The Mind of a Criminal

Agent Chelsea Edwards, FBI, has been chasing a renowned serial killer for months now, only to come up empty handed. No pattern, no motive, nothing. Once a young couple is killed, all of the puzzle pieces seem to fit together and Chelsea is finally able to figure out the killer's pattern. But is it enough to capture him? Or will he get to Chelsea first?

(Very short story that I wrote originally as an assignment for a creative writing workshop. Enjoy. - ELLE)

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1. The Mind of a Criminal

               “Hey, Edwards!”

                I turn my attention reluctantly away from the files I was studying, placing down my highlighter and glancing up at the voice. My partner is sitting at the edge of my desk, tossing a wrapped turkey sandwich up and down in the air, as if it were a baseball he was about to pitch. His khaki clad legs are swaying back and forth as if he were a child on a swing and I can see a fresh coffee stain at the bottom of his white button-down shirt.

                “Yes, Adam?” I ask with an exasperated sigh, pulling off my reading glasses.

                He places the sandwich on top of the papers in front of me and begins to unwrap it. “It is 11pm. You need to eat, Chels. I know you want to catch this guy as quickly as possible, but you can’t do it on an empty stomach.”

                “Within the ten minutes I use to stuff my face in a turkey sandwich, another person could be dead, in who knows what method. Maybe this time he’ll copy Bundy or Dahmer… oh! Or better yet- the fictional Dexter Morgan. There’s a reason we call him the copycat killer, Grey.”

                 Adam sighs and looks pointedly at me. “Chelsea, you can’t save everyone. Just eat and then we’ll go down to the evidence locker and check out the-,”

                 “Grey! Edwards!” the sharp voice of Director Buchwald cuts through the silence of the empty FBI office. “There’s been a new murder at the Virginia Beach boardwalk. The State Police have cleared the beach and secured the crime scene. I told them that you two were on your way.”

                  Before the director could finish his last sentence, Adam and I had already thrown on our coats, grabbed our usual gear, and were halfway out the front door. On the car ride to the crime scene, I mentally prepared myself for what was coming. Examining dead bodies never settled well with me, especially with this case, where the killer had no established mode of operating, or M.O. We don’t know what to expect. Which killer was he idolizing now? What would it be this time? Dismemberment? A bomb? Necrophilia?

                 After a quick flash of our badges, the Virginia State Police lifted the yellow tape and let us into the secluded section of the boardwalk with no questions asked. On the wooden boardwalk, now darkened with blood, lay two bodies- male and female- both extremely mutilated with what looked to be numerous knife wounds. Their limbs were bent in nauseating directions. A brown leather purse was lying next to the woman, drenched in a pool of blood. What caught my eye, however, was the perfect circle with two intersecting lines carved into each of the victim’s right forearms.

                 “The Zodiac Killer…” I mumble to myself, bending down to get a closer look at the carving while pulling on latex gloves. “He’s copying the Zodiac Killer.”

                  The Zodiac Killer, prominent in the 1960s in Northern California, is confirmed of killing five people (he claims to have killed 37), but to this day remains unidentified. What made him stand out were his taunting four letters to the local police- each of which cryptograms- his true words lying underneath clue after clue. On each letter, was a drawing of the circle with two intersecting lines, now known as the Zodiac Killer’s signature mark.

                  Adam proceeds to walk slowly around the crime scene, snapping pictures as I continue to study the bodies. The two were young, mid-20s at most, and looked to be recently married, considering the shiny unworn rings on their left hands. I dig my hand into the man’s front jean pocket and pull out his wallet, then did the same with the woman’s purse, searching for any form of identification.

                 “James and Carol Barnes, ages 24 and 27, citizens of Virginia Beach, Virginia,” I say to Adam, who is punching the information into his phone.

                  “Okay, I just sent that back to the office. They’ll have more information for us soon.”

                  I sigh. “We don’t need more information on the victims. We need more information on the killer.”

                    After a few silent moments of gathering photos and evidence, our medical examiner had arrived to take the bodies back to the autopsy room for further examination. Adam and I sat at the boardwalk for a while longer once the VSP decided to depart, leaving only two of their officers to keep an eye on the crime scene.

                   “We need to find a pattern to the killings,” Adam says, running a hand through his hair. “Why did he kill in the order that he did?”

                   I nod intently, spewing my thoughts. “First, he copied Steven Wright’s M.O. by killing a prostitute then dumping her body in the woods. Then, he turned into Beverley Allitt by impersonating a nurse and murdering a child in a hospital. Now, he’s copying the Zodiac Killer… based on that, there is no evident connection.”

                  Just as the last few words came out of my mouth, the image of a piece of research pops into my mind. Once I was assigned the case, I had delved myself into researching serial killers and I remember reading an article on the timeline of various famous killers. Two days ago, I was sitting at the desk in my room, annotating the article and relisting the names of killers in order of body-count and years of confirmed identification. How had I not seen the connection before?

                 Before Adam could question me, I snatch the car keys out of his hands and race off of the beach, jumping quickly into the car and speeding to my flat. My eyes were wide with excitement and adrenaline as I enter my apartment, not bothering to switch on the lights, and going directly to my desk, which is cluttered with papers. Digging through, I finally let out a sigh of relief as I find the article that proved his killing pattern.

                I pull out my phone and quickly call my partner. “Adam! I’m so sorry for running off and leaving you, but I have good news. I know the killer’s pattern! He’s killing based on body-count and identity verification years in chronological order. We can use this to narrow down his target area and we can find him. He went from Wright in 1998 with a body-count of three, to Allitt in 2000 with four killings, then-,”

                 My enthusiastic tone halts as a cluttering sound is heard from the kitchen in my flat. I hear Adam reiterating my name over the line, but I ignore it, keeping my ears focused on any other noise in my proximity. Hearing no more, I pull the phone back to my ear.

                 “Hey, Adam,” I begin again calmly, adding in a chuckle for good measure. “I think my cat just broke something again. I’ll call you later.”

                  Without another word, I hang up the phone and immediately, but quietly, pull out the gun in my desk drawer and hold it ready. My heart is pounding in my head and I can barely breathe, but I knew I had to concentrate. If not, I was going to be the copycat killer’s fourth victim.

                 Cautiously, I make my way over to the kitchen, back pressed up against the wall. I turn quickly to face the kitchen with my gun extended, as I am trained to, but feel a hard elbow hit me square in the nose and I stumble back, my free hand flying to my face. My fingers are sticky with blood, but I look up to see a man dressed casually in jeans and a button-down shirt, his black hair looking peculiarly like a wig. What catches my attention is the .44 caliber in his hands, pointed directly at me.

                “Put down the gun, Agent Edwards.”

                His voice is rough and hoarse and he looks at me with an empty expression. I do as he says and place the gun on the floor, kicking it over to him with my hands in the air. His gaze on me doesn’t falter as he kicks it back into the living room, completely out of sight and reach.

                “David Berkowitz, am I correct?” I say in an attempt to stall for time.

                 His dark eyes suddenly gleam with enthusiasm and a small smirk appears upon his unshaven face. “You’re smart. You figured out my pattern.”
                I nod. “You’re wearing his signature clothing, you bought a wig to resemble his hair, and you’re holding a .44 caliber. Who else would you be but the .44 Caliber Killer?”

                 This upsets him as I knew it would, but I can see him hold back the evident anger. “I’m only killing like Berkowitz! I’m not him! I am me. I do this for me, not for him!”
                “Who are you exactly?”

                 He suddenly laughs, a hearty and full sound. “Do you think I’m stupid, Agent Edwards?”

                 I shake my head quickly as he steps closer to me, the gun only a foot from my chest. “Of course not. It took me quite a while to figure out your pattern. It was very elaborate, very well thought out.”
                “I had a feeling you would enjoy it, Chelsea. You always had a knack for puzzles. Unfortunately, the FBI will no longer possess your puzzle-solving ability after tonight,” he threatens, but then a pondering look appears. “Oh, but your dimwitted partner also knows my pattern now that you told him… I suppose I’ll have to kill him too. Switching murder methods is fun. I’m kind of glad I chose to proceed with my life like this- I can try out different methods and once I get bored, I’ll just stick with my favorite… It’s the best of both worlds!”
                As he ponders further, I notice his guard begin to slip and the gun in his hand faltering downward slightly in relaxation. Acting purely on impulse and adrenaline, I dive toward the gun, prying it out of his calloused hands. A look of surprise crosses his features, but is quickly replaced with uncontrolled rage. He grunts loudly in anger and moves towards me. I dodge, trying to run, but he catches up before I can reach my living room and wraps a strong arm around my neck, cutting off my oxygen. Roughly grabbing me by the neck with one hand, he chucks me against the kitchen island and my head pounds hard against the granite countertop. As I fall to a pile on the floor, his gun falls out of my hand. My head is hammering, my sight is blurred, and my throat was grasping desperately for air, but I can see his figure standing over me, his arm extending with the .44 caliber now in his hands.

                 “The fight is over, Agent Edwards. You lose.”

                  The gunshot goes off and my eyes fly shut in expectation of extreme pain and instant death. Nothing happens. I don’t feel anything. My eyes open cautiously and I see a man holding a gun above me. But it is not the man. This man is wearing khaki trousers and a white button-down shirt with a fading coffee stain.

                   “Chelsea,” he gasps, bending down to help me sit up. “My God, are you okay?”

                    I nod, unable to answer him as my gaze slides to the man lying on his stomach on my kitchen floor, the hole in the back of his skull oozing blood. For some reason, at this moment, all I can think about is how much bleach it was going to take to clean the blood from my white tile floor. Adam’s green eyes stare at my face worriedly, waiting for me to speak.

                “Adam?” I say once I regain my logic. “How did you know I was in trouble?”

                To my surprise he chuckles softly, drops the gun, and his arms envelope me in a tight embrace. I gratefully return the hug, nuzzling my head into the chest of my best friend and partner as he runs his hands up and down my back comfortingly, calming down my racing heart.

                “Chelsea,” he starts, still holding me securely. “You don’t have a cat.”

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