I was still new to the evidence locker when the dollhouses were brought in. I had been warned that I’d see some strange, disturbing things coming in and out of the cage, but I never could have imagined anything like that.
I’d only been an employee for the sheriff’s office for a month when the call came down. My boss, Gavin, answered and, after a lot of monotone “Yups” and “Uh huhs”, he scribbled something down and hung up.
“Gotta make some room.” Was all he said.
If there was one thing I’d learned in my time working under Gavin, it was to just do as I was told and wait for him to explain later. I spent the next hour reorganizing and re-cataloguing an entire shelf of evidence in preparation of our newest arrival, wondering the entire time what exactly we were getting that was going to require so much space.
After I’d finished entering the last item number into the system, Gavin spun his chair around slowly and folded his hands over his stomach, “You hear of the Tri-County Killer?”
I rolled my eyes at him. Of course I had, everyone had. The media loved a good murderer, especially when they could give him an overly dramatic nickname, “Serial killer, no real M.O. except for leaving weird drawings of the victims’ houses at the scene, no relation between victims, seems to murder at random, yeah.” I recited the Reader’s Digest version of his long, gruesome list of misdeeds.
“Well aren’t we a little Miss. Know-It-All.” He said dryly, “You know they caught him?”
I jerked around, eyes wide with excitement, “They did? How? When?”
Gavin shrugged, as if it wasn’t a big deal, “Early this morning, apparently he finally made a mistake.”
Six years, five victims, and countless hours poured into the investigation and he was finally in custody. That was the kind of news that had made me want to join law enforcement, even if I was just an evidence clerk.
“What happened?” I asked eagerly.
“Don’t know the details yet. We’re getting the first shipment of his stuff this afternoon, that’s what the space is for. We’ll probably find out more then.”
I was expecting murder weapons, souvenirs from his victims, some kind of paraphernalia that would give us a glimpse into his twisted mind. I watched the officers carry in six large items concealed in black garbage bags and lay them gently on the open shelf for me to tag and inventory and I could barely keep myself from peeking inside to see what they were.
“These are from the Tri-County Killer case?” I asked Gavin excitedly after he’d finished a lengthy conversation with the officers.
“Yep.” He said as he unwrapped the first one.
Inside was one of the most intricate and detailed dollhouses I’d ever seen. I looked from it to Gavin and back again, more than a little curious and confused.
“Well,” He looked pointedly to my paperwork, “you going to get started or what?”
The dollhouse was adorable, there was no other word for it. I had to resist running my fingers over the delicately carved trellises and the smooth railing of the wrap around porch, both a bright white against the pale pink siding. The second story’s large windows seemed to stare out at me like so many eyes and I could see myself reflected in the real glass of their panes. I was still baffled by its relation to the Tri-County Killer, but I didn’t ask any questions. Gavin would offer up an explanation in his own time.
I snapped a few pictures, looking for anything noteworthy to document, and that’s when I noticed the hinges. The dollhouses opened up. After pulling on a pair of latex gloves, I found the latch and gently separated the two halves.
The interior was just as intricate as the exterior. Each room was painted or wallpapered, finished with miniature crown molding, carpeting, and light fixtures. Tiny pieces of furniture were arranged throughout and it was even decorated with paintings and fake plants. Someone had put this together with a great amount of care and attention to detail.
But no room was more lovingly crafted than the kitchen.
It looked like a tornado had run through it. Small bottles of what looked to be spices were spilling out of a cabinet, a bowl of apples had been overturned and its contents scattered across the counter. Little envelopes and magazines had been spread out over the floor, as if they’d been swept off the table. And beneath them, the white and blue checkered laminate had been splashed just so with flecks of red paint that pooled beneath the legs of a kitchen chair.
The woman seated in the chair had been carved so finely and painted so realistically that it was almost hard to believe it was just a wooden doll. The stump of her neck still seemed the glisten wetly and, as absurd as it was, I felt certain if I touched it, I’d come away bloody. No amount of effort had been spared in recreating the torn sinew and exposed bone. The doll’s blouse was stained crimson around the collar.
On the tabletop, her outstretched hands had been skewered into place by two knives and, between them, her head had been placed. The doll’s sockets had been left empty and thin lines of red ran down her cheeks. Black thread was woven through her lips, stitching them together.
On the fridge, held in place by a blue lobster magnet, was a crude sketch of the house.
“You need to see this.” I breathed, at once impressed and repulsed by the work that had gone into creating this murder in miniature.
“Oh, I have an idea of what’s in there.” He replied, snapping a picture of the open house, a small New England cottage, in front of him.
Intruiged, I moved to stand beside him. In his house, which showed the same level artistry, a male doll was nude and handcuffed to a shower curtain rod in a tub. The doll’s body was marred by detailed slashes all along its arms, torso, and legs, and a great deal of time had been spent on capturing all the horror of a castration.
A tiny but still recognizable sketch of the house was taped to the bathroom mirror.
“This is insane! Are these…?”
“Yep. He recreated the murder scenes.”
“Why?” I crouched to get a better look at the bathroom and its unfortunate occupant.
“Killers like souvenirs; I guess this was his version.”
“But he only had five vics; we have six houses.”
“Sixth one was probably today’s mark.”
“Right; the one he got caught with.” I agreed, “How accurate are they?”
“Pretty identical from what I was told. He took a lot of photos while he was on scene and used them later. We’re getting that collection tomorrow. Come on, we’ve still got four others to do; you can ogle these all you want after the work’s been done.”
After I finished documenting everything in the pink dollhouse and taking my pictures, I closed it back up and moved down to the next one. The garbage bag covering it fell away easily and, when I saw the house within, my heart lodged itself in my throat.
I knew those blue shutters and that pale yellow siding; I’d always hated the combination. The front bay window, even in its recreation, had the same long, thick crack running across the bottom of it. The welcome mat on the porch, the small owl statue beside the front door, the decorative wreath with its oversized red bow hanging on the outer wall; I knew it all. If I turned the house around, I was sure there’d be wind chime of Celtic crosses hanging over the deck and a thermometer decorated with humming birds. He hadn’t spared any detail.
“Gavin,” I said, my mouth dry, “what happened to his sixth victim? The one from today?”
“Huh?” He glanced up from whatever murder scene he’d just opened and frowned, “Everything ok?”
“Yeah, I just…what happened?”
“Uh, let me look at the notes, hang on.”
He went back to his desk to look up the case notes, leaving me to stare at the house, but he was taking too long, I couldn’t wait, I had to know. I practically tossed my camera aside, almost sending it crashing to the floor, and spun the dollhouse wildly, looking for its latch. My fingers suddenly felt numb and clumsy and, when I found it, I fumbled with it until I was almost crying.
I wrenched the house open, only half prepared for the blood and carnage that awaited, and I inhaled sharply.
The inside was completely bare and unfinished; no furniture, no decorations, no murder scene. I sagged against the table, unsure of what it meant, and slammed it shut.
“Whoa!” Gavin had come up behind me and laid a hand on my shoulder, “You ok?”
“What happened to the sixth vic?” I demanded as I spun to face him.
“Apparently he’d been scoping out a young woman for a few weeks, they found a ton of pictures of her home on his computer.”
“And he got careless.” Gavin quirked a brow at me uncertainly, “He must not have checked the house thoroughly before trying to enter because he didn’t realize the woman was-”
“Dog sitting.” I finished for him and I pressed my hands over my mouth, horrified and hopeful. I had forgotten she was looking after Link for the week.
“Yeah…how did you know?”
“Is she ok?” I ignored his question.
“Yeah, the dog chased the guy into a closet and didn’t let him out until the cops showed up. She wasn’t even home when he broke in; he was planning to ambush her, same as the others. Why did you know that? What’s going on?”
“That house,” I pointed to the half-finished doll house, it’s rough, wooden interior still open and exposed, “is my sister’s.”
And after I’d said it aloud, giving voice to the implication of what could have happened, what would have happened if she hadn’t been watching our brother’s pit bull mix, I sank into the nearest chair and sobbed while Gavin pat me awkwardly on the back.