A Circumstantial Case
Dennis Voight and his wife, Jodie, were a model American couple of the nineties. Dennis, a handsome and personable young man, was a sales manager rapidly climbing the corporate ladder of an internationally known toy manufacturer. Jodie, petite of form, with laughing eyes and an infectious smile, was a kindergarten teacher, loved by all who knew her. In short, the Voights were an enviable couple, very much in love, radiantly happy and--from all indications--destined to remain so. Then came the tragic day when, in the ninth month of her pregnancy, Jodie Voight went missing.
Jeanne Keyhoe, the young woman's mother, was supposed to meet her daughter for lunch at nearby Willowbrook Mall. When Jodie didn't show, Jeanne went to the couple's house and found Jodie's purse and keys on the kitchen table, but there was no sign of the pregnant woman. Calls placed to the doctor's office, the hospital and the husband proved fruitless. By mid-afternoon a community-wide search was undertaken, but after twenty-four hours there was still no sign of the missing woman. The police became involved, and volunteers from surrounding towns joined in the search as the perimeter of the target area expanded.
A network news crew televised the story, and soon the kindergarten teacher from Morris County, New Jersey, became a national tabloid sensation. For weeks, rumor rags such as the National Tattler plastered Jodie's face on the cover of each issue. Yet despite the considerable media attention, the search for the missing pregnant woman yielded no results.
Jodie's parents and siblings were beside themselves. Only Dennis, the husband, faced the ordeal stoically. Many people admired him for his strength in the face of such tribulation, but most found his lack of emotion disturbing and unnatural. Not only were no tears shed for his wife and unborn child, but candid photographs taken of Dennis showed a smiling man, apparently unaffected by his wife's disappearance.
The husband's puzzling behavior suddenly became clear to many people when the National Tattler published an exposé--accompanied by damning photographs--revealing the fact that for more than six months Dennis had been having an affair with an attractive secretary from Boston. Reporters scrambled to follow the Tattler's lead. So, too, did the state and local law enforcement agencies.
"Dennis told me his wife was dead," Cookie Logan swore to the press and police alike, "and I had no reason to doubt him."
The tears the young girl shed won the public over. Rather than cast her in the role of a shameless home-wrecker, people saw her as an innocent victim of a self-serving philanderer. Thurman Gray, the detective in charge of the Voight investigation, saw the sexy young blonde as something else: a possible motive for homicide. For even though the young pregnant woman had yet to be found, he believed she and her unborn child were dead, more than likely murdered. If such was the case, Thurman already had a prime suspect.
* * *
With no further developments in the investigation, the Voight story was relegated to a few short paragraphs in the back pages of the local newspapers, and in the tabloids the young woman's disappearance was supplanted by more newsworthy items, such as the antics of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.
Just when readers were beginning to forget about the missing kindergarten teacher, her badly decomposed body was found in a heavily wooded area in southern New Jersey. Not far away were the remains of a tiny infant--no doubt the child Jodie had been carrying at the time of her disappearance.
Unfortunately, both corpses had been exposed to the elements and to wild animals, leaving little for the medical examiner to determine the cause of death. In fact, the M.E. couldn't even say with any certainty whether the poor woman had died as a result of natural causes or foul play.
"The bodies were probably in those woods for close to a year," the doctor informed Detective Gray. "I can't rule out homicide, but I can't swear to it either."
This lack of medical evidence did not deter the good detective. His gut told him that Jodie had been murdered and that her husband had killed her.
"I've seen it dozens of times," Thurman told the young desk sergeant who joined him for lunch. "A guy meets a nice girl, marries her and tries to settle down. Then he's faced with mortgage payments and debts. Soon there's a kid on the way. The guy starts to feel trapped. He begins to think he's made a mistake and wishes he were single again."
"He could have gotten a divorce," the other man reasoned.
"Maybe the wife wouldn't give him one, or maybe he just wanted to walk away with no alimony and child support payments."
The sergeant had to admit the scenario sounded plausible.
"Then he meets Miss Blond Bombshell, and he's desperate to get out of his marriage before his girlfriend finds out he's married. But there's a problem. He never anticipated the media circus that would surround his wife's disappearance. Of course, once the papers got word that Jodie was missing, it was only a matter of time before Cookie Logan learned the truth about the man she was dating."
* * *
The police investigation continued for more than a year. As usual, the tabloids printed stories based on unsubstantiated rumors and ridiculous theories. Court TV called in several reliable psychics, all of whom indirectly implicated Dennis Voight in his wife's death. The Tattler's nationwide poll revealed that 99.6% of the people surveyed were convinced that Dennis had murdered Jodie. Detective Gray, however, needed more than psychic visions and public opinion before he could go to the district attorney. He knew from past experience that the D.A. would not get involved in a case on the basis of a hunch, even when there was a clear motive for murder.
Luckily, Thurman didn't have any difficulty getting search warrants for Dennis's home and automobile. The results of the exhaustive searches, however, were disappointing.
"So what have we got?" the eager detective asked the head of the forensics unit.
"Not much. Luminol failed to reveal any substantial amounts of blood."
"What about insubstantial amounts?"
"Some. There was blood in the bathroom. DNA tests confirm it was Jodie's blood, but we're talking about a very minimal amount. She could have cut herself shaving her legs, for all we know."
"And the car? Any blood there?"
"Clean inside and out."
"You mean we have nothing in the way of physical evidence?"
"Nothing that indicates a crime has been committed."
"He did it, and we can't prove it," the weary detective said as he walked out of the Voight home in disgust.
* * *
Just when Thurman was beginning to fear that the killer would slip through his grasp, two boys hiking through the Jersey Pine Barrens found a key ring not far from the spot where Jodie's body had been discovered. It was no surprise to the detective that the key ring in question belonged to Dennis Voight.
"You want me to charge a man with murder one on the basis of a set of car keys?" the D.A. asked with disbelief.
"It proves that Dennis Voight was at the scene of the crime."
"It does nothing of the sort. It only proves his keys were there. A good lawyer will explain the discovery by saying that Jodie borrowed her husband's keys."
"Why? She had her own house key, and she would have no use for his car key because she didn't know how to drive a stick shift."
"No jury will convict a man of murder on such flimsy evidence, especially when we can't, with any certainty, say how or even if she was murdered."
"What about the girlfriend?"
"So he was having an affair! That doesn't make him a killer. Millions of men are unfaithful to their wives."
"He murdered her. I know he did."
"Then find me proof, so I can convict the bastard and send him to death row."
Thurman dug deeper and finally uncovered enough circumstantial evidence for the D.A. to charge Dennis Voight with premeditated murder of his wife and unborn child.
The tabloids were relentless. The trial, covered live by Court TV, was the talk of nearly every dinner table across the country. Not since O.J.'s fall from grace were Americans so entranced by a murder trial. Even before the lawyers made their opening statements, the American public had tried and condemned Dennis Voight. To the millions of viewers who tuned in to the trial coverage, he was as guilty as Scott Peterson, O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake.
* * *
Giselle Crofts woke from a light, troubling sleep, one fraught with nightmare images of murder and terror. She sat on her bed, shivering, and waited for the fear to subside. Years earlier, as a young art student, she had attended college in New York City. One evening she was attacked while walking back to her apartment after a late class. She'd been raped, beaten and left unconscious in a dark alley.
Not long after the brutal assault, she left school and moved to rural Maine, miles away from any city. There she lived in a small cabin with doors firmly locked against the outside world. She owned neither a television nor a radio and read no newspapers or magazines. Nuclear war could break out, and Giselle would have been blissfully ignorant of the events leading up to it.
When the after-effects of the disturbing dream finally passed, she got up, showered and dressed. As she made her way to the kitchen, she checked the locks and bolts on the doors and windows. All were securely fastened. She sighed; she was safe.
The morning passed uneventfully. Giselle spent several hours painting. She had just put the finishing touches on a bowl of grapes in her still life when a sharp pain gripped her throat, as though unseen hands were strangling her. Then a quick succession of alien images assaulted her brain, memories that were not her own.
* * *
Detective Gray sat in an aisle seat of the Morris County Courtroom the day the verdict in the Voight trial was read. He stared at the foreman, unaware that he was holding his breath while the charges were read. Despite the lack of any concrete evidence, Dennis Voight was found guilty of all charges. A wave of relief spread through the courtroom. Outside, a loud cheer emanated from the crowd gathered on the courthouse lawn when news of the verdict was announced. Across the country, women's rights advocates and victims' groups applauded the jury's decision.
Thurman, meanwhile, congratulated himself on a job well done. Nothing could bring back Jodie Voight and her child, but perhaps they could now rest more easily knowing that their killer would receive the death sentence.
* * *
Again, Giselle Crofts woke from a fretful sleep. She avoided looking in the dresser mirror as she rose from her bed. She knew what she would see if she did: tousled, unwashed hair; dark circles beneath her tired, red eyes; an unhealthy, pale complexion.
The horrific rape years earlier had had a devastating effect on her mental state, but the visions she'd been having for the past several months were far worse. What troubled the artist most was that she had never experienced anything of a paranormal nature before. Could it be the images she saw were not psychic visions at all, but the product of a diseased mind?
"But they seem so real!" Giselle moaned.
It took several minutes for her to find the will to shower and dress since even routine chores required a good deal of effort. As she was buttoning her blouse, there came the now familiar tightness in her throat, signaling the onset of another paranormal invasion of her brain. Giselle did not scream, did not try to fight it in any way. She had learned from experience that she was helpless against it, and any resistance only caused physical pain.
* * *
Detective Gray, who was looking forward to his retirement in less than three year's time, sat at the counter of Rosie's Luncheonette, eating a breakfast of eggs over easy, toast and coffee. As he ate, he read the sports section of the New York Post, eagerly following the Yankees' battle with the Red Sox for first place in the American League East.
Only after he finished reading the baseball coverage did he look at the news. A familiar face greeted him on the second page.
"Well, now," Thurman remarked to Rosie, who was wiping the counter with a wet, soapy rag. "If it isn't my old friend Dennis Voight."
"He's in the paper again?" Rosie asked with disgust. Like most women, she felt the wife and baby killer should have been tarred, feathered and then lynched on the spot immediately after the verdict was read.
"He sure is," Thurman replied with a broad smile. "Seems his appeals have run out. The date of his execution has been set."
"Hallelujah!" Rosie exclaimed.
Then she reached into the revolving dessert case, took out a thick slice of chocolate cake and put it in front of Thurman.
"This is on the house," she announced. "If it weren't for you, that monster might still be running around free."
* * *
"The doctor is running a little late today," the receptionist informed Giselle, "but if you'll have a seat, he'll see you as soon as he's done with this patient."
Giselle walked over to a group of chairs that looked like they were selected from an IKEA catalog. For ten minutes she sat quietly, staring at the artwork on the walls and listening to the bland tunes being played over Muzak. Her head briefly nodded as she felt herself doze off. Perhaps if she looked at a magazine, she might be able to stay awake.
On an end table in the corner--more Pier 1 than IKEA--was a stack of Highlights magazines, a handful of Dr. Seuss books and an assortment of back issues of People, Newsweek, Time and Red Book--the usual doctor's office fare. Giselle immediately rejected the news magazines, having no desire to read about the sinking economy, immigration issues or the ongoing war in the Middle East. If people believed she was behaving like an ostrich burying her head in a hole, so be it. At least it was a hole she felt safe in.
Halfway through the stack of magazines she spied an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Surely there was nothing upsetting in its content. But when she picked it up, she saw on the cover of the magazine beneath it a photograph of Dennis Voight. Giselle's hand went to her throat. She knew that face!
* * *
Detective Gray was amused that there were not more protestors picketing outside the prison.
"What do you know? I'll bet even most of those bleeding heart liberals secretly want to see Dennis Voight get what he deserves," Thurman told the desk sergeant as they watched news coverage of a small group of picketers holding a demonstration protesting Voight's imminent execution.
"If you ask me, killing is too good for that animal," the sergeant opined as the two men left the station's lunchroom. "He should rot in prison for the rest of his life."
"What? And make the people of New Jersey support him for the next fifty or sixty years? I prefer to see him do his suffering in hell, where it won't waste any of our tax money."
In a world where many people saw a number of gray issues surrounding the controversy of capital punishment, Thurman saw only black and white. He was a staunch advocate for the death penalty. If it were used more often, he believed, the world would be a better, safer place in which to live. This "life without the possibility of parole" nonsense was a joke. Why cage a man for the rest of his life? What benefit was that to society?
As he neared his desk, the sergeant suddenly changed the subject.
"Aren't you going to the Yankee game tonight?"
Thurman smiled and patted his jacket pocket.
"I sure am. I got the tickets right here. Two seats along the third baseline."
"Say hello to A-Rod for me," the sergeant laughed.
Thurman then turned and bumped into an extremely pale, thin young woman.
"Excuse me," he apologized.
"Are you Detective Gray?" the frightened, timid looking woman asked.
"Yes, I am. Did you want to see me about something?"
"You're the man in charge of the Voight investigation, aren't you?" Giselle Crofts asked anxiously.
"I was, but that case has been closed for several years now."
"I need to talk to you. It's urgent. You arrested the wrong man. Dennis Voight didn't kill his wife."
Thurman listened patiently while Giselle described her psychic visions of Jodie's death. He knew there were law enforcement officers that believed in supernatural phenomena, and he was even aware of a few cases where reputable psychics had helped locate missing persons and solve seemingly unsolvable crimes. Yet Thurman remained skeptical.
"I'm sorry, Miss Crofts. I can't explain these visions you're having, but I assure you Dennis Voight is guilty of his wife's murder."
"No, he isn't. The man who killed Jodie was a stranger to her."
"Voight's the murderer. I'd stake my career on it."
"But it's not your career that's at stake here; it's Voight's life. You have to request a stay of execution."
"I can't do that."
"Don't you care that an innocent man will die?"
"Innocent people die every day all over the world. Besides, I don't believe he's innocent. He's got the blood of his wife and child on his hands."
"I know you believe that, but you're wrong. The real killer is out there, waiting to strike again," Giselle prophesied.
"You're the one who's wrong," Thurman stubbornly insisted. "Dennis Voight is the killer."
* * *
No one else in the police department or district attorney's office believed Giselle Crofts either. Even the press--with the exception of the National Tattler--refused to give credence to her psychic messages. Helpless to prevent the miscarriage of justice, Giselle returned to Maine.
A week later, Dennis Voight was executed by lethal injection.
Jodie's family and friends felt as though a great weight had been lifted from their shoulders. The American public rejoiced. A vicious killer had gotten what was coming to him. Their faith in the justice system, which had been dealt a severe blow in the O.J. Simpson case, had been restored.
Detective Gray poured himself a celebratory drink. He deserved it. There was one less monster in the world, he thought with pride.
* * *
Life went on. The world forgot about Jodie Voight, her unborn child and her murderer-husband. Other stories made the headlines, for there was never a shortage of tragedy and scandal in the world.
Detective Gray was steadily getting closer to his long-awaited retirement. Now it was only months rather than years away. He was tired of fighting crime. Sometimes it seemed like a losing battle. For every scumbag he put behind bars, three or four more sprang up. Even worse, the criminals he and his fellow men in blue put away were so often sent back out on the streets by ambitious, money-hungry defense lawyers.
At least there was no need to worry about Dennis Voight, he thought. Too bad more murderers didn't end up on death row.
As usual, Thurman began his day with breakfast at Rosie's Luncheonette. After his customary eggs, toast and coffee, he went to the station house where he waved to the sergeant who was having coffee and a donut at his desk.
The chief of detectives was waiting for him.
"I want you to head over to the woods behind the Mikel warehouse on Washington Street," he instructed. "Two bodies were found this morning. The medical examiner is already on her way. She'll meet you there."
Twenty minutes later Thurman was staring down at the remains of a young woman in her mid-twenties. Nearby was the body of either a newborn or stillborn infant. Thurman felt a spasm in the pit of his stomach. It was like the Jodie Voight case all over again.
As the investigation into the recent murders progressed, more similarities to the Voight case surfaced. In this instance, however, the husband could not be blamed since he had been in California on a business trip at the time of his wife's death.
Six months passed, and with only weeks before Thurman's retirement, another woman and her newborn child were found murdered. Thurman took a few vacation days off, and without the knowledge of anyone on the police force, he paid a visit to Giselle Crofts in Maine.
"Detective!" the young woman exclaimed when she saw Thurman on her doorstep.
"I'd like you to tell me about your visions again."
"Why? You didn't take them very seriously before."
Thurman didn't want to tell Giselle about the two women who had since been murdered. He didn't want her to say "I told you so."
"Please tell me what happened," he urged.
"Jodie entered a contest at the mall. The first prize was a year's supply of Pampers, formula and baby food. I don't know how the killer did it, but he got his hands on her entry form, which had her name, address and due date on it. The morning she went missing, Jodie was getting ready to go shopping with her mother when the doorbell rang. Her husband had just left for work--late because the two had an argument earlier."
Thurman cringed. The district attorney had used that argument--via testimony from the couple's next door neighbor--as part of the circumstantial evidence against Dennis Voight. Thurman himself had brought the argument to the attention of the D.A.
"The doorbell rang," Giselle continued. "Jodie answered it. It was the killer. He was holding a box wrapped in white paper with pink and blue teddy bears on it, the kind of gift wrap Hallmark sells for baby showers."
Thurman suddenly remembered finding remnants of such paper at all three victims' homes. He had not thought it unusual since all three women had been pregnant. There was no reason to tie the wrapping paper to the killer.
"He told her she won the contest and that the gift was just a small portion of what she would receive. But first she had to sign an endorsement for Deering's Baby Food."
"And she believed him?" Thurman asked.
"Yes. She invited him inside. Once the door was closed, he lunged forward, putting a chloroformed rag over her face. When she came to, she was in a shack in the woods down in South Jersey."
"He didn't kill her right away?"
"He didn't want to kill her at all. He wanted her baby, you see."
This was a twist none of the authorities had ever considered. Everyone believed that Jodie--not her unborn child--had been the target.
"He kept her prisoner in that shack and told her he would release her after the baby was born. Still, she tried to escape. He caught her and, in the heat of the moment, strangled her. He tried to save the unborn child, but the boy died during the slipshod attempt at a Caesarean section."
"What happened to the killer then?"
"I don't know. Once Jodie and her child died, the psychic connection broke."
"Could you give me a detailed description of this man?" Thurman asked, wishing he had access to an Identi-Kit.
But Giselle, who was an artist by profession, didn't need the aid of a computer program.
"I can do better than that," she claimed.
She got up from her seat, went into her studio and returned moments later with a pencil sketch of a somewhat overweight, middle-aged white man with a receding hairline.
"Here," she announced. "This is Jodie Voight's murderer."
* * *
The cork popped on a bottle of champagne, and the chief of detectives raised his glass to make a toast.
"To Thurman Gray. Have a long and happy retirement. You deserve it, buddy."
A chorus of "Here! Here!" echoed through the room.
It had been a long and successful career, the aging police officer thought, one without blemish.
"Sure you don't want to stay a few more months?" the young desk sergeant asked. "Maybe you can catch the killer of those two pregnant women."
Thurman shook his head.
"Sorry. I have plans."
"I'm going on a hunting trip."
* * *
Thurman followed the suspect home from the mall. The forty-two-year-old electrician lived alone since his wife had left him several years earlier, after learning he was sterile. The suspect parked his car in the driveway, got out and removed a package from the back of his SUV.
"Bingo!" Thurman said when he saw the pink and blue teddy bears on the gift wrap.
Once the suspect went into his house, Thurman drove away and parked his car on another block. Then he walked, unseen, through several dark backyards, to the suspect's house. He reached into his jacket and removed the gun from its holster. The weapon was one that had been confiscated during a drug raid, one that couldn't be traced back to him. Thurman tapped on the patio door. When the suspect answered, the recently retired detective raised his weapon and fired.
After the killer fell, Thurman wiped his prints from the gun and tossed it into the rhododendron bushes that lined the perimeter of the dead man's backyard. The silencer had muffled the sound of the shot, so no neighbors were alerted to the shooting. Thurman quickly but soundlessly walked back to his car and drove away.
Justice, he reasoned, had been served. The heartless murderer had been eliminated as surely as if he had been given a lethal injection by the state of New Jersey.
Of course, Thurman didn't have to take the law into his own hands. He could have found enough evidence to send the suspect to death row for killing the last two women, but in so doing he might have revealed Dennis Voight's innocence. Had that happened, the question of capital punishment would surely have been brought up again. If so, he feared the death penalty would be abolished once the public learned that an innocent man had been executed.
"And that would be a huge mistake," Thurman declared, as he put the homemade noose around his neck.
Then he stepped off the chair and hung suspended from the main roof beam in his attic. He died several moments later, still firmly believing that death was the price one should pay for committing murder.
No, Salem isn't pregnant. He just ate too many Godiva chocolates again.