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Retribution, p.21
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       Retribution, p.21

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  She smiled awkward smiles at the secretaries who glanced over at her, while silently praying for the fax to come through, and most of them smiled awkward smiles right back at her. After a short eternity, the machine finally beeped and the five-page fax came through. Behind a final awkward smile of good-bye, she retreated back into her office and closed the door again.

  By seven o’clock that night she had spoken to the records departments of all six different police departments and had gotten a copy of each police report faxed to her.

  It was as if she were rereading an account from her own rape six times over. The method of entry was the same in each one: always a first-floor apartment, always in the middle of the night while the victim was sleeping. The modus operandi was the same: the victims tied down and gagged first, then assaulted by a muscular stranger in a latex clown mask with shaggy red polyester hair and eyebrows and a huge red smile or a latex alien mask with black eyes and a glowing mouth. His weapon had been a jagged knife that he had used to subdue them, and also to terrorize. His tools of torture differed with each victim, but each had left their scars. Victims described being raped with beer bottles, twisted metal objects, hairbrushes. Each woman was physically maimed, suffering substantial trauma to her vaginal area and uterus, her breasts disfigured with his jagged knife, but he had left no trace of himself behind. No semen, no hair, no fibers, no prints, no physical evidence whatsoever. Completely clean, completely untraceable scenes.

  However, it was not in the physical similarities of each crime scene that she came to know with certainty that it was Bantding, but in the personal, private, simple details that the rapist knew about each woman. The intimate details that were used like a weapon, a form of torture themselves. Favorite restaurants, perfumes, soap brands. Dress sizes and designers, work hours and boyfriends’ names. For the college student from UCLA, he knew every grade she had received in college; for the bartender in Hollywood, he knew the exact amount of her Visa bill for the preceding three months. Birthdays, anniversaries, nicknames.

  It was Bantling, of that she had no doubt. Not anymore. None of the cases were ever solved, none were ever linked. There had been no arrests, no leads, no suspects. Until now.

  But would that even matter anymore? Her thoughts ran to the conversation she had had with Bob Schurr at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office just two days ago. She was almost afraid to know the answer that she already suspected. Even if a case could be made – which, she knew as a prosecutor, did not look hopeful given the lack of physical evidence cited in each case – but supposing each victim was still willing to testify, would the very notion of commencing a prosecution be quashed by the statute of limitations? The rape in Chicago had occurred more than a decade ago. She doubted that there would be any time left, and, in fact, wasn’t very surprised when she pulled up the Illinois state statutes on Westlaw and learned that ten years was the limit. Like hers, that case was gone, no matter what.

  But the last California rape had happened on March 23, 1994, just a little over six years ago. She knew that in recent years, some states had changed their statutes of limitations and had enacted lengthier time limits on certain sex crimes. California was definitely one of the most liberal states. There may be some time left after all on these cases. She pulled up the California Code at the California state legislature web site and searched the state statutes for the statute of limitations on sexual batteries. She almost wanted to cry when she read the answer.

  Six years from the date of the crime. She was five months too late.

  37

  Dominick spent the weekend interviewing present and former bosses, co-workers, neighbors, and girlfriends of William Bantling. Trying to figure out who Bantling was, and how no one was able to notice that he was not like them, that he was in fact an inhuman monster. A wolf living, working, playing among sheep, picking them off one by one, but no one – not even the shepherd – had ever noticed his clawed feet, or big ears, or razor-sharp teeth.

  Although most of the original interviews had already been done by other task force members within the first forty-eight hours after Anna Prado’s body was found, he felt it necessary after a few days to go back to each witness. The detectives had done a thorough job, but he liked to give people a day or two after their initial statements to absorb what had happened, think about it all. Usually after a few days they came to think of other things they hadn’t thought of before that now, in hindsight, probably looked suspicious or out of place.

  Now that I come to think of it, Agent Falconetti, my nice neighbor Bill always seemed to like to move his large rolled-up Oriental rugs from his house to his car at three A.M. Do you think that might be something?

  After a few more weeks, he would go back over and see them all again in person and repeat the process. He had found that if you scrape the bottom of the river enough times, sometimes you find gold.

  Bantling was born in Cambridge, England, on August 6, 1959, to Alice, a homemaker, and Frank, a carpenter. He had moved to New York in 1982 to attend college at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, which he graduated from in 1987 with a degree in interior design. He had held a few assistant jobs with small interior design companies in and around the New York City area for the first couple of years after graduation, bouncing from job to job before moving to Chicago in 1989 to accept a position as a designer with a small furniture design company. In eight months, that company had gone bankrupt, and by December of 1989 he had landed a sales job at Indo Expressions, a furniture design company based out of L.A. He had stayed with them out in California for five years, moving to Miami in June of 1994 and hooking up with Tommy Tan Designs out on SoBe.

  Neighbors on LaGorce all said the same basic thing: He seemed like a nice-enough guy, but I didn’t know him. He was described by co-workers as a diligent, hard salesman. Charming with customers, lethal as a snake in negotiations behind closed doors. He had not made many friends it seemed so far – none in fact – just a series of acquaintances who all said they did not know him very well at all. Dominick found that to be a common problem, though, in homicide investigations. When someone finds out that their best friend is a serial killer, they usually don’t want to admit they even knew the guy, much less that they were best buddies. It creates a bit of a social stigma. But if what the neighbors and coworkers and associates were all saying was taken to be true, then Bantling was indeed a loner.

  The only exception to the social stigma caveat was Tommy Tan, Bantling’s boss in Miami for the past six years. Dominick had spoken with Tan twice himself. Shocked to find out his best employee was a suspect in a string of serial homicides was not quite the word Dominick would use. Devastated was more like it. Tan had broken down and cried, fortunately choosing, instead of Dominick, Hector, one of his assistants, to lean on for comfort during the first interview, and Juan, another assistant, during the second. Other than acknowledging that Bantling was a bit arrogant, a character trait Tan found to be ‘strong and exciting’, he had nothing but praise for Bantling, who had been his top sales agent, finding ‘magnificent, hidden gems throughout the world’. Magnificent gems bought for pennies from the Third World and resold to the trendy, artsy, capitalistic world for thousands. Tan was a rich man. No wonder he had loved Bantling so much.

  Although Dominick had asked the question, Tan denied any sexual relationship between him and Bantling and swore that Bantling was straight. In fact, he insisted that Bantling always had a girl on his arm, in his car, out clubbing on SoBe. They were always very pretty and flashy, real head-turners. And he seemed to prefer blondes, too. At that, Tan had again thrown himself in tears on to Juan’s pink Versace-clad chest and Dominick had called it quits on the interview.

  There had been no Mrs Bantlings, not even a potential future Mrs Bantling, and, as far as the task force had found out, there were no little Bantlings running around anywhere either. Bantling had had his share of girlfriends, for sure, most of whom the task force were still trying to track down
. But none seemed to last beyond a date or two, and for good reason. From the six or seven who had been interviewed so far, the task force had learned a lot. Bantling was definitely kinky. Whips, chains, bondage, sadomasochistic paraphernalia, video recorders. It spooked most of the girls whom they had spoken with, even though they’d all been around the block more than a few times and, Dominick was sure, were used to seeing some interesting things in the bedroom. But they all had a common opinion about Bill Bantling: His was a true night-and-day personality. Quite the gentleman over expensive dinners. Quite the asshole in bed. Three of the girls whom they had interviewed had shown up starring in a couple of the homemade movies that Eddie Bowman and Chris Masterson had found in Bantling’s bedroom. When a few of the girls had balked at what even they perceived to be his over-the-line ideas of sex, he got angry and kicked them out of the house, not even bothering to call them a cab or drive them home. He had even thrown one girl right out on his neatly manicured front lawn stark naked and crying, leaving her to pound on the neighbor’s door for some clothes and a phone call.

  Come to think of it now, Agent Falconetti, you’re right! Maybe there was something a bit strange about my neighbor Bill!

  He had no family here in the States, and his parents had both died five years ago in a car crash in London. The media had beaten the task force members to the friends and family left in England, but no one really seemed to even remember the boy they described as quiet and surly. There were no friends from elementary school, no buddies around town. There was no one.

  On Saturday night, Dominick and Manny had hit the clubs where all the girls from The Wall were last seen: Crobar, Liquid, Roomy, Bar Room, Level, Amnesia. They reinterviewed all the bartenders and lounge staff, this time equipped with a color lineup. Bantling, they knew already, was known for clubbing. And several of the wait staff definitely recognized him as a frequent customer. Always dressed to the nines and always with a different, young, pretty blonde. No one, unfortunately though, could place him with any of the victims from The Wall, and no one could place him definitively in the right club on the right night when any one of the victims had disappeared.

  He fit the description that Agent Elizabeth Ambrose, the FDLE profiler, had prepared when they were looking to develop a Cupid suspect after the first three murders: a white male twenty-five to fifty-five, a loner, probably average-to-good-looking, intelligent, employed in a high-pressure professional position. Of course, that profile also fit a lot of other men he knew, including himself. Still, the pieces were all beginning to fit into place, the case was being made, fact by fact by fact. A neat stack of facts that, when stapled together, would read like a good book. The girlfriends painted Bantling as a sexual deviant, an arrogant, angry narcissist who did not handle rejection well. He exhibited sadistic, violent behavior and had a thing for blond women. He was known to frequent all the clubs where his victims disappeared from. The prescription for Haldol connected him with the narcotic found in the systems of at least six of his victims. He practiced taxidermy as a hobby – the art of gutting and stuffing animals to mount them – and thus worked with straight-edge razors and scalpels. Human blood that Dominick was sure would turn out to be Anna Prado’s had been found in the shed of his home, on a probable murder weapon in that shed: her mutilated body found stuffed in his trunk.

  What had caused this otherwise good-looking, wealthy, successful man to go so wrong was anyone’s guess, but Dominick didn’t need to prove that to make his case. The reasons why didn’t matter so much, as long as they did not bring with them the plea of insanity. Because the murders were so bizarre and heinous, the jury just might think that there was no way that a human being could actually commit them, unless he was insane; add to that scenario a defendant with a history of mental illness, and the prosecution could have themselves a definite problem. So Dominick’s job was not just to provide evidence that Bantling had committed murder, but gather facts that would prove that Bantling knew exactly what he was doing when he did it. That he understood perfectly the consequences of his actions, the difference between right and wrong. That he did not torture and kill ten women because he was mentally insane, but simply because he was evil.

  Now, at 10:00 on Sunday night, he sat back once again in the dark task force offices at FDLE, staring at the images collected on The Wall, trying to find all the facts he needed, trying to write the book. Almost 70 interviews had been completed since Tuesday, 3 search warrants executed, 174 boxes of evidence seized from Bantling’s house and cars, hundreds of man-hours put into the investigation.

  You just had to know where to look.

  His eyes went back to the aerial maps, the blue pins that showed the locations where each girl had been discovered. Why had Bantling chosen those locations? What did they mean to him?

  He massaged his brow with his fingers, and looked over at his cell phone, wanting to dial her number, but knowing he wouldn’t. He had not heard from C.J. since Wednesday night. She had not returned his calls or his beeps, and he was no stalker, so by yesterday he had stopped leaving them. She was obviously going through something that she didn’t want to let him in on, and he’d obviously been way off target about the two of them. He was a big boy, he could handle her rejection, but now he was afraid that this rift was going to damage the case, and he was quite sure that neither of them wanted that. He needed to figure out a way that they could just get back to where they were on a friendly, professional level.

  But he sensed that there was more to C. J. Townsend – that he had seen more, felt more, that night in her apartment – than she cared for him to see. He had held her in his arms, knowing that something was terribly wrong in her life, wanting to fix it for her. He had seen her vulnerable and scared – completely defenseless, a side of her he was sure she wanted no one ever to see. And having been witness to it, he was sure she was now finding it difficult just to face him again.

  What had made her so afraid, in the courtroom, in the apartment? Was it Bantling? Did this case have a different, special meaning to her for some reason? He had seen her try difficult, complex, very violent cases before. She was always in control, always in command. Not now – now she was scared and anxious. What made this case so different for her?

  And why did he care so much?

  38

  Officer Victor Chavez stood in the doorway and rapped loudly on her office door at exactly ten past nine on Monday morning. He was already ten minutes late.

  ‘ASA Townsend? C. J. Townsend?’

  C.J. was seated behind her desk, where she had been since 7:00 that morning. She looked up and saw the young rookie in her doorway, holding the prefile subpoena that had been sent to him. Behind him in the hall stood two other Miami Beach cops in uniform. On one shoulder she recognized sergeant stripes.

  ‘We’re here for our prefiles,’ said the striped shoulder as he pushed his way past Chavez, who had stalled in the door frame and had yet to actually enter her office. ‘Lou Ribero,’ he said, extending his hand across her desk. He nodded behind him. ‘This is Sonny Lindeman and Victor Chavez. Sorry we’re a little late. Traffic’

  ‘I thought I had scheduled all your prefiles separately, Sergeant Ribero. At least that’s what I told my secretary to do.’ C.J. shook his hand, frowned, and looked down at her day calendar as murderous thoughts flooded her vision. She envisioned Marisol’s thick neck in her hands the next time she saw her in the bathroom.

  ‘Yeah, you did, but well, all of us were there on the scene on Tuesday, and we all came together, so we figured we’d do it together, if it’s no big deal. We do joint prefiles all the time. Saves everyone some time.’

  Her hands released Marisol’s throat. ‘Thanks, Sergeant, but I prefer to prefile all my witnesses separately. I think I’ve got you at ten-thirty and Officer Lindeman at eleven forty-five. Why don’t you both head to the Pickle Barrel and I’ll beep you when Officer Chavez and I are done? I’ll try to finish you all up early, if I can,’ she said.

  The youn
g man in the doorway finally stepped forward into the room. ‘Hello, ma’am,’ he said and nodded. ‘Victor Chavez.’

  C.J. immediately felt old. She could, by a very wild stretch of the imagination, be this guy’s mother, he looked that young. And with the lack of sleep she’d had in the past week, she probably looked that old. He couldn’t be a day past nineteen.

  ‘Have a seat, Officer Chavez. And, please Sergeant, close the door behind you.’

  ‘Alright, then,’ said Ribero, carefully eyeing the back of Victor Chavez’s head. ‘Have fun, Victor. We’ll see you soon.’

  ‘Thanks, Sarge.’ Chavez flopped down and took an easy seat in one of her fake-leather chairs. He was a good-looking guy, no doubt, with olive skin and smooth features. She could tell from the size of his forearms in his short-sleeved uniform that he worked out. A lot. His jet-black hair was cut in the close-cropped style that rookies had to wear in the academy, and she wondered how long he had been out. His gum cracked as he looked around her office. C.J. thought he looked maybe a little too comfortable.

  ‘Raise your right hand, please,’ she said. ‘Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?’

 
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