The Alcuéscar Murders
“Lieutenant, you can’t smoke here,” one of the scientific crew in their face masks chided García as he stood, eyes blank, in the drizzle.
“Screw you,” he muttered under his breath, but he pinched it out anyway. She was right, after all: no smoking while in uniform, less at a crime scene. But the sight before him made his gut clench, his stomach churn. Such carnage, such utter abandon of violence, he’d never seen in almost forty years of service. The gang wars back in the less reputable quarters of Seville, where he’d earned his spurs as a cop, didn’t come close, much less the occasional domestic cases he’d dealt with after he moved here.
Blood was everywhere: puddles of it all over the place. The kid had been trying to escape, it seemed, finally put up a fight. It hadn’t been enough: he’d been gutted, and the entrails were draped along the school fence the kid had been pinned to. The perp had to be immensely strong, too: for all he couldn’t have been much older than 15, the kid must’ve weighed nigh-on 90 kilos, and by far not all of it was fat. His eyelids were gone, removed with a sharp knife, and someone had carved a grin out of his cheeks, practically reaching from ear to ear.
“Have you been able to get anything out of the girl yet?” he asked Sánchez, his partner. She shook her head, sighed.
“She’s still in hysterics. I mean, she knew that kid. All the kids here know each other. Heck, for all I know he was her boyfriend, or cousin, or both, likely. I got a name, though: Jesús Muñoz. No second surname, she just can’t. I left her with the psychologist -didn’t want to be in the way.”
“What d’you think of this?” Sánchez was thirty years his junior, but García trusted her judgment. She was clever, and that pretty face belied the unerring instinct of a bloodhound, the persistence of a hunting crocodile.
“Looks like a bloody serial killer to me. I mean, propping up the body like that, taking time to … to do that to his face. The entrails on the fence… And somehow it looks familiar, but I just can’t put my finger on it. I’ve seen something like this before, or read about it…”
“Serial killer…? Yeah, I see what you mean. Hope to God you’re wrong though. Just about all I needed for my last couple weeks…”
“Yeah. ‘t would be a first here in Al…”
“Sir? Sorry to interrupt sir, but we’ve got an address.” The junior officer interrupting them looked pale. Almost certainly, this was his first murder scene. He shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, never quite meeting García’s gaze and clearly avoiding to look in the victim’s direction.
“Mother, father, both?”
“Single mother, sir. He was an only child, too.”
“Damn. OK.” García swallowed -this was one kind of visit he wasn’t particularly keen on making. “ ‘s soon as he’s on the way to morgue, we’re off to see her. No use rushing it, though -we don’t want Mom to see this mess. Sánchez? Join me for a drink, would you? And, errm…” That boy needed something to do, something he could do from a ways back from the body.
“Gil, sir. Officer Rubén Gil Márquez, lieutenant.”
“Right, Gil. Arrange for the body to be taken away, get this shit cleaned up a bit. I guess they’ll be skipping class tomorrow, but we don’t want the kids to run into this. Kick some sci ass if you have to, say it’s on my orders. And radio me when it’s time for me to visit Mom, alright? And then, call up Cáceres for info on serial killers.”
That last order made Gil stumble. His eyes widened. “Serial killer? In Alcuéscar? ...sir, I mean.”
“Just exploring possibilities, officer. And, Gil?”
“Utter confidentiality, am I understood? Zero detail to anyone, anyone, outside the force. Am I making myself clear?”
“Alright. Sánchez? Let’s go.”
It was the morning after. The interview with the mother had gone just as expected -García still couldn’t shake the memory of her screams, her tears, the utter despondency when she identified Jesús Muñoz Robles, 15, her only son. At least the guys at the morgue had done an impressive job of making the body look as calm and peaceful as at all possible, considering the circumstances. Eyelids would have been quite a boon for that purpose, of course. But they were nowhere to be found.
The young man sitting opposite García now did not appear to be a very fruitful source of information. John Davies, English teacher at the victim’s school and his tutor. Nice enough, with a keen mind, but quite clueless. He looked shaken to the core, grey in the face. He had a noticeable accent, but no trouble making himself understood in Spanish -even though he kept forgetting García’s rank and occasionally slipped into a rather informal way of speaking.
“No, officer. I don’t think I noticed anything out of the ordinary in Jesús, or in his classmates’ behaviour towards him.”
“What was he like? In class, around the other kids, I mean?”
“Well, like most of them, really. Good kid at heart, a bit wild, boisterous, loud. Not a particularly good student, but well… I think he felt fairly well in the group, and here at school in general. Socially, I mean. Kind of a joker, not unpopular. I can’t see any of the others even think of … of doing something like this.”
“So, no serious rivalries, enemies…?”
“None that I know of, ...nah. But I’ve only been here for, like, six or seven weeks.”
“You live up in Cáceres, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. Most of us teachers live there.”
“I need you to think again. Have any of the kids made any strange remarks lately? Stuff about feeling unsafe, seeing things… whatever, really.”
Davies thought for a moment, creasing his brow. Slowly, he began shaking his head. “Mmmh… N… Wait a mo’. Yeah, there might be something, but it might be nothing. The other day I was having coffee in the cafeteria, and one of the high school kids seemed uneasy, scared even. They were talking about something, and of them did look kinda scared. A girl from one of my classes. The others laughed it off, and she got kinda angry. I don’t know what she was saying, I don’t eavesdrop on students during recess. But when they laughed she got upset, told them to fuck off, and left.”
This might be a lead! García was piqued. “Could you tell me her name?”
“María... Cifuentes, I think. Junior year.”
“So, Miss Cifuentes,...”
“Alright, María.” Sánchez flicked the girl a smile. It was plain to see that she’d hardly ever talked to a cop on duty, less in a serious matter. María seemed insecure, almost scared, practically hiding her pretty face behind a curtain of her long blonde hair. García knew why he'd left this interview to his partner. “What did you see that night? Mr Davies -John- told us you were upset about something a couple days before...the crime.”
“Well… it was weird. But… it was nothing, I’m sure.”
It took some expert prodding and a lot of patience for Sánchez to pry out the outlines of what María had seen, not least because the girl had been stoned and somewhat tipsy at the time and feared consequences for admitting to it. It was Saturday night, for whatever that was worth in a village like this, and María had been out with some friends. They’d been up at the ancient basilica just outside town María's on-again-off-again boyfriend, Juanjo, thought it was the perfect place for a couple of spliffs and a bottle, even if it meant quite a hike. María and the others had gone along with it. After all, Juanjo’s homegrown was the best weed in town. They’d been hanging out for a while, treating a new arrival to the school, Sara, to stories such as the old hat of the kid in the basilica, a ghost that reportedly haunted the place. While that story was B-O-R-I-N-G, boring among locals, it was fun to tell a newb who’d never heard of it. But at some point, nature called, and Sara -the only other girl around- was busy demonstrating just why Juanjo was not someone María would want to go steady with. Well, the two of them were, whatever.
“When I went, you know, I felt like, like there was someone else around. I dunno, I didn’t even feel watched or anything, just… not alone. Like I passed someone by on the way, but I didn’t see anything.
‘Then, when I came back, I had the same feeling again. Then there was a sound, I dunno… like someone moving in the bushes. And… and I saw something… someone. But he looked weird. Like, like a boy, but his face was all white. White-white, I mean. And his mouth was weird, and his eyes… He grinned at me, and then he was gone. I was so scared, I almost… well, good job I’d taken a leak already.”
< “Can you describe him? You say his eyes and mouth were weird?”
“Well… I only saw him for a moment, and I was … yeah, I was stoned, OK? I don’t remember!”
“Come on, sweetheart, just try.” Sánchez put on her best motherly manner. Having worked with child abuse victims for a few years, she’d learned to this quite well. María swallowed, breathed, concentrated.
“His… his face. That white wasn’t natural, but it didn’t look like makeup either. And his eyes… There… there was something wrong with them. Like… something missing…”
“Eyelids?” It was a hunch, but Sánchez had to try. The response was immediate:
“Yes! Yes, that’s what was wrong! He looked… He looked like he’d no eyelids. And… “
Sánchez saw the words forming in María's eyes, and just couldn’t stop herself: “...and he had scars around his mouth, like a huge grin!” She silently cursed herself: was she planting false memories? María’s face fell.
“Was he real? Did you get him?”
“No, love, we haven’t got him yet. But you’ve been so, so helpful, and so brave!” Sánchez’s inner social worker was taking over, but she let the cop step in just in time. “Did you see what he was wearing?”
“He looked dirty, like he’d been sleeping rough. White shirt -well, not quite white- and dark trousers. Black hair, rather long, dishevelled.”
“And he just turned away?
“Yes. He… he disappeared before I could scream. The others just laughed.”
“So, we’re looking for fucking monster kid with no eyelids and paper-white skin?” Irony was dripping of Inspector Saponi’s voice like acid from a leaking car battery. “You actually think we’re gonna mount a major manhunt for a fucking horror movie character on the word of a bloody stoner kid? And, after one damn case, you want me to activate the serial killer protocol in a peaceful one-horse town?” His voice rose to a volume that would have made J. Jonah Jameson being asked for pay rise sound calm and collected, even kind. “Are you out of your fucking MINDS, for Chrissakes!!??”
Sánchez flinched, but García was used to his boss’s tantrums. Plus, being two weeks from retirement tends to make one more sanguine about one’s boss’s reactions than being, as Sánchez was, at the beginning of a promising career.
“No, sir, we’re not,” he contradicted while Saponi was trying to get his breath back.
‘We’ve got evidence for a ritual crime, we’ve got a total lack of any apparent motive, and apart from Ms Cifuentes some other kids reported having seen something similar, or someone unknown loitering in weird places. People in the village are concerned, sir.’”
“So kids see some bum around town, and all of a sudden we’ve got a serial killer on the loose?” Saponi was not convinced.
“Sir, you remarked quite rightly that Alcuéscar is a one-horse town. Everybody knows everybody, so it rather calls my attention that multiple witnesses should report seeing the same thing, independently from each other.” Ice was dripping from García’s voice. He’d always considered his superior a huge failure in his job, and his recent outbreak had confirmed him in this belief.
“The protocol is not, repeat not being activated. Have a nice day, and get the hell down to work. Bring us something useful, García. This preposterous bull … well you know what to do with it!”
Two days after their chat with Saponi, García and Sánchez were having coffee in a bar off the main square, Plaza de España, when García’s phone rang. “It’s Gil,” he informed Sánchez before picking it up.
“García speaking, what’s up? … Damn. … I see. We’re on the way, call in the scis and get the area cleared and walled-off. Be there in a few.” He hung up, looked at Sánchez, who was already paying the bill.
“We’ve got another one.”
Ten minutes later, they were standing among olive trees off Camino Arroyomolinos, a lane that served a number of agricultural lots and contained a very few residential properties. The victim, again a teenage boy, had been tied to one of the trees, using his own guts as some sort of improvised rope. Again, the eyelids were missing, and again a ghastly grin had been carved into his cheeks. Identifying him didn’t take long this time, though: Gil, who unlike the other officers was originally from the village, recognised him as Alejandro Carvajal Cobos, 16, the son of a local cattle rancher and farmer. But, as before, there were no fingerprints, no extraneous DNA, no usable footprints.
Nor was Alejandro the last victim: This was Monday, and by Friday two others had been found. All of them had the same profile: approximately same-age male students at the local comprehensive school, rather burly, somewhat undisciplined local kids. Obviously, they’d all known each other, but that in itself provided no clue whatsoever: after all, this was a village of less than 3,000 inhabitants and with a single secondary school.
By now, parents didn’t let their kids go out at night anymore and were clamouring for armed guards at the school entrance. Everyone suspected everyone. Reluctantly, Saponi finally activated the serial killer protocol, and soon the village was flooded with plainclothes police experts, police psychologists, and a host of scientific police. And still, no progress was made.
It was Mr Davies, the English teacher, who first spotted a haunting similarity to a series of killings that had happened years ago in Mandeville, Louisiana, on the other side of the Atlantic.
“You see, Sergeant García, that Jeffrey Woods character matches the descriptions Alba and the other students gave you, and there are some similarities in the modus operandi.”
The lieutenant let it pass this time -again. No use insisting on rank when talking to members of the populace, less with this one.
“You said on the phone you found some articles online, can you show them to me?”
Davies handed him a sheaf of printouts.
“Oh, they’re in English. This might take a while.”
“No worries, let me translate.”
Half an hour later, García was all but convinced: teenage serial killer Jeffrey Woods, who had disappeared from the New Orleans area after a killing spree somewhat more than a decade ago, must somehow have wound up in Alcuéscar and taken up his old hobby again. Even though there were some differences in the way the bodies were found -Woods had never propped them up, nor taken their eyelids- the similarities were there, especially in the use of knives. Also, serial killers tended to become more ritualistic in their crimes as time went by, and they did tend to leave ever-more clues as to the authorship of their gruesome deeds. Had Jeff the Killer emigrated? It bloody well looked that way.
“We’re looking for a Caucasian male, around 1.75 metres, muscular build, disfigured face, American, most likely with a poor grasp of our language,” García radioed back to the taskforce. “The suspect is likely to be armed with multiple knives, firearms unlikely but possible.” Within hours, a dragnet operation was in place.
Officer Gil hadn’t been idle either. However convincing Davies’s theory seemed, how should a highly-recognisable American serial killer have made it to Europe? What could he possibly be doing here in Extremadura, in Alcuéscar, of all places?
What struck Gil as most puzzling was that the victims had once been good friends but had parted ways just after last year’s village festival. Nobody seemed to know why, but they’d apparently just drifted apart. What had happened?
Gil wasn’t senior enough to officially go off on a tangent, and protocol demanded he focus entirely on the official line. Still, this was his town, for Chrissakes!
“Yeah, I remember those kids.” Anabel, who worked in one of the bars in town, spoke slowly, remembering. “They behaved somewhat strange one night during the Rosary Festival last year. You know, they’d been drinking and making one hell of a racket -I was about to tell them to leave, as they were starting to piss everyone off. And then, all of a sudden, they went all quiet, all of them, and they up and left. That was the last time I saw them together.”
“Can you remember anything anything else about that situation?”
“No. Or… wait. I think… I think I’d seen them look at a girl who was also drinking here, and I think they were telling her things. She didn’t seem to like it much -she left some time before they did.”
Gil smelled a rat. “Can you describe her?”
“She must have been some 15, 16 years old. Pretty girl, long blonde hair… I don’t see her around much, and I don’t know her name.”
Gil thanked Anabel for her cooperation and left. There weren’t many girls in this town who matched that description: pretty, yes, but blonde? He thought he might actually be able to put a name on this one. As he was walking towards his car, he heard a soft footfall behind him. Slowly, he turned around. His eyes flew open in shock. Just a few metres away, there stood the person they’d been looking for: a young man, black hair, white, horribly disfigured face, no eyelids. In his hand, a long, sharp knife. Fractions of a second later, he was on him -the flash of the blade, terrible pain… The last thing he heard before everything went dark was a soft female voice, in perfectly-pronounced Spanish: “Duérmete.”
María breathed a sigh of relief as she removed the clamps that kept her eyes open, identical to the ones she’d planted in Davies’s cellar to further direct suspicion away from herself. Serve him right for those killer exams he kept insisting were easy. She resented the clamps: the wraps around her breast were bad enough, but those things… Well, they’d been necessary, and now she could dispose of them, and of that itchy, ugly wig. As she removed the makeup, a sense of fulfillment warmed her heart. The rapists had got what they’d had coming, her vengeance was complete, and nobody would suspect her.
It was a shame that nice police officer had come so close -she couldn’t allow such questions being asked. She’d have to keep her eyes and ears open for a while -he might not be the only one asking them. Perhaps holding on to the clamps would, after all, be a good idea.
Credit to: Joscha