Dougie sat and watched his daughter Cass getting ready to go out to the pictures for the evening with her friends. ‘She’s a bonny lass,’ he thought to himself, then smiled as he imagined her response if he’d said it aloud. “Young woman, dad, not lass.” But she was only nineteen and he came from Aberdeen. So to him she was just his bonnie wee lassie. She put a smear of purple lipstick on her lips, pressed them together on a tissue, ran a comb through her hair and was ready.
“Don’t be late, Cass.”
“No, dad,” she said with a weary patience.
“Got your key?”
“Yes.” She gave him an air kiss so as not to smear her lipstick. “See you.” And she was off.
He sat for a while in silence. Since his wife had died two years ago he knew he’d been overprotective. But Middlesbrough wasn’t too dangerous, and as an ex-marine he’d taught her self-defence and knew she carried a pepper spray in her pocket, as well as having a level head on her shoulders. What he didn’t know was that she had one of his old socks filled with damp sand in her other pocket, which made a handy cosh. She’d be fine, he told himself, he must learn to let go more, she was growing up. Sighing, he switched on the telly.
The first time it had happened it was just by accident. He’d just got this new job as area agent for a large building and civil engineering firm. At twenty two he knew he’d been lucky, there’d been older and more qualified applicants. But sometimes you needed a bit of luck to get on. His patch stretched from just above the Wash to the Scottish border, and from the east to the west coasts. He had sites all over and had to visit them regularly so he was always on the move, spending most week nights in hotels. As a single man who only had a small flat in Leeds that was a plus rather than a minus, as far as he was concerned. And of course it was all on expenses.
That night, the first time it happened, he was staying in Newcastle where his firm were building a new factory. He was a large man, well built with brown crinkly hair, and he knew that on first glance most women found him attractive. It was the second and third glances that were the problem. He wasn’t sure what put them off but he never seemed able to form long term relationships. Or even short term ones. Something put them off, but what he could never fathom. It led to all sorts of frustrations and a loss of self-confidence around the opposite sex.
That night he’d gone up to his hotel room early but couldn’t settle. So he’d put his coat on, it was a cold night, and gone down again. There was no one on duty at the desk and he’d kept his room key in his pocket as he went outside. He walked for over half an hour and then he saw her standing at a bus stop. She was small and had a really sexy figure. Like many young women, she was wearing a short skirt and a thin blouse despite the cold. She smiled as he came up to her and he stopped to chat. After a while he saw that look come into her eyes, the one he was so used to and baffled by. She turned away and his composure snapped. He swept her up and bundled her into a dark alley and started to rape her. She struggled, but he was stronger than her and soon it was all over. He ran off followed by her screams. When he got back to the hotel, there was still no one on the desk and he went quickly up the stairs to his room unseen. As far as anyone was concerned he’d never left his room.
When he went into the bathroom he found she’d scratched his face and it was bleeding. But that wasn’t where all the blood had come from. In his left hand he found an earring which he must have ripped off her ear and his hand was covered in her blood. It was a nice earring, silver with three dangling chains. He decided he’d keep it as a memento of the evening.
DS Nikki Gamble took the statement from Kelly Abbess when the doctor had finished her examination. She had been violently raped near a bus stop in central Newcastle. Her ear had a dressing on it where the rapist had ripped off one of her earrings. She had managed to scratch the man’s face, and the blood and skin from under her nails and his semen would establish his DNA. If they were in luck and they got a match then the case was solved. If not, the DNA would be stored in police records. The details would all go into the HOLMES database for future use.
“He seemed nice at first,” Kelly had told her. “Good looking and well spoken. But there was something about his manner. I’m not sure how to describe it. He was sort of cold and a bit...distant. As if he was off somewhere in his head. And he had terrible BO. I just wanted to get away, for my bus to come. Then he....” and she broke off in tears.
Later in the week the results came back. No DNA match. Nikki moved on to other cases but she never forgot the attack and the peculiarity of the stolen earring.
Several months later, when he was visiting a building site in Preston, he was sitting in his room at the hotel when memories of the night in Newcastle came back strongly. He was restless and felt a sudden urge to go out and try to repeat the experience. But he knew he’d been lucky last time. Lucky that no one had seen him leave or re-enter the hotel. Lucky that there had been no one in the street when he’d attacked the girl and lucky no one had heard her screams. Tonight would be different. He’d plan it more carefully. He’d go down to the bar and sit in a dark corner, then slip out when no one was looking. Then he’d be more careful when he saw his victim and look around to be certain he wasn’t observed. He’d make sure she couldn’t scratch him and wear a condom so as to leave no DNA traces. He didn’t think they’d do extensive DNA searches for a rape, so there was no need to worry too much about being over careful. But on the way he saw an all night chemist open and bought some thin plastic gloves, just to be on the safe side.
It all went to plan and afterwards, when he was leaving his victim, he saw she was wearing a lovely pair of gold earrings and took one to go with the first one.
His third attack took place two months later in Carlisle, but this time the girl fought back and he had to stop her. He put his hands round her throat and realised afterwards that she was dead. This time the earring was much smaller than the other two, but much more expensive and elegant and had been held in by a stud, so the damage to the ear was worse. But she was dead and therefore didn’t feel it, so that didn’t worry him.
At first the fact that he’d killed the woman brought a temporary halt to his activities, and it was over six months before the next time he went out looking for a rape victim. This one took place in Edinburgh where he’d gone for a few days’ holiday when the festival was on. He carried it out in a back street near a small pub where there was a fringe event taking place. Once again he raped a young woman, but this time he took his earring trophy first before the rape. He was acquiring quite a collection. But this one wasn’t so enjoyable and he decided that was because he hadn’t killed his victim.
DS Nikki Gamble in Newcastle was doing a lot of research on the internet and the HOLMES computer. All of this was well outside her normal workload but she couldn’t get the case of Kelly Abbess out of her mind. But try as she might, she couldn’t get any linkups to it anywhere. That is until she came across the strange feature of the taking of one earring. This wasn’t always noted in HOLMES and so it took a lot of putting together. It was the Carlisle case, the one that was rape and murder, that broke it open. But she almost missed the one in Scotland, and then another in Sheffield just weeks later, that then clinched it for her. The worrying thing was that the Sheffield one was, like Carlisle, rape and murder. She took her findings to her superintendent, but he simply told her to pass them on to Carlisle and Sheffield and keep her mind on her own job. She passed her research on to them but neither team were very impressed with her findings. She didn’t heed her super’s advice to concentrate on her own caseload though, and continued to scour HOLMES and social media for reports of rape where an earring was stolen.
The years passed and his attacks continued, now always ones of both rape and murder. And always the taking of an earring. In the end he had a collection of twelve earrings. Nikki had only managed to find ten of them but was convinced that it was the same man, even though there was no DNA linking the cases. The only proof was in a small cupboard in the flat in Leeds where he kept all the trophies.
DI Sam Copperfield met DS Nikki Gamble at a weekend conference on ‘Policing in the 2020’s’. On the first evening, they were stood next to each other at the bar and began chatting. Sam took quite a shine to Nikki and vice versa. However, during the evening she learnt that he was married, and decided that it wasn’t a good career move to take up with a senior married officer and so she spent most of the time keeping him at arm’s length. She found out that their stations were in fact quite close, as hers was in Newcastle whilst he was only some fifty miles away in Middlesbrough. On their second evening they once more met up in the bar, and to distract him she told him of her researches into what she had come to call the ‘Earring Man Case’.
“He’s raped at least ten women over the past few years,” she told him. “And after the first few, killed them as well. But I’ve not been able to convince any of the murder squads of the connection between the attacks. In fact, my superintendent has officially told me to stop contacting the other forces.”
“Are you sure there is a connection?” Sam asked.
“Oh yes, I’m certain of it. But you see there’s only the missing earring, there’s no DNA link. He’s become too clever after what I’m sure was his first rape. The one in Newcastle that I was, or rather still am, investigating. I’ve told Kelly, that’s the first victim, that I’ll not drop her case till I get him.”
Sam listened to her details of all the ten cases she’d linked together and was almost convinced. “What do the investigating officers say about the missing earrings?” he asked her.
“They all say that they must have become dislodged in the struggle. But I think he’s collecting them.”
When they left to go their separate ways they swapped mobile numbers, and he promised to keep an ear open for any rape cases he heard of in the future which might relate to her list. He also wanted to keep in touch with her as his marriage was slowly coming apart, and if it ended he would get in touch with her again.
He came to Middlesbrough some weeks later. His firm had a large road and sewerage contract in the area which was losing money, and he had to come and spend some time there to try and sort things out. At the end of three days, tired and worn out but elated with the progress he’d made, he went back to his hotel for dinner. Tomorrow he’d return to his flat in Leeds and report to head office. After the meal he sat in his room looking at his laptop. Inevitably he turned to the file where he kept a photo of his earring collection. He looked at the twelve earrings, his tiredness lifted and he became excited. He would go out and try to get another earring tonight and he felt his nerves beginning to tingle. Without closing the laptop down, he put on a coat and went down to the bar. He kept the electronic key in his pocket and sat in the darkest corner he could find, before slipping out when he thought no one was taking any notice of him. It wasn’t long before he saw a crowd of people leaving a cinema and he stood in a doorway watching.
A small group of young women walked past him and he followed them some way behind. At a corner one of them, a pretty brunette with purple lips and eyelids, left the others amid a chorus of good nights and take care. She was, he thought, just what he was looking for and he tagged on behind until she was alone on a dark street not far away from Albert Park where it met Linthorpe Road. There was no one about and he closed the gap and bundled her into a dark shop doorway.
At eleven o’clock that night DI Sam Copperfield was on duty in the nearby police station when he got a call from a patrol car. They had been stopped on Linthorpe Road by a hysterical woman who had just almost stumbled on a body lying half concealed in the deep recess of a shop doorway. He called to a DC who was on duty and together they drove to the scene. Once he arrived he told his DC to take a statement from the now calmer woman, whilst he went and knelt down next to the body. What he saw made him think of Nikki Gamble and, after ringing for the police doctor and a SOCO team, he rang her mobile.
“Hi, Nikki, it’s DI Copperfield. Sam. You remember me? From the conference?”
“Hi, Sam. Yes, of course I do. What do you want at this time of night?”
“What are you doing, Nikki? Are you on duty or in bed?”
“No, I’m just watching telly. Why?”
“Well. I think I’ve got something to interest you. To do with your earring man. Can you get here? As quick as you like.”
“Sure, I’m on my way. Give me the address.”
It was nearly fifty miles from where she was and where the body was, and it would normally take about fifty minutes to drive there using the A1 motorway. But Nikki put her light and siren on and broke all records, reaching Sam in just over half an hour.
“That was quick,” he said. “The doctor’s just finished and the SOCOs are still doing their stuff.” He gave her a paper suit, gloves and overshoes and, when the scientist nodded, she went to take a look crouching down beside the body.
“What’s this?” she said, surprised. “This is a man, not a woman. Why have you brought me all this way?”
Sam grinned. “Look at his left hand.”
She looked and saw it was covered in blood and holding something. She looked closer, it was an earring. “You think this might be him? That some woman fought back?” She stood up and said, “How did he die?”
The doctor looked at the police officers. “Well, look at his eyes. They’re dilated and red and have been running. I think someone sprayed some sort of stuff into them. I’ll tell you what it was when I do the PM. Then there’s a bruise behind his left ear. He’s been hit with a heavy object, then there’s another on his throat. Somebody hit him twice with a cosh or something. The blows knocked him over, I’d say, and he hit his head on the corner of the shop window sill as he fell, and that cracked his skull open.”
“So, his victim fought back and he ended up dead,” the DI summarised.
“Good for her. He bit off more than he could chew tonight,” Nikki said with satisfaction. “Now all we have to do is match his DNA from that found on Kelly Abbess and we’ll know we have our man.”
“There’s a hotel room key in his pocket, Guv,” the DC called out as he searched the body.
The three detectives drove to the hotel and went up to the room. Inside they found the laptop still open and, when they woke it up, saw the pictures of his earring collection still on screen.
“You were right, Nikki,” Sam said. “But there are twelve, not ten previous cases. You weren’t thorough enough.” He laughed at her indignant expression. “No, it’s good work, and I’ll see you get the credit for it. Help a lot in your promotion chances.”
“It’s one in the eye for my super too,” she replied. “Just wait till I tell Kelly what’s happened. She’ll be really pleased that we got him at last.”
“Is that you, Cass?” Dougie called from the sitting room, as he heard the front door close.
“Who else were you expecting, dad?” she answered. “Are you still watching telly?”
‘As if I could settle before you were home,’ Dougie thought as he shouted, “Yes, just finishing. Did you have a good evening? Shall I put the kettle on for a wee drink before we go up?”
“Yes, do that,” she replied, and he heard her going up the stairs. “I just need to go to the loo, and then I’ll be down. A tot of your malt wouldn’t go amiss either.” In the bathroom she looked at her face. Her makeup was smudged and her left ear was bleeding, despite the hankie she’d held over it on her way home. And her earring was missing. He’d torn it out and ripped her earlobe in the process. Damn, she loved that pair of earrings. Ah well, no matter, but she’d given him what for before she’d run off, leaving him lying in the shop doorway. She put a plaster on to her ear, tidied her hair, washed her face and, feeling a lot better, went down to have a cup of tea and a wee dram with her dad. Best not to tell him what had happened, she decided, he’d only worry.