artwork by Maju Bellucci
The Slave Quarters
Chapter 9: A Suspect
By Rock Kitaro
“So apparently, Griffin’s a racist. Who would’ve thunk it?”
“I knew it. That’s probably why he ain’t take me seriously when I told him Joe was the one who killed your mom!”
It’s closing in on six and I finally have a moment to myself. It’s outside the four-story police department in historic downtown Augusta. The pastel skies cleared up for a gorgeous golden sunset over the Savannah River. From my spot on the 2nd floor terrace, I can see clearly the shimmering waters and the Carolinian townhomes lining the banks of the other side.
This 2nd floor terrace was where ranking officers came to eat lunch or enjoy a smoke break. Since it’s after five, the picnic tables are vacant. I’m twenty feet away from the doors and there’s a rustling breeze brushing against the façade like a current. I have the floor to myself, thus I feel safe to give my one confidant a call and speak my mind at ease. Miranda hears the wind and thinks she has to shout to overcompensate.
“To be honest, the decision to put myself on this case was kind of spur of the moment. I suppose deep down, knowing Griffin still exists, potentially botching cases galore just didn’t sit well with me. And looks like my premonition isn’t far off. Seems he’s still a living, breathing miscarriage of justice. And to think I was so close to forgiving him.”
“Boy, please. You weren’t about to forgive nobody. Not over your mother. It’s the reason why you’ve been doing what you’ve doing. What exactly did the bastard say?”
“He said he doesn’t like black people. Pretty clear, cut, and dry about it. Although, you’ll forgive me if I hold back certain details.”
“NO! I want to know everything!” Miranda shouts.
I shake my head and chuckle. “No, Miranda. By the way, you better not be smoking.”
“You took my last pack, bubblehead! I don’t get paid till tomorrow.”
“I’m doing you a favor. You don’t want those good looks to go down the drain, do you? How else are you going to find a good man?”
“I got men chasin’ me. Don’t you worry ‘bout it. Anyways… How’s the case coming? Almost done?”
“I don’t know. I mean we’re on the right track. I think. We’re about to have a briefing to discuss a new suspect and everyone’s salivating to sink their teeth in him. The haste is alarming and I can hardly stomach such half-assed investigating. Not to mention, there’s still the business of KeNedra’s suicide. It’s so freakin weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone keeps talking about how strong-minded she was. Strong people simply don’t commit suicide. I can’t believe that. I don’t want to accept it. Dude, I…I don’t want to say it. Friggin Jimmy Coolidge planted this idea in my head. Maybe KeNedra was possessed,” I say whilst loosening up my collar.
“Well, that’s not unusual. Not in your world. Not sure what I can say over the phone, but didn’t you say that’s how Maggie got business done?”
“Maggie’s different. Besides, she only works on individuals who are already terrified to the state that their mental capacity is diminished. That’s when their realities can be manipulated and toyed with. Actually, we should probably stop talking about this over the phone,” I say with a careless chuckle.
“And you don’t want to believe she was possessed?” Miranda asks again. Her tone suggests that I’m refusing to believe the truth, like a child who doesn’t want to believe Santa Claus is a lie.
“This case. Feels like there’s something I’m overlooking. Something that’s staring me right in the face.”
“And how are you gonna handle Griffin?”
“I have to work with him. He’s not a bad person. He’s just…you know. Normal. He and Leanne have been texting each other all day like a couple of schoolgirls trying to be discreet but failing miserably. Anyways…as long as Leanne has her sights on him, I don’t have to worry about her watching me.”
“And your lovely dovie?” Miranda asks.
“It’s not like that. I might be wrong about Jessica. She’s proven herself to be nothing but courteous and professional, very insightful and dedicated. Five years is a long time. We’ve had a president come and go. I’ve grown up. I’d be silly to dismiss the idea that she has not.”
“So you’re just going to forgive, Griffin? Just like that. What if he came out and said he don’t like blond haired white people?” Miranda questions.
“Miranda…He’s not a killer. Just an idiot.”
“And how many Cloud Beaudrys has he created by letting his prejudice fuck up the case?”
“Wow, Miranda. If I didn’t know any better…”
“Hey, baby. You can lie to yourself all day, sugar. But you can’t lie to me. I don’t believe for a second that you get any satisfaction out of doing what you do.”
“I made a promise, Miranda. A man keep his word.”
“And I’m saying! If Griffin did his job in the first goddamn place you would’ve never had to make any promises to begin with.”
“Miranda! I hear what you’re saying. Honestly I do. But you talk about not lying to myself. I’m telling you, my world ended the day my mom died. Handling Griffin or anyone else will never change that. The least I can do is keep my fucking word!”
“To a ghost, Cloud! Do you know how crazy that sounds?”
“Alright, Miranda. I need to go.”
“Hang up on me if you want to.”
“I need to go!”
“Let me tell you one more thing. See, ya pissed off cause you know I’m right.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Miranda, I had a conversation with KeNedra’s mother today. She could’ve given a paid exclusive worth thousands of dollars to any one of the top media outlets in the country. She could’ve cashed in her grief for fortune and fame but she’s wont. She’s exercising forgiveness. Forgiveness, Miranda. Her daughter was abducted and died in police custody. She’s not crying out for retribution.”
“AND?!” Miranda barks.
“And I’m saying, who the fuck am I? That I lash out and put everyone down who crosses me!?”
“Why are you comparing yourself everyone? This ain’t like you, Cloud.”
“I always question myself, Miranda. Just not out loud.” I say, hopelessly leaning over the rail.
Miranda sighs. “Cloud, you’re not happy. Even when you’ve come back from keeping ya fucked-up promise, I see you. You’re miserable. You know what I think you need to do? Help this family. I know you have all your secret agendas and Maggie crawling up your ass, but help this family. Griffin gon’ be Griffin. Flush out all that noise and focus on getting justice for the little girl’s family. Your justice.”
I didn’t expect this conversation to get so sentimental. She’s striking a nerve on so many levels. It’s been a long day and this is mentally draining. Miranda Burnette… She likes confrontation way too much. You won’t conquer her with compliments and confections. What she craves is conflict, as per usual. Maybe I’m the same way. I did volunteer for this case after all.
“Anyways! Let me get out of here. Meetin the girls at the gym for a spin class.” She brags.
“That sounds…like a lot of scraping. Hey, Miranda. Do me a favor. Download some gospel music for when I get back.”
“What kind of gospel music you want?”
“I don’t know. The kind that makes you feel good in this rotten world. I defer to your judgment.”
“Alright, boo. I got you.”
Inside Major Crime’s largest conference room, all twenty seats are filled with sergeants and deputies. Sixteen other detectives stand along the wall. Everyone’s facing the projection screen. I’m sitting on the other side of the table facing Griffin and Dixon while Leanne and Jessica sit to my left. Usually, press conferences were run by the Public Relations Department but with a case of this magnitude, the Chief decided to do the press conference himself. It was scheduled for seven and he was hoping to bring the public something substantial.
The suicide video of KeNedra Thompson was played again to refresh the officers with her statements and unusual behavior. Det. Griffin has just given a brief introduction of the Slave Quarter murders and it’s now the GBI’s turns to reveal our findings along with out subsequent strategy for closing the case. Naturally, the buxom Leanne Donaldson stands up to command attention.
She begins with passive aggressive remarks expressing her disapproval of Griffin and I separating from the pack. I tune most of it out and continue to dwell on the idea of KeNedra being possessed. Leanne also boasts about how she and Jessica identified and established a pattern with the geographic profile. She clicks through five slides to present the five victims excluding KeNedra. She first shows a happy photo from their high school yearbook, before revealing the graphic photos of their bodies upon discovery.
Tiquasia Payne – Age 16 – The most recent body found at the Waynesboro Plantation. Her face was beaten beyond recognition after she had been raped. Tiquasia attended the Adam’s School of Arts. She was on their majorette team and lived in the district closest to Coventry.
Denedra Harrell – Age 16 – Decaying body was found at the small plantation of Liberty Hill. Preliminary examinations suggest she’s been dead for three months. She was raped. Her skull was facture and detectives believe she was drowned in the nearby creek before being dragged back to the slave quarters. There, she was half buried in foliage. Denedra attended Hank Hills High School near the Kendall Park subdivision. She was part of their majorette team.
Samantha Fox – Age 15 – Corpse was found on the Jordan Valley plantation near the subdivision of Bethel. Preliminary examination suggests she’s been dead for six to seven months. Her decaying body was found with maggots feeding on her corpse. Fourteen stab wounds were counted in and around her heart. She was raped. She attended D.W. Dorsey High School and was a rising talent on their majorette squad.
Ashley Hunt – Age 15 – Corpse was found half buried under a bag of mulch on the historic Abigail Darlington plantation. She was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Examiners found it difficult to pinpoint how long she’s been dead but estimate it’s been longer than a year. Decomposition fluids poured out due to exposure to the elements, notably, a recent flood in the area. It’s assumed that Hunt was also raped. She was a freshman at Walton Key High School, a member of their majorette team.
Alisha Collier – Age 15 – Her corpse was only identified by dental records. She was found in the ruins of Dickinson Son Fields. Unlike the other victims, Alisha’s decomposed remains were left in a relatively peaceful state. She was on her back with her skeletal arms place one hand over the other on what used to be her navel. A red faded pillow was found at the scene suggesting it was used to smother her. Alisha attended Morgan Road High School as part of the majorette team and her disappearance received a lot of attention nearly two years ago due to her popularity.
These were the five murdered victims discovered in slave quarters. This was the information the Chief had no choice but to release to the public.
Leanne and Jessica establish a pattern that had all five girls abducted and taken to the plantations closest to their homes. Leanne reasons that it’s highly likely they were taken the same way KeNedra described in her recorded statement. All five girls were walking home from school or practice when they were abducted in broad daylight.
Jessica speaks up to add, “That being said, there’s a silver lining. It’s something you can put in the speech, chief, to give the public some kind of hope. In speaking with my colleagues, we have sufficient evidence to believe that these heinous acts were not racially motivated or driven by some kind of hate crime. The slave quarters may have been just a means of convenience.”
“Then why not stash the bodies in the big house?!” asks a detective along the wall.
“If you’re trying to hide a stash, something secret, would you hide it in the house or the shed out back?” Griffin says, shutting the detective up.
“Is it indiscriminate?” asks another detective.
Leanne answers with, “We don’t think so. We have reason to believe-”
“Ma’am,” another, older deputy interjects. “I see that ya’ll have Samantha Fox being abducted from the Bethel subdivision. I’m not sure if ya’ll are aware but that’s a pretty rough neighborhood. Even with KeNedra, Coventry ain’t the type of neighborhood to just let something like that happen in broad daylight. You’d think KeNedra, Samantha or any one of these girls would’ve screamed or put up a struggle. Somebody must have seen something.”
Griffin nods, “I was thinking the same thing. KeNedra didn’t mention seeing the killer’s face or even how she was grabbed at all. She just said she was walking home, blacked out, and woke up in the slave quarters. Also, it would help if we knew what day of the week the other girls were abducted. Maybe there was some kind of block party going on? Something that would divert everyone’s attention.”
“Well maybe if you stayed with us, we could have pooled our resources and ascertained that information,” Leanne scoffs. Griffin mirrors her smile and I press my lips to keep from cringing.
Jessica stays on topic saying, “You both make good points. It’s something to keep in mind. For now, the most glaring similarity is the victims’ ties to the majorette circuit. The Richmond Burke Majorette Series, or RBM series, is the organization that hosts thirteen major competitions in the tri-county area. A Super Bowl event takes place every year a week before the Super Bowl. The killer is preying on majorettes. That much is self-evident. It’s reasonable to assume our unsub is someone heavily involved with the RBM series.”
“If you think about it, this would explain why the girls didn’t scream or put up a fight if they caught sight of him,” Leanne says.
“It would also explain the daylights abductions. If KeNedra happened to have looked over her shoulders and saw the killer approaching, the unsub could have easily played it off like he just was in the neighborhood or wanted to ask her about something pertaining to the events,” Jessica explains.
Agent Dixon nods, “So then, it has to be someone affiliated with every team, seeing as these girls came from different teams. Like a judge or official.”
“That’s right,” Leanne answers. “According to their website, we’ve constructed a short pool of potential suspects. We looked at the promotion committee, the three judges, event planners. There are also choreographers who freelance with various teams, along with the emcee for the events. Since this case is time sensitive we’ve delegated names to each of you, which is why you spent the afternoon conducting background checks. For that, we are extremely grateful.”
“The name of the emcee wouldn’t happen to be, Tavvy? Would it?” My clear voice chimes in.
Leanne and Jessica throw me an annoyed glance. Apparently they were getting to that point and my cutting to the chase just took the wind out of their sails. Leanne awkwardly clicks a remote to reveal a picture of a black male in his mid fifties, dressed in a sharp green suit, handsome in appearance and well groomed.
“This is Tavvy Godchaux,” Leanne announces. “He’s the emcee and trophy presenter for every major event including the finals in Atlanta. He’s also a popular figure in the local Southern Baptist community, arranging picnics and family events. He donates to local businesses. Made a small fortune investing in Atlanta startup companies just as the Internet was taking off. From the background checks we found two choreographers who are questionable but no one raises more red flags than his son, Jacory Godchaux.”
The next slide is a profile of Tavvy’s tatted brood of a son. Jacory aka J-Poopy. Age 26. Bald, around 5’5 with a stocky build and a dark uneven facial complexion. He’s wearing contacts that make his eyes brownish orange. Tribal tattoos come up from under his collar and reached the back of his ear. J-Poopy served time for assault. According to his police report, he was accused of rape but pled down to a lesser charge. He served nine months in county and was released two years ago. Since then, he’s been working for waste management as a garbage truck operator. And of course on weekends, he helps his dear old dad by setting up and breaking down majorette events.
…this is our man?
Leanne presses the clicker as she introduces, “This is surveillance footage taken from the “Gas and Go” convenient store on the corner of Peach Orchard and Brown Road. As you’ll notice, the time stamp reads 3:16am Friday morning on November 6th 2016.”
The grainy black and white footage shows a black car at one of six pumps. Within seconds a large dark colored garbage truck pulls into the gas station and parks off to the side near the payphones that didn’t work. J-Poopy exits the truck in baggy coveralls. He’s rubbing his head in a frantic state, looking around as if he had just eluded the police. He enters the store.
The footage cuts to inside the convenient store. J-Poopy makes a b-line for the cooler and grabs a tall glass bottle of what looks like tea. On his way to the register he picks up a miniature first aid kit. The cashier tries to make conversation, perhaps to combat the boredom of the graveyard shift, but J-Poopy is in a hurry. He smiles, laughs, and waves off the cashier as he exits the store.
Once he’s outside, he hustles to the garbage truck but he doesn’t leave right away. He sits there for approximately ten minutes, during which, two more cars come and go after refueling. Then, at 3:38am, he pulls out of the gas station and departs.
Leanne stops the video. “This was taken just a mile and a half from where KeNedra Thompson was rescued by paramedics a mere ten minutes later. Two things are wrong with this picture, aside from the poor resolution. We spoke to his supervisor and it’s company policy that two employees have to operate the sanitation trucks at all time. The second thing, Jacory’s operating this truck two hours before scheduled pickups. Another no-no. Jacory is alone and his usual partner claims he had no prior knowledge as to why Jacory had the truck out on his own. He bought a first aid kit and a bottle of tea. We questioned the cashier and he claims Jacory appeared anxious. He said jittery.”
“What about dirt?” I ask.
“What?” Leanne snaps.
“I’m just wondering if the cashier noticed if Jacory was covered in dirt or appeared dirty in any way, shape, or form,” I inquire.
An agitated Leanne shakes her head no. “He didn’t mention it.”
“Cloud, this got to be the same guy the majorettes was telling us about. We asked the girls if they ever felt uncomfortable or creeped out by anyone and they claimed this, J-Poopy, had a tendency to flirt with underage girls,” Griffin states.
“We need to bring him in,” Agent Dixon asserts.
“There’s an APB out for his arrest,” Leanne informs. “Essentially, this should be a preliminary hearing, really. We’ve contacted his father, but Tavvy claims that he hasn’t been able to reach Jacory all day. What’s weird is that he promised Jacory would miraculously turn himself in for questioning first thing in the morning.”
“What?!” Griffin asks with an absurd look on his face.
“I know right?!” Leanne agrees.
“I think he’s lawyering up,” Jessica explains. “Tavvy’s clean, but I noticed from the background search that he’s a close friend of civil rights activist, Malachi Sanders. Sanders is one of the best defense lawyers in the state and a rising figure in the Nation of Islam. He has a habit of finding himself in the center of high profile cases involving police corruption. Rest assured, he’ll bring a full deck of cards ranging for racial profiling to allegations of manufactured evidence.”
“That’s why we need to make sure this case is airtight!” the Chief declares. “I want everything done by the book! Now, I understand the GBI agents have been working from sun up to sun down so I expect the rest of you to move your asses all night. Work with the medical examiner and call in every expert you know to cover all our bases.”
“Seems pretty airtight to me,” Dixon says with supreme confidence. “We got the sum’ a bitch on tape and breaking two major policy rules. We have character testimony from the girls and the S.O.B has priors. The murder weapons were left at the scene. It’s basically Christmas.”
“That’s right.” Griffin says with relief. “We’ll just need to be careful in our questioning tomorrow to not slip up and reveal our cards. But other than that I’m satisfied, chief. This is our guy.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear. Anything else?” The Chief asks.
No one says anything. The Chief adjourns the meeting before requesting a copy of Leanne and Jessica’s slide deck. Of course, I remain seated with my fingers caressing the beard I wish I had. I had dozens of questions pertaining to the case, but to ask them aloud, I fear would only throw everyone off track without providing another road to travel.
For instance, if the police can’t find him now, why would J-Poopy turn himself in later? Is it really just to shield himself behind a lawyer? One would think if they had Malachi Sanders in their pockets all along, he would’ve defended J-Poopy in the first rape case.
Then there’s the matter of J-Poopy’s garbage truck, or rather, his occupation as a sanitation worker. Why would he leave the bodies and a mountain of evidence in the slave quarters when he had probably the most convenient means of disposal in the history of homicidal maniacs? Was he afraid of the bodies showing up at the dumpsites and potentially painting a target on his back? That’s possible, but unlikely given the practicality of the bodies coming from anyone of the thousands of houses along his route. For some reason, I don’t see “job security” topping a killer’s list of priorities. Or would it?
I realize I may be over thinking it. After all, not all killers are the criminal masterminds you see on TV. In real life, most killers are just irrational individuals who simply lack discipline and impulse control.
Then there’s the suicide of KeNedra Thompson. I refuse to believe she committed suicide because she was possessed. And I get it. KeNedra just witnessed the rape and brutal murder of a fellow majorette. She was in shock. But in the video where she was questioned by that stupid detective, I saw it. There was a glimmer of hope in her tearful eyes. It wasn’t until the detective left the room that all hope diminished. So what happened?
My stern gaze lifts from the surface of the conference table to the bullpen outside the opened doors. Eck…Leanne’s practically throwing herself at Griffin the way she’s twirling her long reddish hair, maintaining eye contact with a toothy smile. Then there’s her laugh. It’s a nasally hacking laugh that, on most occasions, I actually find comical. But I know how this broken record goes. It usually ends with weeks of her ranting to me about how men only care about sex.
“I’m not satisfied.”
My heart skips a beat. Dear God, has Jessica been here this whole time? I thought she left with everyone else. Yet, here she is. Still sitting at my left with the same melancholy by which I contemplated. She seemed exhausted the way she let herself swivel in the chair. The top three buttons on her shirt were open and I could see the color of her black lacy bra. She’s not trying to be sexy. She just is.
She says, “I seriously doubt this Jacory has the complexity or the wherewithal to pull off these horrible acts of violence. Also, you make a good point about the dirt. We had to pat ourselves off pretty hard to get the dirt off of our clothes when we were on the grounds of the slave quarters. Even if he changed clothes in the truck, the sweat, dirt, and possibly blood would’ve still been evident on his persons. We need a search warrant on that truck. Do you think we should question the cashier again?”
“Yeah. I think so. Mind you, we still have to comb through dozens of statements collected from the friends and family of the departed. The labs are still analyzing data from the various crime scenes. So while that’s being processed, we can interview the cashier and procure a search warrant. It’s important. You heard them. Air tight!”
Jessica nods with a beautiful smile. I have to look away to keep the visage from invading my thoughts.
“Jessica, I was thinking about that last slide. Alicia Collier. I noticed the position on her body and how she was killed in arguably the least painful way. Do you think she was his first victim?” I ask, already certain about the answer.
“Absolutely. She could have been killed by accident. Or maybe he didn’t want to kill her but felt he didn’t have a choice? When I was in D.C., there was this instructor at a seminar. It was his opinion that one in fifteen individuals are all dormant serial killers. Like, most go their whole lives without ever realizing it. All it takes is one kill, their first kill to awaken a hunger or compulsion to keep killing.”
“Wow…that’s pretty grim.”
Dwelling on whether I’m that “one in fifteen” is counterproductive. I’ve questioned my constitution enough for one day so I fight off the thought. That’s when Leanne enters, swinging on the doorframe with the glee of a teenager from an 80s sitcom.
“Hey! Griffin’s gonna take us all out. Supposedly he knows a place that has one of the best steaks in the city. And! They got some good old fashion square-dancing. It’s close to our motel so we can eat, dance, and call it a night. What do you say?” Leanne says, beaming in her invitation.
I look past Leanne to see an upbeat Griffin standing there with an air of optimism. This is a bad idea.
“Sounds good!” Jessica chimes.
“Yeah! Count me in!” …I have no idea why I just said that or why I matched Jessica’s enthusiasm. All I know is that this is a bad idea.