Tag Archives: Minnesota mystery

Return of the Missing Mosrite, Forty-five Years Later, by Christine Husom

img_0732 My husband Dan served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War years. He was stationed in Japan and sent to Da Nang as a ground crew member in Fleet Air Reconnaissance 1. He’d learned to play guitar, and wanted to buy a good electric guitar with the extra money he’d earned in Vietnam.

It was 1969, and Tommy, a great guitarist, suggested a Mosrite, an innovative guitar made popular by the Ventures in the 1960s. The two went guitar shopping in Japan and found a red metallic Mosrite.  Dan paid $300 for it, a pretty penny in those days. But it was a pleasure to play, and had an awesome sound.

In 1970, Dan’s time in the service was ending and Mark, a fellow serviceman, offered to ship the Mosrite, and some other things, back to the U.S. for Dan. Mark had a higher rank and was allowed to ship more poundage at no cost. Dan had known Mark for some time—even shared a house with him— and had no reason not to trust him.

Dan got back to Minnesota, but his treasures did not. Dan was unable to reach Mark. Mark lived in nearby Wisconsin, and about a year after Dan got home, Mark contacted him and told him he’d had the Mosrite in a band room and someone had taken it. Dan didn’t get a good explanation of why his guitar was in a “band room.”

After Dan and I married, the subject of the missing items: a Yamaha acoustic guitar, amps, a Pachinko game, and most notably, his Mosrite guitar, came up from time to time. Dan wasn’t sure where Mark was, and his last name was fairly common, so Dan basically gave up hope of ever getting his things back.

Then in the mid-90s, a package arrived at our house. Inside it was the Yamaha guitar and a photo of Mark and a young girl, presumably his daughter. They were standing by a car with Wisconsin license plates. No note of any kind, and no return address. I did some research and found Mark’s address, but Dan didn’t contact him. He did, however, enjoy playing his Yamaha with its beautiful tone.

Fast forward to December, 2015. I was getting ready to go to an event when the doorbell rang. It was the FedEx man with a package that looked like guitar case. It was wrapped in plastic and duct tape and required a signature. My first thought was one of my kids had a Christmas gift sent to our house, instead of their own. But when I saw it was addressed to Dan Husom with a return address in Wisconsin I said, “I don’t believe it.” Forty-five years later, it appeared Mark had finally returned the Mosrite to its rightful owner.

My daughter and four-year-old grandson were there, and we decided to hide the guitar until I got home later that evening so I could see the look on Dan’s face when he got the package. In the meantime, my grandson couldn’t resist giving Dan a clue, “Grandpa the FedEx man didn’t come today and he didn’t bring you anything.” And then he led Dan by the hand to the bedroom where we’d stashed it. For some reason Dan didn’t really look at it. He thought it belonged to one of the kids.

When I got home I brought the package out, and told Dan to look at who it was addressed to and where it was sent from. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know what to think.” It took him a few minutes to cut through the wrapping and open the guitar case. Inside was his shiny red Mosrite, just in time for Christmas. He carefully picked it up from the case, again shaking his head, “I just don’t know what to think.” He examined it and saw there was a little damage, but it was still in very good, to excellent, condition.

Dan got another surprise when he opened the storage compartment inside the case and discovered ten one hundred dollar bills inside. One thousand dollars! Forty-five years of guitar rental, repair reimbursement, or guilt money? A few days later, Dan received a short note from Mark apologizing for keeping it so long. He said he had kept procrastinating. Okay.

The whole thing has made me very curious. I look at the Mosrite, and wish I could squeeze some information out of it. If it could talk, it’d be fun to ask about the places it has been, and who all has played it the last forty-five years. Had it really disappeared from a “band room” and then later returned? Was it played by rockers in bands at a variety of venues? What led Mark to return it after all that time? I doubt we’ll ever get the full story. As I doubt Dan will ever see the rest of his items. But the good news is he got the two things he valued the most: his Yamaha and Mosrite guitars. You just never know.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery series.

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Murder in Winnebago County Prologue by Christine Husom

Although this book was published almost 8 years ago, it’s the first book in the series and will be new for those of you who haven’t read it.

Prologue

Alvie’s need to watch was unexpected and gripped her middle with an intensity that pushed the air right out of her lungs. A middle-aged woman guided Judge Nels Fenneman to a chair at the hospital admitting desk. Alvie forgot about leaving, forgot why she was there in the first place, and dropped onto a burgundy, faux-leather seat in the adjoining waiting room. She shifted so she had a clear view of the judge between the spiky fronds of a silk plant.

The booming voice the judge had used to command the courtroom was gone, replaced by hushed murmurs as he quietly answered the necessary questions. Alvie strained to hear, but his words didn’t travel the distance to her ears. Judge Fenneman’s wrinkled face was flushed, harsh under the fluorescent lighting, his color deepening to a purplish-crimson with each coughing spasm that interrupted most of his answers.

Alvie had spent much of the past ten years consumed with thoughts of the man. Fenneman was one of the people responsible for her son’s death. When Alvie wasn’t actively despising him, her hatred seethed just beneath the surface of her consciousness—a living, growing thing with fingers that gripped her throat in the dark of night and lit fires in her head and chest.

The cycle had been the same for years: obsess about what the judge and others had done to Nolan, push it away for a while, obsess, push away, obsess.

The woman with the judge looked vaguely familiar. Alvie studied her a moment and was hit with the realization she was a younger, prettier version of Fenneman. The woman must be his daughter. She had to be. Fenneman was not only still alive, but part of a family. Alvie had never thought of Judge Fenneman as a person before—not really. He was the monster who sat on his elevated bench and ruined people’s lives.

Her world had collapsed ten years before when her son died in prison, and no one cared. Had the judge even given it a second thought? She sincerely doubted it. So much for justice.

The judge’s daughter wrapped her arm around his shoulders and squeezed gently. Alvie felt ill. Her son would not be there to offer his comforting touch when she was old and sick. The one redemption, the thing that gave her purpose for going on, was the granddaughter Nolan had left for her. Rebecca was Alvie’s own little love.

A small brunette nurse approached the admitting desk and assisted the judge into a wheelchair, fussing over him and gently patting his shoulders. She cheerfully told him they would send him home in a few days, as good as new. Alvie grabbed a magazine and bent to hide her face as the trio headed toward her. When they passed, she rose and watched them turn into B-wing. Her granddaughter had a room on the same wing.

Alvie left the hospital quietly, as usual. The mere thought of making small talk and smiling at strangers made her squeamish. At five foot nine, size eighteen, she was a fairly large woman who favored brown or black clothing, even in the heat of summer. Her dull, steel-colored hair, lifeless eyes the same shade, and flat features—devoid of expression—rarely warranted a second look. Alvie moved through life mostly unnoticed. It was her choice and suited her just fine.

She needed a breath of fresh air to fill her depleted lungs, but had to make do with hot and muggy instead. Her clothes clung to her, heavy with perspiration, by the time she reached her car. Days like that, when humidity hung in the air like fog, Alvie longed for the crisp, dry cold of a Minnesota winter day. She cranked the air conditioning to full blast in her ten-year- old, blue Chevy Impala and headed down the curving drive to the main road. It was after nine o’clock—later than she had planned to stay.

Dusk was settling, and as the streetlight came on, Alvie’s gaze was drawn to its reflection spanning across the water of a pond. Funny, she had never even noticed the large drainage area before. Alvie immediately knew there was a reason she had seen the pond that night. She had visited her granddaughter once or twice a day for a week and had not spotted the pond, not once. Until now.

The five miles to her home south of town passed in a blur. Alvie locked herself in and let out a small yelp. She paced and paced, excitement mounting with each step. Ideas bounced to a staccato rhythm in her brain as her heart pounded out its own beat. She walked back and forth late into the night. Eventually, she won control of her thoughts and gathered them into a neat little plan that had logical meaning.

Perhaps the judge would not be going home after all.

Christine Husom is the author of The Winnebago County Mystery Series

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake–Fourth Installment

The Winnebago Sheriff’s Department has recovered an old Dodge Charger from the bottom of a lake. Meantime, the sheriff is nowhere to be found. This picks up when the last entry left off.

Chapter Three

Sergeant Doug Matsen, head of the newly expanded Winnebago County Crime Lab, was waiting with the overhead door of the evidence garage open. KT Towing’s flatbed truck was backed up close to the garage, ready to unload the Dodge Charger. Smoke joined the group right ahead of me, and we all squinted against the blinding rays of the late morning sun reflecting from the glass and metal on the vehicles. Even with my sunglasses cutting out most of the glare, my eyes still partially closed from the assault.

Sergeant Matsen was in his late thirties, seven or eight years older than me. He had been on the wild side in his earlier days with the department, pushing the limits of what he could legally do to solve crimes. Word was that it had kept Sheriff Twardy on edge wondering if Matsen might cross the wrong line at some point. But Matsen had the determination and dedication that made him an astute road deputy. And when he put in for the crime lab’s supervisory position, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the one best suited for the job.

“Back far enough into the garage to unload this precious cargo,” Smoke said.

Kyle got back in the driver’s seat and did just that. “Say when,” he yelled out his open window.

Smoke, Matsen, Ted, and I went into the garage to monitor the process.

“That’s good,” Smoke called out, and the truck came to an immediate stop.

Ted walked around to the back of the truck. “Okay Kyle, lift the front of the bed up and I’ll get the ramps in place.”

When the bed of the truck rose to about a thirty degree angle, Kyle lowered the ramps then climbed back up. He grabbed the truck bed wall for better balance as he walked uphill to operate the winch. Kyle shut off the truck’s engine and got out to watch the action. As the strap loosened, the car made its slow descent to the garage floor.

“If this don’t beat all,” Matsen said as he snapped on latex gloves and stared into the Dodge Charger that had been safely delivered to him. “When you get out of bed in the morning, you never know what the day is going to bring you.”

“That’s a given,” Smoke said.

It most certainly was.

Smoke honed in on Kyle and Ted who looked like they were settling in, prepared to stay for the duration of the investigation. “Thanks, guys. We need to get to work, and I’m sure you do, too,” Smoke said.

The towing team took the non-subtle hint and left with a wave and a nod.

Matsen frowned as we bent over and stared in the windows. “Two victims, from what I can see. Was it accidental drowning? Or something else?”

“That’s the puzzle we’ll have to put together. I know this car, and who it belonged to. I’d be willing to bet the owner’s one of the victims. And the other one was his girlfriend.”

Matsen straightened and studied Smoke like he was a specimen under one of his microscopes. “You’re serious?”

“This would not be a time when I’d be kidding.”

“No. No, I guess not. Who do you think they are?”

Tony Fryor and Wendy Everton. They disappeared thirty-three years ago. It seemed at the time that they fell off the face of the planet.”

“Thirty-three years ago? Damn, that is an old case. So how do you know so much about the car and the victims?”

“They were my classmates, and friends.”

“And my mom’s and dad’s, too,” I added.

“Whoa. Here at Oak Lea High School?” Doug said.

“Yup,” Smoke said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Matsen took a moment to have another look inside the Charger. “And they did a thorough investigation at the time?”

“Yeah, it sure seemed like it. I’ll go through the file again, but when the department hit enough dead ends, they called it.”

“What did they think happened to them, some kind of foul play?”

“No. They figured they ran off together. Maybe eloped.”

“Hmm, so it sounds like not everyone was in favor of their relationship.”

“That’s true enough. The way I remember it, Tony did not measure up to the high standards Wendy’s parents had set. Not exactly sure why. He was a star athlete, and seemed ambitious enough.

“And I don’t think Tony’s mother cared much for Wendy, given the fact that she’d had a number of boyfriends throughout high school. Everyone who knew them was questioned, back then. Including me, and Corky’s parents. I don’t know of anyone in our class who wasn’t. The classes were smaller then and most everyone knew everyone else. The detectives—and there were only two of them in the county in those days—were trying to find one person who had heard them say they were running away. And they never did. I guess now we know why.”

“Accident or suicide-homicide? That’s what we’ll try to figure out.”

Smoke drew his eyebrows together and sucked in a breath. “No, that’s what we will figure out. Now that we know where they ended up, we have a starting point anyway.”

“Smoke, are their parents still living?” I asked.

“Yeah, as far as I know. I looked through the file on them all those years ago, after I’d started here with the department. You know, I think about Tony and Wendy from time to time, kind of doing a little wishful thinking that they’d come back with a pack of kids and show everyone they were meant to be together after all.”

“A sad ending. But now their families will have closure,” I said.

He nodded.

“We know there won’t be any fingerprints. The water would have dissolved them within the first month.” Matsen said, enlightening me on that. “What time did you call the medical examiner?” he directed at Smoke.

“As soon as the divers said we had skeletal remains. She was tied up, finishing an autopsy. When she called me back, she said she’d meet us here.” Smoke looked at his watch. “Should be shortly.”

“Good. I’d rather wait for her. I’ll get some more shots of the car and the contents.”

The contents.

Smoke’s phone rang. He pulled it out of its holder, looked at the display, and pushed a button. “Cindy. What have you got for me? . . . Hmmph, his radio? And his car is gone from the parking garage? . . . . Okay, well thanks. And keep me posted.” He hung up and caught my eyes with his. A slight shake of his head told me there was still no word from the sheriff, but it sounded like he had driven off somewhere. “His portable radio is sitting on his desk.”

A growing sense of unease pickled my nerve endings. It was completely out of character for the sheriff to not answer his phone or at least let his staff know when he left in the middle of the day where he was going. And to leave his portable radio behind was unheard of. As the chief law enforcement office in the county, Sheriff Dennis Twardy was always on duty. Always. And there we were sitting with evidence of the very old, unsolved mysterious disappearance of a young couple and he was nowhere to be found.

“I’m gonna give Kenner a call, see if the sheriff stopped by to see him. And maybe has a dead cell phone,” Smoke said. Chief Deputy Mike Kenner was out on medical leave, following a surgical procedure.

“You’re looking for the sheriff?” Matsen said.

“Yeah. Nobody seems to know where he is.”

“I saw him in the break room getting a cup of coffee first thing this morning.”

But where did he go after that?

Smoke phoned Kenner, checked on how he was doing, and learned Kenner had not heard from the sheriff at all that day.

Sergeant Matsen spent the time getting photos of the car from every angle.

“I’ll try one last thing. The sheriff took his car, so he’s got that radio, if he’s still driving.” Smoke pulled out his radio. “Three-forty to Three-oh-one on two.” When there was no response, he repeated the call. Still no response. He shook his head and his shoulders lifted in a slight shrug.

As Smoke turned to me, Doctor Bridey Patrick from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office opened the inside entrance door and walked with purpose in her step toward us. She was short and squat, and had spiked gray hair. Patrick was wearing a white lab coat over a black top and pants. She gave Smoke a look of noted appreciation, and greeted us with a simple, “Morning,” then turned her full attention to the Dodge Charger and its “contents.”

Doctor Patrick shook her head back and forth. “This is my first experience with remains that have been submerged for decades in a vehicle. I have two assistants who are on their way with gurneys and body bags.” She grabbed a pair of gloves out of the lab coat pocket, pulled them on without a downward glance then made the sign of the cross on her head and chest with her right hand.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series

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Sneak Peek at The Secret in Whitetail Lake by Christine Husom

Sergeant Warner, Winnebago County Boat and Water Division is testing out his new sonar equipment on one of the county’s deeper lakes when he makes an unlikely find. He assembles his dive team, and Sergeant Corky Aleckson goes out to Whitetail Lake to see what Warner’s found.

“Ready, team? We have to be careful about not going too far down. If the bottom is stirred up, we’ll have zero visibility,” Mason said.

Mason and Carlson put on their goggles then the three of them affixed their masks in place. Their vests were equipped with regulars, and inflatable options. The oxygen tanks would supply them for well over an hour, even if they exerted, or got nervous and sucked in air faster than normal. Warner and I guided them over the side of the boat and they dropped in the water then drove into it.

We watched them on the sonar; my first experience doing that. My cell phone rang a minute later. I looked at the display and hit talk. “Hey Smoke.”

“Are they out in the water yet?”

“They are. I’m on the boat with Warner and we can see the three of them getting close to the sunken treasure. It looks like an old car. Maybe the same vintage as mine.”

“A car? And an older one to boot. Now I wish I had taken Warner up on his offer to ride along. I’ll be out there in a few minutes.”

I hung up and refocused on the three divers. They were making their way around the car, looking in the windows. Mason lifted his arm and Carlson started his ascent. When he surfaced, he gripped the side of the boat with one hand and lifted his breathing mask from his face. His face, reddened from the cold water camouflaged the freckles on his face. “It’s an old Dodge Charger and there are at least two sets of skeletons inside.”

“What?” Warner and I said together.

I leaned closer to Carlson and studied his face to see if he was kidding. The normal dancing twinkle was absent from his blue eyes and he looked like he’d seen a ghost or two all right.

“Damn,” Warner said and looked at me like I should know what to say.

“You call Sheriff Twardy; I’ll call Detective Dawes.”

“Damn,” he repeated and took another moment. “Carlson, we’ll need to figure out the steps to proceed with the recovery. In the meantime, get some shots from every which way you can down there.” Warner retrieved an underwater camera and waited while Carlson repositioned his mask then took it.

When Carlson dove back in, both Warner and I kept our eyes fixed on the unexplained find on the bottom of Whitetail Lake and the deputies who were investigating it.

Warner phoned the sheriff, but it went to voicemail. “Sheriff, we’re sitting on top of a possible crime scene on Whitetail Lake. There’s an older car on the bottom and it appears there are skeletal remains inside it.”

Per department policy, the sheriff was notified of any unnatural death, or suspicious death. Being submerged in a vehicle in a small lake fit both sets of criteria.

When Warner hung up, I said, “Are you going to call his cell phone?”

“I’ll wait a few minutes. When I talked to him earlier, he said he was going to be in his office all morning catching up on paperwork. A citizen could have stopped by to ask about something, or he’s in the biffy.”

I nodded and phoned Smoke. “I’m just about there,” he said.

“Good. I’ll see if Warner will troll over to pick you up on shore.” Warner nodded and gave me a thumb’s up signal. “He says ‘yes’.”
We hung up. “Our divers should figure out we’re making a run, and not abandoning them. And we’re only about a hundred yards,” Warner said.

“I know the sheriff mentioned purchasing those diving helmets with the communications capability built right in, depending on the cost.”

“That will be the next big purchase if we find a bunch of stuff with this new sonar system, and need to increase our dives.” He turned on the engine and shifted into low gear to safely clear the area, then sped up to reach the opposite shore. He eased against the landing area.

“Smoke’s here. Man, his day just got a lot more interesting. And not in a good way.”
“Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Smoke jogged to the boat. He was wearing a light tan jacket over his shirt and tie, black pants, and black shoes polished to a gleaming shine. Not the usual fishing attire. But this wasn’t a normal expedition. “What’s up?” he asked. I leaned over the boat and offered my hand to help him in. “You guys look like cats that swallowed some canaries.”

“It’s bigger than that,” I said and took a step back to give Smoke a place to stand.

He gave my hand a squeeze then released it. “Bigger, how?”

“The guys found skeletal remains in the vehicle.” Warner said as he back the boat away from shore.

“Get out of here.” He pointed at the steep hill that rose up from the lake on the south side. “How in the hell would it get there? It’s not like they were driving down a road at high speeds, lost control, and wound up in the lake. There’s no road to drive off.”

He was right, and neither Warner nor I had an answer. We reached the site, and Smoke planted himself in front of the sonar’s screen to watch the action. The three divers rose to the surface. Carlson swam to the boat and lifted the camera. Warner bent over and scooped it up. The other two tread water while Carlson climbed the rope ladder up to the boat then followed suit.

We were hovering over the burial grounds of two or more unknown people and the momentary hush in the air seemed to be our sign of respect for them. When Weber and Mason had boarded, the divers all pulled off their masks and shook their heads. Warner clicked on the pictures captured by Carlson, and Smoke and I crowded in behind him.

“They’ve been down there a long time,” Smoke said.

“And in all my years with the department, I can’t recall anyone last seen in an old 1960s era Dodge and disappearing,” Warner added.

The blood drained from Smoke’s face. “I can.” His voice was quiet and a little shaky. “Not since I’ve been with the department. Long before that. Back when I was in high school two friends of mine went missing. Tommy Fryor and Wendy Everton. His folks gave Tommy their old 1966 Dodge Charger to run around in.”

The air went out of my lungs when Smoke said their names. I reached over and touched his arm. “Wendy was one of my mom’s best friends.”

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. The Secret in Whitetail Lake is the Sixth in the seris.

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A Death in Lionel’s Woods Third Installment

The book launched on November 16th. In this installment, the sheriff’s department has begun an investigation to uncover the identity of a woman whose body was found by a man returning from a morning hunt, starting with the man who found her.

“Who was the guy that found her? The hunter?” I asked Smoke as we walked to our cars.

“Kevin Lionel. This woods and the surrounding property belongs to him.”

“Do you think we should talk to him first off, see how he’s doing?”

“Sounds like a plan, little lady.”

I followed Smoke’s Crown Victoria back out to the county road, and when he headed north. He turned left into a driveway about 100 yards down on the west side of the road. We pulled up close to the house, parked, and met at the front door. A chill ran through me as I pondered whether I even knew how to interview a witness after all those months behind a desk.

“Like riding a bike. Nothing to worry about,” Smoke said.

“You can read my mind now?”

“Prit’ near. You get a little crease close to your left eyebrow when you doubt yourself.”

“Really?” I’d have to make a conscious effort in the future to keep that little crease ironed flat so I didn’t give myself away to Smoke, or anyone else for that matter. At least when I was working.

He rang the doorbell. “Like falling into a soft pile of snow.”

“More like jumping out of an airplane.”

A lumberjack of a man opened the door. He had several inches on Smoke’s six feet, and was a foot or so taller than my five-five. He had a full dark beard which gave an impressive contrast to the blaze orange stocking cap and matching flannel shirt he was wearing. The man I presumed was Kevin Lionel looked from Smoke to me and shook his head. “Did you find out who she was?”

“No, we haven’t made an identification yet.” Smoke waved his hand into the open doorway. “This is Sergeant Aleckson. Mind if we come in for a few minutes?”

Lionel gave me a curt nod. “Hi. Forgot my manners. Sure thing, come in.” He moved out of the doorway, and we stepped in. Lionel shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t gotten around to taking a shower and changing yet. I hope the buck scent isn’t too strong and stinky. I can’t even smell it anymore.”

There was an unusual, sour odor clinging to him that I guessed was the doe urine many hunters used to cover their own personal scent. My hunter friends had informed me that deer have a keen sense of smell they use to both stay out of danger and to find other deer, mates in particular.

“Not to worry,” Smoke said.

“That’s all I’ve been doing is worrying. I’m tied up in knots trying to figure out who’d put that poor woman’s body in my woods. And why my woods?” Lionel reached up and scratched his head then pulled off his cap, revealing thick, curly, nearly black hair. He tossed the cap on the shelf in his open entry closet.

“That’s a good question. There’s no evidence that indicates someone else put her body there.”

Lionel shrugged. “Oh, I just figured that.”

“We’ve completed the preliminary investigation, but we’ll leave the perimeter marked in your woods, for now. We’re not posting a deputy at the scene to keep it secure, but it’s best not to advertise where the victim was found.”

“I got the ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted. Mostly so people don’t go hunting without permission. Hope that helps keep people from snooping around.”

Smoke nodded and paused before changing the subject. “No recollection of ever seeing her anywhere before today?”

Lionel shook his head. “No. No recollection at all.”

“You know all your neighbors?”

“Sure. At least to say hey and shoot the breeze awhile. I can’t say I’m close to any of them, but we’re friendly enough.”

“That’s more than most of us nowadays. Mister Lionel, now that you’ve had a little time to think about it, is there anything else that’s come to mind, or do you have any other questions?”

Lionel frowned. “I’m still sort of in shock, I guess. I can’t think of what to ask.”

Smoke nodded then pulled his business card and the plastic-enclosed photo from his breast pocket. He handed the card to Lionel. “Call anytime, if you need to.” Then he held the photo up for Lionel to see. “We found this with the victim. Does the family look familiar to you?”

Lionel reached over and carefully, almost reverently, took the baggie from Smoke. He studied the photo for a second, and a flicker of an expression that signified recognition crossed his face. His eyebrows raised slightly, his mouth pursed.

“You know them?” Smoke asked, leaning closer.

“Ah, . . . no.” He handed the photo back.

“You don’t sound too sure of yourself.”

“Um, well, the woman looks a little like someone I knew.”

“Someone you knew?”

“My wife.”

“Knew, as in the past tense?”

“She left about a year ago.”

“Where is she now?”

Lionel shrugged. “I have no idea. I came home one day and she was gone. Left me a note.”

“And she hasn’t filed for divorce?”

“We weren’t actually, um, legally married.”

Smoke nodded. “And you’ve had no communication with her at all?”

“Nope. I thought maybe she wasn’t real happy, but she never said she was unhappy. I guess you could say I wasn‘t exactly happy either.”

“Okay. But the woman in the photo is not your wife, even though she looks like her?”

“No, she is not my wife and I’ve never seen those kids before. I know that for a fact.”

 

Smoke and I drove down the road to the nearby county park and got out of our cars to chat.

A cooling breeze brushed across my face. “What a way to refer to his ex-wife. As someone he knew. Why wouldn’t he say who she was in the first place?”

“I caught that too. Sounded embarrassed about the whole thing, if you ask me. They weren’t married, he didn’t think she was happy, but she didn’t say she was unhappy. A little communication may have helped their relationship.”

“It may have. The look on Kevin’s face when he saw that photo certainly struck a chord with him,” I said.

“I’d say that’s a given. Could be it’s just what he said it was. The woman in the photo looked a little like his sort of wife, and it struck something in him all right. Brought back some memories, good, bad, or indifferent.”

“I think that if I saw a picture of someone that looked a little like my brother, for example, I’d have a different reaction. I know Lionel’s under stress, but still.”

“You’ve got a point. It could be he did recognize the woman in the photo and his mind is not ready to go there yet, in case it’s the same woman he found dead in his woods.”

“He seemed honestly upset about the woman’s body being in his woods, thinking somebody put her there.”

“He was that. I’ll run a background on Lionel, see if anything turns up. And we’ll keep him in the loop as much as we need to.”

Smoke went back to the office to take care of some business, and to make a copy of the photo to show people I talked to. I stayed in the park and started writing the report on my laptop. After working awhile, I thought I’d better call my work voicemail because I’d been out of the office since morning. No new messages, so I listened to the one I had saved. “You killed my friend.” Who are you, and who is your friend?

My heart pounded and a wave of nausea rolled through me, throwing me into a panic attack. I opened my car door in case I got sick. What is wrong with you? I chided myself. I need to believe in my heart of hearts that Grandma is right, that I will be okay again. Eventually.

I pulled out my memo pad with my case notes, and willed myself to concentrate on Jane Doe. I calmed down as I shifted my thoughts from myself to her. What—or was it a who—had brought her to Kevin Lionel’s woods where she died on a buried stash of money. My report could only include the facts of what, and not any suppositions of why.

When Smoke returned about thirty minutes later, he gave me a copy of the photo. We divided the houses within a one mile radius of where Ms. Doe’s body was found, and spent the next hour canvassing for answers. About half the people were home, and of those I questioned no one knew of anyone in the area who was missing. Nor did any of them recognize the woman and children in the photograph.

I finished my canvassing ahead of Smoke and returned to Jeremiah Madison County Park to wait for him so we could decide on the next course of action. He pulled in a minute before three o’clock and parked next to me, driver’s side door next to driver’s side door. We rolled down our windows and pulled our memo books from our front pockets.

“Find out anything?” I asked.

He drummed the steering wheel with his pen. “My stomach just let me know I skipped lunch, but that’s about it.”

I hadn’t even realized my own stomach was signaling for some attention of its own until he’d mentioned it. The emaciated body of Ms. Doe had undoubtedly quelled my appetite. “Yeah, that’s about it for me too.” I paged through my memo pad. “Not one of the neighbors I talked to knows of a woman who has gone missing, nor remembers seeing anything suspicious in the area in the last day or two—that includes people, vehicles, and activities. And nobody recognized any of the three in the photo.”

Smoke gave a nod and put his notebook back in his pocket. “Yup, that about sums up the responses I got, too. Of course, almost everyone was pretty damn curious about why I wanted to know. When I told them we were investigating a suspicious death in the area, they all got curiouser.” The long dimples in his cheeks deepened when he smiled.

“I can’t believe you’re actually quoting Weber.”

“Correction, I’m quoting a word Lewis Carroll coined.”

“Okay then.”

“Actually and coincidentally, there is another Lewis Carroll quote I think about sometimes. Mostly because it applies to so much of what we do: ‘One of the secrets of life is that all that is worth the doing is what we do for others.’”

“You know, Smoke, you amaze me sometimes, like when you pull one of those quotes out of your memory bank.”

“I’d like to say it’s because I have a steel trap mind, but we both know that’s not true.”

I smiled. “It is a good quote for a service-oriented job like ours, that’s for sure.”

Smoke’s eyebrows drew together. “Is it official? Are you back in the saddle again? Chief Deputy will have to know so he can revise the work schedule, and I surely could use your help, especially on this case.”

The thought of our Ms. Doe being ill and somehow ending up in Kevin Lionel’s woods, and then dying on top of a photo and some buried money tugged at my heartstrings. It ignited my compulsion to do my part to uncover the truth and help grease the wheels of justice. I realized I was nodding. “I want to work on this case. I need to find out what happened to our victim.”

“I’m glad to have you back. More than glad. I’m downright grateful.”

Christine Husom is the author the Winnebago County Mystery Series. A Death in Lionel’s Woods is the fifth in the series.

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by | November 20, 2013 · 5:00 pm