After speaking with Mandy’s husband, Madison and Hal stopped at the Coroner’s office. Dr. Schultes had called and left a message that she was starting the autopsy on Andie’s body. The coroner’s office was a large brick building at 12th and Walnut in Grand Junction. Surrounded by trees just beginning to show their spring leaves, the red brick of the building shining in the sun might have been inviting if you didn’t know what lay behind the doors. As a former Marine, Hal had seen death. As a homicide detective in Denver, Madison had attended many autopsies. But she had never seen the autopsy for someone she knew.
Neither she nor Hal spoke as they headed down a long hallway with glossy white floors. They entered the autopsy room. The room was a pale gray with metal sinks along one wall and a wall of metal coolers along the other. The floor was white tile. Andie’s body was on a metal table. Dr. Schultes was examining the marks on Andie’s neck. She turned when Hal and Madison came into the room.
“I didn’t know if you would make it, Sheriff.” Dr. Schultes said, nodding to Hal.
“We were already in Grand Junction when you called. Have you found anything yet?”
“Yes. I have. Your victim scratched her attacker. I found blood and skin cells under her finger nails. I’ll send the samples for DNA analysis.”
Madison couldn’t believe it. If the perp were in the Codis database, they could identify him and get him off the streets. She wondered if Mandy had also been able to scratch him.
Andie began talking into a recorder. Hal and Madison remained silent as she worked. She began with a Y-incision on Andie’s chest and abdomen. After examining her internal organs and weighing them, she moved to Andie’s neck.
“The hyoid bone is fractured. This indicates strangulation. The preliminary cause of death is homicide.”
Dr. Schultes stopped the recorder and turned to Madison and Hal.
“I will be a while longer, but this is looking like a homicide.”
Madison asked, “Can you tell anything about the perpetrator?”
“Judging by the marks on her throat, I would say he used his hands, like so.”
Dr. Schultes held her hand up with her thumbs toward her and her fingers away.
“His thumbs would have been pressing against her larynx and her hyoid bone. His fingers were wrapped around her throat. There is bruising at her throat and at the base of her skull. Whoever did this was very strong and his hands were large enough to wrap completely around her neck.”
Madison nodded. That confirmed what Guthrie had seen and fit with the evidence they had so far.
“How long will it take you to finish up?” Madison asked.
Dr. Schultes, “I’ll have my formal report finished by tomorrow. The lab reports will take several weeks.”
“What about the other body?”
As Dr. Schultes turned and picked up a saw, she replied, “I’ll start work on that right after I finish this one.”
Madison and Hal left the room as the saw began to buzz. Dr. Schultes was beginning to remove Andie’s brain, but Madison and Hal had what they needed.
“We need to get everyone looking for that silver Honda,” Hal said. Madison nodded as she climbed into the SUV.
“We also need to go through the security footage. We must have the second attack on the camera,” Madison replied.
They were silent as they drove back to Fruita. Hal was driving so Madison let her mind wander as she watched the scenery. She couldn’t figure out why Mandy had been killed. What was the motive? Were the two murders connected. She pulled her little notebook out of her pocket and looked at the pages. As she looked at her scribbled notes, she realized there were two connections between the two murders. The boy and her. She was on her way to meet Andie when Andie was killed, and she had spoken to Mandy right before she was attacked. The other connection was the boy. She had found him at the first murder scene, and Mandy had interacted with him right before her attack. They would have to explore both connections.
Was Madison really the target? She had put away a lot of people when she worked in the Major Crimes unit in Denver. Could one of them be after her? It seemed far-fetched, but it was the only theory she could think of. The other connection was the boy, but she didn’t know what that connection could be. She was sure he hadn’t committed the first murder, and he was with her and Drake when Mandy was murdered. But he knew who had killed Andie, even though he refused to talk about it. Was someone after the boy, because he had seen him kill Andie? Maybe, the boy was looking for a place to stay during the night and walked down the alley. He may have seen the killer moving the body into the back room, or maybe he saw him coming out the back door. But what was the boy doing here? It was a small town and the boy was a stranger. Could a boy that young hike to Fruita from another town? He might be a runaway. She jotted that down in the notebook. They could check the database for missing children and see if he fit any of the descriptions. If they could find his parents, maybe he would be willing to finally talk to them.
Right now, she had more questions than answers. As she and Hal drove into the outskirts of town, she let Hal in on her thoughts.
Hal shook his head at her first theory.
“I don’t know, Madison. That seems pretty far-fetched. If one of your old perps turned up here, how would they know where you were going last night? And I don’t think they’re going to hand out in front of the Sheriff’s Department waiting to kill someone you talked to. They would just kill you.”
“Probably, Hal. Then there’s the boy.”
Hal nodded. “I think the most likely connection is the boy. Like you said, he witnessed a crime when he was in the alley or walking in front of the store, but I still don’t get why the person would kill Mandy. Just because she talked to the boy in front of the department? It still doesn’t make sense. If I’d committed a murder, I’d get out of town, especially a town as small as this one. People are going to be on the look-out for strangers and they’re going to notice him eventually.”
“That’s what I’m counting on, Hal.”