The author wishes to thank the following persons and organizations for their assistance during the writing of this book: Michelle Andersen; Assistant State Attorneys Lon Arend, Karen Fraivillig, and Suzanne O'Donnell; production editor Robin Cook; Marcia Corbino; Gary Crowell, former employee of the Starlight Park Barber Shop; the Honorable Deno G. Economou; my agent, Jake Elwell, Stephanie Finnegan, Harold Ober Associates; Deputy Thomas M. Gilliland, Harris County (Texas) Sheriff's Office; super editor Gary Goldstein; Kay Kipling; Jeffrey C. Monk, Administrative Manager, Houston Police Department; Reedy Photoprocess, especially president Stan Reedy and longtime employees Paula Burfield and Lynn Bushner; JoAnn Smolen, at the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center; Sally A. Trout; Margaret Wood; Stanley Beishline, Sergeant Curt Holmes, Cynthia Maszak, Cheri Potts, and Sharon Wood, at the Sarasota Police Department.
And Elton Brutus Murphy.
Now that the “clay” for his sculpture was more cooperative, he went to work on it. He shaped it so that it was to his likingâa nude. Nudes were his favorite. His artistic forte was the grotesque aesthetic, forcing people to see beauty even in the ghastly. It was hard to pull off. Some of the surrealists had been good at it. Salvador DalÃ! Man Ray! How about the Black Dahlia Avenger, now there was a surrealist artist!
They said that a sculptor could see the statue inside the block of marble, and he liked to believe he had that ability. He would make his feminine sculpture on its back, legs open, arms positioned as gestures. The sculpture's hand pointed to an article in a nearby magazine on the floor. A clue, perhaps. The head, to one side, would be almost severed from the body, but not quite. Cloth would be draped, as beautiful as he could drape it, over her limbs, careful not to obscure the part where viewers would first want to look. The artist knew where they were going to look.
With his sharp tool he cut and dug, cut and dug, and removed from the piece a large chunk, a key chunk, which he put in a plastic bag. When people first gazed upon his masterwork, their eyes would go first to that void he'd created.
Setting was important. He would place his piece among other pieces of art, more conventional artwork, so that the difference in impact between his and others' work was more dramatic.
All of this thinking was just more evidence of how special he was. Of course, he was a great artist. How could he not be? He was the Homo superior, a cross between man and Godânot just a spiritual man, but a man with a spiritual following. So it didn't shock him that when he was done and his artwork was ready for public viewing, he hardly had any blood on him at all, and washing up was a snap.
Time to make the stew.
Sarasota County, Florida: a beautiful little section of Florida, but one with pretensions. Nothing sinister, of course, just a community that enjoyed casting itself as
There was opera. Ballet. And a strip of art galleries on one of downtown Sarasota's main drags, North Palm Avenue.
More accurately, Sarasota considered itself
artsy. There was no argument that this had once been the case. Back in the dayâhistoricallyâSarasota had an artsy vibe oozing from its pores.
But that was before suburban sprawl turned much of Sarasota County into a world of McDonald's franchises and Kmart stores, largely indistinguishable from anywhere else in the United States.
Just how artsy Sarasota really was these days could be argued, but the important thing was that art and culture were important facets of Sarasota's self-image.
Members of Sarasota society distinguished their world from that of the riffraff, which was why it hit the town where it lived when the horribly carved body of Joyce A. Wishart was found on Wednesday, January 21, 2004, on the floor of her Palm Avenue art shop, the toney Provenance Gallery, a storefront at the base of the Bay Plaza Apartments.
James Jay McClelland had been a maintenance man at the Bay Plaza Apartments for four years. When there was a mess, he was the guy who had to clean it up.
At about eleven o'clock that Wednesday morning, McClelland received a phone call from Peter Delisser, one of the co-owners of Sage Capital Investments, a storefront space at the base of the Palm Avenue building.
“There's a foul smell coming from somewhere,” Delisser complained.
He'd first noticed it on Tuesday. He didn't know if the smell was around before that. There had been a long weekend because of Martin Luther King Day and the stores downstairs had been closed on Monday.
Delisser explained, “I have smelled this sort of smell before. It usually has to do with the sewer system. Wherever it's coming from, they should run the water in all of their faucets for ten minutes. That worked for me.”
McClelland said he would investigate, and he did. The odor was strongest when standing outside the front door of the Provenance Gallery, the space immediately south of Sage Capital. It didn't smell like garbage or the sewer to him. It was the pure horrible smell of putrefaction.
He informed Nancy Hall, the Bay Plaza condominium manager, of the situation. Deborah Anderson, the Bay Plaza concierge, tried to contact the Provenance's owner, Joyce Wishart. She didn't get an answer and left a voice message: If Joyce didn't call back soon, someone was going to enter her gallery to check on the odor.
Hall told McClelland to get a key to the Provenance at the Bay Plaza's front desk. He would also need the alarm code. At one o'clock, after almost two hours of dread, he asked Anderson for the key and security code. The keys for all of the spaces in the building were kept in a file cabinet, which itself required a key.
McClelland told himself that there was nothing to be afraid of. Once, when he first started working at the Bay Plaza, there'd been a similar odor. It turned out to be a rat that died in the ductwork. That was probably what it was this time, too.
., he used a key to open the Provenance's front door; the odor was now overpowering. He immediately entered the four-digit code to turn off the alarm.
He expected silence, but instead heard classical music from the store's sound systemâthe soothing Muzak of a generic string quartet.
“Mrs. Wishart? Mrs. Wishart! Anybody home?”
McClelland took small tentative steps toward the back of the gallery. He glanced to his left into an alcove, briefly looked at the bloated gray-green body on the floor, andâwithout touching anything, his heart pounding from his chest and nausea churning in his stomachâhe ran back outside, and didn't stop running until he got to Hall's office.
“Dead . . . dead body,” McClelland panted.
Hall called 911 at 1:20