Thanks to everyone who read and to hockeyfanatic for reviewing.
Prophet rubbed his forehead and tossed the folder in his hands onto the stack of nearly-identical folders on his desk. Danny wasn't the only person they'd talked to; they'd hunted down someone with at least a passing knowledge of each of the kidnap-and-murder cases that matched Ty's profile. Well, with the exception of the one where the town had disappeared with the death of its mine, but it was still a damn good sampling. And after that they'd done phone interviews, they'd pulled terrain maps, they'd had Garcia cross-reference the few businesses still open along the ridge looking for any similarities in employment records, all of that. But in the end thirty days was enough time for a case to go cold. Expecting a revelation after thirty years was something approaching insanity.
He sighed, leaning back in his chair. He'd known how much of a long shot this was when he'd asked to reopen the case. And even if he'd somehow missed the blindingly obvious, Coop had brought it up, the director had brought it up—that had been a pleasant interrogation—and practically everyone they'd interviewed had commented on it as well.
Still, he'd hoped.
Coop and Beth had already started turning their attention to other cases, and Prophet couldn't blame them. Hell, he owed them for covering enough that Gina and Mick could keep helping him. In the end they were supposed to be a five-man team, though, and even if they might be able to keep this as something in the background…. He shook his head. It had been a long shot to start with, and if they hadn't found anything new by now, they probably weren't going to.
He reached out and picked up his baseball, tossing it idly from hand to hand as he leaned back again. There were two days left before the weekend. If nothing came up by Monday, he'd start talking to the others about letting it go. He'd done it once; he could do it again. He glanced over. He might have to hit Mick over the head a few times to get him to cooperate, though.
"I feel like chicken," Mick said, meeting Prophet's eyes and mimicking his posture.
"You look like a chicken," Prophet responded automatically.
"I am your favorite," Mick informed him, jabbing a pen in his general direction.
"Pretty sure that's my call."
"Nope. You might pick wrong. Safer if I do it for you. And because I'm your favorite, you should go get us chicken for lunch"
"You're not my favorite either, in case you were wondering," Prophet informed her.
"So Coop or Beth? You need to reevaluate your life choices, mate."
"For so many reasons," Prophet agreed. Still the suggestion of lunch gave him a reason to be up and moving around, and right now he couldn't argue with that. He rocked forward, putting his baseball back on his desk and heading for the door of Coop's office. There was a call of something that sounded like assent when he tapped the door lightly, and he stuck his head in. "Hey, I'm going to hit the chicken place and pick up lunch. Either of you want me to get anything special, or just the usual?"
"Usual works for me," Beth said, not even glancing up from the computer screen in front of her.
"Same here," Coop agreed. "Thanks."
Prophet nodded and let the door shut again. There had been a map behind Coop with a set of pushpins in it, and from the labeling he had a feeling they'd be heading for Boston harbor at some point in the near future.
"Hold up a minute," Gina said as he grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and turned for the gym exit. "Come take a look at this. Mick, you too. I'm looking at Garcia's full list of search results, and the cases you filtered out were the preteen boys who had knife wounds but didn't match the rest of the MO, right?"
"Edged weapon, technically," Mick agreed with a nod and a frown, pushing himself up from his chair and moving to stand at her shoulder. "And a couple of those didn't match either. There was one case where the edged weapon was a piece of broken glass and one where it was the boy's great-grandfather's Civil War bayonet, if I remember correctly. And then one where what got tagged as mutilation looked more like hesitation wounds to me, with no evidence of a sexual component. And then there were a couple where the killer was most definitely not a stranger: a pair of brothers who'd suffered severe, ongoing physical abuse for years before their death, and a family annihilator who killed not only his son but also his wife and two daughters." He frowned. "There might have been one more, too."
"There was; the remains of an eleven year old Latino boy who was basically dissected with a machete in south-western Georgia in 1982," Gina said. "No one claimed the body and the best guess at the time was that it was a message from one cartel to another. It's the family annihilator that I'm looking at, though."
"What about him?" Prophet asked, putting his jacket over his arm and moving to look over the shoulder opposite Mick.
"Well, it wasn't classed as a family annihilator at the time." Gina indicated the open file on the screen in front of her. "I mean, looking at it now, it's pretty obvious. A year before the killings Mr. Culver gets in a car accident and suffers some kind of unspecified head injury. Six months later he loses his job because he keeps complaining that his coworkers are out to get him. His bank accounts are drained to next to nothing over the next six or eight months, his house goes into foreclosure, and there are escalating arguments overheard by the neighbors including one at a July 4th barbeque two weeks before it happened. But hey, they had just started becoming more involved at their church."
"Right: possible brain trauma, paranoia, job loss, financial insecurity, stress at home, and a sudden increase in religious observance," Mick said. "And that's on top of the heat of summer which always brings out the craziness. It's beyond textbook; any one of us would have him profiled before you finished the sentance."
"Yeah, but according to this the police investigated it as a home invasion gone wrong at first. And by the time they got around to really looking at Mr. Culver, he was in the wind."
"You're talking the early 80s," Prophet pointed out. "Nationwide databases really weren't a thing. Hell, statewide databases were barely a thing. He could have gone a couple hundred miles in pretty much any direction and started a whole new life with no one the wiser."
"Or he could have gone a dozen miles west to the bridge overlooking the river, put a bullet in his head, and made himself just another John Doe if he ever washed up at all," Mick said. "When family annihilators devolve, they don't go slowly."
"They don't usually go slowly," Gina corrected. "But there's always the exception." She gestured at her screen again. "He might be textbook up until that point but…well, take a look at the autopsy photos of his wife and kids. This is his wife."
Prophet frowned at the image of the woman on the monitor. Not a great quality photo, no surprise given its age, but good enough for what it was. The woman's throat had been slit and from the blood spatter it had happened while her heart was still beating. Culver had missed the carotid, which wasn't actually that uncommon, but it had been enough to prevent her from crying out, and the stab to the heart had ended things shortly thereafter. Not pretty, but they'd seen worse from family annihilators before. "She probably wasn't even awake for the first blow."
"Take out the biggest threat first," Mick agreed. "Especially if you're talking about a mother protecting her children."
"Okay, now these are the girls," Gina said, bringing up two more images. "Six and fourteen. They shared a room and were killed in basically the same way as their mother except that he didn't bother starting with the throat."
"Okay," Prophet said slowly. "It's ugly." Real ugly. Kids of any kind were rough on him, and she knew it, so if she wanted him to look, there was a reason. "I don't understand what this has to do with the boys on the ridge, though."
"Well, this is what he did to his son," she said, pulling up a fourth image. "Nine years old. I mean, defensive wounds, I could see that. He was the last to die, and it's possible that one of his sisters managed to scream while he was killing the other and he was awake when his father came into his room. But some of these wounds are…not defensive. The autopsy doesn't note it one way or the other, but I'm not even sure some of these were pre-mortem."
"Are we sure about the timeline?" Mick asked. "Why would he kill the boy last? You think after he'd taken out his wife, he'd go after the boy since he was alone, and then the two girls. Two in one room makes them riskier targets."
"A six year old isn't much of a risk," Prophet disagreed.
"If she screams loud enough to wake her brother up she is. Either her father leaves her alive long enough to deal with him, possibly giving her time to get away, or he risks letting the boy escape."
"I'm not so sure a six—or a nine—year old is going to have the presence of mind to run from their father. Was there any history of abuse?"
Mick picked up the hardcopy file to check, but Gina shook her head. "Not really, not even when the neighbors mentioned arguments, but if the police weren't specifically asking..."
"Right." It wasn't like neighbors never had selective hearing.
"Anyway, it might be worth checking, but that wasn't where I was going," Gina said. "Look at where some of those knife wounds are, and then look at the pajamas he was found in. You've got more knife wounds than holes, and like I said, some of these are not defensive. They don't match exactly with the ridge boys, and there wasn't a sexual component noted anywhere, but given that this was his son…." She shook her head and replaced his image with that of another boy. "This is the first of the ridge boys. The cuts don't line up one-to-one, not even close, but I'm not sure there's not the start of a pattern there."
"He's the first of the ridge boys that we know about," Prophet said slowly. "I figured that all of the records were stuffed in old cardboard boxes if they even still existed and didn't expect what you—Garcia—found, but just because she found some doesn't mean she found all. His home was a good distance from the ridge and who knows what he might have used for a dump site. Back home the quarry was convenient and deserted, but it's not like it was part of his signature."
"Even one more boy might be enough to fill in the gap." Mick put the folder back down and reaching over Gina's shoulder to put the images of the two boys side-by-side. "The cuts don't line up between them, but the extended timeframe for the kill does, and if he had a little longer to experiment…. Gina's right, even if he was a textbook family annihilator at the start, that doesn't mean that his devolution followed the usual path."
"If a sexual component was going to develop, it would have been with someone who wasn't his biological child," Prophet said.
The door to the office opened, and Beth stuck her head out. "Hey, did any of you ask Prophet—oh. You're still here." A pause. "I was going to ask if anyone had asked you to pick up some extra barbeque sauce, but you don't seem to be going anywhere fast. What's up?"
"It looks like Gina found something in one of the case files I discarded," Mick said, answering before Prophet could. "The family annihilator killed his son very differently from the rest of his family, and he was off the grid by the time the police started looking for him."
"There wasn't much of a grid to be off of back then," Beth said, moving to look at Gina's screen.
Prophet stepped back to give her a better view. "I'll go get that chicken."
She looked up at him. "I'll go with you."
"It's not…I'm fine."
She scoffed. "Right. If someone doesn't go with you, no one is going to get any extra barbeque sauce."