Page 11 of Detective



Walden was dusting wood surfaces with a black graphite powder mixed with tiny iron filings, and applied with a magnetic brush; the mix adhered to moisture, lipids, amino acids, salts, and other chemicals of which fingerprints were composed.

On smoother surfaces glass or metal a nonmagnetic powder was used, of differing colors to suit varied backgrounds. As she worked, Walden switched from one type of powder to another, knowing that prints varied depending on skin texture, temperature, or contaminants on hands.

Officer Tomas Ceballos had reentered the room and briefly stood watching Walden at work. Turning her head, she told him, smiling, "Finding good prints is harder than people think."

Ceballos brightened. He had noticed Walden the minute she arrived. "It always looks easy on TV."

"Doesn't everything? In real life," she explained, "it's surfaces that make the difference. Smooth ones like glass are best, but only if they're clean and dry; if there's dust, prints will smear they're useless. Doorknobs are hopeless; the area's not flat, too small for good prints, and just turning a knob smears any prints made." Walden regarded the young officer, clearly liking what she saw. "Did you know fingerprints can be affected by what someone ate recently?"


"Is this a joke?"

"No joke." After another smile, she went on working. "Acidic foods cause extra skin moisture and clearer prints. So if you're planning a crime, don't eat citrus fruits beforehand oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, lemon, lime. Oh, and no vinegar! That's the worst."

"Or the best, from our viewpoint," Julio Verona corrected.

"When I make detective," Ceballos said, "I'll remember all that." Then he asked Walden, "Do you give private lessons?"

"Not normally." She smiled. "But I can make exceptions."

"Good, I'll be in touch." Officer Ceballos left the room looking pleased.

Malcolm Ainslie, who had overheard, commented, "Even at a murder scene, life goes on."

Walden grimaced, glancing toward the mutilated bodies. "If it didn't, you'd go crazy."

Already she had located several prints, though whether from the killer or killers, or the dead couple, or belonging to hotel employees on legitimate business would be determined later. For now the next step was to "lift" each print onto a transparent tape that was placed on a "latent lift card." The card, dated, signed, and the print's location noted, would then become evidence.

Julio Verona asked Ainslie, "Did you hear about our zoo experiment?"

Ainslie shook his head. ''Tell me."

"We got permission from MetroZoo and took fingerprints and toeprints of their chimpanzees and apes, then studied them." He gestured to Walden. "Tell him the rest. "

"Everything was exactly the same as with human prints," she finished. "The same characteristics ridges, whorls, loops, arches, identical points, no basic difference."

"Darwin was right," Verona added. "We've all got monkeys in our family tree, eh, Malcolm?" The comment was pointed. Verona knew of Ainslie's priestly past.

There was a time when Ainslie though never a fundamentalist accepted the Catholic skepticism of Darwin's Origin of Species. Darwin had, after all, scoffed at divine intervention and denied mankind's superiority to the rest of the animal world. But that was long ago and Ainslie answered now, "Yes, I believe we came that route."

What they were all doing, he knew Walden, Verona, Ceballos, Quinn, even he himself was distracting themselves, however briefly, from the ghastly horror that faced them. Outsiders might have viewed their behavior as coldblooded; in fact, it was the reverse. The human psyche even a conditioned Homicide crew's had limits on how much sustained revulsion it could handle.

Another male technician had appeared and was working on blood samples. Using small test tubes, he collected sarnples of the pooled blood around each victim. Later these would be compared with blood taken at autopsy. If the blood groups differed, some of the pooled blood might be from the attacker or attackers. From appearances, though, it seemed unlikely.

The technicians took fingernail scrapings from the Frosts, in case one of them had scratched an assailant, causing minuscule fragments of skin, hair, cloth fibers, or other materials to lodge under their nails. The scrapings were placed in containers for lab technicians to examine later. Then the victims' hands were bagged for preservation, so that before autopsy they could be fingerprinted, and the bodies examined, too, for alien fingerprints.

The Frosts' clothing was inspected carefully, though it would remain in place until their bodies reached the morgue. Then, before autopsy, it would be removed, with each item sealed in a plastic bag.

By now, with the additional people, a buzz of conversations, and continuous phone calls, room 805 had become crowded, noisy, and even more malodorous.

Ainslie glanced at his watch. It was 9:45 A.M., and he suddenly thought of Jason, who, at that moment, would be in the school auditorium with the rest of his third-grade class, waiting for a spelling bee to begin. Karen would be in the audience with other parents, feeling anxious and proud. Ainslie had hoped to join her briefly, but it hadn't worked out. It so seldom did.

He turned his mind back to the homicide scene, wondering if the case would be solved quickly, hoping the answer was yes. But as the hours wore on, the biggest impediment emerged: despite a multitude of people moving within the hotel, no one had even glimpsed a possible suspect. Somehow the murderer or murderers had managed to get in and out of the room, and probably the hotel, without any attention being paid. Ainslie had police officers question all the guests on the eighth floor, as well as on the two floors above and below. No one had seen a thing.

During the seventeen hours Ainslie was at the murder scene that first day, he and Quinn considered motives. Robbery was possible; no money whatever was found among the victims' possessions. On the other hand, the jewelry left at the scene (and later appraised at twenty thousand Dollars) could have been removed easily. And certainly a cash robbery could have been achieved without two people being murdered. Nor was the awful savagery explained, or the enigma of the dead cats. So a prime motive remained as elusive as a prime suspect.

Initial information about Homer and Blanche Frost, resulting from calls to police in South Bend, Indiana, their hometown, revealed them as well-to-do but innocuous people with no apparent vices, family problems, or unsavory connections. Even so, to make on-the-spot inquiries Bernie Quinn would fly to South Bend within the next few days.

Some facts and opinions did emerge from the medical examiner, Sandra Sanchez, who inspected the Frosts' bodies at the scene and autopsied them later.

After the two victims had been subdued, then gagged and bound, she believed they had been placed so that each could see the other suffer. "They were tortured while conscious," Sanchez suggested. She believed the bodily assaults were done "methodically and slowly."

While no weapon was found at the murder scene, the autopsies showed deep knife cuts on both bodies, producing distinctive flesh and bone markings. And a terrible detail: flammable liquid had been poured into Mr. Frost's eyes, then set alight, leaving charred cinders where the eyes had been and blackened skin around them. Beneath the woman's gag, part of her tongue had been bitten off, probably a reaction to her agony.

Dr. Sanchez, in her late forties, had a reputation for directness and an acid tongue. She dressed conservatively in navy or brown suits; her graying hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Among her scholarly interests as Bernard Quinn knew was Santer~a, the Afro-Cuban religion that flourished in Dade County, Florida, with an estimated seventy thousand adherents.

Quinn had once heard Sandra Sanchez affirm, "Okay, I'm not saying I believe in the orishas the gods of Santena. But if you believe those other tall tales Moses parting the Red Sea, the virgin birth, Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes, and a whale regurgitating Jonah there's at least equal logic in Santeria; And what it does is offer soothing voodoo for troubled minds."

Quinn, aware that animal sacrifice was part of some Santer~a rites, wondered if the four dead cats were Santeria-related.

"Positively not," Sanchez told him. "I've looked at those cats; they were killed by hand almost certainly brutally. Santeria animal-killing is done with a knife and with devotion, and dead animals aren't abandoned like those cats. They're often eaten at a feast, and cat is never on the menu."

Ainslie and Quinn concluded that initial results were far from promising. As Ainslie reported to Leo Newbold, "It's a classic whodunit."

A whodunit which, oddly enough, was exactly what detectives called it was the kind of murder Homicide teams liked least. It implied a total absence of information about an offender, and sometimes about the victim, too. In such cases there were neither witnesses nor anyone to suggest paths of inquiry. The two opposites of whodunits were an "easy rider" a case in which a murder suspect was quickly apparent, along with evidence to convict; and a "smoking gun," easiest of all where the guilty party was still at the murder scene when police arrived.

In the end, long after the tragic saga of Homer and Blanche Frost, it was a smoking-gun homicide that would provide an apparent solution and close the case of the Frost murders.

2

Shortly before eight o'clock on Friday morning, three days after the Royal Colonial Hotel murders, Bernard Quinn walked from the Homicide offices to the civilian-staffed Identification Unit, also on the fifth floor of Police Headquarters. In an interior office where a half-dozen ID technicians worked amid computers and printout-laden desks, Quinn approached the young fingerprint specialist who had searched for latent prints at the Royal Colonial crime scene. Sylvia Walden was tapping at a keyboard in front of a large computer screen and looked up as he approached. Her long hair, he noticed, was damp, perhaps from the heavy rain shower that had also caught Quinn on his way to work.

"Good morning, Bernard,'' she said, smiling.

"It isn't good so far," he told her glumly. "Maybe you can improve it."

"A shortage of clues from Tuesday?" Walden's voice was sympathetic.

"More like none. Which is why I'm here, mostly to ask why in hell a fingerprint report is taking so long."

"Three days isn't long," she answered sharply. "Not when I had a fistful of prints to check out and identify as you should know."

"Sorry, Sylvia," Quinn said penitently. "This sick case has turned me into an ass. Manners out the window."

"Don't worryā€¯, he said. "We're all pretty frazzled over this."

"So what have you got?"

"Some prints came through this morning from New York. They belong to the guy who stayed in the hotel room just prior to the Frosts."

"Were they on file there?"

"No, no. He agreed to be fingerprinted by the NYPD to help us out. I'm just comparing them with those we found."

The computer that Walden faced was a state-of-the-art AFIS model shorthand for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The machine, after scanning a fingerprint from a crime scene, could accomplish in less than two hours what it would take a human being an estimated one hundred and sixty years to complete a search through hundreds of thousands of fingerprints on record across the United States and provide a matching print, with identification, if one existed. Fingerprints in the system were stored and retrieved by a digital code that worked at lightning speed. AFIS was often an instant crime-solver; also, since its arrival, many old investigations had been reopened, with bygone fingerprints identified and criminals charged and convicted. Today, though, Walden's task was simpler comparing the set of prints from New York, transferred by modem, with unidentified prints she had lifted from room 805 of the Royal Colonial.

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