Jane Doe Mystery, Book 5: The Ghostly Gum 2 covers

Jane Doe Mystery, Book 5: The Ghostly Gum by Wendy Laing

As the daughter of a policeman who died in the line of duty, Inspector Jane Doe, head of Melbourne Homicide, is single-mindedly driven to seek justice for all. But Jane is no ordinary detective. She can communicate with the ghosts of murder victims. Not wanting to be dismissed as mentally unstable, she must keep her secret from all but her husband and her senior officer, using each victim’s information to subtly direct her team in the right direction on each case. Jane realizes she’s the only thing standing between a killer being brought to justice and a monster getting off scot-free. But, with each case she solves, her fear that the police hierarchy will accidentally discover her secret forces her to walk a fine line indeed.

 

Detective Chief Superintendent Jane Doe has a formidable list of cold cases on her desk. This latest one involves an unidentified person, murdered seventeen years earlier.

It is not only a perplexing case, but also an exploratory challenge for all involved as the squad try not only to identify the victim, but sort out suspects who are involved in money laundering, drugs and family feuds.

Jane’s team are challenged to find solid forensic proof to use against the main suspect, so he doesn’t get away with a cold-blooded murder.

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GENRE: Mystery: Paranormal    ISBN: 978-1-925574-70-8    ASIN:  B085SZGXD3    Word Count: 42, 198

 

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Prologue

(Monday)

 

Jane was up bright and early. The weather was slowly getting warmer, and spring wasn’t far away. Oliver walked with her and Spunky and Sassy, their two Cavalier King Charles’ through the lush green grass in the back paddock at 6.30 am, before breakfast.

Oliver put his hands in his thick parka. Oliver put his hands in his thick parka. “It’s cold!”

“Yes! Brr! But it’s nice to see the sun rising…and our Alpacas.”

Oliver grinned. “Their wool clip will be great later this year. They’ve grown lots of wool this cold winter. The mill will get good yarn from them.”

Jane replied, “Jenny at the local market, loves our Alpaca wool, to spin and make into sweaters, beanies and scarves for her stall.”

Oliver nodded his head. “Good old Jen. I love the sweaters that she made for us last year.”

Jane laughed and said, “Especially as they were free. The country ‘barter’ system between friends and neighbours is great.” Jane glanced at her watch. “Heck, we’d better get back and have breakfast. My next cold case is a fifteen-year-old unsolved murder. There’s lots of setting up and reading for the squad to do first.”

“More ghostly encounters, my love?”

“I can’t promise,” Jane shook her head. “A man’s body was found in a hollow trunk of a huge red gum tree. He carried no wallet or personal ID, but there was some jewellery; a gold signet ring and gold neck chain with a pendant, engraved with the initials P.G. They also found tattered clothing and battered sneakers. At the time, the local police put photos of the jewellery in the press, to no avail. There’s no missing person file for the area…” Jane mused to Oliver as they made their way back to the house. Jane thought, Telling Oliver about a case, always helps! She paused briefly, then added, “The tree isn’t very far away from here, actually.”

“Oh, where?”

“Just twenty minutes up the road, in Hesket, near the Hanging Rock Reserve.” Jane shook her head, and thought, A murder so close to home, even so long ago…gives me chills!

Jane and Oliver had now reached the back door of the ‘Wyndales’ homestead. They went inside to the warmth of the kitchen.

Jane went straight to the fridge and pulled out some eggs. “Scrambled eggs, dear?”

“Jane, that sounds delicious. I’ll put the toaster on and grab two plates. That walk has made me hungry… Oh, you’d better feed our two furry friends first.”

Jane fed the dogs, while Oliver set the table. Then Jane whisked the eggs with milk and put them in the microwave.

He poured two mugs of hot coffee and put them on the table. “Hmm, that smells yummy. Hurry up, wench! I’m starving.”

Jane laughed as she served the breakfast and joined Oliver at the table.

Oliver sat down with a sigh as he started to eat. “I presume that you already have a case file name?”

Jane grinned. “You know me only too well, Oliver. Yes, I do. I’m calling this one The Ghostly Gum.

“Nice.”

“I’m not banking on getting ghostly encounters to help me on every case, Oliver. It should be good old-fashioned police work.” She paused, then grinned. “Mind you, it would be very helpful to our enquiries, should I meet this man…”

“How was his body found?”

“Ten-year-old twin boys from a nearby farm were in the area. They came upon the tree, and decided to climb it. One of them looked down inside the hollow trunk and saw two empty eye-sockets of a whitened skull, staring up at him from among the branches. At first he didn’t realise what he was looking at. He thought it might have been an animal. But as he pulled the skull out of the gnarled branches and saw a small patch of some hair, and crooked front teeth, he realised what he’d found.” 1

“Hell, that would have scared the pants off them!”

“It nearly did. They initially left it, and told their father, who took them back to the tree. The rest is obvious. The police were notified and the murder investigation began, without any results. Hence the reason the file is on my desk…or I should say in my bag here.”

Jane got up from the table and stacked the dishwasher. She rushed to the en-suite bathroom, cleaned her teeth, and then grabbed her warm jacket and briefcase. She went through the kitchen again, patted the dogs and gave Oliver a quick kiss, before rushing out the door in the front hall, and disappeared into the garage.

Oliver smiled as he heard her car as she drove down the driveway and onto the road and headed to the city of Melbourne.


Day One

(Monday)

 

As usual, Jane was first to arrive at the Cold Case Office. She unpacked the file from her briefcase and started to set up the conference room table, ready for the briefing on the new cold case.

It’s so good to be at the pointy end of police work again. I did enjoy tutoring at the Police Academy for that time, but I was really overdue to go back and get into actual policing again. I’m glad Oliver talked me into it!

“Morning, Boss!”

Jane spun around, and was greeted by the beaming face of Detective Sergeant Stan–aka Bluey Johnson.

“Morning to you too, Bluey. You’re nice and early.”

“Yep! I’m looking forward to our second cold case, Boss.” He bit into a steaming hot pie. “Oops! Darn it, some sauce on my tie. I’ll be right back, Boss.” He disappeared into the kitchenette, put the pie down on the sink, grabbed a cloth and dabbed the tomato stain. One minute later he reappeared, with a slightly flushed face, minus his tie, with the pie now on a plate with knife and fork.

“What happened to your diet?” Jane smirked.

“You know me, Boss, on again, off again.” He grinned at her, then sat down at the conference table and finished his pie. “I know, it’s not a breakfast food, but I didn’t have dinner last night, so I was hungry.”

Jane laughed. “So, you’re going to have cereal for dinner tonight?”

“Ha! Ha! Very funny, Boss.” With a mouthful of pastry, he mumbled, “Okay, “Where’s the rest of the squad?”

“Coming in now!” said Detective Chief Inspector Steve Ho, followed by his wife, Detective Constable Angela–aka Angel Nguyen.

Angela peered at Stan’s plate. “Uh oh, there goes your diet, Bluey…”

Stan grinned, “Don’t you start too, Angel, the Boss has already had a go at me.”

The door opened again, and Doctor Fred Harvey’s familiar tall figure entered. His Grey Hair and beard contrasted against his pale skin and dark brown eyes

“Morning, everyone… aha… Don’t worry, Stan, I’m not saying a word.”

Stan sighed. “Very funny, Doc.”

The last member of the squad appeared at the door. Professor Stanley Jones looked like a very tall Yul Brynner, with his bald head glistening under the ceiling lights, and his bright blue eyes peering out through his thick glasses.

“I’d knew I’d be the last. I was always last into the classroom as a kid. A top of the morning to everyone!” He then sat down.

Jane started the briefing when everyone was seated. “Thanks for coming in early today, everyone. As you can see by the file on the table, which is rather thick, we have a bit of reading to do. I’ll briefly outline what we are investigating, then you can all start delving further into the files that we have so far. Obviously, we don’t yet have the body in our laboratory yet.”

Jane outlined the main points in the original murder enquiry. “Ten-year-old twins, Gerald and Francis Smith were playing on a dirt track near their farm in Hesket, near the Hanging Rock Reserve. They saw a very old, large gum tree not far from the track, and went to look. They decided to climb the tree. Gerald looked into the hollow trunk and saw, two hollow eyes peering back at him.”

“Cripes, that would have scared him!” Stan exclaimed.

Jane smiled. “It scared both of them. They put the skull back where they’d found it, and ran back to the farm, then told their father. James Smith went back with them, and looked. He immediately went back to the farm and called the local police. This all happened back on the 15th January, 2000. The original pathologist estimated that the body had been in the tree trunk for two years. So this cold case is now at least seventeen years old.”

Stan whistled, “Wow, that’s a long time ago.”

Jane nodded. “Exactly. The police investigation hit dead ends. No person missing of the possible description of the male skeleton. There was, of course other evidence found, both from inside the trunk and in the nearby area. They also found rotted clothing, crepe soled shoes, and the police also found bits and pieces of the skeleton around the trunk. It seemed, where, local native and stock animals had moved them, as evidence of teeth marks found on them. The skull had crooked upper and lower teeth, plus clumps of hair was found in the tree.” 2

Steve said, “Maybe the body was an international visiting Australia, and that’s why no one locally reported him missing. We may have to involve Interpol re the dental records, as obviously the local records were negative?”

Jane replied. “You’re right, Steve. That’s a good idea.”

Fred then spoke, “Jane, Stanley and I will go straight away to the Central morgue’s archival material and retrieve the skeleton and all the other evidence collected from the gum tree area.”

Stanley added, “This will be right up my alley. I can also check the soil samples on the skull and Fred and I can recheck the DNA and other samples gathered from the death site, by the original forensic people.”

Jane nodded. Those were all good ideas. She looked at her watch…we must get to work! “Okay, Steve, Stan, and Angel can start going through these files. We need to see what should be re-examined first. Oh, and I’m naming this file The Ghostly Gum.3

Steve grinned and replied, “I like the title, Boss.”

Jane nodded at Fred and Stanley, and said, “Fred and Stan, obviously will be re-examining the body, clothing, and evidence, taking new DNA samples and bone tissue, then compare the results with the original file to see if there are any differences, due to the advance in technologies over the last seventeen years.”

Fred and Stanley both got up. Fred grinned and said, “Your wish is our command, lovely lady. We shall return.”

Stanley followed him out the office to go and collect the forensic items to bring them back to the squad’s special laboratory, so they could start examining them further, item by item. The box containing the skeletal remains would be stored in the cool room.

Jane turned to Steve and Angela. “Steve and Angela, after you’ve gone through the files, I’d like you to set up appointments to go and re-interview the two boys. Well, they are hardly boys now…they’re twenty-five-year-old men. Ask them about their experience about finding the body. Oh, and could you re-interview their father?”

Steve replied, “Okay, Boss.”

Angela smiled, then said, “Let’s go!”

“Bluey, after you’ve read the originals, I’d like you to also set up appointments to re-interview the two witnesses who separately heard the screaming in the wooded area of the dirt track two years earlier, on the 10th January 1998. Hopefully they might remember something else that they heard or might have seen.

“In the meantime, I’ll check all the current missing persons’ files for males reported missing from that date onwards, with the initials PG.”

Steve said, “Okay, Angel, let’s go and start reading the original interviews.”

Stan also got up and collected his paperwork to be read. “Time for my research too.” With those words, he left and went to his desk to read the files in his hand.

 

* * *

 

By midday, Fred and Stanley returned to the office with lots of evidence bags, and several big boxes loaded onto a trolley, which they wheeled through the office, and into the laboratory area.

Jane looked up at the two forensic experts as they wheeled the evidence material through to the lab. She had been seated at her desk, going through the computer looking through the missing male persons’ files on record in Victoria for the past seventeen years. She got up and followed them into the laboratory.

Fred looked at her, “Curiosity got the better of you? Or are you simply taking a break from the computer screen?”

“A bit of both, Fred. I’m going a bit cross-eyed after a few hours of looking at that screen. It’s time for a lunch break. But, yes, first I’d like to have a quick peek at the body, or what’s left of him.”

Fred smiled at Jane. “Come and have a look at the skull, Jane. It’s a near perfect specimen. We are certainly hoping that with today’s DNA tests, we might find something new for his records.”

Fred opened up one box labelled, Skull John Doe 15 Jan 2000. Jane peered inside. A shiver went up her spine, as two empty sockets peered back at her. You poor thing, John Doe. Heck, we need to get your proper name, mate. There are times when I hate having my name, Jane Doe!

 

* * *

 

By 5 pm, Jane eventually stopped her co-workers from their tasks.

“Okay, everyone, it’s time for you all to go home.”

Jane checked in on how her co-workers were progressing. As she leaned over his desk, Steve said, “Angel and I have an appointment with the Smith family at 10.30am tomorrow. We’ll set up our questions here, before we drive to Hesket.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you in the morning.” She wandered over to Stan’s desk next, and he looked up with a smile.

“Boss, I have an interview with Richard Standing 10am tomorrow in his office in the city. My appointment with Janice Taylor is not until 3pm, at her flat in Southgate, as she has a chemo treatment in the morning for breast cancer.”

“Thanks, Bluey. Will Janice Taylor be up to seeing you?”

“She’s told me that it’s no problem, she’s been having chemo on and off for over five years, and reckons that it no longer makes her sick. Mind you, I wouldn’t like to be in her shoes…five years of the big C is not what anyone needs to experience. She sounds like a nice lady, Boss. Okay, I’ll see you in the morning. Say G’day to Oliver for me.”

Jane laughed, “I will, Bluey, nite!”

Jane was finally in the office, alone, as Fred and Stanley had left earlier, after setting everything up for examination first thing, the next morning. She smiled to herself as she remembered Fred’s comment, when he and Stanley took their leave, half an hour earlier.

“Lovely lady, this man’s been waiting for justice for over seventeen years, so one night’s time off, by us, won’t make much difference. May I suggest you go home too? Oliver will have finished with his clients hours ago, and will have something already in the oven, waiting for you.”

 

* * *

 

Jane received a very warm welcome from Spunky and Sassy as soon as she opened the door from the garage that led into the front hall.

Oliver’s voice floated through from the lounge room. “Come in! Welcome home, my love. The slow cooker has done its magic for us, while we’ve been working.” He greeted her in the hall with a smile. “The dogs are both fed, and I’ve just opened a nice bottle of red and a packet of chips for us to enjoy while you tell me about your new case.”

Jane put down her brief case in relief. If there was one place she could relax, it was at home. She took off her parka, and went into the lounge, to be greeted, wined, and dined by her happy husband.

After dinner, they finished the bottle of wine, sipping slowly and enjoying the heat of the open fire.

“Jane, I’ll start on profiles of possible killers for you, if you need them. But first, I’ll need more information… Fred and Stanley should be able to tell me his ethnicity. We’ll let you get on with your job at hand. I think this case won’t need my profiling so much. However, I’d dearly love to meet another ghost!”

Jane laughed, “Oliver! You’ve become a real ghost hunter!”