6743 Oak Street
Monday, September 22, 2003
1234 Hours (local)
Harm and Mac had picked Denise up at the station and then headed back out to Chantilly. Denise had ridden in the back, but that hadn't stopped her and Harm from carrying on an animated conversation. Mac just watched the scenery go by outside her window, trying her best to tune them out and keep her heart from hurting. It wasn't easy.
The Johnson house was at the end of a quiet street. The house had cream-colored siding and black shutters and had a few trees in the front yard, some of them large. A porch stretched across the front of the house and was complete with a porch swing at one end. The trio got out of the car and approached the front door. Denise rapped gently on it.
A tall woman with graying hair answered the door. She had probably been slender earlier in her life, but the years had put a few pounds on her frame. "Yes?" she asked.
"Mrs. Johnson?" Denise asked.
Denise flashed her badge. "I'm Detective West and this is Commander Rabb and Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie from the Judge Advocate General's Office. We are investigating your case and we wanted to speak to you."
Mrs. Johnson shook her head sadly. "I've already spoken to the police. I don't know what else I can tell you."
Harm stepped up and offered the woman his hand. "We are very sorry for your loss, Ma'am. We just wanted to speak to you, hear what you have to say, see if there is anything we can find that may have been missed earlier."
Mac also stepped forward and offered her hand. "We want to find who did this, Ma'am."
Mrs. Johnson's green eyes glistened with tears. "I appreciate this, but I am not sure what more I can tell you."
"May we come in?" Denise asked.
Mrs. Johnson nodded as she answered, "Yes, this way, please." She led them into the entryway and down a hallway with a hardwood floor into the living room. She took a seat in an old, worn, brown recliner. "Have a seat," she gestured.
Harm took a seat on the couch and Mac moved to sit next to him, but Denise was closer, so she took the spot next to him. With an awkward pause, Mac turned and took a seat in an old chair next to the recliner. She pulled a small notebook out of her purse and Denise pulled a tape recorder out of her pocket and asked, "Do you mind?"
Mrs. Johnson shook her head.
"When did your daughter join the Navy?" Denise asked.
"Shortly after her high school graduation last summer. She didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, but she wanted to see the world, so she thought the Navy would provide her with an opportunity to do that, and maybe give her a chance to figure out what she wanted to do."
"And how did you feel about this?" Harm asked.
"I was proud of her. Caitlin was always kind, always wanted to do good. It didn't surprise me that she wanted to serve her country for a few years. After the last few years, I was glad to see her do something good."
Mac asked, "Were the last few years rough?"
"Yes and no. She always had good grades, could have gone to almost any college she wanted to, but she could never decide. And she was always willing to help people. That never changed. But like many kids her age, she had a rebellious streak in her. She was always pushing the limits, seeing how far she could go, hanging out with the wrong crowd, bringing home people she knew we wouldn't like. For a few years, mostly in her sophomore and junior years, we were really worried about her."
The phone on Denise's hip sent out a shrill ring. She glanced down at it and rose to her feet. "Excuse me," she said, "I have to take this." She walked off down the hall.
"Did she ever use any drugs?" Harm asked.
"She drank. We knew about that. And it didn't bother us too much, as long as she wasn't driving or didn't get into a car with someone who had been drinking. She called us once, from a party, said she and a few other people had been drinking and she wanted to come home. We ended up driving two of her friends home as well. And we didn't punish her for it. She did the right thing. But we never found any drugs. We found lighters, but she burned a lot of candles. And we would have questioned it more, but she was still making good grades."
Mac had been keeping her eye on Denise as she listened to Mrs. Johnson. Denise had been pacing nervously around the entryway while she was talking, but suddenly she stopped. "No!" she said loudly into the phone.
Both Harm and Mrs. Johnson paused. Mrs. Johnson turned to look at Denise, but quickly turned away. There was no way for Harm to see her around the corner.
"So, you don't know for sure that she ever used drugs?" Harm continued.
Mrs. Johnson shook her head. "We don't know that she did, but we don't know that she didn't either. But she was better her last year of high school. She started hanging out with a better crowd."
Denise was talking loudly again and Mrs. Johnson stopped talking. "I told you about that." Denise paused. "Is it my fault you didn't listen?" She sighed heavily. "No, not at all. I told you that is where I would be." She paused again. "I did." She was silent for another moment. She stood gazing out the wind of the front door, one arm across her chest, the other holding the phone. "No. You don't…" She didn't say anything else for a moment. "Don't do it. You don't have to." She sighed heavily again. "Look, now is not the time for this. We'll have this discussion later." She paused again. "Fine," she said angrily before she hung up. She turned back down the hallway and rejoined the now silent conversation. "Sorry about that," she said.
"Everything okay?" Harm asked. The conversation hadn't sounded pleasant.
"Yeah," she nodded. "Shall we continue?"
Harm and Mac both nodded. Mac asked the next question. "What about boyfriends, Mrs. Johnson? Did she ever go out with anyone?"
"She was usually just friends with guys. They would all go out as a group, several guys and several girls. Her senior year she went out with a guy for about four months."
"Do you know if she was sexually active?" Denise asked.
Mrs. Johnson shook her head. "She and Brad would hang out after school, sometimes either here or at his house. I suppose they could have been having sex, but I trusted her. He was her first serious boyfriend and I don't think it went that far."
Denise nodded. She couldn't speak about that particular relationship, but the autopsy had revealed that Seaman Johnson was no virgin, as evidenced by the torn hymen and vaginal stretching, but she wasn't about to inform Mrs. Johnson of this.
Backing away from the serious stuff, Harm asked, "How long was your daughter going to be home on leave?"
"She had a week. The Roosevelt was in port at Norfolk for repairs and whatever they do when they are in port. Forgive me, but I am not well versed in Naval issues."
Harm smiled sympathetically.
"Did she go to the club very often when she was home?" Denise asked.
"She hadn't been for a while. I don't think she's been at all since she enlisted. She went more after she turned 18 and before she joined the Navy. So I was surprised when she went out."
"Did she go by herself?" Mac asked.
"No, never," Mrs. Johnson answered firmly. "She always went with at least one other person."
"Who did she go with on the night of her murder?" Denise inquired.
Mrs. Johnson's eyes teared up. "Her friend Jessica. She's known Jessica since her sophomore year. Jessica was one of those kids Caitlin's father and I didn't really care for. She was a sweet enough kid, but she was wild. I wasn't even aware that Caitlin was still in touch with her."
"Do you know Jessica's last name?" Harm asked.
"Crawford. Jessica Crawford. She still lives here in the area."
Mac scribbled the name down. They'd be talking to Jessica.
Harm asked, "Do you know of anybody who would have any reason to hold a grudge against your daughter?"
Mrs. Johnson shook her head, "No. I can't imagine why anybody would want to do this to her. She was such a sweet person."
"Anything else you can think of?" Denise asked.
"Caitlin was a good kid. She was mixed up for a little while, but she was a good kid. She didn't deserve this."
"They never do, Ma'am," Mac said softly.
Denise rose to her feet and picked up the tape recorder. As she pocketed it, she pulled out a card and handed it to Mrs. Johnson. "If you think of anything else, Ma'am, please, don't hesitate to call me."
Mrs. Johnson also rose to her feet, followed by Harm and Mac. "I won't," she said. "You'll find out what happened to my little girl, won't you?" she asked, her voice pleading.
"We'll do our best, Ma'am," Denise assured her.
Mrs. Johnson led them to the front door and held it open for them.
Harm and Mac donned their covers and Harm turned to say, "Again, Ma'am, I'm sorry for your loss."
"Enjoy the rest of your day," Mac offered with a weak smile. She hated this part of her job.
"You, too," Mrs. Johnson said as a tear fell from her eye.
Once back in the car, Denise picked up her cell phone and called the station house. She was looking for an address for a Jessica Crawford in Chantilly. A few minutes later, she had the address and directed Harm to the house.
As they drove, Harm asked, "So, what do you guys think?"
"She didn't know her daughter," Mac answered quickly.
"Why do you think that?" Harm asked.
"She didn't know if she was using drugs or not. She didn't seem concerned by this, as long as the grades were good. She knew she drank, but she didn't seem to mind this either. And trusting her alone with a boyfriend after school… She may have trusted her daughter, but I don't think she knew her daughter. Any kid that hangs out with the 'bad crowd' is more likely to drink and do drugs themselves, no matter how good the grades are. It's the smart kids that can be the most trouble."
"I agree with Mac," Denise began. "Johnson's body was clean of drugs at the autopsy, she had some alcohol in her system, but she was in the Navy. If she liked where she was and what she was doing, she wasn't likely to put that at risk."
Harm added his opinion. "That makes three of us, then. She seemed very naive to her daughter's activity. The whole boyfriend thing… Didn't the autopsy indicate that she had, at some point, engaged in sexual activity?"
Denise nodded as she answered, "Yes. She may not have been back in high school, but as Mac said, she hung out with a bad crowd, making her more likely to engage in such activities."
"I'm willing to bet," said Mac, "that back in high school, she was using drugs and having sex. The good grades could have been just a cover. And being in the Navy may mean that she quit using drugs, but she didn't have to quit hanging out with her friends, whether they were good or bad. The Navy doesn't prohibit that."
Harm nodded. "I'm interested in what Jessica Crawford has to say."
They were silent for a few minutes as they searched for the address Denise had received from the station house.
The Crawford house was a townhouse, painted a deep blue with maroon shutters. Many of the parking spaces in front of the row of houses were empty, but directly in front of the Crawford house was an old, beat up, blue Buick. Harm parked the car next to the Buick and all three of them climbed out. Denise led the way and knocked on the door.
Rustling could be heard behind the door and a moment later, the door opened. Before the trio stood a girl, about 5'8", heavy set, dirty-blonde hair that was tousled and sticking up in places. Her blue eyes were blood-shot and appeared to be sleep-filled. She was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of blue, plaid boxer shorts. "Yeah?"
"Jessica Crawford?" Denise asked.
The girl nodded. She couldn't have been more than 20, if that.
Denise flashed her badge. "I'm Detective West from the D.C. Police. This is Commander Rabb and Lieutenant Colonel MacKenzie from the Judge Advocate General's office. May we speak to you for a moment?"
Jessica looked nervous. "Um, yeah." She stepped back from the door, allowing Denise, Harm, and Mac to enter. The house was crowded, papers and gadgets everywhere. Two dogs, pugs, were sleeping in a dog bed about four feet from the door. Jessica led them towards the kitchen. As they passed the living room, Mac noticed a young man stretched out on the couch, his chest bare, covered by a black and red checkered blanket. The house had a musty smell. Jessica led them to the kitchen table and indicated that they sit down. "You want anything to drink?" she asked nervously.
"No, thanks," they all responded as they drew chairs out from around the table. Harm was seated between Denise and Mac and the empty chair resided just opposite him. Jessica took a seat in it.
"Who is that on the couch?" Mac asked.
"Chris. My boyfriend."
Once again, Mac pulled her pad of paper from her purse and Denise pulled the tape recorder out of her pocket. "Do you mind?" she asked.
Jessica regarded the machine for a moment. "I guess not."
"Ms. Crawford," Denise began. "We're here to talk to you about the murder of your friend, Caitlin Johnson."
"Call me Jessica, please." Jessica's expression was still nervous, but it now contained an element of sadness. "I don't know anything. I don't think I can be of much help to you."
"We just want to ask you a few questions," Harm explained.
Jessica sighed. "I don't really know what I can say that will help."
"How long have you known Caitlin?" Denise asked.
"Since high school. I think we were in tenth grade?" she paused for a moment. "Yeah, tenth grade, English class."
"What sorts of things did you guys do together?" Mac asked.
Jessica looked at them somewhat crossly. "I thought this was about her murder, not a trip down memory lane."
"It is," Mac began calmly. "But we want a picture of who she was, what her life was like."
Jessica sighed again and bit her lip. "Will I get in trouble for this?"
"What do you mean?" Harm asked.
"I mean, will you tell anybody about what I say? Like my parents? And will I go to jail for things we did when we were in high school?"
"No," Denise answered quickly. "This is confidential. It will go no further than us unless it pertains to the case. And you won't get punished for things you did in the past. All we are really concerned about is what happened to Caitlin. We want to make sure this doesn't happen to someone else."
Jessica relaxed. "Okay, then. Cat and I, we hung out a lot. We spent a lot of time at her house, stayed up late and watched movies. We… um…" she paused, unsure.
"Go on," Mac urged. "You won't get in trouble for it."
"We smoked pot whenever we could. We also drank whenever we could. We liked to get high and drunk, it broke up the boredom of school. We went out to parties, went to houses and stayed with guys… We really just partied a lot."
"Did you do this all through high school?" Harm asked.
"No. We quit hanging out so much during our senior year. She started going out with this guy, Brad, for a while. But towards the end of the year, once we were both 18, we started going to clubs in the city."
"Catacombs?" Denise asked.
"Yeah," Jessica nodded. "Cat wasn't as big into it as I was. She went mostly for me. But she did like dressing up for it, meeting guys at the club. She said it made her feel rebellious, even though she wasn't doing anything wrong."
"And when she joined the Navy?" Harm asked.
"I couldn't believe she did it. She has always been different from the rest of our crowd, calmer, quieter, smarter, but I didn't expect her to go for the military. I figured she'd go on to college."
"But you stayed in touch?" Harm questioned again.
"Not at first. Then one day, about six months ago, I got an email from her."
"Did she like the Navy?" Mac asked.
"She said it was interesting. She didn't really like all the rules and enforcements, but she loved being out in the world, doing something good for the country. Especially after September 11th. She was proud of what she did, even if she wasn't always happy."
"How often did you guys communicate?" Denise asked.
"We exchanged emails about once a week. She didn't always have access to a computer, so it varied, but about once a week. And she called me about two weeks before she was home on leave. She wanted to get together while she was home."
"Who suggested the club?" Mac asked.
"She did. I was surprised. Even I hadn't been to Catacombs in a while."
"So what happened the night of the murder?" Denise asked.
Jessica looked sad for a moment. "I picked her up at her house and we got to the club at about eleven. It was only me and her. Chris was working so he wasn't coming with us. We got there and hung around. We ran into a few people that we knew, got some drinks, danced. Cat was wild, but I figured she was just cutting loose. I hadn't seen her take anything and she didn't have much to drink. I was getting bored with the whole thing, so I pulled her aside. She didn't want to go, so I said I'd come back for her. She said she'd probably get a ride home. I never heard from her again. I just assumed she got a ride. I didn't know anything until I read about her in the paper last week. I called her mom and she was upset. We both were."
"Understandable," Mac said.
"Was Caitlin hanging around anybody in particular?" Denise asked.
"No, she was with a lot of people. For a while she stuck with the people we knew, but she eventually just started dancing with anybody and everybody. By the time I left, I had seen her making out with three different guys. I got the feeling that she didn't want to go home alone, if you know what I mean."
Denise nodded. "If you saw any of the guys she was kissing that night, would you recognize them?"
"I don't know. It was dark, I mean there was the strobe light, but still… And most of us dress differently during the day, so the clothes would be different. I really don't know if I would recognize them again."
"Do you know anybody who would want to hurt Caitlin?" Denise asked.
Jessica shook her head. "Nah. She had her own opinions of things, her own ideas, but she never forced them on anybody. And she was always nice to everybody. I can't even think of someone that didn't like her. I don't know many of her friends, but I still don't know why anybody would hurt her."
"Can you think of anything else that might be helpful?" Harm asked.
Denise rose to her feet, followed closely by Harm and Mac. She pocketed the tape recorder and pulled a card out. She handed it to Jessica. "If you think of anything that may help us, please call me."
Jessica stood up and nodded as well. "I will. I hope you catch whoever did this."
"We're doing our best," Mac responded.
Jessica led them to the front door and they stepped out.
Once in the car on the way back to D.C., Mac, from the backseat, initiated the conversation. "Well, she painted a different picture of Seaman Johnson."
"Yes, she did," Harm chuckled. "Her mom really didn't know what she was up to."
"A lot of moms don't," Mac said sadly.
"That is too often true," Denise agreed. "But I get the feeling that Jessica was right in that Johnson may have been letting loose that night."
"There are a lot of rules and regulations to follow," Harm agreed. "I can understand why someone, especially a young person, would want to cut loose when they could. I found ways to do it back at the Academy. We all find ways to adjust."
Mac laughed lightly. "You still have to tell me those stories. I want to know what kind of trouble you and Sturgis got into."
"Don't forget Keeter."
Mac laughed a little harder. "How could I?"
Denise interrupted the friendly moment. "Anyway, I also got the feeling that she wasn't telling us everything."
"She didn't seem all that upset for having just lost a friend, did she?" Harm asked.
"No, she really didn't," Mac agreed.
"Some of it may be nerves," Denise suggested, "but I think there was more than she was telling us."
"Definitely," Harm nodded.
"But do you think she had anything to do with Johnson's murder?" Mac asked as she flipped through her notes.
"No," Denise answered. "I don't think she did. I just think she isn't telling us something. Whether it is important or not, I don't know."
Harm sighed. "But what bothers me is that Jessica left her there. She knew Johnson was acting wild, but she just left her there. She offered to come back, but after closing time, what was Johnson supposed to do, stand on the street corner? And who was she going to get a ride home with, a complete stranger? What kind of a friend is that?"
"Good point," Denise agreed, nodding.
"They had both been drinking," Mac pointed out. "Neither one may have been thinking clearly. Plus, they are still both young and may still think that nothing bad will happen to them."
"Still," Harm insisted. "I know you are a Marine, but Mac, I wouldn't leave you out on the streets in that part of the city for half an hour, forty-five minutes while I came back to pick you up. I would have insisted that you leave with me. That's what friends do, they don't leave friends behind in a potentially dangerous situation."
"Good to know, Harm. I'll keep that in mind. However, we are both older than these kids. We've been around, experienced and seen things they haven't. Perhaps they just felt that it wouldn't be them."
"Harm has a point, though," Denise stated. "Jessica did leave her behind. For whatever reason, she didn't act like a friend. And she is probably feeling guilty because now, something bad happened to her friend."
"You would have thought she would have acted more upset in that case," Mac said.
"True," Harm agreed.
All three of them were silent with this. They had a lot of questions and still no answers. Harm dropped Denise off at the station and headed back to JAG Headquarters with Mac.