Doctor Jonathan Winston pulled the surgical mask over his mouth and nose and checked the clock on the wall of autopsy room number four on the underground floor of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. 6:12 p.m.

The body on the stainless steel table a few feet in front of him was of an unidentified white female in her late twenties, early thirties. Her shoulder-length black hair was wet, its tips plastered to the metal table. Under the brightness of the surgical light, her pale skin looked rubbery, almost unhuman. It hadn’t been possible to identify the presumed cause of death at the location where the body was found. There was no blood, no bullet or knife wounds, no lumps or abrasions to her head or torso and no hematomas around her neck to indicate she’d been strangled. Her body was clear of traumas, except for the fact that her mouth and vagina had been stitched shut by whoever had killed her. The thread used was bulky and heavy - the stitches untidy and careless.

‘Are we ready?’ Doctor Winston said to Sean Hannay, the young forensic assistant in the room.

Hannay’s eyes were glued to the woman’s face and her sealed lips. For some reason he felt more nervous than usual.

‘Sean, are we OK?’

‘Umm, yes, Doctor, sorry.’ His eyes finally met Doctor Winston’s and he nodded. ‘We’re all set here.’ He positioned himself to the right of the table while the doctor activated the digital recording device on the counter closest to him.

Doctor Winston stated the date and time, the names of those present, and the autopsy file number. The body had already been measured and weighed, so he proceeded to dictate the victim’s physical characteristics. Before making any incisions, Doctor Winston meticulously studied the body, looking for any marks that could help identify the victim. As his eyes rested on the stitches applied to the victim’s lower body, he paused and squinted.

‘Wait a second,’ he whispered, stepping closer and carefully moving the victim’s legs apart. ‘Please pass me the flashlight, Sean.’ He extended his hand towards the forensic assistant without taking his eyes off the victim. Concern crept into his gaze.

‘Something wrong?’ Hannay asked, handing Doctor Winston a small metal flashlight.

‘Maybe.’ He directed its beam towards something that had caught his eye.

Hannay shifted his weight from foot to foot.

‘The stitches aren’t medical suture,’ Doctor Winston said for the benefit of the audio record. ‘They’re amateurish and imprecise. Like a teenager sewing a patch onto an old pair of ripped jeans.’ He moved closer still. ‘The stitches are also too spread apart, the gaps between them are too wide, and…’ he paused, cocking his head, ‘… no way.’

Hannay felt his whole body shiver. ‘What?’ He stepped forward.

Doctor Winston drew a deep breath and slowly looked up at Hannay. ‘I think the killer left something behind.’


Doctor Winston concentrated on the flashlight beam for a few more seconds until he was sure. ‘The light is being reflected off something inside her.’

Hannay bent down, following the doctor’s gaze. It took him only a second to see it. ‘Shit, the light is reflecting off something. What is it?’

‘I don’t know, but whatever it is it’s large enough to show through the stitches.’

The doctor straightened up and grabbed a metal pointer from the instrument tray.

‘Sean, hold the light for me; like this.’ He handed the flashlight to the young assistant and showed him exactly where he wanted him to focus the beam.

The doctor bent over and inserted the tip of the metal pointer between two of the stitches, guiding it towards the object inside the victim.

Hannay kept the flashlight steady.

‘It’s something metallic,’ Winston announced, using the pointer as a probe, ‘but I still can’t say for certain what it could be. Pass me the stitch-cutting scissors and the forceps, will you?’

It didn’t take him long to slice through the stitches. As he cut through each one, Doctor Winston used the forceps to pinch and pull the thick black thread from the victim’s skin, placing it into a small plastic evidence collection container.

‘Was she raped?’ Hannay asked.

‘There are cuts and bruises around her inner thighs that are consistent with forced penetration,’ Doctor Winston confirmed, ‘but they could’ve been caused by the object that’s been inserted into her. I’ll take some swabs and send them up to the lab together with the thread samples.’ He placed the scissors and the forceps on the used instrument tray. ‘Let’s find out what the killer has left us, shall we?’

Hannay tensed as Doctor Winston inserted his right hand into the victim. ‘Well, I was right, it’s not a small object.’

A few silent, uneasy seconds went by.

‘And it’s oddly shaped too,’ the doctor announced. ‘Sort of squared with something strange attached to its top.’ He finally managed to grab hold of it. As he pulled it out, an attachment at the top clicked.

Hannay stepped forward to gain a better look.

‘Metal, relatively heavy, looks handmade…’ Doctor Winston said, staring at the object in his hand. ‘But I’m still not sure what…’ He paused and felt his heart hammer inside his chest as his eyes widened in realization.

'Oh my God…’

© Chris Carter 2011