Tuesday July 13th 1982 06:45
Detective Evangeline Benoit was an auburn haired beauty by anyone’s standards. Her skin was unblemished, requiring little need for make-up. Her cheeks were high and her chin slender. Her eyes were a deep green that often reminded people of high mountain forests. Her lips were generous full and almost flirtatious. Her voice was smooth and alluring, a sometimes soothing tool.
Detective Benoit was much more than just a pretty face, she was curvy with fantastic muscle tone. She dressed business like yet was easily able to turn most men’s heads, due to her hourglass figure. She could easily lead a man to distraction, simply by walking into a room. Rumors abounded of her alleged escapades while off-duty in local dance clubs. Ravenous imaginations often created details unsubstantiated by fact of her dancing abilities. While on-duty, she represented the professional face of the New Orleans Police Department. Off duty was another story.
Tuesday morning Detective Benoit sat at her desk arranging files and making notes in preparation for upcoming cases. She liked getting her paperwork organized before the day got underway, since mornings were when she was at her best. Only the ringing of her phone forced the Detective put down her pen in order to answer it.
“Oui….” The detective replied absently, slightly irritated.
“Detective Benoit, its Sandy…” the caller informed her. “We just got a possible 10-30 at 743 North Salcedo, Apartment #1.” A code Ten-Thirty, was the numeric shorthand used by the NOPD for a homicide. “It appears Bravo-One-Five responded to a code 103 and discovered a Caucasian female at the scene.” The dispatcher informed her.
“What a way to start the day…” Detective Benoit said with a trace of dark humor. Dealing with homicides and burglaries on a daily basis had made her callused. She casually refocused her attention from her files to the newest case.
“Give me that address again?” She asked casually. She wrote the address on a scrap of paper she stuffed into her pants pocket. “I suppose this means I’m gonna have to take a good look and see what there is to see…” She replied in a casual informal style. The Detective sounded as if she was going to her hairdresser rather a murder scene.
“Do me a favor and check to see who's the medical examiner on duty this morning? We ought to get him to the scene so as that he can do the voodoo that he got to do. Also contact the crime scene folks so they can collect prints and what not.” The detective asked the dispatcher.
“In the mean time, why don't you mark me down as having’ left the building.” She instructed the dispatcher.
“Jus’ out of curiosity who is driving Bravo One-Five today, Sandy?” the detective asked as she stood to leave.
“That would be Officers Phillips.” The dispatcher replied.
The detective resisted making a disparaging remark, but did make a facial expression showing the Patrolman Phillips wasn’t her ideal cop. "If you need me, give me a holler on the radio, OK?” The investigator replied as she replaced the receiver and headed for the door.
Until this latest death was ruled an accident, a suicide, or murder, it was Detective Benoit’s job to maintain the chain of evidence. Experience had taught her the need to control a crime scene before everyone trampled through it. If you lost control of the crime scene chances are you’d loose your case in court, where it counted. The courts no longer turned a blind eye when it came to questions of tainted evidence, or shoddy investigations.
Within twenty minutes, the crime scene had grown congested. The local coroner, two paramedics from the Fire Department EMS squad and one very attractive New Orleans Police Detective were busily working. By 7:17 AM, the flash of the camera bounced off the filthy windows. The sound of the camera’s shutter and the film advance were barely audible due to the mumble of voices.
“Anybody been in or out since you arrived?” Detective Benoit asked Patrolman Phillips, who had been mulling around the apartment’s front steps.
“Na Detective, it’s been quiet as a tomb since I showed-up.” He replied.
“The guys from forensics got here about 10 minutes ago and started dusting.” The Patrolman replied.
Detective Benoit donned vinyl gloves before collecting or processing any of the evidence. Before she removed anything, a picture was taken of the area. The relevant item was then placed into individual zip-lock bags. Each bag was marked as to its contents and the case reference number. Detective Evangeline Benoit passed a handheld vacuum over the carpet and across the bed, collecting minute trace evidence. The Detective spotted what appeared to be a cigar ash near the victim’s body, and placed it in a small evidence collection bag. Nothing escaped the veteran detective’s attention.
After an hour of sorting, collecting and tagging evidence, the investigator cleared a sufficiently wide path to the bed, where the victim laid. For the first time the coroner and Detective Benoit could closely examine the body of the victim without compromising the crime scene. The investigator removed the tattered green woolen blanket that covered the corpse. Detective Benoit closely examined the blanket before placing it in a large zipper-lock evidence bag. The investigator took a series of pictures of the corps before she and the coroner drew closer to the body.
The coroner directed Detective Benoit’s attention on the nude body lying on the urine and vomit stained bed with a simple metal headboard. The most striking item of interest of the nude corps was the numerous burns inflicted upon it. The body somehow reminded the detective of faded photographs she had seen of concentration camp victims of the Second World War. The victim was emaciated. Its skin was pocked with numerous small burns across it. It was difficult to imagine that the victim had been alive some hours earlier.
“So Evangeline… It doesn’t look as if she’s been down too long. The body still has some warmth to it. I got a temperature reading of 94.6 degrees.”
“What’s the formula you use for body temperature? Two and a half degrees the first hour and what is it? A degree and a half for every hour after that?” The female detective asked.
The coroner shook his head to the affirmative, amazed that Detective Evangeline Benoit, with her gorgeous eyes and to-die-for figure, actually knew the calculations used to determine the time of death. Too often men didn’t realize that the gorgeous woman was so sharp. The Cajun detective was an interestingly packaged woman, no doubt.
“I’d say that she’s been dead maybe two hours. Especially with the fact that rigor mortis is just beginning to set-in around the mouth and face.” The medical examiner explained as he prodded and examined the body.
“Ya, that would jibe with the time we received the 911 call.” The Detective confirmed.
“I want to get her hands wrapped-up so we don’t loose any trace evidence that might be under her fingernails.” The detective requested. Without an eyewitness or a suspect, the Detective was going to need all the evidence she could collect in order to close this case.
“Humm, that’s strange…” She mentioned as she examined the victim’s fingernails.
“What’s got your attention Evangeline ?” The coroner asked.
“Notice how the tips of the fingernails have been clipped? You can see how the fingernail polish is chipped at the tips and how they are slightly different lengths? Would a woman trim her nails like that? I mean, if it were a man – and his nails weren’t even, I’d accept that but… I don’t know, it strikes me as peculiar.” Detective Benoit mentioned.
“You think whoever killed her, trimmed her fingernails, Detective? That’s pretty ballsy, that takes time, it also implies he knows investigative procedures.” The coroner interjected. He knew from experience that Detective Benoit’s observations were usually significant.
Detective Benoit said, “I’m not saying anything of the sort, maybe she just didn’t keep her nail real pretty…” The investigator said as she examined her own nails almost self-consciously.
“Still, we may find something under them. You never can tell.” She said as she sealed the victim’s hand in a large clear plastic bag.
“Be a darlin’ and wrap her other hand for me?” She asked with a smile that could melt a block of ice.
“And make sure you cover the strip of pantyhose too.” The sexy Cajun investigator, said almost absently.
Detective Benoit walked around the deceased nude woman observing the position of her arms, hand, legs and feet. Someone had posed the victim’s arms neatly folded across the chest obscuring her breasts. Her lower torso, arms and legs however clearly showed numerous abrasions, bruises and burns. The investigator noted few abrasions or contusions were apparent across her face. A smudge of some sort was visible on her forehead, as if someone had rubbed or dabbed something above her brow and centered along her nose.
“Doc, does the victim look to be in a natural state to you?” She asked the coroner.
“Na, it sure looks like somebody crossed her arms over her chest.” The coroner confirmed the investigator’s suspicion.
“You got any ideas on what happened here Doc?” Detective Benoit asked the coroner.
“Well, what I can tell you at this point is whatever happened here – it took a long time.” The coroner said reluctantly.
“You notice the dried blood at the corner of her mouth?” He asked as her pointed to the crusted blood.
“I’d guess she either bit through her tongue or cheek several hours before she expired.” The coroner informed Detective Benoit while she made notes in her small notepad.
“It looks like the first round of rigor mortis is starting to take hold.” He informed the detective as he unsuccessfully attempted to pry open the victim’s mouth.
“Doc, what do you make of these?” The Detective inquired as she pointed to the numerous burn marks. “Cigarette burns?” She asked plainly.
“I can’t say for sure at this point, but they seem a little large for cigarette burns, I’d be inclined to guess something more like a cigar. Hell, it could even be from a soldering iron.” The coroner replied casually – as if these kinds of injuries were an everyday occurrence to him.
“Well – just in case you were wondering – I’d say that these callused marks were caused from shooting junk, but from the looks of it… I’d say she might have been clean for at least a few weeks or so, maybe a month.” The coroner pointed-out to the detective, as several close-up photographs were taken of the old puncture marks.
Detective Benoit made a mental note to check the local methadone clinics to see who had been helping the victim to kick her habit. When the coroner moved the victim’s arms to her side, even more scars and bruises became visible. Beside the physical evidence of the resent assault, the victim showed evidence of an incredibly hard life filled with drugs, poor general health and physical abuse. The victim’s gauntness was witness to her poor nutrition. She was at least 20 pounds underweight. It was inconceivable how anyone could exist for very long living as the victim apparently had. All Detective Benoit could do was to offer a silent prayer and wonder why someone had not reached out to her before this.
When the coroner had completed examining the front of the woman, he instructed one of the EMS technicians to help him roll the corps over in order to examine her back. An officer took a control picture that illustrated a rash across the victim’s buttocks and shoulder blades. The rash, livor mortis, a pooling of blood in the lowest parts of the body, occurs shortly after death. Once the heart ceased pumping blood, the blood tends to pool in the lowest parts of the body within several hours of death. The pooling of the blood produces pronounced discoloring thus showing the position of the body at the time of death. Since the level of livor mortis was low it showed that the victim had not been dead for very long.
After the coroner and the detective completed examining the corps, two EMS technicians removed the body to a nearby stretcher. As one man grabbed the upper arms of the deceased woman, the other man grabbed her by the calves, close to her knees. With little effort and no verbal communication, they easily lifted the body and moved it to the wheeled gurney in the hallway. Once the EMS technicians loaded and covered their morbid cargo, they rolled the gurney through the hall, down the front steps and eventually into the rear of the ambulance. Its gumball lights were on and lazily rotating as it sat double-parked in the front of the building.
With the body removed from the crime scene Detective Benoit and the forensics team, could concentrate of collecting evidence. The homicide investigator needed statements from the victim’s surrounding neighbors, but doubted they would contribute much to the investigation. Without giving the problem too much thought, she decided to use Patrolman Phillips to find out what the neighbors knew.
“Phillips, do me a favor,” Detective Benoit asked politely, “How about checking with the neighbors and seeing if anybody saw or heard anything?” She realized it was almost a waste of effort, but procedures were procedures. Occasionally even a blind squirrel finds a nut, she privately thought.