Alex Morgan is center stage in I’ll Never Let You Go, but that doesn’t mean his law enforcement siblings are out of the picture, especially Deke (Cover Your Eyes) and Georgia (Vulnerable, the fourth of my Morgan Family novels, on sale March 29th). Both are up to their ears in tenuous clues and scenarios when, first, a headless torso is found and, later, body parts. The submersion in water in both discoveries presents special circumstances for investigators Alex and Deke, forensic specialist Georgia and the medical examiner.
Problems presented include the degradation as well as the recoverable quantity of DNA in a body submerged for, say, more than 72 hours. Also, the appearance of the body or body parts may have been affected by decomposition.
A fact I learned that really caught my attention, in part because I don’t think I’d even thought about it until I was researching, is what happens to a dead body after it sinks. One source, the site Operation Take Me Home* addresses this in the context of saving or recovering drowning victims. The article points out that a dead body submerged in a river or lake (fresh water) will rise as gas forms in the body “due to the action of bacteria” occurring in decomposition. It also notes that how long it takes for the body to come to the surface depends on the amount of fat in the tissue and the temperature of the water.
That said, here’s a quick look at the scene in which Deke and Georgia encounter the body parts that just may turn the tide in their investigation.
Minutes past eight, Deke made his way down the narrow, rocky path that led to the river and the two forensic technicians working the scene. Georgia was on the job today, wearing a thick black skullcap, heavy coveralls that read FORENSICS on the back, and thick, steel-toed boots. She held a digital camera to her eye and focused on a numbered yellow cone placed next to what looked like a severed hand . . .
She faced Deke. Her nose glowed red from the cold. “Great way to start a day.”
He thought about the warm bed he’d left, in which he’d been nestled close to Rachel. She’d accepted his ring last night, and he’d been filled with hope and joy. He’d had very different plans for this morning, but the job had its own ideas. “I can think of better.”
“Join the club.”
“I see a hand.”
She nodded and pointed. “A hand there. Near the river’s edge a foot, and a few yards west is another hand. And there’s no torso or head. But then, I hear you found a torso a few days ago.”
“Stands to reason we have a matched set, but we shall see. Any idea who the guy might be?”
She sniffed, her nose runny from the cold. “Not a clue. But these cold-as-hell temperatures have kept the remains intact, and I was able to pull a clean print from the index finger. Who knows, our guy might have prints on file.”
“Anything you can tell me about him?”
“He had calluses on his palms, and the foot was still encased in sneakers. Nothing remarkable about the shoe. The thumb looked as if it had been broken a long time ago.”
“Any idea how he was killed?”
“Not a clue. That’s for the lovely Dr. Heller to decipher.”
“If he’s a match to our John Doe in the morgue, it was a gunshot to the chest.”
“That will do it.”
Deke moved down the edge of the river and studied the yellow cone that marked the spot where the other hand lay. Even in the cold it had already degraded and could easily have been overlooked as not human. “Was he in the water?”
“I’d say so. My guess is the parts were first tossed into a bag and then into the river. Everyone thinks the river will keep their secrets, but it doesn’t take much for the bag to tear and its contents to float to the top. Head is likely out there somewhere.”
“If these parts connect to my body, why leave it exposed in one location and dump the hands and feet in the river?”
She shrugged. “Maybe our killer likes a puzzle.”
The torso. The bag with Deidre’s card. Now the hands and a foot. Felt more like a trail of bread crumbs.
“How long has he been out here?”
“That’s hard to say. Cold distorts everything. Maybe the prints will match a missing persons report.”
He grinned. “Thanks for the tip.” “Always here to help, bro.”