Monday, October 28, 2013

Excerpt: Blood, Smoke and Ashes by Bradley Convissar @bconvisdmd

* * * * *

Laura looked through the window as Shaw and another FBI agent talked to the girl, identified as twenty-eight-year-old Morgan Wright, in her hospital room.  She still couldn’t believe that this woman, this wisp of a thing, was the one who had gripped the town of Miami in panic for the past two weeks.  That this girl could be a Jane the Ripper copycat.

Like most people in Miami, Laura had not known about the Jane the Ripper murders until the first local body turned up pants-less two weeks ago, the word PIG carved into his stomach (the medical examiner had told her the carving was done ante-mortem).  But that one murder had brought the Feds scurrying into town, and with them came the story of Molly Blackburn.

It was a simple yet chilling tale.  In 1955, a young wife named Molly Blackburn had gone crazy, killing her husband and ten other men during a month-long murder spree in Las Vegas.  She would pose as a prostitute and seduce men, then kill them while they were vulnerable.  She was apprehended by her potential twelfth victim and executed six months later.  A year after that a copycat killer went on a similar spree in Carson City, Nevada; the first body turned up on the one year anniversary of Molly’s execution.  She killed eleven men altogether, just like Molly, before disappearing.  She was never identified or caught. 

Before Morgan Wright, Jane the Ripper copycats had appeared three other times since that initial copycat in Carson City.  Her calling card was very unique. Hard to miss. Impossible to misconstrue.  She killed eleven men, never any more than that.  She apparently posed as a prostitute near bars and seduced drunk men into alleys for a little something-something, then dispatched them with a sharp knife, always carving a word or two into their chests or stomachs as they bled to death.  Los Angeles in ’67.  St. Louis in ’77.  Detroit in ‘96.  And now in Miami.  There was no rhyme or reason to the dates or the locations or the time periods between murder sprees.  There was no pattern to be found.  Nothing.  For all they knew, the copycat in ’77 could have been the same from ’67 and ’56.  Or they could all have been different.  Unfortunately, as Shaw had said earlier, they would probably never know how many different murderers there had been.  And just because they had caught this one did not mean that someone wouldn’t try again in the future.  Urban myth was a powerful motivator, and if some crazed woman with an axe to grind against men wanted to see this ghastly tradition continue, they would go for it.  Insanity knew no boundaries.

But for now, the FBI and Miami PD would bask in the glory and the accolades that were sure to come.  They had, along with the help of some guy who desperately wanted to be a hero, saved the lives of seven men. 

Shaw’s interview with the girl finally ended, and he and his partner left the small room where the girl was cuffed to her bed.  Laura noted the concerned look on his face.

“So how did it go?” she asked as Shaw’s partner disappeared down the hallway.

“She says she doesn’t remember a thing,” Shaw said, hands tucked neatly in his pockets. “She says that the last thing she remembers was having sex with a guy she met a couple of hours earlier, our first victim, a Mr. Calvin Barclay, and then nothing until waking up in the hospital a couple of hours ago.”


“She thought it was still September.”

Laura put on her I don’t buy this bullshit face and stared Shaw down.  “Do you believe her?”

“I’ve been doing this a long time, Detective,” Shaw said slowly, as if carefully considering his words. “Over thirty years.  And I’m pretty good at reading people.  Not exactly a human lie detector like DiNero in Meet the Parents, but my gut and my instincts and my eyes are usually not wrong when it comes to judging people.”


“And I believe her.”

“You believe her?”

“I believe her.”



“Multiple personality disorder?” Laura asked.

“It’s actually called Dissociate Identity Disorder these days.  DID. More politically correct, I guess.  Real cases are very, very rare.  I’ll leave the diagnosing to someone smarter than me, though.  Someone who wears a white coat and has an M.D. after his or her name.  I just catch them.”  He began to pace a bit up and down the small hallway, as if he needed his legs to move at the same pace as his churning mind.  “DID is possible.  Maybe she was abused as a child and fractured off a small sub-personality that hates men. Maybe Calvin Barclay was a little rough with her, not necessarily violent, but it caused this sub personality to awake.  Maybe he did beat her but she won’t admit it, and he finally went too far and the new personality broke through. I don’t know much, but what I do think is that she wasn’t the woman responsible for the killing spree back in ‘96.  She’s only twenty-eight.  She would have been fifteen back then.”

“What do we know about her movements the past couple of weeks?  Did she go to work?  Or had she disappeared?”

“The owner of the diner where she works—she’s a waitress—told me that she called in two weeks ago, said she needed to take some time off to take care of her dying mother in Minnesota.  And that was that.”

“Maybe she was possessed,” Laura suggested with a sly grin on her face.

Shaw did not return the smile, his features remaining hard.

“You’re not serious,” Laura said, suddenly frowning.  She looked the FBI man up and down and decided that he didn’t look crazy.  But then again, the girl in the hospital bed didn’t look like a stone cold killer, either.

Shaw looked decidedly uncomfortable.  He smoothed out his suit and squirmed a bit, as if trying to determine what to say.  “Look, Detective, I’ve been working this case for over thirty years now.  I was there in St. Louis in ‘77, Detroit in ‘96, and now here.  If it were possible for all three to be the same person, I wouldn’t even think of going off the intellectual deep end.  But it is impossible that Morgan here was the killer in ‘77.  Impossible.  She wasn’t even born then.  And we identified the killer in ‘96, Sylvia Barnes.  Her husband was the fourth body found, the first killed.  She would have been ten in ‘77.  We’re looking at least three different women.  But all of the cases… Look, I’ve worked copycat cases before.  A half a dozen at least.  And in all of the cases, there were subtle differences between the original murders and the copycat murders. Not huge differences, but enough to know that the later murders were not by the original murderer.  But in this case… I saw the words carved into the men’s torsos.  I’ve compared the… well, the handwriting in all three cities.  It’s identical.  The shape and size of the letters, it’s exactly the same.  I noticed this in Detroit but thought it was just coincidence.  But when I saw the first victims here, I knew.  I just knew.  Three cities, three murder sprees separated by decades, three identical carving patterns.  It just can’t be coincidence.” 

He sighed, stopped his pacing for a moment, and looked at Laura.  “I thought I was going a little crazy, seeing connections that weren’t there.  We live in a rational world where everything can be explained by rational explanations.  I thought I would talk to Morgan here and see the crazy.  Maybe I would discover that the other copycats were all family members and it was a genetic thing and she would admit to the murders and everything would be wrapped up in a nice little bow.  But when Morgan here tells me with such conviction that she doesn’t remember anything of the past two weeks…  It really makes me wonder.”

Laura stood there stunned, not knowing what to say.  FBI men simply weren’t supposed to think along these paths.  True, Shaw made a compelling argument—if this were a movie where anything was possible—but this was the real world.  There were no such things as ghosts or demons or scaly things that went bump in the night.  The idea that these murders were the work of something possessing women… it just seemed inane.

She was faster and stronger than she should have been for such a small thing.

The words that James Wilson had said to her last night suddenly came rushing back.

But they didn’t prove anything, did they?  James may have been drunker than he let on.  Or high on something.

“You really believe it’s possible?”  Laura asked.

He spread his hands in front of him, the universal symbol of I don’t have a fucking idea.

“Do you know anything about Molly Blackburn, Detective Goodspeed?” he asked.

“Just the official record.  Killed her husband, then a bunch of men, then was executed, end of story.”

Shaw smiled.  “That’s about right, but you know what they say: the devil is in the details.  Join me for breakfast and I’ll tell you the sordid tale.  And then maybe you’ll begin to understand.”

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Genre – Thriller / Horror

Rating – PG13 bordering on R

(Horror with some violence / Some sex, not overly graphic)

More details about the author & the book

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