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Jennifer Jareau studied the photos she'd just downloaded to her laptop.
"JJ" to her friends and colleagues, the long-haired blonde in her late twenties had been with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Behavioral Analysis Unit for the last five years, and had seen photos far more gruesome than these. But something about these victims—mostly skeletons now because of decomposition—engaged her interest.
Obviously, the three victims had been interred in their shallow graves near Bemidji, Minnesota, for some time. Exhumed over the weekend, the three bodies displayed levels of decomposition indicating burials over the course of at least several months.
She checked her watch, then printed the pictures and loaded them into a file folder with her notes as well as other documents from the investigators in Minnesota. She'd been accumulating information almost since the moment Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi had phoned her to say a call would be coming from a Minnesota investigator named Fletcher Keegan, apparently an old acquaintance of Rossi's.
Her fellow agent's heads-up had come so late that Keegan had called while Jareau was still on the line with Rossi. She spoke at length with Keegan, who in turn put her in touch with Detective Lewis Garue, lead investigator.
Of course, at this point, with the autopsies not done, the crime was the illegal disposition of bodies—a misdemeanor. But everyone on the Minnesota end felt they had a serial killer, and, judging by the strands of blond hair clinging to the skulls of the three corpses, that seemed likely; but the BAU could not get involved in a misdemeanor.
Her team, already in the office, was waiting for a briefing on what their next case would be, but first Jareau wanted confirmation on the causes of death.
Jareau was just about to inform her boss, Special Agent in Charge Aaron Hotchner, that the briefing would have to wait until after lunch, when the phone rang.
The call was from the Beltrami County coroner. Jareau spent half an hour taking down all the information and incorporating it into her briefing materials.
She called Hotchner and brought her boss up to speed.
"Don't rush yourself," Hotchner said. "We can schedule the briefing for after lunch."
"That would probably be better," she admitted.
Better if for no other reason than Jareau could keep working through lunch, which today, like so many other days, would be at her desk. She had long since learned to eat without qualms while perusing the most grotesque write-ups and photographs of forensics evidence.
A PowerBar, a banana, and a container of yogurt from the break-room refrigerator kept her going as she prepared for the presentation. By the time she finished her lunch by downing a bottle of water, Jareau was ready.
When she entered the conference room, the others were already seated around the long, oval table. To the left, windows with venetian blinds let in November sunlight. A copier and fax machine on a sidebar shared the wall with the door. At the far end, a flatscreen monitor dominated.
Seated at the head of the table was team leader Aaron Hotchner, in an immaculate gray suit with a white shirt and striped tie—he might have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, not one of the top criminal profilers on the planet. His black hair was parted on the side, his well-carved face stern and businesslike, his eyes locked on the man to his right, David Rossi.
Fiftyish, with black hair showing signs of gray, Rossi was one of the originators of the BAU—along with the retired Max Ryan and Jason Gideon, he'd been among the unit's first superstars. After stepping down himself, then writing a series of true-crime best sellers, Rossi had made a small fortune on the lecture circuit before coming back to the BAU, in part to finish a case he'd walked away from. Today, Rossi wore a gray suit with a blue shirt and a tie with geometric shapes.
Next to Rossi, Derek Morgan, with his killer features and stylish stubbly beard, might have been a model for GQ and not a top federal agent. He wore a black mock turtleneck shirt with black slacks, and the only thing spoiling the male-model look was the nine-millimeter pistol holstered on his right hip. The son of an African-American police officer (killed in the line of duty) and a white mother, former college quarterback Morgan had spent time with the ATF, later serving as a hand-to-hand combat instructor here at Quantico.
Across the table from Morgan sat Dr. Spencer Reid, youngest member on the team. Reid had a distracted, little boy lost quality that endeared him to Jareau, the next youngest, and which belied the sharp focus he brought to every case, every moment. The lanky Reid had a mop of long hair, dressed like a prep school student, and was, judging by IQ scores, the smartest person in this or any room. With his eidetic memory, Reid seemed to have every fact in the world ready and waiting.
On Reid's right, SSA Emily Prentiss looked typically crisp in a sharp navy business suit, her black hair perfectly combed. Before the return of Rossi, she'd been the "newbie" on the team, but those days were over—Prentiss had long since proved herself a valuable addition. Tough and smart, with a sly, dry sense of humor, she was fitting in with the team on a personal level equally well.
No one said a word as Jareau set her materials down. They would wait patiently for her to start laying out facts. Once she did, however, well, the room would be far from quiet. . . .
Jareau centered herself, then began. "Saturday, three hunters in the woods outside Bemidji, Minnesota, found this."
She touched a button on her remote and the first photo appeared on the flat screen. This and subsequent images had been provided by the team's digital intelligence analyst, Penelope Garcia, who had used her considerable computer skills to enable Jareau to display images from her laptop onto the screen in the conference room. (Jareau couldn't have managed this feat herself, but she didn't have to— she, like everyone on the team, was just glad Garcia made all their jobs easier.)
The image was a stark, even grisly one: a skeletal hand sticking out of patchy snow and dead leaves, a small bloodstain nearby.
Reid was the first to interrupt, though there was nothing rude about it—give-and-take was normal here. "That hand," he said, eyes narrowed, "is far too decomposed to be the source for the blood on the ground."
Jareau nodded. "The blood is apparently from a wounded buck the hunters were tracking."
Reid nodded back.
Jareau continued: "The hunting guide used his cell to call 911. The Beltrami County Sheriff's Office responded with two squad cars. The county seat is Bemidji. . . ."
Hotchner said, "They have one of the state's two regional crime labs."
"That's right," Jareau said. "So investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were sent out as well."
The team sat quietly as Jareau switched to a photo that showed police tape outlining the burial site, the hand still visible near one edge. In the background were two more tape outlines.
"This is why they're asking for our help," Jareau said. "When they used ground-penetrating radar to find the parameters of the first grave, they found two more."
Morgan frowned. "Two more graves?"
"Total of three," Jareau confirmed. "Here's where it gets interesting—the coroner said they were not buried at the same time, but rather over the course of as much as a year."
She touched the button and the photo switched again. This one showed the three graves dug up, the bodies next to them each wrapped from head to toe in plastic. Though the shapes were vaguely human, there was no seeing through the plastic shrouds.
"Each of our three bodies is wrapped identically," Jareau said, but that was already evident. "The outer layer is a huge piece of plastic, a paint drop cloth of the sort available for a few dollars at any home improvement store or paint supply store in the United States."
No one said a word as she brought up the next photo. This one showed a victim without the layer of plastic, a blanket covering the victim from head to toe. This was not the original find, since the hand was not exposed.
"Under the plastic, each victim was wrapped in a blanket," Jareau said. "Then beneath that"—she switched to the next photo—"each victim wore a winter coat and beneath that"—the next photo came up on the screen—"they were all dressed in nice Sunday dresses that were pretty well protected from the elements by the plastic. Still, decomposition didn't leave us much."
Hotchner asked, "What do we know about the victims?"
"They're all females," Jareau said. "Girls, really. Each between the ages of twelve and fourteen, the coroner thinks."
Shaking her head, Jareau said, "Not yet. If the girls are from Minnesota, they must have disappeared years ago—they don't match any recent missing girls from the area."
Hotchner asked, "What other avenues are we exploring to identify the victims? Garcia's on this, I assume?"
"All morning and right now. Beyond her efforts, the state crime lab is contacting nearby states and the coroner is going the DNA route. The county sheriff is even using volunteers to comb through 'missing kids' Web sites."
Reid's head was tilt...
Criminal Minds: Finishing School (Thorndike Crime Scene)
Collins, Max Allan
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