Excerpt, Part III
Although this story contains things from the world in which we live, it should be read as a work of fiction. All characters are fictional and not based on any actual living person. The events that take place in this story are entirely the product of my imagination.
This is a companion chapter to the first two in the story. Part III actually picks up after the first chapter, and occurs before Part II.
Although this story contains things from the world in which we live, it should be read as a work of fiction. All…
“Sheriff. We got a triple homicide out on highway 6 near Hearne behind the Highway Diner. You better get over here.”
It was Jenkins. His best and most experienced deputy.
The sheriff was incredulous. “What? Say again.”
“We got three dead guys, gunshot wounds. Looks like a robbery gone off the rails or something. I don’t know,” Jenkins said as his voice trailed off in what sounded like bewilderment.
Gunshot wounds? Homicide? Robbery?
What the hell was Jenkins talking about? After all, this was Robertson County, Texas, located along state highway 6 about half-way between Waco and College Station, two college towns about 90 miles apart. There just wasn’t a lot of violent crime here; typically less than 5 murders a year, and none between 2001 and 2007, although they had three in 2008. Hearne like many Texas towns had an overall crime rate higher than the national average, but not in violent felonies like murder. The population was a little over 4,400. It wasn’t your regular Chicago or Miami.
If anybody was in Hearne who didn’t already live there, they were passing through on 6 from Waco to College Station, or vice versa; Hearne was nobody’s ultimate destination.
Except these three dead guys Jenkins was talking about, the sheriff mused while shaking his head.
“I’m over in Franklin right now but I’ll be there as soon as possible. Secure and cordon the area off if you haven’t already and don’t let anybody touch anything, damnit. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“What the hell was going on?” the sheriff asked himself as he did a 180 and turned back toward Hearne. Three homicides! That was more in one night than they typically got in six months. And he couldn’t remember the last time they had multiple killings in one incident. Not on his watch. And he had been the sheriff now for over a decade. Hell, most of the murders they had in his county were domestic disputes; some husband or wife shotgunned the other in self-defense, or because one thought the other was cheating, or because they were both drunk. Come to think if it as he sped with his lights on now back toward Hearne, alcohol was almost always involved. And the fact that the suspect and victim had guns in the house made it all too easy.
Those types of cases were easy to solve and prosecute. They usually ended up in guilty pleas. The people dumb enough to go before a jury got convicted. It was Texas! The husband or wife who thought they were the victims of infidelity? The jury usually weighed that in mitigation because such facts were enough to drive any usually law-abiding citizen to murder. So instead of life, those poor, betrayed spouses got a break that on average amounted to about twenty years. Which meant they would serve 40 years in some state penitentiary.
It was a fact; Texas jurors did not play around when it came to sentencing. Sell your sob story to some Californians or New Yorkers. “We don’t play taking it easy on killers here in Texas, regardless your motive,” they seemed to universally say. “If your husband or wife is cheating on you, get a f — ing divorce. But we do not condone you putting three shells of buckshot into their face. We just cannot have that.”
The sheriff pulled his Ford Expedition into the parking lot near the yellow tape. He got out, hoisted up his gray trousers with the dark stripes up the sides, and walked his ostrich-skinned boots over to where Jenkins and the other deputies were milling around.
“Well. What do we have?”
Jenkins spoke up first, as usual. “Okay. I think we got a little robbery gone bad here. Two of the dead guys wallets are on the other guy as if he got their stuff, and then they tried to get the upper hand. These guys are all in the system, all of them have records.”
“It looks like the one comes up on the others, he gets their wallets, and then somebody starts shooting. We have two weapons, and both have been fired multiple times. I say multiple because both magazines are short several rounds, assuming they were full when they started. I also say multiple shots because some people in the diner say they head more than a few shots. Like there was a bunch of gunfire and then a delay, and then some more shooting. As if it were a shoot out, they took cover and shot some more.”
Jenkins was on a roll, so he continued. “Now what’s weird is each guy has three wounds. At least three I can find right now. Each guy has two wounds in the upper middle chest in same spot with very little spread, and then they each have one round in the head. That I cannot figure out. It looks … It looks almost professional.”
“Anyway, everything points to a shoot out, but then each guy has two in the chest and one right through the head. I don’t know, who the hell knows? I mean, they all three have the same wound patterns. It’s strange. We can’t find anybody who saw anything. We got casings all over the place. We won’t know what we really have until we get some ballistics results back.”
The dead guys were identified as Ronald “Ronnie” Archer, William Jackson “Billy Jack” Johnson, and Axel Lee Tatum, all of Hearne, Texas. Ronnie, Billy Jack and Axel had perished as the result of gunshot wounds to the chest and head.
As the sheriff took his time looking over the crime scene and checking Jenkins’ work, Jenkins waited for something to come back on the weapons found at the scene.
Finally, Jenkins excitedly jumped from his cruiser and made his way over to his boss with a piece of paper. “Holy shit, sheriff, you will not believe this. That 9 millimeter in Johnson’s hands that appears to have caused the wounds on Archer and Tatum is registered to Johnson’s brother. The 45 in Tatum’s hands is registered to him.”
The sheriff couldn’t believe it. They didn’t even use “Saturday Night specials” or try to file off the serial numbers; they used their own damn weapons.
“So that’s it then. It looks like old Johnson tried to rob Archer and Tatum, but Tatum had a little something for him. Or maybe the other way around, although that doesn’t fit with Tatum’s record.”
“No, but it would fit with Billy Jack, apparently,” observed Jenkins. “Busted as a juvenile several times for gun possession. Then there’s a charge for assault with a weapon here, he got into a fight with somebody and pulled a gun in front of a bunch of witnesses. They execute a search and find a nine millimeter. Looks like his caliber of choice. All Tatum has a bunch of low level bullshit, but nothing like Billy Jack.”
“Well we can sit here all night and speculate, but that report says what it says. From the looks of this, they killed each other,” the sheriff concluded.
“But what about those head shots? I mean how can that happen? How does one guy get shot in the head and then shoot the other guy in the head too? The two head shots go off simultaneously?” Jenkins had a point. The wound locations and groupings on each dead guy were eerily similar, if not miraculous.
But the sheriff wasn’t paid to go deep; he was paid to solve crimes and to solve them as quickly as possible. “Stranger things have happened. When I was in Vietnam we used to find guys dead after battles and all the time there would be one of our guys tangled up with an enemy soldier in some strange death grip. Both dead. How do you explain that?”
Jenkins was confused, but not yet persuaded. “I don’t know. But this doesn’t look like that. It’s …….strange.”
Unlike any of his deputies, the sheriff was a college boy. He even had a masters. He had always remembered something he had learned in college called Occam’s Razor. It went something like, “All things being equal, the simplest explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is usually the most accurate.” And he was about the facts and the evidence and “quick kills” in crime solving.
So he observed, “Well all I know is what we can prove. We have one guy with the other two guys’ wallets on him. His gun kills them. One of their guns kills him. Looks to me like a bunch of criminals killed each other. Unless we find a witness or something else to prove something else happened, it looks pretty clear. And it looks closed.”