Case XII: Chapter 4: New Evidence

Case XII: Chapter 4: New Evidence

 

Lt. Frank Garcia was sitting in his office in the midst of his least favorite aspect of his job; paperwork.  Ever since the Department of Justice Review of the Albuquerque Police Department’s activities, the volume of required documentation had increased significantly.  Garcia tended to put off this responsibility until the very last thing he did each day. He was nearly finished when Dr. George Hernandez walked in with a highly disgruntled look on his face.  He dropped wearily into a chair and looked at Garcia.

“You know, Frank, I tend to give you a boat-load of grief on occasion, but I hope you understand that it is just my way of breaking the tension at a crime scene.”

“Yeah, I’m aware that some of the scenes we experience are not the most pleasant ways to spend the day.  Of course, I would never admit it to you in front of anyone, but I respect your professionalism and admire the way you handle things around here. What brings you here at the end of the day looking like someone ran over your favorite puppy?”

“It’s just these past few days, after the weekend.  We’ve had a huge influx of bodies, staring early Sunday morning, far more than I can remember in all my years in this position.”

“It was my days off, but I’m not aware of any major accident.  What’s going on?”

“It’s disgusting, Frank. All of these fatalities, in my opinion, are unnecessary.  With one or two exceptions, they were either drug or drunk-driving fatalities or shooting deaths from some sort of domestic violence.  I realize this is Albuquerque and we typically have one or two of each over the weekend, but nothing like this. As Coroner, I’m typically on the ass-end of things, but I’ve come here, not only to express my frustration, but to ask if there’s anything the Police can do.  I know it’s not Chicago, but I hope this isn’t a trend or the way things are going to be in the future.  I’m holding up, but some of my younger assistants are really struggling with the number of bodies, mostly young people, piling up in our labs.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, George.  I know it’s got to be rough on you, not to mention your younger assistants.  I noticed, in the stack of e-mails I got today, that the Chief has called an emergency meeting for later in the week.  I have to assume you’re not the only one who has seen what occurred over this past weekend.  I suspect the TV stations are reporting this, which puts pressure on the Mayor, which obviously puts pressure on the Chief.  And, since crap flows downhill, the Chief will share his feelings with the rank-and-file as soon as possible.”

“At least there is some awareness of the problem.  I know you prefer to keep your head down and avoid the political elements of the Department, but I would really appreciate it if you would at least raise the point that we cannot allow this to become the so-called new normal.  Knowing that someone is willing to speak up would help me and allow me to convey that message to my Staff.”

“I will certainly do that, George.  And, before the meeting, I will gather some factual information so I can be prepared during the meeting.  I suspect that others in the Department would just as soon allow certain people in our community to kill each other and argue that we just let that happen.  You and I know that’s just plain wrong.”

“Thanks, Frank.  I apologize for coming in here at the end of the day and dumping on you like this.  I appreciate your listening.”

“No problem.  Any time.”

As Dr. Hernandez rose to leave, he looked at Lt. Garcia and said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve sent blood samples of that woman, Mrs. Aldridge I believe, off to the lab for analysis.  Given the mess from the weekend, I’m afraid it may be a while before I get results back.  But, I think I can safely conclude that her cause of death was a blunt force trauma to her head, most likely caused by impact with the table we observed.  Your forensic guys should confirm that from their samples.  My best guess is that she stumbled or tripped and fell.  While it is possible she had a heart attack or stroke resulting in her fall, the table is the main culprit. Given the back-up of bodies in my lab, I suggest not performing a more comprehensive autopsy.  My recommendation is to release her body to her family without waiting for the blood test results. I hope you understand I’m not neglecting my responsibilities.  It is my opinion is any additional testing would not alter the outcome. However, if the family wants further testing or a complete autopsy, I am more than willing to comply. I’d appreciate it if you’d let the folks at the Old Folks Home know that piece of information.”

“Thanks, George.  I tend to agree with you.  I’ll talk to the folks at La Vida Aureo and get back to you with their response.”

 

Early the following morning, Lt. Garcia called Isabella to inform her that Mrs. Aldridge’s body could be released by the Coroner and the family could make whatever funeral arrangements they desire.  He decided not to relay the details of his conversation with Dr. Hernandez. “Isabella, all of the lab work, including blood tests, etc. have not been completed due to the large volume of deaths arriving at the Albuquerque Morgue over the weekend, but Dr. Hernandez is certain the cause of death was a fall and hitting her head on the table.  The Death Certificate will state the actual cause of death was blunt force trauma and should be available in a few days.  Dr. Hernandez apologizes for the delay with the lab work, but I agree with his recommendation.  I’ll try to have the Death Certificate sent to La Vida Aureo so the family can tie up any estate issues as quickly as possible.”

“Thanks for the call, Frank.  I will certainly miss Mrs. Aldridge, but I do not look forward to dealing with her daughter.  She doesn’t seem too concerned or upset about her mother’s death.  She said she just wants to get this over with and I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear the body can soon be released.  I don’t mean to complain, Lieutenant, I just wish her daughter showed a little more respect.”

“Well, if there’s a problem, Isabella, Dr. Hernandez said he would be willing to perform a complete autopsy on Mrs. Aldridge, if that’s what her family wants.  Just let me know if we can do anything else on this end.”

“Thank, Lieutenant.  I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for all of us, particularly when we have these unfortunate incidents.”

“No problem, Isabella.  Coming to La Vida Aureo always gives me an opportunity to stop and pay my respects to Señora Angostura.”

Isabella put her personal feelings aside and called Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter, Camille Linderman. “Mrs. Linderman, this is Isabella Duncan, Executive Director at La Vida Aureo.  I have an update from the Police concerning your mother.  The Coroner can authorize your mother’s body to be released in a few days so you and your husband can make appropriate funeral arrangements.  My understanding is there are a few blood tests results have not been completed and the Coroner is willing to conduct any further analyses you desire.”

“Well, I suppose I appreciate that information.  I plan to have my mother’s body cremated and I’ll make the necessary arrangements with a local funeral home.”

“Will there be any type of memorial service?  I suspect some of the Residents would like to attend and pay their respects.”

“No. I just want to get all of this behind me. What about the Death Certificate?  When will I receive it? I want to settle my mother’s estate as quickly as possible.”

“It should be available in a few days.  I’ve asked it be mailed here to my attention.”

“Why?  Is that necessary? Why can’t it be mailed to me?”

“There are a few papers that require your signature concerning your mother’s apartment and I thought it would be more convenient to have the Death Certificate here for you at the time.  I was just trying to simplify things for you at what I assumed would be a difficult time for you.”

“I live and work in Cedar Crest in the East Mountains and coming into Albuquerque is not particularly convenient.  Could my husband handle this?  He works downtown at Wells Fargo.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Linderman, but you are listed as the next-of-kin on the lease and your signature is required.  Have you decided what you would like to do with your mother’s possessions?  It is a furnished unit, but I assume there are clothes and other personal effects that you would like to have.”

“Oh, this is all such a hassle.  I really don’t want any of her things.  My husband has hired some guys he knows to clean out the apartment and take everything to Goodwill.”

Isabella was able to contain her personal feelings and responded in a professional manner.  “You have my assurances, Mrs. Linderman, that we at La Vida Aureo will do our best to support you during these difficult times.  Please just let me know when it is convenient for you to come here and ask for me personally.”

 

Isabella sat quietly in her office for the next few minutes to calm her emotions.  Despite her frustration with Camille Linderman, she needed to turn her attention to other pressing matters.  She left her office to find Matthew Dudley to ask him to be present when the guys the Lindermans hired came to clean out the apartment.

As expected, she found Dudley in the Main Dining Room, reviewing his ToDo list of repairs and general maintenance issues for the facility.  He typically organized his day’s work according to the nature of the project, plumbing, electrical, etc. as well as those which would require a professional contractor. “Good afternoon, Doc, I see there are still numerous items remaining on your list. I hope you realize how much I appreciate all you do and that things haven’t become too much for you.”

“Good afternoon to you as well, Isabella.  Thank you for that comment, but I know my own limitations and call for help whenever necessary.  I just try to make sure I’m holding up my end of our arrangement and earning my keep.”

“Oh, Doc, you certainly are!  And, I certainly cannot underestimate the importance of your being my eyes and ears for anything that goes on around here that I might miss.”

“You give me too much credit, Isabella.  The real source of accurate information about La Vida Aureo and its Residents is Paloma’s Sopapilla Network.  The Community Assist Team also spends a lot of time talking to Residents and I try to stay in contact with both groups as much as possible.  I don’t mean to pry, but why the troubled look on your face?  Is there something you want to talk about?”

“It is nothing really. I mentioned I had some difficulties relating to Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter the first time I spoke to her.  I figured it was just the shock of learning of her mother’s death.  But, I spoke to her a short while ago and I can’t detect any sense of remorse or sadness.  It shouldn’t, but it upsets me.”

“I understand.  Maybe the two women had a very difficult relationship that we are unaware of.  It’s certainly not uncommon between mothers and daughters, you know.”

“You may be right, Doc.  Anyway, Camille Linderman, Mrs. Aldridge’s daughter, said she doesn’t want any of her mother’s belongings and has hired some people to come and take everything to Goodwill.  It is a furnished apartment and should be relatively straight-forward to remove clothes, etc.  But, I don’t know these guys and, just to be on the safe side, I would appreciate it if you would be present while they’re on the premises.”

“No problem, Isabella.  Just let me know when they’ll be here and I’ll make sure everything goes smoothly.”

“As soon as I hear back from Mrs. Linderman, I’ll let you know. “

 

Dudley looked at his ToDo list and realized he had a few minutes to spare and decided he would look into Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment to familiarize himself with the situation before the people arrived to remove her possessions.  As he entered the main corridor heading for the central stairs, Millicent Branch abruptly stopped him.

“What happened to my friend Harriet?  I was on my way to visit her and one of those Mexican girls said I couldn’t go into her apartment.   Then I saw the Firemen and EMTs arrive. What’s going on?  Why hasn’t anyone told me what happened?”

“Please calm down, Mrs. Branch.  If you give me a minute, I’ll tell you what I know.  My understanding is Mrs. Aldridge fell and hit her head on a table and the impact from the fall was enough to kill her. I don’t have any additional information at this time.”

“That’s not possible. I know she had some health problems and was plagued with tremors, but certainly not enough to kill her.”

“I don’t know anything more about Mrs. Aldridge’s health.  The Police said she hit her head and that likely killed her.”

“Why are the Police involved?  Is there a crime?”

“I don’t believe that’s the case.  It is my understanding it is the standard procedure when there is what the police call an unattended death.”

“That just shows how little they know.  You mark my words, Mr. Dudley, she was poisoned.  It was poison that caused her to be unsteady and fall.  It may have been a fall that actually killed her, but poison is at the root of this.  And, furthermore, I know who poisoned her.  Harriet complained to me about not feeling well on numerous occasions and I know that Mexican woman tricked her into taking some of those herbal cures which led to her death.”

“Just what Mexican woman are you talking about, Mrs. Branch?”

“That old woman, the one dressed all in black.  I’ve seen her many times in the Dining Room with Ynez Barela and my friend Harriet.  They talk Spanish all the time.  I know those old Mexican women are witches or whatever they’re called and they believe they have healing powers.  I know she gave her some herbs and put a curse on Harriet.  It’s disgraceful; those people are trying to turn this place into a Spanish mission.”

“Now, Mrs. Branch, I think that’s pretty far-fetched.  I’m not aware of Mrs. Aldridge’s health, but I assume she would have gone to her personal doctor to discuss any unusual symptoms.  And, I don’t personally know the woman you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any witches here.”

“Well, Mr. Know-It-All, I know about these things from all the years I’ve spent in New Mexico and there are witches, or those who claim to be.  They have all sorts of strange practices, usually based on herbal cures and such things.  My guess is that Ynez and that other Mexican woman persuaded Harriet to try something and it eventually poisoned her.”

Dudley realized this conversation wasn’t going anywhere and it was pointless to try to argue with Mrs. Branch.  He decided the best strategy was to extricate himself and tend to his responsibilities.  “Mrs. Branch, you have my word that if I learn anything more about the situation surrounding Mrs. Aldridge’s death, I promise to tell you.”

 

Dudley continued to Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment.  The Police tape had been removed and he used his Master Key to enter the apartment.  For those Residents who chose Independent Living, La Vida Aureo provided several options for furnishings; this particular Unit was completely furnished.   As he casually walked around the apartment, Dudley was struck by how few personal effects he noticed.  In particular, there were no photographs with the exception of what he assumed was her wedding picture on the nightstand in the bedroom.

Dudley opened the closets which contained personal clothing and there wasn’t much else in any of the other rooms.  Everything appeared to be in good condition which would certainly please the folks at Goodwill.  He walked into the kitchen and opened the pantry where he found a variety of breakfast cereals and a few energy and snack bars.  He reminded himself to check with Paloma to see if any of these items could be used or whether they should be taken to RoadRunner Food Bank.  There were also several unopened bottles of Cream Sherry in the pantry which was not a surprise.  Many of the Residents kept a bottle of Sherry or Port to serve as a night cap before retiring. Behind the unopened bottles, he found several glass decanters which looked similar to the Cream Sherry only lighter in color.  He decided it would be prudent to remove these bottles rather than leave them for the guys who were supposed to clean out the apartment.  He noticed one other partially-full bottle at the very rear of the pantry and when he removed the cap, he was instantly struck by the strong odor of alcohol.  The label had been almost completely removed, but enough remained for Dudley to realize it contained pure 90 percent grain alcohol. Dudley was never a drinker, but remembered his college days when he knew guys who would mix grain alcohol, which they called “ever-clear”, with fruit punch for a cheap way to get drunk. Dudley put all of the bottles and decanters in a large grocery bag and headed downstairs.

 

As he was nearing the Lobby, he had the untimely experience of encountering Millicent Branch again.  He thought he could use this encounter to his advantage.  “Mrs. Branch, I believe I was a bit rude to you when we spoke a while ago.  I apologize.  Since you were such a close friend of Mrs. Aldridge, perhaps you could spare a few minutes to tell me a bit about her.”

“We had so much in common and our life experiences were so similar.  You are probably not aware of this but Harriet was from southwest New Mexico, near the present town of Glenwood and her family was one of the original settlers in that area.  A great many people came there when gold and silver were first discovered.  Her grandfather owned a great deal of land, including an interest in the famous Little Fannie Mine. She told me once that it was her grandfather who developed the practice of using a water spray to reduce the dust. He later became ill from what was called miner’s consumption from the dust and sought to solidify their land holding position before he died. He feared the fortune hunters and lawyers would find ways to steal the land from its original and rightful owners. So, Harriet was forced into an arranged marriage with a wealthy family.  As time passed, large copper deposits were discovered and their land became even more valuable.”

“Harriet wouldn’t talk too much about it, but I gather it was not a happy marriage. Not long after, her husband was killed in a gun fight near Los Altos and Harriet became a wealthy widow at a rather young age.  She and her new-born daughter moved into a modest home in Silver City where she remained until her daughter married and moved to Albuquerque.”

“As you can see, Mr. Dudley, her story is much like my own and my experience with the uranium mines in Grants.  After she moved here to La Vida Aureo, we discovered that we had much in common and would spend hours talking over a simple glass of cream sherry.“

“Thank you, Mrs. Branch, for that story.  I can see how much Mrs. Aldridge meant to you and how you must have enjoyed the time you spent together.  Perhaps it is your reaction to her death that leads you to think she was poisoned.”

“It is not my emotions at all, Mr. Dudley.  You should know by now that I am a very rational person not given to flights of fancy.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Branch.  I certainly did not mean to imply you were being irrational.  If you would, tell me more about the cream sherry.”

“Sherry is very sophisticated drink and civilized people have shared for centuries.  It was the English nobles that really perfected the practice and raised it to an art form. Harriet’s favorite was Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and we would share a glass in the late afternoon as a fitting end to the day.”

Thinking about what he had discovered in Mrs. Aldridge’s apartment, Dudley wanted to learn more about this afternoon social habit and just how much sherry was typically consumed.  However, he knew that Mrs. Branch was a strict tea-totaller and would be offended if he pressed the issue.  Instead, he took the more prudent approach of wishing Mrs. Branch good afternoon and continuing on his way.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: