Another Murder on I-20

A very short story with no details given:

Police say a man is dead after a shooting on I-20 in DeKalb County.

According to a spokesperson with DeKalb County police, officers found a man in his late teens or early 20s dead from gunshot wounds in the car.

The man was found on I-20 eastbound, just east of Panola Road.

Where was the car found? Was there anyone else in it? We don’t know. What we do know is that less than a month ago, another man was found dead in a car very close to this location. The obvious conclusion is coincidence: the first guy was driven to the location by his friend from about 10 miles away in the other direction. But of course this is a crime fiction blog, so my hypothetical DeKalb County homicide detective is going to get to wondering what it is about this stretch of highway that makes it such a great location for a body dump. And while there will be no link between the two hypothetical corpses, they’ll both be linked to something even creepier.


Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 4b

TOC page here.

Diana and Mustapha are at a church breakfast for the homeless, talking to two guys about Bill Knight’s death:

Diana said, “What did Bill talk about in therapy? Anything that might help.”

He chewed thoughtfully. “Don’t know if it will help. You understand, I’ve only been doing this a couple of months. Bill? He was due to go back to his family a few months ago. When Red did. So it was all about one day at a time. He grew up with a lot of money, hear? His family’s like old-school money. ”

Steve nodded. “Real aristocats.”

“So what he figured it was, they was ruthless people: money and power. They raised him that way, but deep down he’s one of them sensitive people. He tried to be what they wanted, and there was all kinds of what Ms. Claire calls cognitive dissidents.”

Steve drained his coffee. “Yeah, that’s it. So he drank. Now, he’s going back, he’s worried about them trying to make him be that way again. He said they understood it, but he was still worried. Me, I grew up in a real abusive family environment: now I realize my daddy did… shit to me, because he didn’t have no toolbox to work out his own problems. But I can’t go back and confront him, or even forgive him, because they’re all dead. Hurricane Katrinka done got’em.”

“Have another biscuit, brother, ” said Steve.

“That’s only a little slower than drinking, in the long run. ” But he took it, chewed it thoroughly. “Man. His family had let him come back last fall, he wouldn’t have been on the street where the Reaper could get him.” He looked up at the stained glass. “Talk about a cross to bear.”

So now we understand why Bill drank, and why he was on the street, and at least part of why he was still on the street and ended up dead. Keep in mind the story of Bill’s family keeping him out on the street as the reason he wasn’t living with them yet. This will be important, later. And enjoy the wordplay, and the contrast between the wordplay and the actual sophistication of what they’re saying.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 4a

TOC page here.

Diana and Mustapha went to the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads. Now we’re tracking down one of these leads:

The fellowship hall of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church was cheery and grand: less blandly institutional than most Diana had been in. The stained-glass was beautiful, but while she supposed the bible quotes were appropriate, she’d never cared for religion and had to dampen down a raised hackle or two when the pastor, or minister, or whatever his proper title was, told her that providing breakfast to the destitute was a means to the end of saving souls.

Breakfast was delicious, however, and she could only pretend she wasn’t hungry twice before giving in. “Why we get up early and stand in line,” said Catfish, who with his bald head, protruding lips and voluminous whiskers really did look like his namesake. “They always run out of bacon before anything else. But it’s early, and Ms. Longstreet sent us to you.”

Big Steve was of average size in every respect Diana could see. “Who was it, ma’am?”

Catfish finished his biscuit. “Aw, man, it was Bill, wasn’t it?”

Diana said, “I really can’t say.”

Big Steve said, “You don’t have to. Process of elimination.” He raised his Styrofoam coffee cup; Catfish did a doubletake, then did the same. “God bless you, brother,” said Steve.

Catfish said, “And give you rest.” To Diana, “This is about the Reaper, ain’t it? Yeah. I’ll do what I can. What you want to know?”

This is mostly scene-setting, and more character for Diana, whose resolute rationalism is being set up here as a counterpoint to her terrible romantic decisions in early life. Also, it’s about giving these guys character, because the whole point of the book is to hammer home the idea that while homeless guys fall into about half a dozen archetypes, they all have a story of their own.

1001 Tales in Atlanta After Dark

A very short story, though one that will almost certainly become more fleshed out as the investigation continues:

11Alive News has confirmed the husband of a Georgia assistant attorney general has been found shot to death.
Shahriar Zolfaghari, 36, is the husband of Camila Wright.

Wright was hired in November 2014 by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to deal with sex trafficking cases.

Zolfaghari was found dead Wednesday morning at the intersection of Rankin Street and Boulevard NE. Atlanta police responded to a 1:15 a.m. report of an unresponsive driver.

When they pulled Zolfaghari out of his vehicle, they discovered he had been shot. He was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital, but he died during surgery.

In terms of Georgia crime news, the story is notable because it’s the husband of a powerful prosecutor. In a mediocre crime novel, the man’s analogue would be targeted by sex traffickers as revenge for his wife’s investigation and prosecution of them. In a shitty one, he’d be involved in the sex trafficking. If the novel had her do it and try to make it look like sex traffickers, it could be either really good or really bad, depending on the writer.

But what struck me about this was the guy’s name. Shahriar is just an ordinary Iranian first name, but it also happens to be the name of the wicked king who frames the narrative of the 1001 Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights. King Shahriar is cuckolded by his wife, so he vows to marry a woman every night and kill her the next day, so he cannot be cuckolded again. The heroine Shahrazad solves the problem by telling him a story so entertaining that he spares her life so he can hear the next installment; and the next night’s story has a story within a story, and so on until Shahriar finally agrees his idea was stupid. So, naturally, the link between the content of the stories and the guy’s name struck me.

But of course, in a really good crime novel, what got the husband killed would have nothing to do with the wife’s job.

Probably Just a Simple Robbery

Pizza delivery driver is a pretty dangerous occupation. You’re vulnerable, you have cash on you, your company usually isn’t keeping very good track of you, and any evildoer can summon you as long as they’re outside certain neighborhoods. And that whole porn plot never happens. It’s decent money in a good situation, but so few situations are good. Usually, when a pizza delivery guy gets shot, it’s by a customer or pretend customer looking for quick cash. But here’s a counterpoint: two suspects were arrested today in the death of a driver.

A Gwinnett County police spokesperson said Robert Purcell, 40, was found shot to death inside his car.

Police described a possible motive for the homicide as “robbery,” but Purcell was not at his job delivering pizzas at the time.

His co-workers at Marco’s Pizza near Snellville reported him missing after he didn’t show up to work Friday.

Later, police found Purcell inside his car, parked on the exit ramp from Highway 78 westbound to Hugh Howell Road.

Now imagine a fictional narrative with these same parameters. Any number of reasons our hypothetical driver could have been killed: first on the list is the tips he drove away with at the end of his shift. Again: cash can be dangerous. Kind of sad in that he’s forty, as we usually think of pizza drivers as being in their twenties. But the Great Recession messed up a lot of people’s lives. But there’s more: there are details that turn this story into more than just a simple tragedy.

Known as ‘Jesse’ amongst his co-workers, they tell CBS46 Purcell was living out of his car for the past few weeks.

They said Purcell had a disagreement with his roommates and he was looking for another place to live.

He spent most nights sleeping in his car parked behind Marco’s.

Originally from Michigan, Purcell’s co-workers said he had no relatives in the area.

We could run our hypothetical crime story as “guy who got dealt an increasingly bad hand”, or somewhere closer to “guy who lacked the interpersonal skills to get far in life”. This is detective fiction, so it will probably be both. But his co-workers seem to care about him: a lonely guy but okay to work with. What got him there? What got him away from Michigan? Beside the weather, I mean. Such a short story, and we can drag so much out of it. What’s the relationship between the falling-out with the roommates and his death? Or is there one? Or, if we wanted to be all oblique about it, what happened one night in the Marco’s parking lot where only later did the people making it happen find out the guy had been sleeping there and probably noticed what they were up to?

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3c

TOC page here.

A continuation of yesterday’s post. Diana and Mustapha are at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads, which they do. But Claire Longstreet has so far skirted their questions about the mysterious Red, the victim’s best friend.

But this time, Mustapha wasn’t willing to be patient. “You’re still stonewalling us. Who’s he in the program with? Bring them to us now, and where the hell is this Red character?”

Longstreet blew her nose, stopped the tears. “The program is confidential. I can talk to them,”

“No, Ms. Longstreet, we can. You can counsel people all you want; that’s your business. But homicide is ours. We got the mayor and the media on our backs, cos once people have their coffee this morning, they’re going to start panicking about the Reaper, just like last summer. Your ordinary Atlantan doesn’t give a shit about your program, or your confidentiality, and neither does the mayor. You can cooperate, or you can get your water shut off again.”

Her lips went white. “You can’t threaten–“

“I ain’t threatening; I’m predicting. Your… philosophy, whatever, that’s your business. But public order is the mayor’s. You do not want to be the one the TV people are saying is hindering the investigation.”

Diana broke in. “We really don’t want try to get them to talk about the sort of personal things that are why you have confidentiality; we just want to hear anything Mr. Knight might have said about anything suspicious he might have seen.”

Mustapha said, “That’s right. And bring us to Red, now.”

Longstreet said, “Now that, I cannot do.” At Mustapha’s growl, “I passed on your request last month, and got an unequivocal response back that his family feels any further contact with the shelter will only impede his recovery.” She flared her nostrils. “You can try me in the court of public opinion, but I’m not without resources. The homeless and the formerly homeless deserve dignity–“

“Sure they do. What we are trying to give Bill Knight here, by tracking down the guy who killed him.”

“So I will ask the other Lazarus Program participants if they want to speak with you, And I will ask them to try to find it in their hearts to do so. But I won’t tell them what to do.”

She jammed a thumb into the corner of her eyesocket, right next to the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry; this is going to turn into a full blown migraine; and here I am worrying about my own problems when Bill’s family will suffer far worse. Go talk to Catfish and Big Steve: Catfish has been in my program for a few months, and Big Steve has been nosing around for a while now: I keep hoping he’s going to come join us.”

Note how well she responds under stress. We know she’s hiding something, because she would be way more apologetic and less defensive if Red or the other Lazarus Program participants were truly irrelevant to the deaths. Of course, they may be irrelevant to the deaths; just not to something else. We know from Diana’s conversation with Tommy Clyburne in the previous chapter that she has big financial backing that would generally prefer to remain anonymous.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3b

TOC page here.

A brief continuation of yesterday’s post. Diana and Mustapha are at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads:

Longstreet began to weep again. Diana could tell from Mustapha’s expression that he was about to lose patience with her, so she intervened. “I understand you’re upset and anxious, Ms. Longstreet, but we still need to know who Bill went to the meeting with, and to speak to them. And we need to talk to Red.”

Another nose pinch, this one very brief. “He went with… oh, with Catfish and Big Steve. They’ll be in line for breakfast up at the Lutheran Church on Ponce, if habit proves true.” She arose, pulled back the curtain that covered the window; Diana could see rows of bunk beds, with men milling about. Longstreet looked over the room, shrugged, let the curtain fall back. “I don’t see them inside, so that’s my guess. Let me put the word out for you.”

A couple of phone calls later, “Yes, they along with half the other residents are there. They have to listen to a sermon, which personally I find objectionable, but most of them say it’s worth it for a better-quality breakfast.”

She looked at them in the eyes, first Mustapha, then Diana. “Please find this guy, detectives. Bill is… Bill was an inspiration to all of us. He had problems, he confronted them, he got his life together. His sons think he’s moving back in with them on Friday.” More weeping.

Now we have not only next of kin, but also some people who saw Knight a few hours before his death. Note again that Longstreet dodges the Red question.

Novel 3: Act III, Chapter 1, Scene 3a

TOC page here.

Diana and Mustapha arrive at the shelter, in order to break the news of Bill Knight’s death to Claire Longstreet, and also to find next of kin and any leads:

The sky was mostly light by the time they pulled up in front of Peachtree-Pine, but even this early, the door was open and a few people were milling about the entrance. Henry Buchanan was at the door, drinking out of a chipped coffee mug with World’s Best Dad printed on it. “Go on in,” he told them. “We all saw the news; Ms. Claire showed up a while ago, said to send you in. Who was it?”

“We can’t say,” said Diana. “We have to talk to the family, first.”

Claire Longstreet was in all black: sweater, jeans, real leather boots. She was pouring tea for herself. “My phone started ringing at four-thirty. Please tell me there’s some obvious clue and you’ll have someone in custody soon.” She grabbed two empty mugs, poured more tea, handed them out. “He was one of ours, wasn’t he?”

“One of yours,” said Mustapha.

Diana held out the tablet. “Bill Knight: I met him. You didn’t want him to talk to us. Now he’s dead.”

“Oh, no. But I don’t see how–“

“Cut the bullshit, Ms. Longstreet,” said Mustapha. “We’re not here to mess with your operation. We need a next of kin for Mr. Knight, if you’ve got it, and we need to know what meeting he was at yesterday evening.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I’m just… I’m wracked with grief, is what I am. Bill… Well, you saw him, Detective Siddal. He confronted his demons and came out the other side. His family… I just talked with his wife, three… no, four days ago now. He’s due—was due—to leave Peachtree-Pine and go back to living with her and her sons. They were going to throw him a party.” She put her face in her hands and wept.

Diana fiddled with her phone while Longstreet composed herself; then, she said, “All the information you have for his wife, please. And since he’s a member of your program, you’ll know where he went to his meeting. We need the names of the other participants in the program, and we need to talk to them, today. And you never got back to us on this fellow Red, and this time we’re not going to let you stonewall us.”

Longstreet pinched the bridge of her nose, hard enough and for long enough that Diana could see the tendons in her hand quiver with the stress. Finally, “Bill’s wife’s name is Catherine. Same last name. I can…” She got the MacBook out of her bag, typed and clicked, then took a pen and paper and wrote a few lines. She passed this to Diana. “Catherine works at AmericasMart, something about interior design. She lives with Bill’s father and the two teenage sons, but she’s mentioned several times that the business is an early-morning thing, so you should probably try her there first.” More computer work. “Bill was at the AA meeting at the Presbyterian Church on Peachtree and Fifth last night: says here it lets out at half past ten, but these AA people, they always stand around and talk, afterward. They don’t like to be alone. Henry will know if and when Bill came back.”

This is the third murder—to Claire, it’s the second—so they’re finally able to pry a next of kin and a last known location for Knight. What’s new here? Henry Buchanan is still a person of interest, and while Knight’s wife should be easy to contact, note that Longstreet didn’t answer the question about Red.

Step Up on Sweet Auburn

Last week, Martavious Boyd, a 32-year-old man about whom we know very little, got himself shot to death in the Sweet Auburn district:

Police said 32-year-old Martavious Boyd and another man got into an argument in the 100 block of Auburn Avenue around 11:30 Sunday night. The unidentified man pulled a gun and started shooting, according to police. The victim was hit at least once.

Investigators released surveillance video from a local convenience store, calling the man on the cell phone inside a person of interest in the case.

If you consider yourself a friend– step up. Forget the street code,” said stepfather Robert Willis, who is concerned some of Boyd’s friends and acquaintances may have key information that could lead to an arrest.

Willis and family members said Boyd had plenty of friends around the Sweet Auburn Historic District, having grown up in a nearby neighborhood.

“That’s what you’re doing to this family: denying them peace by not stepping up,” Willis said.

Let’s all think good thoughts for the family of poor Mr. Boyd, who deserved better. Sweet Auburn is a dangerous place; and while it’s not nearly as toxic as it once was, it’s still a rough area after dark.

If we were to construct a fictional story around this crime, there are three places we could go. One is gentrification: the Georgia State dormitories are nearby now, and the western end of the avenue is beginning, barely, to fill up with shops catering to students. Imagine a white girl who’s had two drinks too many walking into the middle of this, and both guys arguing simultaneously upset that what has always been black turf is being invaded and at the same time wanting to get the poor thing to safety lest the cops come down on the block like Thor’s hammer.

The second is the “stop snitching” culture, which is incredibly poisonous to underprivileged communities. Our victim analogue would also be from the neighborhood, so there could be a lot of drama there.

The last one is the overall history of Sweet Auburn. About 20 years ago, I got a tour of the area from a local (black) TV personality, who explained how the area was Atlanta’s best example of the law of unintended consequences. In the Jim Crow days, black folks couldn’t go into white people’s stores, so the thriving black middle class set up their own stores on Auburn Avenue. But once desegregation happened, most of those shoppers were like “sweet, I can go to Macy’s now” and Sweet Auburn just crashed, and never recovered, and never really has—although things are getting just the tiniest bit better, finally. Have that be the backbone of the story: both the people who were arguing had grandparents who owned successful boutiques back in the 1950s.

(No Known Relation)

This very short story packs a great punch. Wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran kills home invader:

A wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran fatally shot a man who forced his way into the veteran’s residence, authorities said.

Eddie Frank Smith, 69, was at home in Monticello on Thursday about 9 p.m. when Andre Smith, 22, (no known relation), forced his way into Eddie Frank Smith’s home through a rear door, according to a media release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

When Eddie Frank Smith went to investigate, Andre Smith lunged toward the resident, who shot the intruder once in the chest, according to the GBI.

The intruder ran away and collapsed about 100 yards from the residence. Both Eddie Frank Smith and neighbors called 911. Andre Smith later died at Jasper Memorial Hospital.

Monticello is in central Georgia, about as middle of nowhere as you can get, considering it’s only about 70 miles from Atlanta. And this story just feels like Georgia: guns, dumb crime, no consequences for shooters. The only piece of data I’d want to know is whether Eddie Frank Smith is a white guy.

Rewriting this crime as a fictional story wouldn’t require much. You’ve got a homeowner who looks like an easy victim if you’re a dumbass twentysomething, but who in fact not only has combat training but a long history of being wary of every possible imaginary danger. Tell it from both perspectives. But in the story? There have to be three characters, not two—and they all have to have the same last name.