THE MYSTERY IN DARBY

 

By Thomas G. Schmidt

 

The cool autumn air filled the lungs of Detective Josh Gaines as he exited his patrol car and walked to the front entrance of the Buckingham Funeral Home.  Gaines was a 17 year veteran of the Helmer County police department and a lifelong resident of the small Indiana town of Darby.  He had been in the funeral home a number of times in the past but dreaded entering it on this particular occasion. He rang the doorbell and waited for a member of the funeral home staff to let him in.

“Detective!  I’m glad it’s you.  I want to keep this issue as quiet as possible and I know that you can be trusted to handle the situation with discretion.”

The man greeting Gaines was Jeremy Buckingham, the owner of the funeral home.  The stout man was the third generation of the Buckingham family to operate the business and was one of the town elders in Darby.  Gaines knew Buckingham from their time together at Darby High and had always liked the man.

“Hello Jeremy.  I came as soon as I heard that you had another break-in.  The chief felt that it made sense for me to handle this case since I was involved with the earlier event.”

The event that Gaines was referring to was a break-in at the funeral home just two weeks earlier.  Gaines had investigated the crime but had come up empty on a suspect or motive for the entry.  Now, he faced the same issue again.

“I’m glad that you were selected.  Let’s go down to the prep room.  That is where the break-in occurred.”  Buckingham led Gaines down a set of stairs to the basement of the house.  The prep room was Buckingham’s area for receiving and ultimately embalming bodies prior to family viewings at the home.  Buckingham was a licensed funeral director in the state of Indiana and typically prepared about 125 bodies a year for funerals.  He did most of the work himself but on occasion, he would contract out work to Terry Kinney, another funeral director in Helmer County.

The stairs in the Buckingham home were old and creaked as the heavy man made his way into the basement.  He turned on lights at the bottom of the steps and pointed toward a table in the left corner of the room.  Gaines walked over and immediately recognized the body of Ted Kushman, a 92 year old resident of Darby who had died of heart failure just a few days earlier. Kushman’s body was blanch, void of its normal color.

“You had already prepped Kushman’s body?” asked Gaines as he noticed the broken window to the right of the body.

“No Josh.  The body was fresh; it had just been received from the county morgue earlier in the day.  The body condition you see is what I found this morning.  Someone has literally drained the body of its fluids before I even had a chance to do any funeral preparations for the Kushman family.  It’s just like before...”

Gaines reluctantly reached out and felt the body.  It was unusually stiff and hard.  The skin was tight against the bone and lacked the softness typically present in live bodies or even in embalmed corpses.  

Buckingham continued. “I tried to prep the corpse this morning but nothing would drain.  Just like the condition of John Snyder’s body after the break-in two weeks ago.  I am telling you Josh, someone broken in last night and purposefully drained this body.  What sick person would do a thing like that?”

Gaines examined the floor and sink area near the Kushman body.  The sink was clean and the floor was free of any stains that might be present if human fluid had been spilled.  He then examined the corpse and found small puncture marks at the right external carotid artery. Two marks, side-by-side. 

“Is this where you tried to drain the body?”

Buckingham looked at the marks and shook his head.  “No, morticians always cut and drain from arteries either at the groin or at one of the armpits.  We never put cuts at the neck since those marks could be visible to the family.”

Gaines continued his questioning.  “Jeremy, have you used the sink or touched the floor in any manner after you noticed the break-in?”

Buckingham shook his head again.  “No Josh.  Both are the way I found them this morning.”

Gaines walked over to the broken window.  It was the same window which had been broken two weeks earlier. Underneath the window, Gaines found evidence of a small faint shoe print, probably from a sneaker.  It was present on the interior wall, next to the floor.  Perhaps the print was left behind by the intruder.

“Is this print new?”

Buckingham examined the print, being careful not to touch the mark.  “It has to be. There have been no prints on the walls down here in the past and I don’t wear athletic shoes.  Is it something you can use?”

“I think so,” replied Gaines as he opened his cell phone. A call to the county police connected him with a forensics team who promised to send some technicians out to assist with gathering the evidence.  After completing the call, Gaines examined the window and the adjacent area.  Most of the glass was broken inward and now laid upon the basement floor.  Someone on the outside had clearly broken the window.  As he closely examined the remaining glass on the frame, a second piece of evidence came into view.  A small blood stain was present on the lower right hand corner of the window frame.

“I’ll ask the forensics team to sample the blood stain over here on the window.  Maybe we will get lucky and they will be able to test for DNA.”

Buckingham nodded and gave out a sigh.  “I hope you are able to find the guy that keeps doing this.”

Gaines nodded in reply.  “I hope so too.”

 

* * *

 

It was nearly noon when the Helmer County forensics unit arrived at the funeral home.  Gaines explained the situation to the technicians and helped them get started. Once they were set up, he left and walked into the backyard to look further for evidence.  The grass was still wet from consecutive days of rain, making the ground softer than normal.  Gaines could see footprints near the window, a clear indication that someone had recently been in that area.  The footprints led to the side yard which bordered a small street that merged with the main street of Darby.  Based on the prints, it appeared that the intruder had left by way of the side yard and then headed east towards Ridge Road, the main street that passed through the town. 

Gaines rubbed his eyes as he looked down Ridge Road, wondering where the intruder could have gone.  The possibilities were endless.  He needed a clue, something to work with, if he was going to make any progress on finding the individual.  Then, by pure happenstance, he saw it.  A video surveillance camera on the outside of the Sureway Grocery Store.  Could he be lucky once again?  Could the camera have captured an image of the intruder?

 

* * *   

 

Josh Gaines yawned as he watched the surveillance tapes from the Sureway Grocery Store.  Brett Weilman, the owner of the store, had been cooperative in providing Gaines the recent tapes from his security camera.  By luck, Gaines had caught Weilman before he had reused the tapes from the week of the break-in.  But Gaines now had the unenviable task of watching hour after hour of boring video tape. People walking by the store and long stretches of time where nothing was happening.

As one of the tapes reached the late evening hours of Thursday night, the evening of the break-in, Gaines noticed some movement across the street from the closed store.  The image appeared to be of an adolescent youth, around middle school age, wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.  The gold coloring on the jersey stood out in the dim street lighting.  The youth had darted onto Ridge Road from a side street directly opposite the grocery store.  The time on the tape was 2:45 AM, an unusually late time for someone this age to be out.

“Find anything?” asked Brett Weilman as he entered the small office area inside the Sureway Grocery Store.  “I know this must be very taxing.”

“I think I found something” replied Gaines as he paused the tape. “But I don’t know what it means. There appears to be a youth out very late Thursday night who ran down the street in front of your store. I can’t make out a face but he appears to be wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.  Does that mean anything to you?”

Weilman squinted as he looked at the image on the screen.  “I have never seen any kid in town wearing that kind of shirt.  The only one I know of who has a Lakers jersey is Bill Congdon from the Fairfield area just outside of town.  But he is in his 40’s.    

“Congdon?  I don’t know him.”    

Weilman continued.  “Bill and Marie Congdon moved here about a year ago.  No children, at least none that I know of.  They are quiet and pretty much stay to themselves.”

Gaines nodded as he made some notes about the Congdons and where they lived.  He intended to stop by to see the couple.  It was a dubious lead but at this point, any lead was a plus.

 

* * *

 

Gaines cellphone rang at 9 AM the next morning.  He was just preparing to drive to Fairfield when the call came in from the Helmer County forensics unit.  Jack Riley, the chief of the department, was on the line with information on the unit’s analysis of the blood found at the Buckingham Funeral home.

“What do you have Jack?” asked Gaines as he placed his morning breakfast dishes on his sink counter.  “I hope you found something.”

“Our results are still preliminary but since I know that you are anxious for information, I thought that I should call.”  The forensic department head seemed hesitant as he conveyed the details to Gaines.  “The tests will need to be repeated since our results are unusual.”

“Unusual?” replied Gaines as he adjusted the cellphone against his head.  “How so?”

“Well, we determined that the blood is AB negative, a rare blood type.  But that by itself did not alarm us.  What did was the early DNA test data.  The blood appears to have 24 chromosome pairs, not 26 like human blood.”

“24 chromosome pairs?  Jack, the blood was found inside the basement so we have been assuming that it is from a human intruder.  Your data is suggesting otherwise.  A non-human intruder, perhaps an animal?”

“That is why we really need to re-run the test.  It could be just a testing error in our lab.”  Riley went on to assure Gaines that the repeat testing was being given a high priority. “I will call you with the results of the repeat tests once we have them done.”    

“Thanks Jack.” And with that, Gaines left for his car and the short trip to Fairfield.

 

* * *

 

The Congdon house was in an isolated part of Fairfield.  Set back on a rural county road, the house and surrounding land provided privacy for its inhabitants.

Gaines knocked on the door and waited.  He could hear a dog backing inside as well as the shuffling of feet.  The door was then opened by a middle aged man who Gaines assumed had to be Bill Congdon. 

“Mr. Congdon?  Hi. My name is Detective Josh Gaines of Helmer County.  I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about some problems we have had down in Darby. It should only take a few minutes.”

The thin man standing opposite Gaines hesitated. “Why are you interested in talking to me? My wife and I spend very little time in Darby.”

Gaines nodded and replied. “Sir, it will only take a few minutes. Can I come in?”

Congdon looked around and finally nodded for Gaines to come in. “OK, but I really need to go in a few minutes. I have an appointment in Westwood that I have to get to.”

Gaines entered the house and stood opposite of Congdon.  The man seemed edgy and distant.  Perhaps he was just fearful about talking to police.  Gaines tried to put the man at ease.

“We are investigating a break-in at the Buckingham Funeral Home that occurred last Thursday.  The person we think that may have been involved was captured on video tape running by the Sureway Grocery Store. He appeared to be young and wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.  Does that description mean anything to you?”

Congdon wiped sweat from his forehead as he looked away from Gaines. “Detective, this is not a good time for us to talk. I really have to leave. I am going to have to insist that we talk about this at a later time.”    

Gaines sensed tension in Congdon. The man clearly knew something that he was holding back. “Mr. Congdon, just a few minutes sir. I really just need a little of your time.”

Congdon’s anger came out as he replied in an elevated voice. “No, I said that you need to leave.  I don’t have time for this discussion right now.”

A rumbling came out of the second floor of the house. As Gaines looked up the stairs, he briefly caught a glimpse of the source of the noise. It was a hairy, stooped animal-like creature peering down at them. Suddenly without warning, the creature rushed down the stairs, lunging at Gaines.  The animal’s long, fang-like teeth protruded from its mouth and deep growls emitted from its lungs. But before Gaines could react, the animal was upon him. The beast hurled its body into Gaines like a torpedo. Gaines was immediately knocked to the floor, his paperwork scattering from the force of the blow. He winched in pain, feeling as if his rib cage had been broken by the force of the animal.

Bill Congdon shrieked as Gaines fell to the floor. “Robby, no. Fall back. Go back to your room.”  The beast fell back, but just briefly. A snarl spread across its mouth as it examined the prone police detective. And then it lunged again.

The short pause between attacks allowed Gaines just enough time to remove his service revolver.  He didn’t have time to aim. He simply pulled the trigger. Once, then twice, and then a third time.  The shots entered the chest of the animal and dropped it immediately to the floor.

Congdon shrieked again in horror. “No, no. What have you done?”

 

* * *

 

Josh Gaines grimaced as he wrote his official report on the attack that had taken place at the Congdon house. The 3 broken ribs and bruised internal organs would need time to fully heal but the doctor’s assured him that no permanent damage had occurred from the attack.

Little was known about Robby Congdon, the deformed child who had attacked Gaines. All that Gaines was able to find out was that he was 14 years old and that the Congdons had shielded Robby from the world for all of his life. At the recommendation of legal counsel, the Congdons decided not to cooperate with the ongoing investigation being conducted by Helmer County.

Jack Riley did get back to Gaines shortly after the attack with final test results on the blood stain found at the funeral home. Riley was able to confirm that it was AB negative blood and that it did match a blood sample taken from Robby Congdon. The 24 chromosome pair indication seen in the first test was confirmed in the second test run on the blood. Riley offered no explanation for it.

Helmer County hired Dr. Kerry McDonald, a human physiology expert from the University of Illinois, to assist in the Robby Congdon investigation. McDonald determined that Robby Congdon suffered from an extremely rare digestive condition where his stomach was literally void of the highly acidic enzymes needed to break down and digest solid foods. McDonald theorized that Robby Congdon needed to consume blood to access needed amino acids, proteins, and carbohydrates to live. Shallow animal graves in the backyard of the Congdon home seemed to confirm that Bill Congdon was hunting small game to help feed his only son. But apparently, Robby Congdon needed access to human blood from time to time in order keep the correct human blood constituent balance in his body. This accounted for his various break-ins at different funeral homes around the county.

Eventually, Bill and Marie Congdon sued Helmer County to gain access to their son’s body. The court ruled in their favor, feeling that the county’s two-month long hold on Robby Congdon’s body was excessive.

The Congdons buried their son in an unmarked grave. The burial was private, with no Helmer County residents invited to attend.

Josh Gaines thought of visiting the Congdon house to offer his sympathy to the family but was advised by county legal counsel to avoid doing so. The Congdons left Helmer County a few weeks after their son’s burial, moving to an unknown location away from the state of Indiana.



Tom Schmidt is a Chemical Engineer who works in medical diagnostics in upstate New York.  He has written a number of short stories over the past year and four were published on www.short-story.me ("The Monster of Jenkins County," "The Haunting at Midnight," "Forgotten Memories," and "The Stranger in the Woods").


Copyright 2016 Thomas G. Schmidt. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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