Murder She Wrought
The Capture of a Bicycling Murderess
A Detective Rousseau Adventure
I chanced to see in the paper that Detective Rousseau would be giving a presentation to a small local group and, having a friend who is a member of that group, I asked her to invite me to the meeting, due to my respect for that great detective.
Detective Rousseau told his small audience that he was going to give the story of the sleuthing out and capture of one of the greatest serial murderess of our times; one who had killed over 264 people. Unfortunately, he reported, the news could not be made public without embarrassing one of the TV networks, so all references to the affair were to be kept confidential. However, Detective Rousseau did give permission for these notes to be published here as long as I did not mention the name of the TV series or the name of the TV network. He thought it would make little difference for a few dozen more people learn about this, not realizing that 18,000 people visit this site each month.
The investigation started by accident due to a conversation between Rousseau and an old friend who had been investigating murder trials in Texas. As you know, there was a big brouhaha recently because many Texas death penalties had resulted from inadequate trials. During his investigation, Rousseau's lawyer friend discovered three men on the death row in different prisons who all claimed that the same woman had framed them. None of the men knew about the others, so it seemed like an amazing coincidence. However, the woman was a famous writer, so no one took their stories seriously, and nothing was done at the time. By the time Detective Rousseau had talked to his friend and had decided to investigate himself, the three men had separately been executed, so there was no opportunity to question them further.
Since the woman accused of framing these men had written a series of detective stories which had appeared on TV, Rousseau decided to watch some of the episodes (he had not watched television since childhood, so he knew nothing about the TV programs). He had an aid purchase tapes, and he viewed them at work. By the time he had watched the third episode, he had already spotted the methodical work and signature of a serial killer, perhaps the cleverest of all time.
Of course, he did not stop there. He ordered copies of all the series and had his detectives view them and look for patterns. In the meantime, he launched an investigation to determine if these murders were really fiction, as they claimed to be, or if they were actually crimes. He also wanted to identify the victims, to see what characteristics they had in common to attract a serial criminal.
The results confirmed his initial impressions. Investigation established that these stories were based on actual murders and that the stories were roughly accurate accounts of what had happened, of course, leaving out the real killer's commission of the crime and making her seem to be the heroine.
The mode of operation was established. The killer would make friends with her victim or a member of the family and gain a clear understanding of family problems. If the family lived out of state, she would get herself invited to their house. If they lived in the same town (a much less frequent event), she would sneak into the home. In preparing for her crime, she would use the clever method of choosing two potential scapegoats, usually family members and always people with a clear motive, who she could accuse of having committed the crime. She was very skillful at encouraging arguments between them while seemingly trying to reconcile them to each other. Then she would plan her murder, planting enough evidence on both of her targets to convict either of them of the crime. Finally, she would carry out the murder at a time when she seemed to be away from the scene and while her targets both had an opportunity. Then, when the murder was discovered, she could use the one against the other, selecting whichever one she wished. She was so skillful that she would deliberately lead the police from one target to the other, knowing full well that she could always fall back on the choice of the police if her maneuver failed. The confusing decision as to which of the two was actually responsible was certain to keep everyone in suspense and to keep all suspicion away from her.
One further obscuring point was not added until she wrote her account. According to her stories, the person she accused would always end up confessing on the spot. In actuality, however, none of these people confessed to the crime at the time. They later decided to plea guilty only after their attorneys had explained that pleading innocent would mean at least three years in prison while waiting for the trial and probably a lifetime sentence if found guilty while on the other hand, a plea of guilty citing stress and other factors would be unlikely to result in a sentence of more than five years and they could be out in two and a half on good behavior. In prison, they would have a country club existence, using the internet and writing letters in their private time in the morning, playing tennis or golf for exercise in the early afternoon, and enjoying social role-playing (actually group therapy) in the late afternoon. Besides, she had planted so much evidence on them that even their attorneys couldn't believe that they were innocent. What would a jury think? So, they all pled guilty, but certainly there was never an immediate, spontaneous confession. However, many of her targets were speechless at the moment, since they had considered her their dearest friend (the killer was extremely adept at winning people's confidences) and were totally unable to verbally defend themselves. The ones that did not lose the power of speech always attacked their alternates, who they saw as the real murders. Even after these people ended their jail sentences, there was no reconciliation between the parties, as both sides still believed the other to be guilty.
Discovering her motive was much more difficult. Of course, she needed material for her stories, but she did not have to actually kill anyone for that. There was also the rush of satisfaction in having outmaneuvered everyone. But again, no jury would consider that sufficient motive.
After a huge database had been compiled with all the relevant and inconsequential information included, statistical research began to discover a pattern. It was established that, except for the murders in her home town, the victims (that is, those murdered) were almost all her age or older and had lived in one of just seven towns during part of their lives. In addition, the few who were younger had lived in just one town and had worked at the mental hospital there, which had later burned down. Unfortunately, detailed hospital records were destroyed in the fire, as were opportunities for witnesses, as all the staff and patients had died in the fire. However, it was possible from photos and other evidence to identify our suspect as a patient who had been there for thirty years, from the age of 18 until the age of 48, and who was thought to have also died in the conflagration.
Further sleuthing determined that this woman had been placed there shortly after a fire which had destroyed her home along with her parents and siblings. Detectives had been sure at the time that she had set the fire as she had managed to rescue her diaries, photos, and clothes without any signs of fire damage or smell of smoke while the rest of her family had burned to a crisp. There was no proof, however, and there was also no reason for a trial, as a competent psychiatrist, who examined her, determined that she was quite insane and must be committed for the rest of her life.
Checking backwards, Rousseau and his detectives discovered that she had lived briefly in each of the communities where her victims had come from. In fact, there was a clear pattern of events that established a motive. Her father, a minister, would move his family into a new town, only to discover that once again his daughter was behaving wildly with all the boys in her school. Although her behavior would not be especially outrageous today, it resulted in her being severely and publicly humiliated and severely and privately whipped. After enough incidents, her father would move his family once again. Obviously, her motive in committing the bulk of her murders was to erase the memory of those experiences by erasing all the witnesses, including the boys she had dated, the girls who had scorned her, the older members of the community who had tried to discipline her, anyone who had witnessed her public humiliations, and finally anyone who had ever been associated with the mental institute. Of course, after thirty years and a change of name, she could not be recognized by anyone, except for the institute workers, and she made sure that none of the latter ever saw her. She did murder a number of people within her own community, and there the cause seemed to be very minor slights, such as someone's dog chasing her bike. While outside her immediate community, she had a very high reputation, those who lived close to her had become instinctively afraid of ever getting on her bad side.
A major problem remained before the detectives could solve the crime. It was not enough having gathered all of this evidence, as it was all circumstantial. They had to catch her in the act. By chance, Rousseau discovered that she had made very discrete inquiries about one former boyfriend who she had not been able to locate. It is still unclear what became of this man; however, he gave the detectives a great opportunity. Rousseau had a picture of the young man at seventeen, and a good friend of his was a skilled undercover operator who could, due to his appearance, pass for the same man. They planned a trap for our murderess. John, their operator, would visit her home town for a week on a supposed New England bicycling vacation. As he would be spending all his time riding his bicycle around the town and countryside, he would be almost certain to bump into her, because she also rode her bike every day. After meeting her on a ride, making friends, and revealing his assumed identity (without, of course, showing any awareness of her identity), he would court her a bit, and finally invite her to visit his home in our state where he lived with his two grown sons (the reason for getting her into another state was to insure conviction, as she would be defended by her loyal supporters if tried in her home state). Besides, Rousseau wanted to fill the residence with cameras and microphones, and that would be a problem in a town where she was well-known and where the detectives were strangers.
Before John visited her town, he and the two men who would play the parts of his sons spent two weeks living together in "his" house and practicing their roles. It was essential that John not make a single mistake about the house or about his supposed children because she would be sure to catch any errors. One slip-up would not only only keep her from falling into their trap but it would also alert her to the fact that the detectives were after her, and further efforts to catch her would be futile. Besides the details of his house and family, the detectives established what John's occupation and recreation should be. For an occupation, they decided that he was a semi-retired stockbroker, as they wanted him to stay around the house whenever she needed him around and to get away from the house when she didn't want him nearby. Also, getting away at times would give him a break and let him spend some time with his real family. Fortunately, John was already a cyclist, which they needed for him to establish rapport with her. He had previously formed the habit of taking an early morning ride every day, so the detectives made that part of his daily activities, not realizing the potential result.
Then John made the trip to New England, met up with her by "accident," started courting her on a daily basis, and finally persuaded her to visit him for a week at his home. In the meantime, Rousseau and his men had installed all the cameras and microphones and were ready to catch our killer. A surveillance crew would be stationed at a nearby house where they could watch and listen to her every move, both for evidence and to alert Rousseau's men to nasty surprises. She had agreed to come on a certain date, but at the last minute, she called and said that her flight had been canceled due to bad weather and that she would be coming 24 hours later. So, Rousseau sent the surveillance crew home, not realizing the mischief that would cause.
She arrived near dark on the same day, arriving by taxi and surprising the detectives. Rousseau was still within the house, which wasn't supposed to happen, so John told her that he was an old cycling friend. Rather than eating dinner with the family, however, she said that she was exhausted and needed to go straight to bed. After she had been shown her room, Rousseau had a brief conversation with John. Obviously, she was worn out and would need the entire night to recover. It would suffice to get the surveillance crew back in the morning. In the meantime, detective Rousseau would go and start the cameras and microphones recording and let them run unsupervised. He left, not realizing that he would never see John alive again.
In the morning, Rousseau received an urgent call from one of John's "sons" and hurried out to the house. John had gotten up that morning at daybreak, had gotten on his bike, and had launched himself down the straight, steep driveway to the highway below. Then, when he had tried to use his brakes, the cables had snapped, and he had plowed straight into the traffic. Somehow he had missed being run over, but his speed had carried him straight across the road and off of the bluff on the other side. Witnesses reported that, at the last instant, he had tried to jump from the bike, but his last effort had been too late.
Rousseau and the other agents were in shock at what had happened and had entirely forgotten our suspect, when she appeared at the accident scene, asking questions about what was going on. At that moment, they didn't understand why John had lost control of his bike, but when the crane brought up John's bike, they immediately recognized that the brake cables had been cut. In their distress, they had clearly forgotten their roles, but she had not forgotten hers, and she immediately launched into an accusatory mode, blaming one of the two "sons," who she said had gone past her bedroom late that night. Somehow, the men managed to bungle their way through their roles, but Rousseau broke away as soon as possible and visited the house where the taping equipment was still running.
A playback clearly showed that she had been busy while the men were asleep. Her story about being extremely fatigued the night before had been a feint to distract their attention away from her. She had gone to bed early, but then she had awakened after the men had gone to bed and had spent the rest of the night planting evidence and sawing John's brake cables almost through. Detective Rousseau had assumed that it would take her several days to decide who to blame and how, but evidently she had gotten all the needed information from John before she had even arrived. Evidently, the detailed rehearsal and memorization had been a mistake. She obviously had decided that a good way to focus attention on John's "sons" as the murderers would be by arranging for the crime to happen while she was still sound asleep.
With the taped evidence, there was no reason to carry on the charade, so Rousseau went back, arrested her, and read her her rights. However, in spite of all of their efforts, she ended up going back to a mental institute rather than to prison as they had hoped. Rousseau said that he hoped, if he ever should suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia, that he won't ever end up in her institute, as he's quite sure she won't forget him; in fact, he hears that she has written quite a bit about him in her diary. Rousseau also heard that the institute has had several mysterious deaths, but that's out of his hands until they ask for help.