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Authors: Russel D. McLean

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BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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All I’d wanted was to look at him, see if there was even a hint of what Elizabeth Farnham said she had seen.

Just a hint.

A possibility.

I wanted to see it, too. Perhaps because hopeless causes had become my personal quest in the last few years. And just once, I’d like a chance to turn someone’s bad fortune around, to redress the balance of injustice in the world.

The detective in charge of Amityville after Ernie stepped aside was a big guy named Wemyss. He wore plaid shirts, sported a moustache, and had a weakness for mid-morning bacon rolls. Something I took full advantage of when I arranged our meeting in Kirkcaldy, near police HQ.

We ate at a diner a few streets away from the building, drank strong black coffee. Around us, people who would never imagine the kind of things cops could see during the course of an investigation bitched to each other and their mobiles about bosses and spouses.

‘There was another investigator I used to know from Dundee,’ Wemyss told me after taking the first, big bite out of his roll. His teeth were stained with ketchup. ‘Bryson, I think his name was.’

‘I took his old business,’ I said. ‘He was looking to get out of the country. Move abroad with his partner.’

‘Yeah,’ said Wemyss. ‘Remember hearing something about that. He got in over his head. Guess that can happen, you don’t have the support of the force behind you.’

I shrugged. I only knew the guy in passing. Time to get to the reason I was here. ‘I still try not to think about what I saw. At Moorehead’s place.’

He chewed a few times, swallowed, then took a slow sip of his coffee before answering. The whole time he eyeballed me, trying to figure what kind of man I was. Finally he said, ‘Sure. That kind of stuff gives you nightmares. It passes, though. Want to know what’s worse? Trying to find out what he actually did. Linking all these murders and disappearances to a man who refuses to talk. The bastard won’t confirm or deny anything. He just sits there and looks at me, you know? Every time I go in there to present him with evidence, he just gives me this look like he doesn’t hear what I’m saying, see what I’m showing him.’

‘I went to see him yesterday.’

‘And?’

‘And he remembered me. That’s about all he said.’

‘Little cunt,’ Wemyss said, matter of fact. He ripped into his roll with the relish of a starving man. ‘Nothing like a good bacon buttie.’

Bacon rolls are the cure for all evils. At least in Scotland. I remember talking to a forensic specialist who confided in me that working murder scenes always gave her a craving for ‘the fattiest, greasiest, most butter-soaked buttie you could find’. She couldn’t explain it. But it seemed to work for her, helped her to deal with what she did.

Wemyss said, ‘Which of them’re you working for?’

I played dumb.

He persisted: ‘Which of the mothers?’

‘Elizabeth Farnham.’

His face screwed up, like he thought he’d maybe misheard.

I said, ‘She thinks Moorehead is innocent.’

He took a moment to digest his food, and what I’d told him. ‘Fucksakes,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think she’d actually carry this through.’

Elizabeth Farnham didn’t come running to me the second she thought that Moorehead was innocent of killing her boy or any of the others. She went to Wemyss first. Told him what she’d told me: that she looked into Moorehead’s eyes and understood that he really didn’t know anything.

‘Gut instinct isn’t a natural thing,’ Wemyss told me as we walked through the front doors of Kirkcaldy FHQ. ‘Takes years of practice. Know what I mean?’ I resisted the urge to make a joke about guts, figured a man of his size had heard them all before. Besides, I was playing nice. Not a game I was used to, of course.

I said, ‘What do you think about Moorehead?’

‘That he’s guilty. He’s hiding something.’

I tried for flippant: ‘Everybody’s hiding something.’

The big man didn’t look at me, but if I wasn’t careful I’d have been knocked down by the sheer strength of his disgust.

Project Amityville was stationed in a room on the third floor, tucked away to the rear of the building. Anonymous. The walls a neutral beige. The furniture temporary. Had been temporary for over five years now. But that’s what happens with these cases. You can begin with all the enthusiasm you like, but sooner or later they become a never-ending slog; the copper equivalent of a Sisyphean punishment. How many times had Wemyss pushed the rock up that hill?

What struck me about the incident room were the images and charts that did their best to hide that anonymity, forcing your attention on them as you entered the room.

At least ten different faces I could see pinned to the boards. All young boys, all smiling, all happy. All around ten years old. Between them, hand-written suppositions, copies of evidence, circled transcripts, and pictures of their mothers. Some of those photographs looking like before and after shots for what grief can do to you given enough time and heft.

I tried to speak, but couldn’t say anything. Humbled by what this place represented.

Wemyss said, ‘All of these boys, I know that Moorehead killed them. Show him any one of these pictures and you can see a reaction. Even if he tries to hide it. He flinches, looks away.’

‘Doesn’t want to admit what he’s done.’

Wemyss nodded. His eyes moved from one dead boy to the next. I got the feeling that this had become a habit, a ritual for him every time he entered this room. A way of reminding himself what he was doing and why. His expression didn’t change. Maybe he was immune to feelings of despair. Numbed to the horror of what it meant for a life to be snuffed out before it even had a chance.

‘It’s not a new story,’ he said. ‘Man does something he can’t face up to, denies it until the denial becomes his truth. But just beneath the surface, the guilt remains. He can’t get rid of it. Can’t wipe it away like a file on a computer.’ He turned to face me. ‘Alex Moorehead killed those boys. And one day he’ll admit it. He won’t have any choice.’

He was absolutely certain. Utterly convincing.

Like Ernie all those years ago. He was desperate to find closure for the women whose children were frozen for ever on the wall of this incident room. And I had to wonder if that meant he couldn’t allow himself the luxury of doubt.

‘I’m sorry I wasted your time,’ I told him.

‘You’re not the first, McNee,’ he said. ‘And you won’t be the last.’

EIGHT

I
had two missed calls on my mobile, from the same number. One message waiting.

Sandy Griggs.

I figured this was what it was to have a stalker.

I could have deleted the message, but instead let it play, listened to it while looking out the side window of the car, into the shadow of old industrial buildings that had fallen into disuse.

‘McNee, give some thought to my offer. I know it’s asking a lot, and maybe you think I’m trying to paint you into a corner, but I need you to understand how important your cooperation is to …’

I let him ramble on.

Didn’t call back.

He could wait. Sweat it out.

Meantime, I had a real job to attend to. A real client.

Wemyss had tried to dissuade me from looking deeper into Alex Moorehead. Maybe he genuinely believed there was nothing more to be found. Maybe he was fed up of people like me stepping on his toes.

Either way, I wasn’t going backing down.

It was a fault in my thinking; a defect, maybe. I just couldn’t let something go until I had examined it from every angle. More importantly, I couldn’t leave a job knowing I’d given it a half-arsed attempt.

Susan called it a chronic desire to please people. I called it keeping promises.

And with Elizabeth Farnham, it was something more. If there was even a chance that me and Ernie had made a mistake when we arrested Alex Moorehead for killing her son, then it had to be examined. I needed to clear this up.

For her peace of mind.

And mine.

 

Early afternoon, back in Dundee, I locked myself in the office with the coffee machine perking and the remnants of a sandwich from a shop near the university campus.

What I did was fire up the machine, hit Google and enter ‘Alex Moorehead’ into the search box.

Once I got rid of the estate agent and would-be author/singer/actor websites, the major hits came from true-crime sites. There were a few videos on YouTube of old documentaries. I watched them intently, fast-forwarding the talking heads and focusing on footage from home videos and news reports from outside the court.

I watched old footage of me and Ernie, mostly as we tried to avoid the cameras and just do our job.

Later, I was replaced in the footage by Kevin Wood. Getting front and centre for the cameras. Overshadowing Ernie.

Ernie hated talking to the media. He’d been burned more than once early in his career, quickly decided that the press loved nothing more than finding ways to fuck up an investigation. Didn’t matter about justice, long as they got a good story. Wood, on the other hand, understood the power of the press. He gave interviews when asked, always had a sound bite. He came across as a political animal, someone who understood the power in forming good relations with the right people.

Watching the footage was like walking into a house you hadn’t been in for years, and turning the lights on one by one. Slowly, I started to remember small details, reconnecting bits and pieces of information that had become disparate with the passing of years.

Memory is an imperfect thing. Ideas and sensations that seem crystal clear degrade and change with time. They merge with other memories, become something that bears no resemblance to the truth.

I had simplified the Moorehead case in my head, forgotten all the quirks, peculiarities and unanswered questions.

The biggest problem we had was that Moorehead had very few strikes against his name. His dark side had been utterly hidden. You could make the argument that it was so hidden, it might never have been there at all.

According to several of the documentaries, he stayed off the radar because he was rarely in one force’s jurisdiction for long enough for any alarm bells to ring. The nature of his work – a freelance IT specialist – meant that he was always looking for the next job and that he rarely made any ties where he stayed. He would get in, work the contract, get out. His life was lived in a variety of rented homes.

He had no real roots. Went out of his way to ensure he didn’t accidentally create any.

But then, a lot of people live like that. And I had to wonder if the commentators weren’t stretching, trying to look for motive or planning where there was none.

I looked at pictures over and over again. The famous ones. The obscure ones. The family snapshots. His parents had been quick to disown their son, his mother refusing to talk to the press at all, his father speaking only in short, declarative sentences about how disappointed he was in his boy.

The mother had died three years ago. Heart attack. Sudden. Unexpected. Brought Moorehead briefly back into the news again.

The tabloids made a great deal of the fact that he did not attend her funeral.

His father was, by all accounts, still alive.

Didn’t take much to find the man. He was living in a small village just across the border. Phone number and street address were easy enough to find.

Contrary to popular opinion, most eyes do investigative work sitting on their arses. The modern world has allowed us to become sedentary creatures. To quote the old adverts, we let our fingers do the walking.

Way more than we do our legs.

Which is why a gym membership can be essential to the job. If only I could convince the accountant it was tax deductible.

After tracking down Jonathan Moorehead, I decided I’d give him a call. There were a lot of unanswered questions regarding their relationship, and I found it interesting that he had refused to even talk to his son after the lad’s arrest.

He answered in six rings. His voice was deep, cracking with age, but still gruff and severe. I remembered sitting in a room with him, explaining why we thought he might have more luck than us at getting his son to open up.

‘He can go hang,’ was all that Jonathan Moorehead had to say. He’d been a big man, big hands. In his younger days, I could imagine his son might have found his presence imposing. The little I knew of the family told me they were Protestant, and certainly old Dad had that severe edge to him.

When I explained who I was, he went quiet. Let me finish my spiel and then slowly, for the hard of thinking, told me: ‘Never call me again.’

I listened to the dial tone for a while, considered whether the direct approach might be more effective.

My father drove long distances. He was a sales rep for an electronics company, worked the North and Scotland districts. When I was young, he’d take me with him in the car. I’d sit in the back seat and read books or play games.

The kind of thing you probably couldn’t get away with now. But I never minded. I’d lose myself in the books, create my own worlds with games. And chow down at the cafes we’d stop off at along the way.

He told me when I got older that what he liked about the job was that the long distances gave him a chance to think. He’d spend hours in the car thinking about stuff, coming up with solutions to problems.

After his death, I discovered what he’d been thinking about. There were boxes in his house filled with plans and notes on his dream business. He’d spent all the hours in the car thinking about how to proceed, but had never taken that crucial step.

Something about that always made me feel oddly hollow, knowing he had missed out on taking the chance he spent his life chasing. I have often wondered why, what it was that had scared him.

There was so much he had taught me, and that final lesson had been the most important; you need to act, or you’ll never achieve anything no matter how much you plan.

I spent the drive south thinking about Alex Moorehead.

It was possible that the man was delusional. Given the nature of his crimes, he was clearly no Joe Citizen. Even if he was mentally competent in the eyes of the law, some switch in his mind was broken.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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