A few Junes back, when I was a rookie reporter in Sweetwater, Texas—a town flatter and hotter than a pancake griddle—we had a quadruple homicide. Four murders sounded like a big deal to me, but the crime captured hardly anyone’s attention once the police decided the victims all killed each other. If there’s a murderer on the loose, everybody jumps into their trucks fast and takes their time answering the doorbell. The bloodbath in Winston McDaid’s “living” room elicited little more than a “Damn shame.”
I took the job in March, just in time for the annual rattlesnake round-up and some serious second thoughts. So far, taking pictures of those snakes had been my most interesting assignment.
Thursday morning, two days after the murders, the city editor dropped a thin folder on my desk and said, “Yamato. See what you can make of this crap.”
I pushed my glasses up my nose and brushed aside some zoning board notes. “What crap is it?”
“The quadricide,” which is what we called it, time being precious in The Sweetwater Register newsroom.
“Why isn’t Reid taking it?” I asked, referring to Max Reid, the paper’s crusty crime reporter.
“Says it’s not worth his time.”
“OK if I do some digging?”
“Have at it. The funerals are Monday. Whatever you can find out between now and then. But wrap it up.”
“Got it.” His expectations were low, and not just because I was barely old enough to buy my own beer. Or because I’m a five-foot tall half-Japanese female. He didn’t expect much because he figured there wasn’t much. I wanted to surprise him.
Max Reid was well wired. City police chief Hank Childers was his regular Thursday morning golfing buddy, tee-time 6:30, an hour before anybody else. That Thursday, Max waltzed in about eleven and announced the police were closing the investigation. “The quadricide is finished. Terminado. Hank reckons they’ll never know for sure what happened or why. They’re all dead. No need to investigate further.”
“Why not?” I piped up.
“Be-caaaaaawse—” Reid spoke carefully, as if his words needed to pick their way around the considerable wet patches behind my ears, “—the home security cameras show nobody but those four entering or leaving the house in the 48 hours before time-of-death.”
“From the front,” I said. I shoved my glasses up with my middle finger, but he missed it.
“And from the camera in back. It’s dead as a duck, Yamato.”
Still, the dead duck lay on my desk.
Reid’s connections probably got us what little was in that folder. No ballistics yet, but I did have copies of the police report, the victims’ photos, and short bios:
Winston McDaid—75, retired businessman, widower, owned the murder house.
Lurelia Johnson—72, recent arrival. Her photo was a forty-year-old glamor shot and her shirt looked like a Dale Evans hand-me-down—rose-embroidered yokes, pearl snaps, smile pockets.
Clayton Johnson—48, Lurelia’s son. Local. Single. Owned a luxury auto sales and repair center.
Candace Bell—46, divorced. Grown daughter living in Midland. Thanks to her “I’m not givin’ away nuthin’ ” expression, her photo looked like a mug shot.
One more photo—Bell and McDaid at a restaurant. He looked pleased with himself and she might have been trying to smile. Or bare her teeth. On the back, someone had scribbled “Southside Grill.”
The authorities were skipping an inquest, but I had Max Reid’s notes from an interview with the medical examiner. McDaid died from a gunshot that tore a big hole in his heart. Lurelia Johnson had a knife in her back, but died of a heart attack. Her son and Candy Bell were shot to death.
McDaid had been killed by a shotgun. One lay on the living room floor, but bore no usable fingerprints. Handguns beside Clay Johnson and Candy Bell had their prints, and body positions suggested they fired about the same time. The neighbors, running their air conditioners and TVs full blast, heard diddly.