Cuz -You're Sweet. Part 2 of 2

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Chapter 2

Next morning, Sally met with the paramedics when they arrived for work.

“Thanks for seeing me, gentlemen. Can you tell me about the time you attended Fred Williams?”

“It was a pretty normal visit. The guy had died, the attending nurse had called it in when she found him. He was on the floor, on his front. He had vomited and is bladder had emptied.”

“Vomited? That wasn’t in the official report. Was it where he was found, or was it in other places in his home?”

“It looked like it had happened some time before, there was a pool by the kitchen table, and another in the hallway. It looked like he was heading for the toilet before he finally collapsed in the hall.”

“Have you had many like this, where the patient had vomited before dying?”

“There has been a few, can’t tell you the exact times, but now you mention it, we have noticed a few, especially where we have to avoid the pools as we work. Not good going on to the next call smelling of puke.”

“Look, lads. Can you put it around this station. If you get called to any of these where there’s a similar scenario, can you give me a call. Here’s a bunch of cards to pass around. What I want to do is get a proper examination done as soon after the death as I can. Something is killing elderly people and I’m sure it’s not the grim reaper.”

Back in the office, she wrote up her notes and then rang the police doctor.

“Doctor Herbert, it’s Sergeant Brown from Aston. I just have a couple of questions for you if you have some moments.”

“No problem, Detective. How can I help?”

“Do you know of a poison which takes a little while to work, with the victim vomiting prior to death. The case I’m looking at couldn’t tell if the heart stopped before the lungs.”

“Hmmm! There are a few that would fit the bill. The most common could be hemlock, I think. It would take a good dose to cause the effect you’re talking about, although some variations are deadly in doses over a hundred and fifty milligrams. It’s been a favourite of crime writers for hundreds of years, seeing that there are a number of variations of the plant, and they all grow freely in some countries, and are considered weeds in some. I believe that they were cultivated in America as a decorative flowering shrub.”

“How easy would it be to administer?”

“There are many ways. You could just have the leaves as a salad. You could chop them up and sprinkle them over food. You could grind them into a powder and add them to food or liquids. The most common cause of death with it is the paralysis of the lungs. Is that enough?”

“Thank you, doctor. That really helps. What do I need from a body to get a test result?”

“Blood would be good, there should be remnants of the alkaloid. One thing to note, though, is that it could take an hour to die after the victim has collapsed, and paralysis had set in. If you can find a victim who was immobile but not dead, it could be possible to keep them alive with assisted breathing, as they are conscious but unable to move. It would be a lonely death.”

“Thank you. I’ll keep that fact in mind.”

She sat back and thought about what she had been told. If it was hemlock, then she needed to discover how it was administered. Only then could she get closer to finding out who could be in the mix as the murderer, as it was more like murder that she thought was happening. The results of the work that Ben and Charlie was working on would help them decide.

Over the next few days, and into the following week, they received emails from various clinics. They had a spreadsheet, as well as a map. What emerged was that the extra deaths were, in fact, localised, with doctors outside the area not seeing any abnormal numbers.

With what they had; they took it to Sue.

“Cuz, we think that we have a situation where someone is killing old folks. From the symptoms, the doc thinks it could be hemlock. We’ve just spent a week or so putting together a spreadsheet. It shows that all the victims lived in an area around three miles from the intersection of College Road and Chester Road. All of the victims have dealings with a visiting nursing company, called Live-In Outreach Nursing Society. They are located in an industrial building in the Holcroft Industrial Estate. Not all of them were actually being treated by these nurses but were partners of someone who was.”

“Hmm! From the serious looks on your faces, there has to be more?”

“Yes, boss. We’ve canvassed the clinics in the local area and looked at all the reports that we could get. The upshot is that all, and I do mean all, of the victims were in good health but all were diabetics. The other thing is that none of them showed any indication of an early death, and none of them were tested for toxins. The situation is that the local respondents have become complacent and just put the deaths down as a symptom of old age. Even when a cause of death was asked for, the only answer that had been given was either that they stopped breathing, if they died during the night, or else the heart had just stopped, if they were found out of bed. The numbers drop to historical normal once we get further out.”

“Talking about numbers, how many are we looking at, a dozen or so?”

“Sorry, Sue. We have a list of thirty-two over the last few years. We haven’t even spoken to the hospitals yet. The aged-care homes have all come back saying that their numbers are within the usual guidelines.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“We will have to tread carefully with the hospitals inside the perimeter. I will go and talk to them and ask them about sudden deaths. I expect that any that they had during the day would have been properly checked, but they may have a couple who had died in their sleep. I need to see all of the doctors and find out what medications the victims were on. I can’t see how a poison could have been introduced as most pills are blister packed these days.”

“So, what do you need from me?”

“There’s a lot of paperwork to go through, more as we get into the case. We will need to cross-check the medications. For that we will need to talk to every doctor. We will also need to do background checks on all of the nurses that have seen the victims; they don’t visit on a regular roster, so that there isn’t too much familiarity. The company say they have checked all of the nurses, but only in this country. A lot of them are from overseas, so we should start getting answers from their countries of origin. We have no idea of the method of administration, or even a hint on who the murderer is. Whoever it is has a very clever method, so that they’re not linked to any death, directly. What I would like is for us to get a loan of a couple of our team, so that the three of us can go out to get more details. There are partners of the victims to speak to, the hospitals to follow up, and a number of paramedics to see. I’m not going anywhere near the nurses until we have narrowed the search area.”

“All right. I’ll get Jack and Lee to help out, as they can, while you three find out as much more as you can. When they come in, I’ll send them over. Get them up to speed and go hunting.”

“Thanks, Cuz. There’s so much that we need to know before we get a good handle on this one. We’ll need to alert the paramedics and uniformed to report any case they think is suspect, when we have more to go on.”

During that day, Sally set up meetings with the managers of all the close hospitals and palliative care homes, it would take her a week as there were about twenty to see. Ben and Charlie set up meetings with all the doctors who had been named as treating the victims on the current list. When Jack and Lee came over to them, they showed them the line of investigation they wanted followed. The first thing was to do overseas background checks on the nurses. This would take quite a while.

The Hospital Administrator of the first hospital Sally spoke to was adamant that they had no unusual deaths in any hospital he ran. Sally persisted and asked if she could talk to the records office, to see if there had been any deaths, overnight, that were unexpected. The records secretary remembered one that had bothered her and pulled the file. It fitted the others, in that it was an elderly woman, a type 2 diabetic, who had been in for a minor treatment on her veins. She had been fit in the evening before her surgery, but dead when looked at first thing in the morning. Sally took notes and thanked the girl and asked her to let her know if there were any others that she could remember.

Over the course of the next week, she saw many unbelieving administrators but found another five cases of unusual overnight deaths. When these were added to the spreadsheet, they could see the pattern matching. Ben and Charlie had added to the data with a sub-base of cases where the victim had been found, in bed, having drowned in their vomit. Some had been breathing through a CPAP machine and sleeping alone, to be found by their partner. These had been added by doctors and paramedics who had started questioning all of the odd cases that they knew of, once they had started thinking hard and talking among themselves. The list of cases which looked suspect now numbered over forty.

Jack and Lee had compiled a list of the overseas nurses that had been involved with Fred Williams and had received background checks from all but one. That one was a South African immigrant, who had been in the country five years. The South African authorities could find no person with that name and birthday with a record. They did say that she could have been raised in one of the outlying townships and hadn’t been registered.

With the names of the nurses, the three detectives went out to talk to the partners or friends of the names on their list. Sally went to speak to a number of women, many who had discovered their partner. The general consensus was that the Lions nurses were all very good at their job, with four or five being remembered, fondly, as professional as well as friendly. Sally asked about the medications that their partners had taken and was told that the nurses from Lions had popped in to take them away, to destroy them.

She rang Ben to tell him to ask about the medications and to see if he could get an example of them. By the end of the week, they discovered that Lions had been extremely responsible with old medications, having collected all leftovers. Sally rang the Lions office and asked about this, only to be told that it was common practice when someone had died, leaving medications behind. Sally wondered if they had a little side hustle by creating full packets and selling them.

Ben and Charlie had been talking to the widowers and friends, only finding out similar things. One thing that did stand out was the timing. In every case that they could pinpoint, the deaths fell into common times. The night deaths were between seven and midnight, with the partners or neighbours hearing the coughing, before the silence allowed them to think that everything was all right. The day deaths were, whenever they could pinpoint the start of the last minutes, between nine and noon, some neighbours hearing a bang, followed by quiet. In these cases, no-one wanted to be involved.

They were no closer to either the method, the reasons, or the murderer by the end of that week. The only nurse with overseas connections that was still unaccounted for was the South African one. Working through the immigration records, Lee finally found her entering the country off a freighter from Durban.

It took another week, trying to get some details from the Durban police. They had her on their books as a holistic healer, who dabbled in plant-based self-medications, and totally law-abiding. She was only on their records because of a case where she had been robbed. She had left the country, after selling up her property, on a freighter bound for England. The freighter part was, as far as they were concerned, straight forward. The woman had applied for, and got, a job as the ships medico. When asked about unusual deaths among older people, they did say that there had been a spike in the number of deaths around that time, but this had been thought of as a result of a particular hot, dry, and windy summer.

The freighter company was contacted, and they were told that the medico position was an emergency job, as the ship picked up a company medico when it docked in England, and the woman was allowed to enter the country, on a provisional visa. She had applied for, and received, a working visa, seeing that she had skills that were in short supply. So far, it looked all above board. As a matter of course, Lee requested the entry details, but he knew that it could take a few weeks to get them.

In the meantime, there hadn’t been an unusual death in the area. Sally, Ben, and Charlie spent a lot of time in doctor’s surgeries, getting personal remembrances about the deceased, from the one person who saw them most. It was during this time that Charlie asked a doctor how on earth someone could poison blister- sealed pills.

“They don’t all come like that, officer. The ones my patient used to take were all packed that way. The new medication that I prescribed comes in a plastic container. It’s a new drug mix that helps those taking pills only. It reduces the glucose and drops the readings. We only put patients on these when they are averaging ten and over, it usually brings them back into the eights. It’s just metformin, with a small amount of another drug. The plastic bottle has a foil seal, but, once that’s been removed, there’s just a child-proof cap.”

“How big is the pill? Is there a way I can see an example?”

“The original dose was 1000 milligrams, but the addition brings it up to 1050 milligrams. I’ll talk to the company rep, next time he calls in, and ask him to drop a sample bottle for you at Aston. He’s due in a couple of days.”

Three days later, they were all busy on the phones, asking all of the doctors and clinics about the names on their list. In every case, the patient was now taking the new drug. The sample bottle, with a couple of pills in it, had been delivered. It would be easy, they thought, for someone to just open it and drop in a doctored pill, shake it up and wait for the time that it was that pill that was taken.

After that, it was down to walking and talking. They asked all of the doctors to supply a list of all patients, who could be a customer of Lions, and who were taking that drug. They didn’t want to ask the Lions for a list, seeing as they were now definite suspects in the deaths.

Sue had been in touch with Forensics, and the four of them had accurate digital callipers, along with the standard size of the pill, and the allowance for variation. It seemed a simple idea. Start at one end of the search area, then work towards the other end, measuring pills. Many of the people they called on were quite happy to pour the contents of their container onto a tray and wait while each pill was measured. It was Charlie who found the first oddity. He rang Sue, to tell her to text the others.

“Sue, the odd pill that I’ve found is about a millimetre shorter than it should be, and the number, in the top side, is not as precise. If you’re taking these, it would be hard to pick. It looks like it has been made in a home pill-press. I’ve put it in an evidence bag. Forensics can check it out.”

Sue texted the others, and ordered Charlie to deliver it to forensics as soon as he could. By the end of the first week, they had found five odd pills. They took the details of which nurses visited each patient. With the one that Sally found, it was one of just a few in the container, so the patient opened a new one, and tipped the few extra into it, allowing Sally to put the container in an evidence bag to take to forensics, along with the suspect pill. It didn’t take long for a report to arrive on Sue’s desk. All the pills were crushed hemlock, with a small amount of the original drug and some edible colouring.

The following week, they carried on visiting patients, until the middle of Wednesday morning, when Sue texted them with the news that a patrol had called in with a suspicious death, only a few streets from where Sally was working.

She was at the scene inside ten minutes, and saw, for herself, what had happened. The woman had collapsed in her hallway, looking like she was heading for the front door. The Lioness that found her was still there, along with the paramedics and the police. Sally called in a forensic team to process the scene, while she spoke to the nurse, after getting the paramedic’s details for a later chat. The police responders were charged with keeping sightseers away.

After taking a statement from the nurse, she watched as the forensic team did their thing. She saw, for herself, that the victim had vomited, well before the collapse site. She asked for a blood sample to be taken. When the forensic guy asked her what he should be looking for, she just said “Hemlock traces.”

She joined another officer to search the bathroom and bedroom, finding no trace of any medication. She stood and sighed.

“What are you looking for, Sarge?”

“Medication, Jim. I was hoping to find the drugs that she should be taking if she was a diabetic.”

“You’re in the wrong place, then. Those pills are taken after meals, morning, and night, and I expect that we’ll find them in the kitchen, close at hand.”

They moved to the kitchen, and she allowed him to open cupboards until he found the plastic container, as well as two other packets of blister-pack pills that made up what she was now thinking of as the diabetic’s holy trinity.

Sue put an urgent request in with forensics, and the results of the tests were reported the next afternoon. Cause of death was hemlock poisoning. The container had just four sets of prints, with the main ones that overlapped two others being the victim. There were traces of another set, which matched those taken off the container that Sally had brought in earlier.

Sue went to see the Chief Superintendent, to speed up the search for odd pills, so that they could stop any more deaths. He authorised a large team of uniformed officers to continue the search, after Sally had instructed them. He authorised the purchase of callipers, and Charlie was able to get a box of cheaper, plastic ones. With the variation in size, that they were looking for, these would do the job. Sally, Ben, Charlie, and Lee took the new force through what they were looking for, with them practising on normal and odd pills. With that, they were sent out to finish the search. With the number they had on the ground, they completed the job in ten days, with the addition of eight suspect pills.

In the meantime, the team homed in on the Lion nurses. They obtained a search warrant and raided the office, along with a forensic team. All of the staff were kept in the front office while they searched the shed area, with forensics taking prints off of all the fifty lockers that were along one wall. They asked for the master key to the lockers and searched those as well. When they left, they had the list of who used what locker.

The fingerprints on Locker Seventeen matched the prints on the two containers that had contained poisoned pills. Fingerprints taken from all the other containers were still working through the system. The fingerprints were on the locker used by Aggie Starenburg, the nurse from South Africa.

Their problems began when they asked the Lion manager when Aggie was next rostered on, and what her contact details were. That’s when he told them that she had missed her last shifts. The last one that she had reported her calls was the day after the discovery of the last death.

“Looks like she had heard that we were taking that death as murder, boss.”

“You’re right, Ben. She could have heard about it from the nurse that discovered the body. I have to give it to her, she’s quick. I expect that the spike in deaths, in Durban, could have been her doing. We’ll never know. What we have to do, now, is catch her.”

The manager had given them the contact details of Aggie. It was no surprise to find that the address was a piece of vacant land, in a row of condemned houses, about to be demolished for a new cluster housing estate.

The fingerprints were sent to Durban, to double-check that they had the right person, seeing that Aggie’s prints would had been taken to eliminate hers from the robbery. A week later, they had a long message from the Durban police. The prints had not matched, and based on a new suspicion, they had visited the house with ground-penetrating radar and found the real Aggie Starenburg buried, in pieces, in the garden, under a fresh crop of hemlock. The current owner of the house had thought that these were just a pretty flower and was quite upset when they were removed.

The prints did, however, match those of a suspected murderer in Cape Town, some years prior. That person had been in her late teens, which was consistent with the likely age of Sally’s quarry. She was called Khayone Booysen. A couple of days later, an email arrived with the case file attached. When Sally and the team read it, they were now certain that they had the right person in their sights.

Khayone had been a good student and had excelled in biology. She had been offered a job with the local zoo, to give her work experience. While she had been there, a number of animals had suddenly been found, dead. She had gone from there to study nursing. She disappeared after the police started investigating three suspicious deaths. The last had been sent for an autopsy and traces of hemlock had been found. When her home was raided, they found a pill-press in the shed and a nice row of hemlock plants in the garden. Her parents were horrified and told the officers that Khayone had come home, packed her suitcase, and left, telling them that she had been offered a nursing job in Soweto.

That was a month before the robbery at Aggie’s home. The thinking was that the break-in had been to check the lie of the land, and that Khayone had killed Aggie, then taken over her life, some days, or weeks, later. There was a rider, with the autopsy report on the remains of Aggie, with cause of death being from a heavy blow to the head. An empty wine bottle had been found, next to the body parts, with the prints now shown to match Khayone. She had lived, as Aggie, for about five years, as an herbalist and holistic healer. It seemed that Aggie had been a recluse to start with and had no friends to speak of. No records of her customers was found, so it was impossible to link her with any of the spike in deaths.

Sue called a team meeting. The case was dissected and discussed. They were left with a suspect who had skipped two investigations, ahead of the police, and had now disappeared as they started to obtain their own evidence. All they were left with was the photo on her name-badge record from the Lion’s. It was decided that every nurse in that company needed to be interviewed carefully in case they had been given some information from Khayone that would lead them to where she had been living.

It took a few days, but a couple of the other nurses told them that Aggie had spoken about a South African Restaurant within walking distance of where she lived, and that there was a store that sold South African food, but this one was some way to the south. Every interview had been about how friendly and welcoming she had been, and how shocked everyone was when they learned that she had been killing the clients. The news had come out, to the general public, in the local paper. Most feedback was in two camps – one being how good the police were to stop the murder spree, and the other wondering why it took so long.

Sally, Ben, Charlie, and Lee were still working on the case, and hit the internet to see what they could find. They discovered the Jubulani Restaurant in Shrewsbury, inside the loop of the River Severn. The other place could have been The Hillray Biltong shop, way south in Gloucester. They had a good look at the map of Shrewsbury and started calling Real Estate Agents inside The Loop, to ask about female tenants who they knew were South African. One did say that they had a tenant who was close to exceeding their period of grace with the rental payment.

Sally asked them to wait until the team arrived, and she drove them all to Shrewsbury, parking in a car park, streetside parking being so poor inside the old walls. They walked to the Real Estate Office and sat down with the manager. The tenant was called Christina Hendricks, a self-employed photographer. The flat was over a shop, with a locked gate leading to a rear set of steps. It was only a short way from the car park.

The agent opened the gate and led them up. As soon as he opened the door, Sally stopped him.

“No further, sir. I think that there may be something inside that’s rotting, and it doesn’t smell like old bread.”

He was sent back down the stairs, while the four of them donned gloves and masks to look inside. It only took a few minutes before they were back outside, happy to breath fresh air. Ben had called Sue, with the address, to send a forensics team in to process the flat. They waited until that team arrived and spoke to the Inspector to get all the results to Sue as soon as he could. They asked for the identity of the victim first. A squad car from the local station was now at the scene and they asked them if they could organise a search of the surrounding area, to see if they could find any small crops of the hemlock plants.

Over the next few days, the results came in. The dead girl was Christina Hendricks, and she had died from a stab wound in the back, the knife found beside her body, with the prints on the handle being the same as the ones on file for Khayone.

The search of the surrounding area had found the car that Khayone had been using, parked in the car park, covered with stickers. The boot still had the nursing kit in it. No sign of the vehicle that Christina had was found. It was a van, with a lot of photography gear stored in it.

The flat indicated that the two girls had shared it for some time, with each having a separate bedroom. As far as could be seen, Khayone had taken a mix of clothes from both wardrobes. She had left the pill press, with the number that had been on the deadly pills, along with a mortar and pestle. She had left her old, or should that be Aggies, passport next to the bed, with Christina’s not to be seen.

Investigations found that both bank accounts had been cleaned out. An all-points notice was issued for Khayone, travelling as Christina Hendricks. The message came back that she had boarded a ship, travelling as a photographer, and bound for various points, including Cape Town. The van was found in the long-term car park at the docks.

The ship was contacted, and the captain verified that Christina was on board, with a ticket to Durban. He was asked not to say anything to her. The next port of call was Cape Town, in about forty hours.

“Looks like she’s going home, boss.”

“It does, Ben. I think that if she has a ticket to Durban, she’s more likely to get off in Cape Town, a place she knows well. She would only need to take the cash, and a camera bag would be big enough.”

The full case notes were sent to both Cape Town and Durban, with the docking time and the latest photo. Two days later, they got a thank you back from the Cape Town police. Khayone had been with a bus tour of the local sights, her big camera bag being easy to spot. She had sidled away from the group and that was when the followers arrested her. The camera bag only contained Euros, everything else was left in her cabin, which was all picked up before the ship sailed.

Sue called a meeting, and the likely outcome was discussed.

“I’m sorry, Sally. It looks as if Khayone will be sent to Durban, where they have an open and shut case. She’s likely to be found guilty and sent to Makhate. They don’t have the death penalty, at the moment, but I’m sure that she’ll get a long sentence, seeing the volume of evidence you have put together. I know it’s not a proper result, but it is a result and the higher ups have duly noted the number of likely deaths that you stopped.”

“That’s all right, Sue. It saves us the time to take it through the courts. The only certain case we have is the photographer, all the others could be circumstantial, even if we know they’re certain. We’ll just get back to work. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.”

Charlie laughed.

“One thing it will bring, Sue, is Ben, Lee, and myself starting a fitness regime. Talking to all those diabetics has shown me that it creeps up on you.”

“So, you won’t want any of the cream buns I’ve organised.”

“Didn’t I just say that it starts tomorrow!”

“I’ll give you that one, Charlie. Now, gang, the boss, upstairs has given me a heads up that you lot have done so well, over the last couple of years, that there’s going to be changes in the New Year. I don’t know the details yet, but he was smiling when he mentioned it. He even gave me a couple of bottles of bubbly to celebrate the time of the year. There’s a list on my desk, I’m giving you all rotating days off until Christmas Eve. Those on duty over the break are getting extra time. Now, let’s open these bottles and celebrate a good year, with some fantastic results. There’s a few more sitting in prison, waiting for their Christmas gruel because of you lot.”

They all filled their mugs with the bubbly and waited for Sue.

“I’m proud to be part of this group, the best bunch of detectives this side of Scotland Yard. To you all, thank you and - Merry Christmas!”

And it’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone and their muse.
Marianne Gregory © 2023

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