‘Dr Verma, here you are. I’ve been looking for you.’ The husky, over-cigaretted voice interrupted Mabel’s admiration of the dignified Themba Ndlovu, head of the Pretoria State Morgue. A tall, severely overweight, middle aged man was standing in Themba’s office door sporting a deeply entrenched frown and a very annoyed countenance.
‘Captain Le Roux. Yes, uhm…here I am,’ said Babita.
Mabel noticed the discomfort in Dr Babita Verma’s voice and immediately disliked this brute of a man who made the nice woman she’s known for an hour feel uneasy.
Captain Le Roux turned his gaze to Mabel but skipped her face and turned his focus directly to her breasts. Oh yeah, papi, the sundress will definitely help people take me seriously. I’m two red ribbons away from being 16 years old again, thought Mabel as she searched her mind for a response to the gross captain’s stare. Since humor was Mabel’s default setting, she bent her legs at the knees until her eyes were finally level with the captain’s areola-hungry gawk.
‘Whoopa, hello there!’ Mabel exploded in laughter.
No response from the captain.
It was finally Themba who intervened. ‘Gerhard, this is Dr Mabel Ackerman. She is the new resident pathologist with forensics. Dr Ackerman, this is Gerhard le Roux, detective from serious crimes at Mamelodi.’
With a bright, broad smile, Mabel stepped forward to extend a hand to the detective, but she was stopped in her tracks by his barked instructions to Babita: ‘Dr Verma, we need to get going. Forensics wants the scene and we need to get the corpses out.’ He turned and walked away.
‘Okay…’ Dr Babita Verma wanted to say something more but it would have been no use.
‘Let’s go, Mabel.’
When Captain Le Roux’s police vehicle stopped in front of the little brick house in Mamelodi, Pretoria, it brought to an end a very awkward and silent car ride. Babita and Mabel filed out and stood next to the car awaiting Le Roux’s direction into the house that was ostensibly the crime scene. Instead, he leaned against the bonnet of his car with his back to the women, and lit a cigarette. ‘The bodies are in there.’
Mabel looked at Babita and she was surprised to see that Babita didn’t seem to notice the man’s obvious disdain for the situation…or them…
The women entered the house from a side door to the house that led them into a small square kitchen. It was very old-fashioned and abused with time, but it was immaculately clean. From there they walked into a narrow passage that led to the front door to the right, and the main bedroom to the left. Situated near the front door was another very small bedroom.
Mabel followed Babita to the main bedroom where a few police officers were standing, clearly guarding the crime scene proper.
‘Can we help you?’ Officer One asked.
‘Dr Verma, Dr Ackerman from forensic pathology.’ Babita said.
‘Is she a doctor?’ Officer One asked looking at Mabel.
‘Yes, sergeant, she is. Can we enter please?’
The police officer watched Mabel as though he actually wanted to prevent this child from entering a horrible crime scene. Finally he stepped away.
As Mabel entered the small bedroom that was almost completely filled by one double bed, her eyes were fiercely pulled toward the sight of the bloody bodies of two elderly people, a man and woman, lying lifelessly on the bed. The man’s head was practically destroyed and any type of identification would have been impossible. The woman was lying on her stomach and several deep, long cuts were visible in the back of her head.
‘We think woman was rape,’ said another police officer in a heavy accent.
‘Why do you say that?’ Babita asked.
‘Look here.’ The accented officer pulled down the blanket from the woman’s upper body all the way down to reveal her entire body. She was wearing a flannel pyjama dress…and stockings…that were only pulled up to her knees. The officer put the blanket back gently.
On the pillow next to the woman’s head was a bloodied axe. Hair and skin tissue were stuck to the sharp sides of the blade.
Mabel looked around the room. Every wall, the closet doors, even the ceiling, was covered in fine blood spatter. Not a mist though. Medium speed blood spatter. Like you would expect from injuries inflicted by a swinging axe. Multiple lines of spatter ran up the wall at the head of the couple’s bed, clearly indicating the approximate amount of swings that caused the devastation.
‘Did you find forced entry to the house?’ Mabel asked the police officers close by.
‘None. The daughter lives in the other room. By the front door. They tried her room first but the door was locked. They tried to break open her door but no luck. Then they came into the main bedroom and killed the parents. She ran out the kitchen door when she heard her parents’ screams and called for help from the neighbours. Daughter said the kitchen door was open but we can’t find keys and nothing is broken,’ said one officer.
‘You spoke to the neighbours?’ Mabel asked again.
‘Yeah. They confirm hearing screams. Both the couple’s and the daughter’s.’
As Babita went to work on the bodies to investigate approximate time of death, Mabel absorbed details of the room. More and more curious police officers filed into the room to get a look at the carnage. Mabel moved out, down the passage toward the front door. Just before reaching the front door of the house, she stepped into the daughter’s bedroom. Just as clean and neat as the kitchen. Not a thing out of place. As Mabel stepped out of the room again, she suddenly stopped. She turned to the open door. Two parallel lines hit into the door. Presumably with the axe. The edges of the lines were smeared with blood and human hair. Two neat lines.
Mabel walked toward the main bedroom again.
‘Officers, which one of you came into the house first?’ She asked.
‘Me. I was first.’
‘Was the daughter’s room door open or closed when you came in?’
‘The daughter killed her parents,’ said Mabel.
‘Say what now?’ Babita asked surprised. She was smiling but it looked like that shocked smile when someone calls you fat.
‘Come look here.’ Mabel said as she chased back to the daughter’s room. She stood in front of the open door. All the police officers and a gloved Babita was arranged around her.
‘See this? What do you see?’
‘Two hits by the axe? When they tried to break open the door?’ Police Officer One.
‘That’s the thing, isn’t it?’ Mabel was smiling now. ‘So we have someone who overkilled those two people but tried to break open a wooden door with two measly hits? Dude please. And look at the edges. Where is the axe?’
‘On the pillow.’
‘Exactly. So they came in from the kitchen, came right to this door, tried to break it open somehow, went the folks’ room, caused that human damage, then came back here, to what was now an open door coz the daughter left running, gave the open door two hits with a bloody axe, went back to the main bedroom to gently place the murder weapon back on the pillow…and then left without stealing one damn thing?! I don’t think so. Daughter is lyin’, baby…’
‘How do you know nothing was stolen? What about the rape?’ Again Police Officer One.
‘What rape? You assumed the mother was raped because of the stockings pulled down to her knees. Well, I put it to you, they were not pulled down, they were pulled up!’
‘It was minus 7 degrees last night. She’s an old woman, and many older women struggling with circulation suffer really cold feet in Winter. So they wear stockings, but only pulled up to the knees. They can’t pull it up all the way coz what else do the elderly struggle with? Incontinence!’ Mabel took a deep breath. ‘And, boys, what is the main thing that burglars in South Africa look for when they commit housebreaking?’
‘Okay, what is the second thing burglars look for in South African homes?’
‘Precisely. And what did we notice on the mother’s side table?’
‘Gold rings! I mean, really old ones, but gold traders aren’t exactly looking for modernity, are they?’ Mabel exploded another spell of laughter.
‘It’s not funny!’ Thunder rolled through the house and brought everyone to silence. Captain Le Roux was standing in the passage, clearly livid. ‘Ms Ackerman, we don’t play Sherlock with people’s lives and we don’t look at one thing to decide a case. There is a process to detective work. Dr Verma, is TOD done?’