EXCERPT: 'The Eleventh Victim'

Hailey instinctively started taking notes on the pad, neatly writing "V Eleven" across the top of the page and underlining it. Eleven women across Atlanta, all in their twenties, had been raped, sodomized, and strangled. As the coup de grâce, each woman was stabbed with a deadly, signature four-prong weapon, piercing the lower back, moving upward through the lungs.

LaSondra Williams was the final woman they knew of to die at the hands of a ruthless serial killer who evaded the Atlanta Homicide Division for well over a year, striking with no real pattern, but always the same MO. It had taken a long time for cops to even connect victims One through Seven, mainly because the victims were prostitutes.

Most of the city's residents dismissed the murders as the price streetwalkers paid to make a living. Even as the body count rose, there was little pressure on police to stop the killing and solve the murders.

The corpses of young women slowly piled up, necks mangled and torsos ripped, left in open fields behind strip bars, cocktail lounges, crack holes, and flop houses.

From the get-go, Hailey believed the murder scenes were staged. Once she started comparing notes from each murder, she realized that a "calling card" was left on each victim.

The autopsy reports referred to it simply as "string" found on or around the body—no detail, and no description whatsoever. No wonder nobody connected the dots.

Various rotating doctors had performed the eleven autopsies and, as a result, there was no big picture, no overview, no single go-to doctor at the Medical Examiner's Office with all the answers. When Hailey ran down one of the doctors who performed two of the postmortems, she had to press hard to actually view the effects, that is, every single item found "on or about the body."

But there it was. In separate plastic bags marked with an ME's Office case number, thin but sturdy string. She insisted on seeing the chief medical examiner, known across the jurisdiction as "Jack the Ripper." After a closed-door meeting, he ordered all the effects in each case assembled for Hailey's inspection. Her theory was laid out before her eyes.

Eleven of them were arranged on a sterile metal table there in the morgue.

A bow of twine was always there, sometimes on an ankle, some-times tied around a pinkie or toe. Victim Five was nearly excluded from the series of murder victims when no twine was found on the body. It was only during the routine dissection of the head that the twine was found, shoved up the left nasal cavity.

The twine was forced so deeply into the ear of Victim Seven that blood had trickled down the side of the woman's neck, indicating the bow had been painfully inserted during life while blood still flowed freely.

Hailey had the twine traced and analyzed by the FBI. It was high-end imported baker's twine. Sisson Imports, made in France, sold in tightly wound balls, three hundred inches of pure white linen kitchen twine—preferred by chefs because it neither burned nor frayed during the cooking process.

Each body was found cold, with an unmistakable wound to the delicate flesh of the lower back—four thin, perfectly symmetrical puncture wounds, like a quartet of exactly paralleled, venomous snake bites.

Callous headlines referred to each of the victims not by her name, but by her profession.

She was a hooker, so who really cared?

I cared. I still care.

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