Case V: Chapter 7: Deadly Lessons

Chapter 7: The Lessons Turn Deadly

At his next lesson at La Vida Aureo, Stuart took on a more ominous tone. He warned of environmental collapse as man’s behavior was destroying nature and the environment. He told stories of Old Testament type vengeance where God caused man’s destruction through a great flood or with fire and brimstone.

Eventually, the discussion got around to what Stuart referred to as The Environmental First Cause and several residents asked how they could help. Stuart mentioned that his group was involved in several projects to stop environmental damage in and around New Mexico. He was somewhat vague, but warned that these projects must be stopped before God caused some much worse type of calamity. He encouraged the residents to donate to The Cause calling it “God’s Work”. He criticized groups like the Sierra Club for wasting so much time and money lobbying politicians in Washington instead of being on the front lines of environmental responsibility and action. He encouraged the residents to make peace with God and the environment. They should forsake their worldly possessions and provide support to the Cause.

Dudley was walking past the conference room and heard Stuart’s voice in what seemed to be a more passionate tone than previously. He listened to Stuart warn of impending disaster and of God raining down fire and brimstone to punish Man for his actions. As the residents were leaving the conference room to attend the private discussions, Dudley stopped Millicent Branch in the hallway. “Excuse me, Mrs. Branch. I could not help but overhear Stuart’s lesson and he seemed to be a bit melodramatic today. Do you think all this fire and brimstone stuff is appropriate? I hope he’s not just trying to scare people into giving him more money for his Cause.”

“Don’t be silly, Mr. Dudley. It can’t hurt to get these old folks’ blood pumping a bit more than usual. He’s really harmless, I can assure you.”

Jane had selected Lucille Hancock, an older woman who had talked about keeping money and jewels in her room, as her target. At the start of their private session, Jane increased the amount of leaves in the tea in an attempt to get the woman to pass out quickly. Instead, the Mrs. Hancock began to convulse and slumped over in her chair. Jane quickly searched the apartment for anything of value, washed the tea cups and walked quickly to Rosalie in the waiting van. “Look at how I made out today, she boasted as she handed a plastic shopping bag filled with cash and jewelry to Rosalie. I deserve to be the Guide for all The Steward’s Vision Quests instead of the pathetic Cassandra.”

When Rosalie asked how the woman reacted to Jane’s stealing so much, Jane nonchalantly said, “Well, I think she kinda died, probably from rapture.”

“That’s unfortunate, but you did very well indeed, Jane. This will greatly help The Cause. Tonight, after the other girls are asleep, meet me outside your trailer and I will tell you some other special things you can do to really make an impression on everyone, including The Steward.”

Later that afternoon, a friend stopped at Mrs. Hancock’s apartment to accompany her to dinner in the main dining room. When there was no answer to her knock, she tried the door which was ajar. Upon entering the apartment, she immediately noticed her friend Lucille lying on the floor of her living room. She screamed. Matthew Dudley happened to be coming down that same hallway and immediately ran toward the scream. He also noticed the woman lying on the floor and called 911 and then Isabella.

The paramedics arrived within a few minutes and it did not take long for them to pronounce the woman dead at the scene. Matthew Dudley and Isabella Duncan stood silently as the paramedics lifted the woman’s lifeless body onto the gurney to remove it. As they left the apartment, the lead paramedic motioned to Dudley and said, “Look, I’m not a detective, but it looks like something suspicious may have happened here. Many of the drawers are partially open and the dead woman’s purse was lying behind the couch. If I were you, I’d have the police at least check the entire place for signs of robbery, or whatever. I’m also going to recommend that the Medical Examiner have a look at the body. I don’t mean to sound paranoid and this old lady may have just had a fatal heart attack but I think a call to the police is in order.”

“Thanks for your observations, replied Dudley. It’s really the Director’s call, but I tend to agree with you. Something just doesn’t feel right about this. I’m not aware of any serious health problems that Mrs. Hancock had.”

It did not take much to convince Isabella that a call to Lt. Garcia of the Albuquerque Major Crime Unit was the appropriate course of action. “Would you please call him as soon as possible, Doc?”

Lt. Frank Garcia was only a few blocks away when the call came and he arrived as the paramedic unit drove away. He parked and walked up to greet Dudley and Isabella who were still standing outside the main building. “I received a call from Dispatch saying that there was a suspicious death here. Can either of you tell me briefly what happened?”

“There’s not much to tell, Lieutenant, offered Isabella. We don’t know anything more than Doc found one of our residents dead in her apartment just a short while ago. The paramedics arrived quickly, but she was already dead. That’s all we know.”

“There are several things about her apartment that look suspicious, added Dudley. The lead paramedic was the first to notice it, but I can show what he found if you’ll follow me.”

“Doc, I’m going back to my office to see who I have to notify of her death. Can you show Lt. Garcia around and answer any questions? Thank you for coming so quickly, Lieutenant. I hope this turns out to be nothing more than an unfortunate heart attack.”

Dudley and Frank Garcia walked quietly to Mrs. Hancock’s apartment. Dudley pointed out the partially open drawers and the purse and then stood back as Lt. Garcia looked more carefully at the scene. “You may be right, Doc. I don’t know this particular woman, but it seems unlikely that her apartment would look so disturbed, for lack of a better description. And, the purse certainly doesn’t belong where it is. If it’s OK with you and Isabella, I’d like to get a forensic team out here to go through the place thoroughly. In the meantime, would you please secure this apartment until the crime scene guys do their thing?”

“I agree, Lieutenant. I’ll let Isabella know what you recommend and what is planned. Have the forensic team contact me and I’ll arrange things on this end. Oh, and I need to tell you that the lead paramedic was going to have the Medical Examiner examine her body just to confirm that she died of a heart attack. I’m pretty sure he was not convinced that that’s how she died.”

“Thanks, Doc. I’ll be sure to follow up with Dr. Hernandez.” Well, before I head home, I think I’ll stop in to say Hello to Señora Angostura.”

Lt. Garcia found Paloma exactly where he expected, in the kitchen deep in thought. “Francisco! It is so good to see you, mi hijo. I fear you are here once again with bad news.”

Si, Madre. There has been another death. It may just be a heart attack, but Doc and Isabella want to be certain.”

“Sit down, Francisco. There have been too many unexplained things happening here lately and I need to share my feelings with someone I trust.”

Paloma poured out her heart to Frank Garcia and told him about the other woman’s death and about all the recent unexplained losses of money and jewelry. “These may all be just unfortunate events, Francisco, but it was Señora Barela’s eyes that upset me the most. What I saw has haunted me for many days.”

Paloma described the situation with Mrs. Branch and Señora Barela and how Señora Barela’s behavior changed so quickly and so drastically. Paloma said that everything seemed to be the result of the tea she drank and that it was probably the cause of her pupils becoming so dilated. “I fear that someone is using the datura leaves as a tea to affect the behavior of some of our residents. This new preacher that Mrs. Branch invited has been giving the flower as a gift as part of his program and I am suspicious of all of them. I have not seen this for many years, not since I came to Albuquerque. Some of the older brujas from Mexico used datura to poison their enemies. It is very dangerous. I kept the tea cups from that day and I beg you to have then examined as part of your investigation.”



“All of that seems pretty far-fetched, Madre, but I know better than to doubt your powers of observation and your assessment of people. As a policeman, I guess I’m also suspicious about events that may look like coincidences. Just last week, a man I work with in a youth program was talking about the datura plant and its many dangers. When I asked him to tell me more, he suggested that I talk to Doc. Now, that is not just a coincidence! Doc told me that he also has doubts about the cause of Mrs. Hancock’s death and there was a datura plant in her apartment. I will take the cups and compare the contents with what the Medical Examiner finds when he performs the autopsy on Mrs. Hancock.”

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