And now for the less-than-awesome stuff

* After I left the house ran away from the house like a twelve year old left the house, I drove around for about forty minutes, picking random directions, until I found a place that did one hour photo development. The results were…not quite what I expected. Admittedly, it was dark. But I also had not one but two maglites and the camera flash working to illuminate the scene. And, still, none of the pictures came out. Or, to be more precise, they came out weird: shaky and visually distorted, like the picture I’d snapped with my cell, even though my hands were steady while I was taking the shots. All of the images looked as though someone had put their hands on them and smeared all the way across the paper while it was still developing, or else they were too dark to make out details, particularly the shots of the cellar walls. I’d had the pictures loaded onto a CD, as well, and it wasn’t just the printed photos, so it was no fault of the development process — the shots loaded on the CD are just as severely visually distorted. I was considering going back during the day and trying again, if only to rule out darkness of night being a factor in these results.

* Two days later, I received an anonymous package in my home mailbox. It was an unmarked manila envelope — no delivery address, no origin address, no stamp or postmark or basically any indication that it had been actually sent. The building manager, whose office overlooks the interior courtyard where the mailboxes are located, told me that she hadn’t witnessed anyone but our regular mail carrier come in and drop off, but that she hadn’t been in the office all day. Best part? Our mailboxes are all tiny locked cubicles in a single unit, not the roadside type where anybody can walk up and drop something in at any time. You have to have either the individual key to the box or the post office master key that opens them all.

Inside was the raw autopsy data, complete with photographs and lab reports, for three Does, two Johns and a Jane, their date and time listed as 10/6/2011 between 0130 and 0330 hours, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am not going to get into the details here, because they’re fairly gruesome, but the reason that the detectives on scene believed they were looking at “at least four and maybe more” is because two of the three bodies were at least partially dismembered post-mortem. Cause of death in all three was a combination of blunt force trauma and stabbing with a relatively blunt object, like a broken metal pipe or crowbar, with the Jane presenting clear evidence of defensive injuries. The dismemberment was not apparently effectuated using the standard implements, such as an axe or a hacksaw — the damage done to the victims’ bodies post-mortem, the tearing of muscles and tendons and the manner in which the bones broke, suggests a manual process, that their bodies were physically twisted and wrenched until they gave way under the stress of repeated action.

The crime scene photos taken inside the house were just as shaky and dark and distorted as my own, but I could still make out that the walls — which had been tagged a couple layers thick with graffiti — were painted over in blood. Numeral 4s, all over the walls, and on the ceiling. I hope whoever they had doing the spatter analysis was a fucking rock star at their job. By way of contrast, the autopsy photos of the victims were perfectly clear, no distortion at all.

Four. It’s becoming a theme, as you’ve probably noticed. Looking for patterns where there aren’t any is a part of the human condition, a part of our psychological makeup, a deeply internalized form of both confirmation bias and observer-expectancy effect. Sometimes, the pattern is real — particularly in cases of patterns that leave physical evidence behind, matching DNA traces on multiple victims, blood spatter patterns, tire tread marks left at the scene, things that can be independently verified as actually existing. A lot of the time, even seasoned investigators see what they want to see, discard what they don’t want to see, and proceed from a point of faulty judgment. I’m trying, very hard, not to fall into that trap but this “four” thing was, at this point, starting to look a little bit too consistent to be totally coincidental. What are the odds of four people being attacked in a house with the number four carved all over the damned basement and then painted all of the walls in their blood? Yeah, that is when I remember there had, in fact, been four victims — the three Does in the house and the fourth Doe that the uniformed patrol had found bleeding in the street and had sent to the hospital just before I’d arrived that night in October.

A cursory review of local online newspaper items from that night and the days following turned up zip about the topic — in fact, the most I found about the whole thing was a couple short articles about “local crackhouse burns down, arson not suspected,” and pretty much nothing more. But there’d been a fourth victim. So I wrote a note (What happened to the fourth Doe?), stuck it back into the envelope, and put it back in my mailbox. Just to see what, if anything, would happen. At worst, I’d get an annoyed note about proper postage and addressing.

* I decided to poke around a bit more at John Q and his background. I’d already done a little research there while contemplating going back to the house. There wasn’t much more I could do to research him personally without making a number of potentially very suspicious phone calls to Norristown State Hospital, so instead I took a look at what appeared to have been the start of his downward spiral: the deaths of his wife and daughter.

Mrs. Q and Mademoiselle Q died together when the plane they were traveling in crashed on approach to Pittsburg International Airport from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, on September 4, 1994. (Bolded emphasis mine.) The plane in question was ConTran 121, a Boeing 737 that flew a regular transcontinental route from SeaTac to O’Hare to Pittsburg. According to the NTSB report, the plane began flying erratically halfway across the Ohio River Valley according to ground-based radar observation, fell out of radio contact with the tower at Pittsburg, and did not respond to the attempts of other planes or smaller, municipal airports to contact the cockpit. At 16:04 hours (which is to say 4:04 PM EST), the plane fell off the radar entirely. Eye witnesses on the ground later reported seeing the plane coming in low and fast, under power, no unusual engine sounds, or visible signs of smoke or fire from any of the engines. It hit the ground at what was estimated to be cruising speed (i.e., several hundred miles per hour), nose-down at an attitude close to full vertical. The NTSB investigation team found no single piece of wreckage, either of the plane or from human remains, larger than hand-sized. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight telemetry data recorder were both recovered, albeit severely damaged. Neither ultimately proved to be much use. The CVR was one of the old models that had only thirty minutes of functional recording time and the first thirty minutes of flight out of O’Hare were entirely without incident, just ordinary workaday radio chatter with assorted towers and the crew going about their in-flight tasks. The information on the flight data recorder was likewise inconclusive, showing no signs of distressed function right up to the point that the plane hit the ground. At no point was an in-flight emergency declared and the crew’s interactions with the towers they contacted were standard in-flight checks and communications with no indicators of distress. The NTSB basically reconstructed almost the entire plane from bits and found, essentially, no single smoking-gun mechanical cause of the crash. The official cause is listed as “unknown,” a designation I know for a fact that they hate handing down for an assortment of practical reasons. ConTran, in a display of corporate handwashing douchery at its finest, pointed at the NTSB report and declaimed any responsibility on the part of their equipment or crew for the crash. That did not stop the families of the people on board from burying them under a mountain of wrongful death lawsuits, which promptly caused them to cease to exist as an entity some years later, with most of those suits still legally unresolved. John Q is named as a plaintiff in one such suit.

About midway through my research on this, I started experiencing a certain sensation of deja vu with regard to the accident details. I might get more into that later but, for now…unless I can find out more information about John Q himself, I might be stalled at this end of things.

* When I checked my mail the next day, the envelope was still there, so I pulled it out. The note inside, however, was not mine. The reply, which was written in that same slanty Catholic school handwriting that I found on the back of Agent Delgado’s business card, was this:

We’d like to know that, too.

More later.

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~ by Dr. Nate Harada on January 6, 2012.

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