Chapter 16: The Letter
It was about a month after Christie and I began sleeping together that Diane's death was brought back to the surface again. I had been on the road for the full week and when I arrived home late Friday afternoon, I was greeted in the usual loving manner by my new companion.
"Welcome home, my man," she said, embracing me and kissing me with a now familiar passion. "Your woman has been doing without your loving for too long. You'll get the formal welcome a little later."
"I've been thinking about that for the last few hours," I admitted. "Anything exciting happen while I've been gone?"
"Nope. Just the usual. There's a letter for you, but it doesn't have a return address on the envelope."
"I'll have a look at it after I get changed and have a shower. Want to join me," I leered.
She laughed. "Normally, yes, but I'm in the middle of making dinner. I'll take a rain check."
"Oh, a pun no less," I grinned, slapping her playfully on the butt.
I made haste for the bedroom, stopping to say hello to Sandy, giving her a kiss as I did. Bill and Debbie weren't home yet. I assumed they had some after-school activities. Fifteen minutes later I was clean and dressing in my usual around-the-house clothes; jeans, a sweatshirt, and moccasin slippers.
I found the usual pile of mail that Christie set aside on the dining room table and sorted through it. Three-quarters junk mail and one quarter bills. The only exception was a plain manila 5 X 8 envelope with my name and address, but no return address. I stuck my finger in it and ripped it open. A single piece of paper and what turned out to be a memory card were inside.
I opened the folded page to a typed message.
What you see is the truth. The camera doesn't lie. Too bad Diane couldn't accept that.
I stared at the page, reading it over and over before passing it to Christie.
"Oh, my God, Doug. What's this about?"
"I don't know. I guess we'll have to look and see," I said, heading for the drawer where we kept our little digital camera.
"Download it onto the computer," Christie said. The pictures will be bigger and clearer."
I passed the card to her. She was the computer whiz.
"We're lucky," she said after examining the little device. "It's the same type as our camera uses."
She removed the card from our camera and inserted the mystery one. She attached the cable to the computer and the camera and with a couple of jigs of the mouse, began to download the pictures. There were six of them. The rest of the card was blank.
The first picture showed Diane sitting in a chair in what appeared to be a hotel or motel room. There were papers spread out on a table in front of her but it was impossible to see what they were. The look on her face seemed to be one of surprise, as if she wasn't expecting someone to take her picture. The flash of the camera illuminated the area around her and I was pretty sure it was not someone's apartment or home.
The second picture was totally different. The look on her face was one of concern or fear. Her hands were in front of her body, palms facing outward, looking like a defensive posture.
The third picture showed her taking off her blouse and her face was clearly showing fear.
The fourth picture had her in only her bra and panties, again with her hands raised as if to ward off an attack. The look on her face continued to be fearful.
The fifth picture was more shocking again, with Diane now naked and sitting on the edge of the bed, her arms gripping the sides of the double bed, her head looking down. You could not see her face.
I was afraid to bring up the sixth and final picture. I couldn't imagine what indignity the person taking these pictures might have forced upon her. I could feel Christie's hands tightly locked onto my shoulders as I had scrolled through the photos. I don't think either of us was breathing at the time. I summoned all my courage and clicked on the last picture.
Diane was on the floor now, huddled in a ball in the corner of the room, trying to defend herself from something or someone. I could see marks on her and I was sure she had been beaten at some point. I knew it would get worse and I was relieved that it was no more graphic than this because this was still more than I could take.
I closed my eyes and brought my hands up to my head and the tears came. Christie had moved to take the mouse and close the file. Neither of us wanted to see more. She wrapped her arms around me and held me close. Some minutes passed before it began to sink in that the person who had sent this was Diane's murderer.
I recovered enough to call the Police station and ask for Etchevarry. He wasn't in and I left a message for him to call me. I had something for him.
"Mr. Hansen, it's Carl Etchevarry calling. You left a message on Friday?"
"Yes. I received an envelope with a typed note and a memory card from a camera. I thought you'd want to see it. The card contains six pictures of my late wife in the process of being murdered."
"Are you serious?"
"Very. I can bring them down to you. I'm sorry, but both Mrs. Wilson and I have handled the evidence, so I doubt you'll get a fingerprint off anything."
"Don't bother coming here. If you're going to be home, I'll stop by and pick them up. When did these arrive?"
"Apparently they were in our mail on Wednesday of last week. I was away all week, but Mrs. Wilson was bringing in the mail daily."
"Okay, I'll be right over."
I had returned the card and the brief letter to the envelope and set them aside where no one would see or disturb them. Etchevarry arrived with a familiar face within the half-hour.
"You remember Detective Litchfield, my partner?" Etchevarry said to help me with his name.
I nodded and invited them in, introducing Christie to them once more.
"Nice to see you again, Ms. Wilson," Etchevarry said cordially.
I retrieved the envelope and handed it to him. He opened it cautiously, examining the contents and the outside. He extracted the printed sheet, reading it, shaking his head. Next came the memory card.
"I've got the computer set up to show you what's on the card," I explained.
He passed it to me and I relayed it to Christie who looked after bringing the pictures up on the computer screen. I handed the mouse to Etchevarry and stepped back so that both he and Litchfield could have a good look.
Like Christie and I, they went through the pictures wordlessly the first time, before going back and slowly going through them again. I could hear them make comments now and then, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.
The must have gone through the file four or five times before they stepped back from the computer screen.
"Well, there's no doubt it's the murder scene," Etchevarry said. "It's the motel room where they found her. When your wife was found, she was curled up like that and in the corner just as she looks in the last picture."
"I wish I'd known what was in that envelope, Detective. I would have used gloves to handle it and maybe you could have gotten some fingerprints off it or the other items."
He nodded. "Not your fault, Mr. Hansen. You had no way of knowing what was in the envelope. Anyway, we're going to take all this with us to our forensic lab. We may get lucky and be able to lift some DNA off the glue strip. This might be our first break in the case."
"Why now?" I asked. "It's been almost a year since the murder. Why now?"
He shook his head. "Don't know. Maybe he's trying to taunt us. Maybe he wants to see more about this case on the news. If he does, he's going to be disappointed. We're going to keep this to ourselves and I'm asking you to do the same thing. You never know. He might get frustrated and try taunting us again if he thinks he can get away with it."
"Yeah ... I understand. We won't say anything to anyone," I promised, looking over to Christie. I could see her nodding agreement as well.
"Sometimes these guys can't resist being the smart ass," Litchfield said. "They just have to let us know they are so much smarter than us. That's when we have to hope they get too cocky and make a mistake."
"Do you think I'll hear from him again?"
"Could be, if he thinks he's being ignored. When you go to the mailbox, use a pair of gloves just in case he sends another letter. Any evidence at all will be a help."
"Sure, no problem," I said, turning to Christie. Once again she was in agreement.
The detectives left after thanking us for contacting them and promised they would give us any information that they could retrieve from the envelope and its contents. I doubted that, but said nothing. I was hoping that they might be right and that the killer would send another letter. Or better yet, they'd get some DNA off one or more of the three pieces.
I didn't forget about the letter or the pictures. I had saved them on our computer and stuck them in a file where no one but Christie or me would look for them. I had scanned the brief typed letter and put it in the same file. The more I looked at it, the more I wondered what exactly the message was about. Why couldn't Diane accept the truth? What truth ... or the truth about what? I hated cryptic messages and this one fell into that category.
It also stirred up bad memories and I didn't need that. I thought it might interfere with my growing relationship with Christie. An old ghost that wouldn't go away.
I heard nothing back from the detectives and assumed they had learned nothing from the photographs. So it was quite a surprise a couple of months later when I got a call from Detective Etchevarry.
"Mr. Hansen, were you aware that your late wife had a brother. A step-brother, actually."
"Uhhm ... yeah ... I guess I was. I've never met him though and I don't know anything about him. I can't even remember his name."
"His name is Toby Gottman. He's a service technician for a machinery company based in Cincinnati. He was in Minneapolis until about four years ago when he transferred to the new territory. He travels in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri."
"Oh ... okay ... so ... how does he fit into the picture."