Final Words: Reflections of a Forensic Pathologist


Storage Locker

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“I don’t know why I made the payments on that stupid storage locker,” the woman said, her frosted lips pouting. The interview had drawn to an end. The FBI agent closed the folder in front of him, standing up to see her out.

“Even before I paid the gas and electric. It was that important to him,” Brandi continued, shaking her head, confused by her former lover’s request. “Fred never did make much sense. Go figure, a storage locker.” Brandi’s prepared to exit, grabbing the doorknob, her thoughts turning to dinner and her favorite prime-time TV shows. Carter’s pulse spiked and he sat back down.

Just moments earlier, Carter concluded a two-hour conversation with Brandi involving questioning her about her ex-boyfriend, Fred, who she had been with for many years. Carter patiently listened to her grievances and sobs — none of which brought him closer to solving his cold case. He had already talked to all of the people who knew Fred well from 14 years ago; this was a proven strategy to uncover clues in forgotten homicides. Carter prepared to file this one in the unsolved category, until this comment about the storage locker.

“Could I just ask you a few more questions, Miss Abbott? For the file?” The agent spoke calmly though he was feeling quite the opposite. “Have a seat, again, please.”

Images tugged at his mind — antiques, collectibles, plunder, contraband. Storage lockers provided a place to stash things from view. To calm himself, he removed his glasses, cleaning the lenses with a cloth he retrieved from his jacket pocket.

“Can I get you another coffee? Cream and sugar, right?” Carter said. His remembering how she liked her coffee made her smile.

“You know if Fred had been half as nice as you, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking right now. I did everything for that man. Even paid his bills when he was in jail…twice. Especially for his blessed storage unit. He would call me at home, mind you, and the first thing he would say, after I accepted the charges from prison, was, ‘Brandi, did you pay my rental locker?’ before he even said hello or love you babe.” The monologue had tired her and she turned her face away as she answered, “Sure, I’ll take that coffee.”

Carter pushed the intercom button on his desk phone. “Phil, two cups of joe in here, regular.” As an experienced agent, he made it a habit to drink coffee the same way as whoever he was interviewing. It engendered familiarity.

“Where was this storage locker? Do you have any receipts?” He tried to keep the urgency out of his voice. Carter knew a search warrant required concrete information. He hoped the unit had been rented in the suspect’s name.

“Oh, yeah. It was right over there in Cicero. I kept all the paperwork for that rat,” she scowled and tossed back her long blonde hair.

No one knew what awaited them at the rental facility. Carter felt impatient to know if answers lay inside the five-foot by five-foot space that Fred had leased and for which Brandi had paid. The metal creaked loudly, weary from disuse, as the door slid along the tracks. Dust piled in the corners and seams of the small interior. Cobwebs streamed from the walls to a single item contained within the locker, a wooden chest. It didn’t look big enough to contain a human body.

Stuffed inside the trunk was a skeleton wrapped in a blanket. The knees were folded up to the torso, hands around the legs and head pushed downward to the abdomen. Fourteen years had allowed the soft flesh to decay leaving behind only bone and sinew, cranium and hair. Shreds of fabric from clothing adhered to the remains. It no longer looked like the 31-year-old woman who had gone missing in 1990. Yet dental records would prove it was her, Fred’s girlfriend at that time.

Even before the formal forensic identification, Carter knew the murdered woman in the trunk was Terry. The smile of the skeleton matched the photos of the living woman that haunted him the past six months.

Fred had been the last person to see Terry and the prime suspect when she went missing. Her body had never been found…until now.

Carter made a mental note to thank Brandi for her cooperation.

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