say and
in tandem we roll him onto his back.
A cup or so of blood spills from his mouth when his head lolls.
Glock and I move quickly back to avoid getting biohazard on our
clothes. Plank’s face goes beyond macabre beneath the stark
light. I see several broken teeth. Gray-black powder burns around
his lips. Nostrils filled with coagulated blood. Jaw broken, mouth
hanging open. A tongue shredded by a bullet. Livor mortis has set
in; the right side of his face is dark purple. Lividity occurs when
the heart stops and blood, no longer being pumped, settles to the
lowest part of the body. The bruise-like discoloration begins as
early as half an hour after death and becomes more pronounced with
time. It’s my first clue with regard to his time of
“Looks like he’s been dead at least an hour,”
“If people knew what bullets did to their fuckin’
faces, we’d have a hell of a lot less suicides,” Glock
The bullet wound appears to be self-inflicted. It entered via
his mouth and exited out the back of his head, shattering his skull
and taking a good bit of brain with it. Some might think it an apt
end for a man who’d just murdered his family in cold
“If he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the
trigger,” Glock begins, “wouldn’t the concussion
send him backward? Wouldn’t he land face-up?”
“Usually, that’s the case,” I say. “But
if he was leaning forward. Clutching the weapon. Head down.”
I ward off a chill the image conjures. “There may not have
been enough momentum.”
“Hell of way to go.”
“Why would an Amish man have speaker wire?”
I’m mostly thinking aloud. “He probably doesn’t
own a stereo or TV. He didn’t even use a milking machine or
generator for his dairy operation.”
“Hard to figure.” Glock shrugs. “Maybe he got
it on sale somewhere or someone gave it to him. Uses it because
“He has baling twine in the barn. Why not use
“What are you getting at, Chief?”
I’m not sure how to express the thoughts running through
my head without sounding prejudiced. But experience has taught me
to listen to my instincts. Right now that little voice in my head
is telling me this scene may not be what it looks like.
“I can’t see an Amish man doing this,” I say
after a moment.
“The Amish are human, too,” he says. “They
have tempers. Limits. They snap.”
He’s right. It’s rare, but the Amish have killed
before. In 1993, Edward Gingerich murdered and then eviscerated his
young wife. It’s one of only a few documented cases on
“This doesn’t add up,” I say. “The level
of violence. The handgun. The torture of the daughters. The speaker
“Hard to swallow when it’s the parent killing his
Glock is one of the best cops I’ve ever known. He has
loads of common sense, good instincts, and enough experience under
his belt to know appearances can be deceiving. He’s tough and
loyal, sometimes to a fault.
Last January, when we were investigating the Slaughter house
Killer case, he risked his job to support me after I was fired by
the town council. Above and beyond the obvious, one of the things I
admire most about him is that he will give his honest opinion ---
even when he knows it’s not what I want to hear.
“Are you telling me you think someone else came in here,
shot them, and then made it look as if the father did it?” he
“Sounds like a crazy theory when you put it that
Glock looks down at the body, but I feel the weight of his
attention on me. “When I was a stationed in North Carolina,
this crazy fucker cut up his kids and put them in a Crock-Pot with
sweet potatoes. Later, when the shrink asked the guy why he did it,
he told him he loved them too much to let them live.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
He shrugs. “That’s my point. You can’t make
sense of something that doesn’t, no matter how hard you
I know he’s right. Crimes like this baffle the mind. They
break your heart. They’ll tear you up inside if you let them.
One of the old timers I worked with as a rookie once told me
it’s the cops who spend too much time trying to figure it out
who end up going the way of Amos Plank.
“You don’t want to get inside a mind like
that,” Glock says. “Talk about a scary fuckin’
The slamming of the kitchen door garners my attention. I look
over to see the coroner, Dr. Ludwig Coblentz, standing in the
kitchen, holding a suitcase-size medical bag. Wearing a
cream-colored windbreaker over a flannel pajama top and tan
Dockers, he looks like a cross between the Michelin Man and the
Pillsbury Doughboy. But what he lacks in physical presence, he
makes up for by being damn good at what he does. He’s one of
five doctors in Painters Mill and has been acting coroner for
nearly eight years.
“Tell me this isn’t as bad as what it sounded over
the phone,” he says.
“It’s probably worse.” I meet him in the
kitchen and we shake hands.
“Thanks for getting here so quickly.”
He sets his medical case on the kitchen table. “How
“Seven. The whole family.”
“Good God.” With the quick hands of a man who is as
comfortable with his tools as he is in his own skin, he opens the
leather case, works both hands into latex gloves, then slips a
plastic, apron- like gown over his jacket and ties it in the back.
Bending, he slides his Hush Puppy–clad feet into disposable
shoe covers, pulls a small black vinyl case from the medical bag
and looks at me over the tops of his glasses. “Show me the
“We’ve got three in here. Two in the yard. Two more
in the barn.” Motioning for the doc to follow, I enter the
living room. He heaves a sigh that sounds as old and tired as I
feel. “I’ve been coroner for a while now, but I swear
to God I’ll never get used to seeing dead kids.”
“The day you get used to that is the day you stop being
human,” I respond.
“Or find another line of work,” Glock adds.
The doctor goes to the nearest victim, the teenaged boy, and
kneels, setting the case on the floor next to him. “Some
additional light would be helpful.” The work lights we set up
earlier dispel much of the darkness, but they’re not bright
enough for the kind of work the doctor needs to do. Crossing to
him, I shine my Maglite onto the victim. The doc glances up at me,
his eyes huge and troubled behind the thick lenses of his
“Have you photographed the bodies?”
“We’ve got everything documented,” Glock says.
“You can move them if you need to.”
Gently, the doc sets his hands on the boy’s head and
shifts it slightly. From where I stand, I see blood-matted blond
hair. The doc’s gloved fingers separate the hair revealing a
neat, round hole the size of a pencil eraser a few inches above his
nape. “This is the entry wound. This child was shot from
“Any idea what caliber of bullet was used?” I
“I can guess.” He prods the scalp surrounding the
hole. I see the pale flesh giving way beneath his fingers. Blood
seeping from the hole, sucking back in when the pressure is
released. “Judging from the size of the wound and the extent
of skull fracturing, I’d say we’re talking about a
small caliber handgun.
“Can you be more specific than that, Doc?”
“Twenty-two caliber. Maybe a thirty-two.”
“Nine millimeter?” I ask.
“Maybe. I can’t say for certain yet.” With the
same gentleness with which he would handle a newborn baby, he turns
the boy’s head. Pink fl uid leaks from the boy’s left
nostril. “Exit wound might help narrow it down.”
My pulse kicks when I spot the hole in the wood floor. I look at
“Get down in the basement, see if the slug went all the
way through. I’ll keep my beam on the hole. If the bullet
went clean through, you’ll be able to see the
“You got it.”
I look down to see the doc once again turn the victim’s
head. The left side of the boy’s face is purple with
lividity. The doc presses two fi ngers into his cheek. “Livor
mortis isn’t fixed.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means he’s been expired at least two hours,
but not longer than ten. Livor becomes fixed after ten
hours.” Once again he presses two fingers into the purple fl
esh of his cheek. “When I press here, the skin whitens, then
refills. If he had been dead over ten hours, the livored area would
“Can you narrow it down any more than that?”
“Body temp will tell us a lot.” Turning, the doc
digs into his tool bag and removes a pair of blunt-tipped shears.
With the impersonal efficiency of the professional he is, he cuts
away the boy’s trousers and underwear. Seeing the boy’s
skinny, white body is unbearably sad. All I can think is that he
should be alive. He should be laughing, teasing his younger
brother, and annoying his older sisters.
I jolt at the sound of the doctor’s voice, and I realize
he’s handing me the clothes, waiting for me to bag them.
Giving myself a mental shake, I go to my crime scene kit in the
kitchen, dig out a large paper bag, snap it open. Back in the
living room, I cross to the doc and hold open the bag while he
drops the trousers inside. I jot the date, time and the name of the
victim on the label.
“The body temperature drops between a degree and a degree
and a half per hour.” The doctor slides a specially designed
high- tech thermometer into the boy’s rectum. “This
preliminary body temp will give you a ballpark idea of when he
died. Once I get them to the morgue, I’ll get a core reading
from the liver, which is more accurate.”
“Is it possible he lingered for a while after he was
“This child died instantly.”
The timer on the thermometer beeps. He withdraws it and squints
through his bifocals at the reading. “Ninety point
Quickly, I do the math. “That puts us between five and a
half and eight hours ago.”
I glance at my watch. “It’s six-thirty a.m. now, so
time of death was probably between ten last night and twelve-thirty
“That sounds about right.”
“Can I borrow your scissors a sec?” I ask.
“Of course.” He passes them to me.
I reach for the boy’s wrist, cut through the speaker wire,
and drop the wire into a second evidence bag. “Quite a bit of
bruising at the wrist,” I comment.
The doctor grimaces. “This poor boy struggled.”
“I need to bag his hands so the CSU can check beneath his
nails for DNA.” When I glance down at the victim’s
hands, I see that the fingers are claw- like and rigid.
“He’s in rigor?” I ask.
“Not yet. Rigor usually starts with the face, the jaw, the
“But his hands…”
“Cadaveric spasm more than likely. That happens when the
victim experiences extreme agitation or tension in the moments
I don’t want to think about the horrors this boy endured
before his death. I’ve been a victim of violent crime;
I’ve seen my share of violence. But I cannot imagine the
terror and helplessness of being bound, watching every member of
your family systematically shot and knowing you’re next. The
doc moves to Amos Plank. I know it’s an emotional response,
but I feel inordinately repulsed by the elder Plank’s body.
Not because of the condition of his corpse, but because of what he
may have done to his family. There’s a part of me that feels
as if the man doesn’t deserve the reverence with which we
handled the dead boy.
“Did you move him, Kate?”
“Is he your shooter?”
“I don’t know. Looks that way.”
“Since we’ve some question as to whether or not this
man is the perpetrator of these crimes and time is of the essence,
I’ll go ahead and get a core temp for you now. It’s
much more accurate this way and you’ll be able to get to work
on a time line.” The doctor tugs up the man’s shirt and
exposes his abdomen.
Though entering middle age, Amos Plank is a lean man. I can see
the outline of his ribs from where I stand. Minimal body hair.
White skin that has seen little sun.
“You might want to note that there are no visible
lacerations or bruises about the abdomen.”
“I’m going to make a small incision.” The doc
places his hand fl at against the abdomen, pulls the skin taut.
Using a scalpel, he quickly makes the incision just below the
lowest rib, about half an inch long. A line of blood appears as the
skin opens, but the wound does not bleed. Next, he inserts the stem
of a long digital meat thermometer, guiding it upward to just under
the rib cage.
“Going to take a minute or so,” he says.
“I’ll continue with the exam.”
Setting his hands on the head of the corpse, he gently moves it
from side to side. “Rigor has set in about the face and neck.
Eyes are cloudy.”
“Any idea when you might get to the autopsies?”
I’m thinking about the two girls in the barn. I want to know
how they died. If they were sexually assaulted.
“I’ll juggle some appointments and begin
I’m watching the doctor examine the dead man’s hands
when a shadow on the corpse’s wrist snags my attention.
Grabbing my Maglite, I train the beam on the wrist. I almost
can’t believe my eyes. Just above the hand, a faint bruise
encircles the wrist.
“Is that a bruise on his wrist?” I ask.
Doc Coblentz looks at me over the tops of his glasses, then his
eyes follow the beam of my flashlight. His brows knit as he stares
at the marks. “It certainly looks like it.” Before even
realizing I’m going to move, I reach for the corpse’s
arm. I feel cold flesh through the thin latex of my glove. The
stiffness of the joint associated with the early stages of rigor.
In the stark light from my Maglite, I see clearly the circular
pattern of the bruise.
“It’s the same bruising pattern we found on the
boy’s wrists,” I say.
Something pings in my head, like a piece of puzzle I
couldn’t make fit finally clicking into place. Realization
trickles over me like ice water. Everything I thought I knew about
this scene flies out the window. “He was bound,” I
The doctor is already looking at the other wrist. From where I
kneel, I can see the bruising there, too. The doc shoots me a grim
look. “I don’t believe we’re dealing wit