With the Lights Out
I am a policeman in the Northeastern United States. I can only tell you this much. In fact, my shroud of anonymity is the only thing that allows me to post a story of an ongoing investigation. Ongoing. That’s a funny term we use in law enforcement, to refer to a case that, as of yet, has no answer. Since most of the Northeast is now without power once again, I felt you all needed to know what could happen.
This all began about ten years ago, when a massive tropical storm devastated our usually serene state. Folks in my area were without power for several days, much like they are today.
When a tropical storm or hurricane hits an area, the aftermath is usually chaotic, in a word. The power almost always goes out, and emergency vehicles and officers alike are usually required to direct traffic, clear debris from the road, or assist in search and rescue missions. There is little time and even less resources to respond to criminal complaints. This is why there are often curfews put into place; looting and stealing are commonplace when there is no electrical alarm systems; and police response is drastically decayed. It can take officers hours to reach areas in which the roads are cut off by fallen trees.
On that late summer night when the first home invasion came over the airwaves, it was no different. Major roads were blocked in nearly every corner of our sleepy suburban town, and at the time, I was helping to clear some brush from the highway when a voice crackled over the dispatch.
“[name omitted] We have a report of a breakin at [address omitted] Drive. The call was made from a cell phone, but it only lasted about fifteen seconds. This one really creeped me out, try to get there as soon as you can. Suspect may be armed.”
I tried not to groan over the radio in response. Fifteen second call, likely it could have been a prank. And that house was about a twenty minute drive from where I was, on a good day.
“You got it dispatch. [name omitted] heading over to the scene now.”
I hopped in my car and began the long tedious drive over to the house in question. It was still raining and incredibly windy, though the storm had officially passed a day before. The lack of lights on the streets gave the entire ride an incredibly ominous feel. Shadows would jump out, only to recede beneath my approaching headlights. Several times I had to get out of the car to move large branches covering the road. It was the scene to a perfect horror movie: dumb cop gets out of his car on a dark, empty road, and is jumped by a man who leaps out of the darkness. I began to see things dart in and out of the woods every time I got out of the car. Just animals, I told my frazzled nerves. They’re just as scared as you are. Eventually, I just drove over entire limbs in my haste and apprehension.
Dispatch rang again when I was a couple minutes away.
“Car [name ommitted] we still have not heard back from that caller. Tried calling the number, but it appears to be turned off. Could be a prank, but keep your wits about you all the same.“
I sighed, and replied.
“Okay dispatch, pulling into the driveway now.”
On the outside, the house appeared the same as every other on its block. The lights were out, windows closed, and there were tree branches all over the front yard. I grabbed my flashlight, and hastily stepped out of the car when I noticed one thing out of place.
The back door was open.
I pulled out my weapon, and slowly crepy into the backyard, shining my light at the ground in front of me. I wanted to see where I was going, but I didn’t want to alert a burglar to my presence before I could apprehend him.
I shined my light quickly inside the open door, to reveal an empty family room. Everything, again, appeared as normal. There was a candle in the center of the room that give the room an eerie, flicking light that reflected off the wood floors and walls. The furniture was up on cement blocks, with blankets underneath to prevent damaging the floor. They were prepared for the flood warnings.
Once inside, I had too many angles to consider. I needed a hint of movement that would give way a location of the victims or suspect.
“This is the police” I shouted. “Is anyone here?”
I heard a muffled cry come from the next room. I carefully made my way over the debris that had blown in through the open doorway. The floor was slick and wet from the rain, and I was careful not to slip and find myself on the floor.
The muffled cry turned to loud sobs, and the sound of a chair scraping against the floor.
I rounded the corner, and the scene I saw is one that will never leave me.
Sitting in the center of a room, tied tightly to a chair by some white rope, with duct tape over her mouth, was a young girl about thirteen years old. She wore a white shirt that was covered with blood, and she was crying helplessly as she looked into my eyes.
Surrounding her on four sides, were I later found out were her family.
Her father had sat behind her, and he had sustained a gunshot to the chest. He was laying on his side, as if his chair had been kicked over.
Her mother laid in front of her, she did not have a chair tied to her. She sustained a gun shot wound to the chest.
Two little boys were also tied to chairs on her left and right. They had multiple gunshot wounds to their chest, head, and stomach.
I gasped, struggling for air. I was used to writing traffic tickets. Catching folks speeding, chasing kids out of closed parks, occasionally busting a local dealer. Our town was picture perfect suburbia. Never, never, had I seen anything so twisted. A little girl’s family murdered and laid around her like some sick sacrifice, or like the pieces to a puzzle. And she sat in the middle.
I ran over to her, removed the tape, and asked the girl if the person who did this was still around.
She shook her head, and struggled through tears to speak “He left about twenty minutes ago.”
I collapsed, and radioed dispatch for backup.
Now, I won’t attempt to describe the horror that happened that night in my own words. I was there when they interviewed the little girl who saw it all. I have the audio tape of it as well. For the sake of privacy, we will refer to her as Annie. Regardless, around the station we always called her Victim #1.
August 10th, three days following the massacre at [omitted] Drive.
Officer: Annie, I know this has got to be more difficult than I can begin to imagine. But to catch the guy who did this to your family, we need to know as much as possible. Try and tell us what happened.
[Annie is clearly sniffling as she attempts to compose herself. When she does speak, it is with a ragged and tired voice, interrupted by hiccups and silent sobs.]
Annie: It was around 7:00, and we were all sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner. The power went out, so Mommy had to make us some sandwhiches before the cold cuts went bad and soggy. Daddy was talking about how he wanted to build a fire to keep us all warm, but Mom didn’t think the logs outside would be dry enough. Daddy went to go outside to check, when there was a knock at the door. He opened it and talked for a minute, then turned around to tell us something. But when he did, there was a big red spot in the center of his shirt. It got bigger and bigger, and he fell to the ground. Mommy screamed, and I ran. I ran down the stairs and hid under the bed.
Officer: You’re doing so well, Annie. Is that when you called the police?
[Annie must have nodded at this point, because the officer responds.]
Officer: Okay sweetheart. What happened next?
Annie: He must have known I ran away. After a minute, a man’s voice called downstairs. He said “Oh Annieeeee. Come back upstairs unless you want Mommy to be missing an ear.”
Officer: [gulps loudly] What did his voice sound like?
Annie: I dunno. Deep, I guess. Also… it was weird…
Officer: What was weird?
Annie: He sounded happy.
Annie: I came upstairs, and Mommy was tying my brothers to chairs. Daddy was in his own chair but he wasn’t moving. I asked her why she was doing that, and she cried and told me to do what the man says. I sat down in the chair, and she tied me up too. Once she was done tying us all up, the man entered the room.
Officer: Okay, Annie. This part is very important. I need you to be a big girl and tell me everything you remember about that man.
Annie: [Sniffling loudly] He had a black mask on. Like the ones mom and dad made us wear whenever we went skiing. You could only see his eyes and lips. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a black tshirt. I thought it was weird he didn’t have a jacket in the storm. When Mommy turned and asked him what he wanted, he shot her.
Officer: I’m proud of you Annie. Do you need a break, or do you want to keep going?
Annie: He pulled out a box from our stack of games in the living room. It was Connect 4, one of my favorites. He asked my little brother if he wanted to play a game. He cried and said no, that he just wanted his mommy and daddy back. The man slapped him across the face and shot him in the chest.
Annie: He moved on to my next brother, setting up the game in front of him as he asked again, “Do you want to play?” My older brother stopped crying and said okay, he’ll play. I could see how happy this made the man, and he quickly set up the pieces on the kitchen table.
Annie: They played for ten minutes, neither of them saying a word as I just sat there and cried. The man told me to shut up a few times, he said that I just needed to wait my turn… At the end of the game, my brother lost. The man had gotten four of his red chips in a row, and he was very happy. He stood up from the table, and looked at me when he pulled out his gun. He was so calm about it, it scared me so much. Then he shot him. He took the gun and shot my last brother.
Annie: I asked him why, why, why, why. I cried and beat my hands against the chair but it didn’t work. He walked towards me with the box and set it down in front of me. He asked me if I wanted to play.
Annie: I won. I got four black pieces in a row. After that, he put me in the center of the room, and he walked out. Just…. left. He took the game with him though. I sat there screaming, crying, trying to get Mommy and Daddy and my brothers to wake up. But the next thing I know the officer came in the house and found me. He said they were dead.
Annie’s family was not the only one targeted by the man… and this wasn’t the only storm he worked in. Please, stay safe everyone. Lock up your doors and close all windows. Don’t answer the door for anyone until you see proper identification. It is believed this man posed as an electrician in order to gain entry to some of these households. I will post the other families’ stories in the next few days.
Chapter Two: Billy’s Story
Following Annie’s story, there was little to go on. The man who broke into the house used gloves, and the only time he made physical contact with anything in that room was when he moved Annie’s chair to the center of his carnage. We interviewed neighbors, scanned local databases for previous break-ins… nothing. Our best guess at the time was that he suffered some sort of childhood abuse, as evidenced by the board games. But we had no evidence, no suspects, and only one witness. According to Annie, the man had a deep voice that was somewhat raspy, as if he was a smoker.
We might as well have told everyone in the Northeast to be on the lookout for a possible smoker with mommy and daddy issues.
This is of course, until it happened again.
Since this man killed four people, we assumed it would only be a matter of time before he acted again. What we didn’t bet on, however, was his patience.
Two years later, we had a very bad winter. One particularly large storm had led to nearly two feet of snow, school and business closings, and of course, power outages.
I was not the responding officer this time. I was at home, shoveling our driveway and throwing logs on the fire when I received a call from the station.
Three dead, one boy left alive. He was seventeen years old. Since I was the responding officer to the first scene, I was brought into listen to the tape in order to determine if this was a related case. Here is a transcription of the audio.
[Transcript of surviving victim Billy (full name omitted)]
Officer: Billy, would you like a glass of water before we begin?
Billy: [Grunts in response].
Officer: I know this is tough, but we need your help in catching the man who did this to your family.
Billy: [Coughs] I heard this happened before, and you didn’t catch him. What makes you think you will now?
Officer: That’s why we need your help.
Billy: So you know nothing.
Officer: [Sighs] We have a pattern. We need you to help us fill in the blanks.
Billy: My family is dead, and you have a pattern? Look, I get what you need to do. Let’s just get this over with.
Officer: Thank you, it takes a lot of strength to go through this, I understand [unintelligible].
Officer: Start from the beginning, please. Where were you before the man broke in?
Billy: [Takes a deep breath, then exhales] I was in the basement, using our new computer. Just surfing the web and talking to a few friends. In my house, every floorboard makes a noise, so you know when people are moving around and where they are going. My dad is a heavy walker… well, he was a heavy walker…. he was in his office. He had missed work while we were on vacation, so he had a lot of stuff to catch up on.
Officer: Your father was an attorney, correct?
Officer: Okay. And your sister, Eliza? Where was she?
Billy: She was in her room, talking to Mom about her report card. Little snot got all As, Mom was going to take her out to buy a new dress or something.
Officer: Just to be clear, your father’s office and your sister’s room are both on the third floor? And you were in the basement, which you would refer to as your first floor, correct?
Billy: Yeah, that’s right. I guess we really have two floors with a basement. But there’s an exit down there, so we always called it the first floor.
Officer: And that’s where the man knocked.
Billy: Yeah… I was sitting at my computer when I heard it. I thought it was weird, because people usually just knock on the front door. I thought maybe, since there was no power for the doorbell, nobody could hear them knock at the front…
Billy [takes a deep breath again before he continues]: There were three short knocks, one after the other. I got up and opened the door without even looking in the peephole. And there he was. He was wearing this black ski mask, with dark jeans and a big hoody. I thought the mask was weird, but since it was so damn cold outside I honestly wasn’t that concerned.
Officer: Did he speak to you?
Billy: Yeah… he said he was from the power company, [name omitted]. He flashed a badge at me really quick, and I saw [name omitted]’s logo. He had this deep voice, but it sounded like he had a cold or something. He coughed a few times. He wanted to speak to Mom or Dad, so I led him up the stairs and called upstairs to them. I can’t believe I was so stupid…
Officer: There was no way you could have known.
Billy: [Yelling] I should have been more careful.
Officer: Billy, if you hadn’t let him in, he would have found a way in. What happened next?
Billy: The minute I yelled up to them, he grabbed both my hands and held them behind my back. I tried to fight him, but he roped them together quick. When I yelled louder, my Mom and Dad came running down the stairs. By then, he already had a knife to my neck.
Billy: My dad tried to rush him. He had served on the National Guard during Vietnam. No real combat action, but he wasn’t a weak man. The guy just side stepped him and pressed the knife harder. That’s how I got this. [Billy appears to motion to his neck, where there was a large cut]. Once my dad saw the blood, he stopped trying to fight.
Officer: Then he made you sit down.
Billy: He told my dad to tie us all to our kitchen chairs. He said since my dad was such a tough guy, he should know how to tie a good knot. He stood and watched him each time to make sure he tied our legs and arms right.
Billy: Once we were all tied up, it got really weird… we kept our board games in the room over. We had played a few already while the power had been out. Best way to pass the time. He walked over to them, and just stood there for a minute saying nothing. Then he turned to us and said, “Who wants to play some cards?“
Billy: My dad asked him what the fuck he was talking about. My mom begged him to let us go. He just stood there smiling… until my dad started to yell and shake his chair. It fell to the floor, and… he didn’t like that. It felt like it took him two seconds to walk over to him, pull out a gun that we hadn’t seen, and shoot him in the head.
Billy: My mom was screaming and crying at this point. He walked over to her and said “Don’t you want to play some cards, Barbara?“
Officer: He knew her name?
Billy: Uhhh… I guess so. I hadn’t thought of that.
Officer: That helps a lot Billy. More than you know. What happened next?
Billy: She begged him to stop… to please let us go… I could barely understand what she was saying, she was just crying and choking out words. The man hit her, in the face, with his fucking pistol. That fucking coward… hitting a woman tied to a chair. She only cried louder, though. He shot her in the head too. I wanted to rip his fucking head off and piss on it.
Billy: But he turned to Eliza this time. Poor, poor Eliza. She was only 10 years old… he asked her to play a game of Go Fish.
Billy: They played for a couple of minutes, until they got towards the end. They each had one card left, and she asked him if he had any sevens. She didn’t, so she had to draw a card. But she was crying and nervous, so when she picked it up, it flipped on its face. It was a King of Spades. This made the man happy… he turned his card around, with this sick fucking grin on his face… and said, “Do you have any Kings?“
Billy: [Breaks down, clearly struggling with words at this point] And then he kicked her chair back, and shot her in the face.
Officer: Did he ask you to play next?
Billy: [Sniffing, angrily trying to brush back tears] I won. And he let me go. He moved my chair to the center, he opened the front door, and he left.
Officer: Billy… I have one more question. The games…
Billy: They were like that when we got home. I thought my Mom had rearranged them while I was at school…
The door handles were checked for fingerprints, but again, no luck. We did find out that he wore a size twelve shoe, based on the dirt mark left on the chair by his boot. We also found out that he knew the victim’s names, which means he either knew them from beforehand, or he had stalked them like prey.
Chapter Three: The Story of [Name Omitted]
When a killer enacts his twisted fantasy, he hungers for it again. The pattern is nearly always the same for serial offenders; they kill once, hoping it will satisfy the innate need that gnaws and eats away at them. Following their first kill, there is a release; or a feeling of euphoria.
Many killers think that this kill will be their last, that they have conquered the incessant need that drove them to do such a horrible thing.
The sad truth of the matter is that it is almost never the end. Usually there’s a gap… it could be hours, days, weeks, months, or even years… but eventually, they will kill again. The less experienced and less intelligent will usually have less control; and will therefore kill sooner. They won’t wait, won’t look for safer opportunities, and they will make mistakes.
Which leaves a question that has no sound answer; who do you fear more? The monster with no control of his actions? The killer who has no control of his psychosis, who could lash out at any given time and beat an innocent man or woman to a pulp simply for looking at them the wrong way?
Or is it the monster that kills carefully and selectively? Stalking, watching and carefully waiting as he plans and transcends his morbid fantasy to fruition. The latter requires an incredible amount of control, intelligence, and for lack of a better, less flattering word… cunning. Months of preparation coupled with the ability of self control makes these cases seemingly less common.
However, our killer was most certainly the latter. Every action he took displayed an incredible amount of planning. From stalking the families by learning their routines, their names, their habits… to waiting until the power went out, an ideal time to attack when the response time was so weak. He knew when to strike, how to strike, and where to strike.
Premeditation was taken to an unfathomable level in this case.
Following the second murder spree, there was only one thing that did not make sense to me. Why? It may sound ridiculous to find meaning in such senseless acts of brutality, but meaning is always there; regardless of whether you look for it or not. Perhaps the killer was using Annie and Billy’s families as vehicles for what he wished he could do to his own. Maybe he related to them, saw some of himself in them, and that’s why he left them live. I searched for hours and hours, day after day just trying to make sense of why a young girl was left alive the first time, and a young man the second.
The next winter, I got my answer.
[Transcript of Interview with Responding Officer James [omitted]. ]
Officer: I’m sorry about this James, I know you’ve got plenty going on. I just want to go over your report and make sure we haven’t missed a thing.
James [coughs]: Of course, [omitted], I understand.
Officer: Please, start from the beginning.
James: We received a call from a concerned friend of the family. He had not seen the [name omitted]s in three days, which was incredibly unusual given how close they were. He had rang their doorbell, called, and received no response. We followed this up by checking with the mother and father’s place of work. Neither had been in in three days, and the children had not been to school.
James: We thought they could have took off for an impromptu vacation, but dispatch sent over myself and my partner to check it out regardless. We checked all the doors, and eventually found one near the laundry room that was unlocked. We entered the household… and the smell… it was unbearable…
Officer: Were you aware of the previous cases of Billy [name omitted] and Annie [name omitted] at the time?
James: No… I wasn’t. It hadn’t been covered much in the news… storms tend to take control of the media for a few days. Besides, it was quite a while ago…
Officer: Okay. Continue.
James: We entered the laundry room and nearly gagged from the stench of rot. At this point, we knew the best case scenario would be the death of a family pet. My partner exited the household and went outside to vomit… I nearly did myself, but I needed to find out what the source of that putrid smell was…
James: We entered the kitchen, and the bodies were tied to chairs in a circle…. well, more of a square. Each was beaten brutally… but the wounds were only to their face. It was as if this sick fuck beat each of their faces in to the point of no recognition, then moved on to the next. Their eyes, ears and lips were missing. And the flies, oh God the flies… I don’t even know how they got inside, but they covered the bodies…
James: They family surrounded something in the middle that I at first thought was a small animal. Once I approached, I nearly broke down right there. The boy was lying on his back, and like the others, his eyes, ears, and lips had been ripped or torn from his skull. His arms and legs were broken to the point where they formed right angles, facing away from his body, each one pointing to a member of his family.
Officer: I know this is hard, but do you remember which way each limb pointed?
James: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget anything about this. I see it every night.
James: The boy’s left arm was pointing to his mother, his right to his father. His left leg was pointing to his sister, and his right to his brother. The girl and boy were twins, I’ve heard. Only five years old. But I couldn’t have told you that that night.
James: I don’t understand how there wasn’t any blood. The kitchen was spotless, not a thing on the floor besides those boardgames stacked in some weird order in the corner…
Officer: M.E. reported this morning that it’s likely he laid a towel down beforehand. Your report states that there was a specific boardgame laid out on the kitchen table. Can you elaborate on that?
James: It was a game of Scrabble. It looked so ridiculous and out of place… a game that I have played with my family countless times before…. so harmless, so innocent…. Smack in the middle of a room of absolute chaos.
Officer: And for the record, what did the pieces of the board say?
James: The board was empty except for one entry, right across the middle. It spelled one thing.
Officer: And that was?
Officer: Thanks again, James. That’s all for now.