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By Michael Norman
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2007 Michael Norman
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Chapter OneThe telephone woke me from a restless sleep. I glanced at the clock across the room with its small red numbers and strained through bleary eyes to make out the time. I'd been telling myself for months to move the clock closer to the bed or buy another one with bigger numbers. Wearily, I picked up the phone.
"Sam, this is Norm Sloan. Sorry about the hour, but we've got a major problem."
I became instantly alert. Rarely did I receive a telephone call in the middle of the night from the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Corrections. Calls like this always meant that something had gone seriously wrong somewhere, usually at the state prison. As the head of the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Utah Department of Corrections, problems with inmates or prison employees usually ended up on my desk.
"I just received a call from the governor. Levi Vogue has been gunned down in the driveway of his home. The preliminary examination of the crime scene appears to suggest an execution-style hit."
"Oh, shit. Is he alive?"
"No. They pronounced him dead at the scene."
"What about his family?"
"Out of town from what I was told."
"Do you know if the governor is planning to involve the state attorney general's office in the investigation?" I asked.
"The governor didn't say anything about it. As far as I can tell, this one's strictly in the hands of Salt Lake City P.D. and the county prosecutor."
"Who's been assigned as lead investigator?"
"They've given it to that hot-shot female homicide detective-you know, the one who gets more publicity than the Pope."
"That would be Kate McConnell," I said. "They couldn't have made a better choice. She's as talented as they come." "That's her," said Sloan. "Look, Sam, I'm assigning you as my personal liaison to Salt Lake P.D. Do everything you can to help them get it solvedquickly. And Sam, don't delegate this to anyone else. Nobody knows our prison and parole populations better than you. Let's just hope the perp turns out to be some asshole not connected to our offender population.
"In a worst-case scenario, if the offender turns out to be one of ours, the politicians will do what they always do—look for scapegoats. It's probably occurred to you that in the assignment of blame, you will be perceived by some as culpable. It's your office that serves as the intelligence gathering unit for the department. There are those on the governor's staff, and in the state legislature, who will ask how an incident like this could have gone undetected. I'll expect you to provide daily briefings either to me or my administrative assistant, Brad Ford. Get on it, Sam, and good hunting."
Sloan was a survivor. He started at the Utah State Prison thirty-two years ago as a clinical social worker and clawed his way up the ranks to the top. The governor appointed him as executive director five years ago.
He and I have bumped heads more than once. My dislike of authority, chains of command, and political maneuvering have often gotten me into hot water. Fortunately, I'm very good at what I do, and that keeps me employed and him out of trouble.
Sloan had made no secret of his worry that the killer might be one of our ex-cons with a score to settle. Damage control would be at the top of his agenda. While I wanted to give Sloan the benefit of the doubt, the tenor of his message wasn't lost on me. If the killer of Levi Vogue turned out to be an ex-con, I would make a tempting sacrificial lamb for the political bureaucrats. I wondered if Sloan might become one of those bureaucrats.
I scratched a note on the kitchen chalkboard to Aunt June explaining that I'd been called out on a case and would phone her later in the morning. As the single parent of an eight-yearold, I don't know how Sara and I would have made it without her. After my divorce, she moved in to assist with my transition into single parenthood. That was almost two years ago. She has since become an indispensable part of our lives. I looked in on Sara, and then quickly left the house.
I live in the resort town of Park City, not far from the base of the ski mountain. It's not exactly convenient to working at the Utah State Prison, but a great place to live if you can tolerate the thirty-plus-mile commute.
As I crested Parley's Summit and began the descent into Salt Lake City, a scary thought occurred to me. Rather than an isolated attack, what if the murder of Levi Vogue was part of a broader conspiracy to kill all of the parole board members? The lives of the other board members could be in imminent danger. An unlikely scenario? Yes. Something I could afford to ignore? Definitely not.
I reached for my cell phone and dialed Salt Lake P.D. dispatch. I was connected to the dispatch duty sergeant. "Sergeant Malone; how can I help you?"
"Sergeant Malone, this is Sam Kincaid from the Special Investigations Branch of the Utah Department of Corrections. I'm on my way to assist your homicide unit at the home of Levi Vogue and I need your help with something."
"What can I do for you?"
"We've got two parole board members who live in the city and two who reside in Salt Lake county. If I get you their names and addresses, could you have patrol officers contact them and make sure that everybody is okay?"
"Not a problem—be glad to do it. We'll contact the ones in our jurisdiction and I'll have the sheriff's office send deputies to the homes of the two who reside in the county. Anything else?"
"Yeah, there is one more thing. Do you think you could arrange special patrol coverage of their homes for the remainder of the night?"
"Not a problem."
Chapter TwoDeath investigations were nothing new for me. My 17 years working inside the prison system for the Special Investigations Branch brought me into close contact with death and serious bodily injury all too frequently. Prisons were like that, and the Utah State Prison was no exception.
I was not surprised by the pandemonium when I arrived at Vogue's home. The red and blue emergency lights from police and fire units were visible from two blocks away. Neighbors and curious onlookers had gathered behind police barricades across the street from the victim's home. The area had been cordoned off with yellow tape reading "Crime Scene—Do Not Enter." Members of the press scurried about everywhere attempting to gather whatever information became available. A helicopter from one of the local news stations hovered overhead.
As I approached the crime scene, Fred Saunders, an experienced investigative reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune, spotted me. "Kincaid, is your presence here an indication that Mr. Vogue's murder was likely committed by a former inmate at the prison?"
"Hello, Fred. No, it isn't. It's much too early to speculate on anything like that. I'm here as a liaison from Corrections to assist Salt Lake P.D. in any way we can."
"Who asked you to assist Salt Lake P.D. in the investigation?"
"No comment," I replied as I pushed past him toward the entrance to the crime scene.
I showed my ID to a young patrol officer whose primary responsibility was to control access by logging people in and out. I was immediately escorted to Salt Lake P.D. Homicide Detective Lieutenant Kathryn McConnell. I'd known her casually for several years. Our paths had crossed on numerous occasions at meetings and professional training conferences.
Attractive in an athletic sort of way, McConnell was tall and slender with a body that was muscular and well defined. She had chestnut colored hair with large hazel eyes, a small nose, full lips, and the kind of fair complexion that probably couldn't tolerate much sun.
She was the kind of woman any healthy, red-blooded male would want to take a tumble with, yet she always seemed to display an aura that suggested you wouldn't make it to first base, much less hit a home run.
My cursory look around the crime scene told me that things were well under way. One lab technician was measuring, diagraming, and photographing the scene. Another was busy videotaping the entire area. A third, assisted by two uniforms, was conducting a grid search of the property.
As I approached, McConnell broke away from a conversation with a well-dressed young detective, probably her partner. She extended a long, slender hand and said, "Hi, Sam. Sorry about the circumstances, but it's nice to see you again."
"Thanks, Kate. Nice to see you, too. What have you got so far?"
"Not much. Two neighbors called it in almost simultaneously. The shots apparently rocked the whole neighborhood. The perp also burglarized the residence. We don't know if it was a planned, professional hit, or whether Vogue got home at the wrong time and blundered into an in-progress burglary.
"Two uniforms arrived at about the same time, took one look at the victim, and knew there was nothing they could do for him. They secured the area and called for help. Once backup arrived, they found the point of entry and conducted a room-by-room search of the house. By that time, the perp was long gone. Fortunately, nobody was home. A neighbor told us that Mrs. Vogue is away visiting her parents in California, and apparently, both sons attend college someplace out of state. As you'll see when we go in, the interior of the place was badly trashed. We'll have to wait until Mrs. Vogue returns to find out what, if anything, was stolen."
Although we hadn't had time to discuss how best I could assist, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that McConnell would focus the investigation on anyone who might have wanted Levi Vogue dead. In reality, that might turn out to be a lot of people in our prison or parole populations.
Chapter ThreeA member of the medical examiner's office was busy examining the body as McConnell and I moved in for a closer look. The faint odor of urine and feces was unmistakable. Vogue was lying on his back with his left leg twisted under his body. White chalk had been used to trace around the prone figure. His dull, vacant eyes were half-open and staring blankly into space. The expression on what was left of his face appeared to reflect surprise rather than terror or fear, I thought.
The force of the blast had blown away most of his jaw and mouth. One of his black penny loafers had come off and was lying next to the body. He was wearing an expensive Brooks Brothers gray suit. The white dress shirt was soaked in blood and covered a gaping wound in the upper chest area. A burgundy colored paisley tie had been stuffed into the suit coat pocket. A brown leather wallet was lying next to the body.
The medical examiner, Harold Voddel, approached McConnell. "You've got a fresh kill here, Lieutenant, that probably closely coincides with the calls from the neighbors who reported the incident. There are early signs of postmortem lividity in the lower back and legs. His body temperature is down three degrees. It's too soon for even early signs of rigor mortis. I'd estimate his time of death at about two hours ago. I'll be able to tell you more precisely after the autopsy."
"Jesus," I said. "Look at the size of these entry wounds."
"This work was done up close and personal," replied McConnell. "After the medical examiner gets him cleaned up, we'll have a better idea about the angle of the slugs and the approximate distance from the shooter. Although it's hard to tell with all this blood, there doesn't appear to be any discernable pellet pattern around either wound."
After donning latex gloves, we carefully examined Vogue's wallet and discovered that it contained several credit cards, but no cash.
McConnell turned to Voddell. "Bag each item of clothing separately and give us an inventory of all the items on his person. We'll hang on to the wallet."
"Sure," grumbled Voddell. Kate appeared to be lecturing the young assistant medical examiner, and his tone of voice suggested he resented it.
"Call me later this morning and let us know when you're going to perform the autopsy. I'll either attend personally or send somebody."
"Okay," replied Voddell.
"Did you search his car?" I asked.
"Not yet. We'll do that after the crime scene crew finishes processing it for trace evidence."
"Shall we take a look inside the house?"
"Yeah. Let's do that now. We'll have to navigate around the lab crew."
The Vogue home was a fashionable two-story Victorian affair built in the early 1900s.
The upscale Avenues section of the city had long since been declared an historic district. Aside from the homes, the Vogues had probably been attracted to the neighborhood by the eclectic mix of residents that included many of Salt Lake City's politicians and business leaders.
We walked around behind the house and entered the same way the killer had. One of the glass panels near the door handle had been broken. All the perp had to do was reach in and unlock the French doors. He would have been inside in a matter of seconds.
McConnell wasn't exaggerating when she said the place had been trashed. Books had been randomly pulled from shelves and scattered around. Almost all the decorations in the family room had been smashed, including some crystal pieces, and several expensive Lladros. Shards of broken glass and crystal lay everywhere.
"You know, Kate, this break-in has a real amateurish feel to it—not the kind of job a pro would do."
"I had the same thought. It looks like the kind of random property destruction we see when juveniles pull burglaries and destroy lots of property merely for the hell of it."
While McConnell headed upstairs to inspect the second floor, I wandered back into the study and sat down in front of the computer. I know just enough about computers to get myself into trouble. I didn't see any CD-ROMS; so I went straight to the hard drive. Nothing much out of the ordinary. There were several letters, mostly sent to family members; Vogue's resume, and a number of routine parole board e-mails sent by the victim to various members of his staff. When I hit the icon for Quicken I discovered that the Vogues tracked virtually all spending in that program. I would remind Kate to arrange for a police computer specialist to download all the family financial records for review.
I joined Kate in the upstairs master bedroom. The upstairs looked much the same as the main level—trashed. Mrs. Vogue had an expensive collection of fine jewelry. Some of it was stored in jewelry cases inside drawers that had been opened, with the contents left untouched. Several pieces were displayed in plain sight, on jewelry trees, located on top of one of the bedroom dressers.
"I don't get it. Why would a thief walk out of here and leave all the expensive jewelry behind?" said Kate.
"Maybe Vogue interrupted the burglary before the suspect had time to gather up the valuable stuff."
"Possible, I suppose, but my gut tells me that when this thing finally shakes out we'll discover that the burglary was a ruse designed to cover a planned hit—and quite possibly a hit carried out by one of your ex-cons."
One of my ex-cons!
"Getting a little ahead of yourself, don't you think, Lieutenant?"
"Maybe. So indulge me for a minute, Sam. Parole board members decide the length of the prison sentence for each inmate, correct?"
"I would think that would make some inmates angry enough to want to do bodily harm to the parole board member who dished out the lengthy prison sentence."
"Possible, yes, but not very likely. Listen, Kate, parole board members occasionally receive verbal threats from inmates. That comes with the job. But we've never had an incident where a threat resulted in an attack on a board member. That's never happened in Utah or anyplace else that I'm aware of. That said, there's a first time for everything."
"Do I get the feeling you want to turn this investigation away from the offender population in the Department of Corrections?" Her tone betrayed just a tinge of suspicion.
We're certainly getting off on the right foot, I though
How not to sound caustic, a weakness of mine? "I'm not trying to steer this investigation in any particular direction, Kate, but I think it's important to consider all the possibilities. Of course I hope the perp isn't someone under our jurisdiction. We'll have a serious public relations problem on our hands if the killer ends up being somebody recently paroled from the prison."
Excerpted from The Commission by Michael Norman Copyright © 2007 by Michael Norman. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Excellent read from start to finish.