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AJ donned her FBI windbreaker and hung her ID from a lanyard around her neck before approaching the scene. Dwayne knew the drill and followed right behind her. While he knew she could take out anyone there, his jaw was still sore from their morning workout, he also realized sometimes having a male presence as backup helped with the locals. They had discussed it many times. Not that he would supersede her authority but having him standing there ready to follow her orders smoothed the way for the others.
As soon as the local officers saw AJ and Dwayne approach, they turned to look at the chief of police who stood facing the scene with his back to them. When he realized that his men were looking at him, he turned to see what had their attention.
“Boy, am I glad to see you two,” the man said without any preamble.
AJ smiled. That was the other option for this discussion. Sometimes, the locals wanted nothing to do with a scene like this and were only too happy to turn it over to someone else.
“We got here as quickly as we could, sir. I’m Special Agent AJ West and this Special Agent Dwayne Charles.”
“I’m Phil Newsome, the sheriff in Prince William County. The park police and rangers called me in. We work with them closely when there is an accident in the park. They don’t have the resources to deal with this sort of thing. But I took one look at this mess and knew it was over my head, too.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve found. Since this is on national park land and considering how close we are to the Marine base at Quantico, this is definitely federal jurisdiction.”
“I didn’t know if I should call NCIS or you guys,” Newsome said.
“I’ll alert NCIS if the situation warrants.” AJ preferred to keep her comments in situations like this to the basics. It was her basic interrogation technique, not giving away too much information and letting others fill in the gaps.
“That sounds good. So, here’s what we’re looking at.”
Newsome turned and faced the crime scene. Two men in Tyvek suits were uncovering a hole in the ground and AJ could see at least three bodies.
“A hiker found this. At least part of it. An arm was sticking out of the ground where an animal had gotten to it.”
Eight officers stood around the scene. They were 50 yards away from the road, down an embankment. AJ noted the soil seemed soft where runoff had collected the leaves and sediment from the hills. She could just hear a small stream behind some tall shrubs.
The local police had strung police tape around a 30-foot square covering the shallow graves.
“Our report said there were two bodies here. But that looks like three to me.”
“We just uncovered the third one. When I called FBI headquarters, we only saw two. The third body was buried below the second one.
“All right. We’ll arrange to have all three bodies sent to our lab for autopsy and further identification. Can I rely on your people to continue what you’re doing until our crime scene people get here? Don’t move the bodies, but keep this area secure?”
“Sure, that’s no problem. I’ll have my people clear the area. We’ve set up a perimeter.”
“Have you found any evidence in the area?”
“No, nothing that jumps out at us. We’ve canvassed the area, but other than some trash left behind it looks like the area has been undisturbed for a while.”
“Were all three bodies discovered together?” AJ asked.
“No, the first body was a few feet away – over there.” He pointed at one open pit where the police had dug the body out of the ground. “That’s the one the animal dug up. When we got out here to examine it, we discovered the other grave. That’s when we identified the clothes as being from the missing couple in the missing persons report. We keep a close eye on those. But then found the third body underneath him. Those two bodies were wrapped in sheets, too. The first body, the one by itself, wasn’t cut or wrapped.”
“Anything else?” Dwayne asked. “Anything unusual?”
“You now, I’ve seen my fair share of bodies. Two of them, the pair in the same grave, look like they were cut up, but I’m guessing it was post-mortem.”
“Well, it’s just a guess, but the stomachs were sliced into and there are punctures in the rib cage. That isn’t how you would kill someone unless you were torturing them or some sort of ritualistic killing. Like I said, though, the other body we found separately was completely different.”
“All right, sir. Thank you. It sounds like you have done a thorough job. I appreciate your hard work, but our people will take over now,” AJ said.
An FBI crime scene van had just arrived, and two technicians were approaching the scene. Dwayne went over to brief the newcomers and AJ moved closer to the scene to look at the three bodies. Something just didn’t make sense.
Would the killer change their MO completely like that? Anything was possible. Maybe the killer did some research and decided to up his game? But he didn’t get any more creative than dumping the bodies that close together?
There wasn’t any point in speculating about this right now. She wanted IDs on the three bodies and then they would begin the investigation. Run down the usual leads, check to see what the people might have had in common. Determine where they might have crossed each other, or some other intersection that lead them to the killer.
AJ was a thorough investigator and she wouldn’t color her own findings by trying to create a narrative before she had more information. This scene just made her itch.
Dwayne approached with the crime scene technicians. “Any instructions?”
“No, just do it by the book. Ask the sheriff to have his people hang close. Let’s do a quick interview with them to see if they noticed anything. They’ll send us all of their initial notes, but you know everything doesn’t make it into the written reports.”
Dwayne started to walk away, but AJ had another thought.
“Hold on a second. I want to check this whole area out. I’ll make the call, but I want to get some more help on this one. It sure feels like we have two different crime scenes. There might be more right under our feet. We’ll get some more technicians to bring in ground penetrating radar to search the area and see if there are more bodies than just these.”
Searching the area took the rest of the afternoon and late into the evening. They brought in lights to allow them to continue working, but finally called off the search around midnight. They had to be thorough and explore every possibility but didn’t find anything else suspicious outside of the two graves.
The medical technicians removed the three bodies from the scene quickly, but AJ noted just how differently they had been treated prior to burial. Other than the cuts to the abdomen and chest wall, the bodies of the couple were surprisingly intact and undamaged.
The body of the lone victim showed signs of being beaten with severe trauma to his head. His clothes were crusted with what was likely dried blood. There was no wrapping of cutting or the body, either.