Vixen or victim? Troubled teen Cassandra “Cassie” Harris is caught up in the brutal Halloween murder of a thirteen-year-old girl she barely knows. Now years later, wealthy, and recently married to the handsome Greg Mathews, Cassandra hits the headlines again when her co-accused, the man convicted of the shocking Halloween murder, is released from prison. With media interest in the long-ago case still strong, Cassandra’s much guarded privacy is destroyed overnight and Eric Greco, the former police detective who was always convinced of Cassandra’s guilt, once again pursues her seeking the truth. Cassandra is forced into hiding with Greg, despite having discovered he is having an affair with a woman from the tennis club. Yet, Cassandra is not without secrets of her own. She is seeing a psychiatrist to help deal with her wounds from the past. As part of her treatment Cassandra undergoes hypnosis and becomes aware of new dangers lurking in the present. ‘After the Murder’ is a gripping, tightly-plotted noir-style psychological thriller in the style of ‘Gone Girl’ that will keep you guessing to the end.
Book Rating: PG
e x c e r p t
After the Murder
CLAUDE CROWECopyright © 2014 by Claude Crowe.
All rights reserved by the author. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Revised edition.
Print book ISBN-13: 978-1492142928
This is a work of fiction exploring the theme of death. Any relation to real events or people is unintended.
For Diane and David. Thanks also to Joy.
October 31, 1990
The laughing faces of three schoolgirls flashed by his window as Detective Eric Greco drove, siren wailing, through the intersection. He immediately searched for the girls in his rear vision mirror.
They were dressed in costumes for Halloween; black capes and pointed witches hats. The girls giggled madly as they flourished toy wands at the passing cars.
Of Greek heritage and a Christian upbringing, Eric Greco was not a big fan of Halloween but his kids loved dressing up as vampires and freaks and they certainly loved candy, so he had little say in the matter at home. But this Halloween, his kids would be in bed sleeping off their sugar rush long before he arrived home.
A thirteen-year-old girl had been murdered in Padbury, a coastal suburb approximately twenty kilometers north of Perth. Greco’s youngest daughter Sophia was just a year older than the dead girl, whose name was Jennifer Robson. Jennifer’s throat had been cut so badly, the first responding officers at the scene initially thought her head had been partially severed. Greco had spoken by phone to Jennifer’s form teacher at Mullaloo Senior High School. Jennifer, it seems, was an impressive young girl. Her teacher made the comment he could not think of someone less likely to be murdered. She loved animals and wanted to be a vet. She was captain of the first-year debating team and popular with her classmates. She had everything to live for.
Greco hated the loss of a child, an innocent, someone’s son or daughter wrongfully taken from them. He was driven by a desire to protect his family and community from the scum who commit such vile acts, those people who thought they were beyond the law.
The first officers on the scene responded to a telephone call made by a neighbor who had reported screaming and a domestic disturbance. They found Jennifer’s body in a bedroom and a naked forty-seven-year-old Caucasian male, sobbing and incoherent, in the shower. His name was Brad Garvin and he was the owner of the house where Jennifer’s body was found. Garvin was now in custody, undergoing medical checks.
Brad Garvin had no prior police record, aside from losing his driver’s license twice for speeding. A hot-head, mused Greco. He knew the type.
The crime scene at 14 Neesden Road, Padbury, was an unremarkable dull brown-brick suburban home, on a street full of such homes. The house was on a corner block. Its front yard contained a sizeable expanse of lawn shaded by a large gum tree and bordered by oleander shrubs.
Greco looked over at Steve.
“Am I getting older or does that police constable over there look to be about twelve years old?” He nodded towards the sweating young constable on traffic control, who waved them through. The kid’s face had broken out in a rash of angry pimples under his helmet.
“He’s young but let’s not forget, el Greco, my friend, you are also not the stallion you once were.” Steve spoke slyly, as Detective Greco, now in his early fifties, was often teased by his colleagues about his good looks and “wog” charm. Greco was a tall man, with thick dark hair and brown almond-shaped eyes that always looked slightly sad.
“Yeah, more’s the pity,” Greco commented.
As he got out of the car, Greco noticed groups of neighbors huddling in their doorways or lingering at their front gates, watching. He felt the cameras turn on them.
A satellite television news truck was parked up on the curb opposite. The front nose of the vehicle was buried deep within the dripping lilac blooms of a Jacaranda tree. A second news truck was parked behind it.
“I have this feeling this case is going to be big news,” Greco muttered.
“Halloween and all that,” Steve replied.
Steve went over to speak to the officers securing the site and Greco continued on to the front door of the house to view the corpse. He stopped at the porch to don the required plastic sterilized gloves and covers for his shoes. He noticed a set of cricket stumps set up on the lawn. The two outer bails leaned in toward each other, crossed like chopsticks. A third bail had fallen flat into the sand.
The front door was ajar and Greco could see lights and activity down the hallway. The corridor was gloomy, its walls largely bare apart from two framed photographs. Greco glanced with curiosity at the photographs. A studious-looking dark-haired young girl dressed in a school uniform stared somberly from the wall. She was aged around seven or eight years old and wore spectacles.
Was it a photo of Jennifer? But this was not where Jennifer lived. Nevertheless, Jennifer and the girl in these photographs were of a similar age. In another photograph, the girl stood on a beach, still wearing her glasses. In this photo the girl grinned from ear to ear. A smiling dark-haired man in his forties stood with his arm wrapped around the girl’s shoulders. He had an athletic build; a few years younger than Greco. Father and daughter, Greco thought, noting the man in the photograph fit the description for Brad Garvin. Yet Greco had not received any reports that Brad Garvin was a father. He was reported to be divorced and to live alone.
Greco stepped into the living room, which was flooded in bright light, and introduced himself to the forensic team who sat kneeling on the floor, scouring an area surrounding a coffee table. He saw an empty bottle of bourbon and half-empty plastic Coca-Cola bottle on its side, sweating under the hot lights. Three drinking glass tumblers were on the table, each containing the remnants of a dark cola-like substance. There were bowls of shiny-wrapped chocolates.
Greco noted that everything he saw was marked with a numbered tag. It was all evidence now. Best to let the forensic boys get on with it. He nodded to the constable standing watch outside the bedroom door.
“In here, is she?”
When the constable could only nod grimly in reply, unable to look him in the eye, Greco knew it was going to be bad.
As he entered the room, he was distracted by the flash of the police photographer’s camera. The stench of vomit assailed his nostrils and he saw delicate arcs of blood spatter on the walls.
The deceased, Jennifer Robson, lay semi-naked on the bed. Greco’s eyes filled with pity at the sight of her corpse: now lifeless, yet once something so very lovely, alive, and human. Dark pools of blood congealed around a deep wound on the left side of girl’s throat. Her long dark hair was matted in blood. Jennifer’s blouse had been wrenched open, exposing her budding young breasts, which were streaked in blood. The girl’s left leg twisted out awkwardly at the knee, her foot still partially clad in a pink and white heart-patterned sock. Jennifer’s large brown eyes stared, forever frozen in horror at what had been done to her.
Greco’s gut instinct was she was murdered on a crazed impulse. Why else gouge at her neck like that? Most likely the killer or killers were trying to stop her screaming. Neighbors had reported loud screams coming from the house.
He took a step closer to Jennifer’s body, and felt his throat tighten. Greco found it suddenly difficult to draw breath. He fumbled with the top buttons of his shirt and coughed to clear his airway but his throat seemed to constrict more tightly. He gasped for air – it felt like he was choking.
Greco abruptly turned on his heel and headed for the front door. He was conscious of the ever-hungry TV and press cameras outside and strode purposefully around to the side of the house away from the view of the cameras, stopping to gulp at the fresh air untainted by the horror of that room.
His breathing soon returned to normal. The suffocating sensation disappeared. Greco had never experienced a sensation like it when viewing a corpse. He supposed it was the connection in ages between the dead girl and his youngest daughter. Greco winced at the thought of what Jennifer’s parents must be going through. He was glad they would never witness the horror of what he had just seen.
Something firmed in Greco’s heart. He would see justice done for Jennifer. He would never allow himself to forget the parent’s pain, which they would have to endure every day for the rest of their lives, for the loss of their beautiful daughter.
Despite his years in the police force and the weary cynicism that had worn his spirit down, Detective Eric Greco still could not comprehend that he lived in a world where such brutal acts were perpetrated on innocents.
Steve joined him, noticing Greco’s subdued expression.
“Ugly, huh?” Steve asked.
“She was butchered.”
Steve grimaced. “The old lady next door heard raised voices and loud screams around three-thirty this afternoon,” he said.
“Was she was the one who called the police?”
“Did you talk to her?”
“No. But she told the uniform boys she heard a loud ‘blood-curdling’ scream and is certain it was the sound of someone dying.”
Having seen that fatal blow struck on Jennifer’s throat, Greco could well imagine how awful the girl’s dying scream might have sounded.
He was glad he never heard such a sound.
Court evidence: Diary of Cassie Harris, September, 1990
Sure, Brad Garvin is a lot older than me. He’s, like, nearly fifty and I’m only fifteen. He could be my father or my grandfather, if I had one.
But Brad is still good looking, or at least I think so. I met him when I was nine. Back then Luella used to force me to go to church with her and that’s where I met Brad – at the Padbury Pentecostal, believe it or not. I don’t remember there ever being a Mrs. Garvin. Mom said Mr. Garvin was divorced. I used to dream about him every night; of him holding me and kissing me. He had a daughter my age, Sylvie, who always greeted me at church with these big, dumb brown eyes. But I was desperate to be Sylvie’s friend so I could see more of Mr. Garvin. The problem was Sylvie lived most of the year with her mother in Melbourne and I did not see her often. I don’t think she liked me much anyway.
But a few weeks ago, I heard Sylvie Garvin was knocked down by a bus in Flinders Street, in Melbourne. She was standing at a busy pedestrian crossing and stuck her head out in front of the oncoming bus, which knocked her senseless, and she fell under the bus wheels, dying instantly. Her death was the talk of the school for weeks. Someone said Sylvie’s body had to be scraped off the road with a shovel because the bus had braked over her body. Yuk! That is so gross.
I don’t know why, but Sylvie’s death hits me like a thunderbolt. She was the same age me and now she is dead. It might have been ME!
Sylvie’s funeral was held in Melbourne, otherwise I might have gone.
A week or so ago, Mom made a comment in passing that Mr. Garvin had made a sudden reappearance at church. She tut-tutted how it was all “a bit late now”; implying that if Mr. Garvin had gone to church a bit more often, Sylvie might still be alive. I remembered my gigantic crush on Mr. Garvin and I thought now he has no daughter, like I have no father. I felt sorry for him. I felt so many emotions. It is so confusing.
I wanted to go and see him, offer my condolences. I had the best of intentions. So the next day I caught the bus to Padbury Shopping Centre and walked over to his house from there.
Mr. Garvin was in his front yard, with his brother, who also goes to church. They were playing a game of cricket on the front lawn. Mr. Garvin stood, tapping the ground with the willow, as brother Billy shuffled in and released a tennis ball slow and high through the air. The ball bounced near where Mr. Garvin stood. He stepped forward and deflected it away from the stumps.
Then Billy looked at his watch, raised his arm and tapped the watch. It was like a signal that he had to be somewhere. Mr. Garvin seemed to know about the appointment and nodded. Billy got into his car and reversed out the driveway.
I looked back to Mr. Garvin. I noticed his posture had suddenly crumpled. He seemed to sink into the spot where he was standing and his shoulders heaved with silent tears. The cricket bat slipped from his hands. My heart just broke watching him. I wanted to comfort him, tell him everything would be OK.
I stepped out of the shadows and crossed the street towards him. Mr. Garvin looked up. A gust of wind blew my hair into my eyes and I reached my hand up to tuck my fringe behind my ear. As I did so, I saw Mr. Garvin staring at me with this really creepy-strange look, like he was repelled by me or something. He turned away from me and headed for his front door.
I stopped at the cricket stumps, where he had been standing. I was not sure what to do. I could see him in the open doorway, staring at me in anguish. In that moment I felt utterly miserable – I felt like he did not want to know me. (Later, Brad told me that the way I had tucked my hair behind my ear reminded him of Sylvie and he thought, although he knew it was stupid, that I might be her ghost).
So I stood there on the front lawn while he stood in his doorway, not quite sure what to do. It was one of those moments where everything could have changed, if I had just walked away which I half-started to do. But then something stopped me. I was determined to at least pay my regards. I had come all this way and I did not think it right he should turn his back on me. I went up to the door and he stood inside the hallway a little distance watching me.
I stood at the doorway and said: “Hello? I’m Cassie Harris, a friend of Sylvie’s.”
We looked at each other and I felt my body flush. (I am sooo full of hormones these days). I could tell Mr. Garvin had picked up on the vibe but he took a few steps back inside and just looked at me with this really angry look. I tried to explain.
“I knew Sylvie from Padbury Pentecostal Church. I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am for your loss.” I had practiced the words and they fell like polished pearls from my lips.
Inside, his house was gloomy. The curtains were drawn. There were photos of Mr. Garvin and Sylvie on the walls. I noticed how everything was very tidy, so different from my house.
Mr. Garvin kept stepping back away from me. Honest to God, he was whimpering. I reached out my hand and took his, surprised to discover that his hand was trembling almost as much as mine.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I was like an actor playing in a scene. I was doing these things to Brad in order that I could watch myself do all these things to him. Brad stood frozen at first. He stroked my back in a fatherly way. I looked up at him, muggy with desire. We just stared at each other close-up, two souls sharing a moment in time. I knew then that Brad and I need each other.
So that was how it began; some hugging and crying, kissing. Things quickly got passionate. At one point Brad tried to push me away saying: “this is wrong” so I got down on my knees to convince him it wasn’t. Hahaha. Works every time.
After Brad had unloaded, I was surprized [sic] to find him standing upright, silently weeping, his sperm still in my mouth. That wasn’t what his reaction was supposed to be. Then I remembered Sylvie and I felt so bad for him. I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tight. Sylvie is dead, but if she was alive I would be like a step-mother to her now. So weird.
I have never known such closeness with someone as I do with Brad. It is thrilling. I do so hunger for vivid experiences and Brad needs my love to heal the darkness in his soul.
November 4, 1990
Five days after the murder, Cassie Harris was cycling back from the beach with the Walkman plugged into her ears, when a police car drove past her and slowed down at Reynolds Road, turning into her street.
Cassie’s heart thudded. At least no-one could recognize her at this distance – not on the bicycle with her helmet and sunglasses on.
The song playing on her Walkman was Roxette’s ‘It must have been love’. Cassie sang the chorus out loud: “It must have been love but it’s OVER now”.
At school everyone was talking about one thing only – Jennifer’s murder and who knew what. It felt like torture to hear the many claims bandied about. It truly was the worst time of Cassie’s life. In her wildest imagination, she could never have guessed Jennifer’s death would be such big news – all over the world! Cassie dreaded the funeral, which had been delayed as the coroner had not released Jennifer’s body for burial.
And now the police were here.
She rode up to her house, removed her helmet, and ran a hand through her dyed white-blonde hair. Her face glowed from the exertion of riding against the howling afternoon wind which blew in off the ocean.
She opened the creaking fly screen door and went inside.
Two uniformed policemen stood next to a dazed-looking Luella in the kitchen. Cassie’s heart leapt crazily around in her chest.
“Here she is!” Luella said.
The two policemen turned to inspect her. One of them asked: “Are you Cassandra Harris?”
They introduced themselves. “We are investigating the murder of Jennifer Robson. I wonder if we can ask you a few questions.”
Luella interjected: “What questions?”
One of the policemen turned to answer her. “We are talking to Jennifer’s friends and acquaintances. Any piece of information may be critical.”
Still Cassie said nothing.
The dark-haired policeman asked her if Cassie would accompany them to the police station where Detective Eric Greco, the detective leading the investigation, would take her statement.
“A statement?” Luella would not shut up.
“Standard procedure, Mrs. Harris,” one of the policeman replied. “You are welcome to accompany us.”
Cassie asked if she could change out of her cycling clothes. She felt their sharp, suspicious gazes follow her out the room.
She took a quick shower and dressed in a crisp white long-sleeved shirt and knee-length black skirt, like she was going for a job interview. She blow-dried her hair at high speed and added a jaunty dash of silver to each of her eyelids to highlight the ice-blue color of her eyes, but wore no other makeup, save a touch of lip gloss.
She went back into the kitchen and sat with the policemen to wait for her mother. She told herself to keep calm. She knew the police would come. What she did not know is what Brad Garvin had told them, what he had said about his affair with her. Thoughts rushed through her head. The sound of the kitchen clock ticking seemed unbearably loud. Cassie did her best to keep calm; worried that policemen, like animals, could sense fear.
Luella swept grandly into the kitchen announcing she was ready. Showtime. The policemen got up and Luella threw a thin arm around Cassie’s shoulders. Cassie detected Luella had brushed her teeth and was sucking a mint but Cassie could still smell the stale stench of vodka on her mother’s breath.
They followed the police out the front door and into the car. Cassie got in. Her mother, assuming a regal demeanor, bent into the back of the police car. Cassie had a feeling that somehow her mother had always known it would one day come to this, that her daughter would be in trouble with the police.
“Are you interviewing all the dead girl’s friends,” Luella enquired, as they drove off. Luella’s American twang was particularly strong. Sometimes Luella played up being a stranger in town, as it made people more accommodating, more likely to overlook some transgression.
The fairer-haired policeman replied that the investigation was “wide-ranging”.
“Why do you want to talk to Cassie? She told me she barely knows the girl who got killed.”
Cassie felt herself grow rigid as she waited for the policeman’s reply.
Cassie could have screamed. That told her nothing! She looked up and saw the dark-haired policeman staring at her in the rear-view mirror.
“So you were at school with Jennifer Robson,” he asked, his eyes fixed on her.
Cassie nodded. “She was in first year. I am in third year.”
“But you knew her?”
“Not well but I knew who she was.”
“What about Brad Garvin? He lives not far from here in Padbury. Do you know him?”
Cassie felt herself die a little. They knew about her and Brad. Luckily she had hidden her diary under the loose floorboard in her room where the police would never find it. She had ripped out some pages but could not bring herself to destroy all the memories of her affair with Brad. She had loved him so much, in the beginning.
“Yes. I’ve known him since I was nine. He and his daughter Sylvie went to my church. She died – Sylvie. She got hit by a bus in Melbourne.” Her voice was nervous, rambling. Cassie castigated herself. She should just respond ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Her mother was looking at her strangely.