An unlikely bond is formed between a detective and a victim
Just before 10 pm on Memorial Day in 2001, a 911 call was placed from the Bannon home located in Westport, Virginia.
The call went unanswered, ending on the second ring. The operator had missed it by less than a second. When a dialer abandons a call so quickly, it often means nothing more than a misdial. Not uncommon at all, although slightly less common than the number of trivial calls connected.
Whatever the operator suspected, standard procedure required a return call to attempt contact with the caller. If the line rang through without an answer, the next step involved requesting a visit to the address assigned to the land line. So she placed the call to the residence. It rang five times before the voicemail answered. The gruff and disaffected voice of a middle-aged man said to leave a message, and his tone suggested maybe it would be alright if you didn’t.
The call went out low priority for any available units to investigate. Officers Grier and Fredericks responded after taking a statement from a nearby gas station attendant who’d reported a drunken disorderly at the site three quarters of a mile from the home.
Situated on a plot of land atop a hill beside the York River, the Bannon house stood largely alone with the exception of a small gray and unpainted barn and a similarly fashioned shed beside it. The two officers approached the door to the home over creaky steps, noting the lights had been left on. One of the officers glanced through the living room window but failed to see a soul within. After knocking, they awaited a response, but no answer came. The two officers frowned at each other and after a tentative moment, they made for the car. And that could have been the end of it. I think about that. About their unassuming willingness to move on and carry about their day while just feet away, on the other side of the door, awaited the unspeakable. But, from a sudden rush of curiosity, inspiration, or just plain resolve, one of the officers halted before stepping down the first stair as his partner marched ahead without him.
"Wait a minute, Brad," he said to the senior officer. With his hands cupped around his mouth, he hollered, "anyone home?" half at the door and half toward the surrounding property.
Again he was met with silence. But he waited longer this time. And still he stood there, even as his partner shifted behind him, grinding a heel over the dirt impatiently.
With their shifts ending in thirty minutes, either officer could have said it was time to start packing up, and that they'd followed up on a false alarm that led to an uneventful outcome. Usually the best way to end the day in this line of work. But something didn't sit right, and the senior officer was picking up on it now too. Between the dropped 911 call, the unanswered door, and the one truck the Bannon's owned out front, it was clear someone had to be around. Why hadn't anyone answered? They aimed to find out.
The younger officer turned back to the door, this time with the senior officer beside him. Neither knocked or made a move for a moment, but the senior officer let out a breath and grasped the doorknob, gave it a turn, and found the door unlocked. It hardly made a noise as it swung in. They knew what they saw the instance they stepped in. A dark stream of red, glimmering white at its edges, made its slow way into the living room through an archway that opened from the kitchen
They never found any sign of the children, but the father, my dad, was found covered in blood, head to toe, kneeling, expressionless, mouth hung open, frozen in place. No trace of another soul, no other blood beyond what had pooled beneath him and coursed from the room. No spatters on the wall, no smears, just the man, red as the devil, beard soaked like he’d died it maroon, tattered plain shirt plastered to his wiry frame. No indication of where the blood had come from. It was as if a wayward raincloud had happened into the house and unleashed a torrent of blood over my dad’s head, careful not to spill a drop anywhere but. Till this day, the children’s whereabouts remain unsolved, the bodies never recovered. Aleta, my youngest sister. Nine years old on the day of her disappearance. Jeff, 12, and my oldest sister, Kayla, 17, gone. And my mother who had vanished all those years before. It was easy now to believe that she’d never really left us at all.
They still keep my dad locked up at the county for the uncontested murder of my family. And till this day, he's never spoken a word to anyone since the moment they found him. Before the incident occurred, I'd already left my home long ago, dropping ties with my dad and keeping communication with the kids to a minimum, consumed with my pursuit of a career in law enforcement. Hopeful to become a detective. I never thought I'd become a homicide detective of all things. But some events disrupt everything. They turn the routine world upside down and old dreams lose their luster, their seeming inevitability. You find yourself stuck with something else inexplicable and certain. You can’t fight it. When I was called into my lieutenant's office and he, seated there with the captain beside him, informed me of the news, I knew my way was set. The instant the words came out. I took it in stride, accepted it, didn’t question anything. I didn't do much besides nod my head and then made to continue my duties once they’d relayed all they felt they needed to tell me. The whole conversation took hardly more than a minute. I didn't whimper, tear up, or show any weakness. But inside, things were much different. And murder has been on my mind ever since.