The Cornea Killer - A 3 Random Words Story
“Breaking news tonight; a donnybrook at the Xfinity Beer Festival in Philadelphia leaves one man dead and investigators scratching their heads. That and more, tonight on W-LPR News at ten.”
“I guess you don’t miss those days,” David said.
“Where did you get those detective skills?” Annette laughed. “Honestly, a deadly brawl that large is a nightmare. With so many drunk fighters, it’s almost impossible to file charges. If they can identify who started the fight, they might be able to charge for involuntary manslaughter, but even that’s a stretch.”
“There she goes,” David teased.
Annette threw a pillow at her husband.
“Tonight, a fun-filled festival turned deadly when a twenty-three-year-old man turned up dead at the end of a massive donnybrook that broke out just before seven p.m. Witnesses say they saw two men arguing over a spilled beer just before the fight broke out, but it is unclear if those two men started the fight.
“Police are asking anyone with video footage of the festival to come forward.
“’With cases like these, it’s almost impossible to determine the right suspects without the help of the public. With so many people to interview, we are hoping to at least identify the folks who started the fight.’
Annette raised her eyebrows at her husband.
“Touché,” David said.
“While the victim’s name will not be released until after the autopsy, police did say that the victim’s eyes had been severely burned during the altercation. This is part of the ongoing police investigation.”
Annette’s heart stopped.
“Did she just say…,” David couldn’t finish his sentence. “You don’t think that it’s… I mean, it can’t be the same person, right?”
Annette was already on her feet.
“I don’t know, but I’m going down there. If it’s the same killer I was tracking ten years ago, they are going to need all of the help they can get.”
The police department was full of festivalgoers; some bruised and scratched, others suffering from a slow descent towards their hangover.
“I had a feeling I might see you tonight, Net,” Lieutenant Roux said.
“Well, this is about the only thing that would pull me from retirement,” Annette said. “If you expected me, then you obviously know why I’m here. Is it the same MO?”
“It looks to be. We pulled your files on the ten murders from 2009 and the four murders at the beginning of 2010. They all have the same eye burns as our new victim. Take a look.” Lieutenant Roux handed the familiar files to Annette, along with fresh photos of the victim.
All of the victims had severe chemical burns in their eyes. The burns from 2009 and 2010 were caused by a very concentrated form of alpha-hydroxy acid, a powerful chemical used in skin exfoliates. Annette was willing to bet the tox report on the new victim would reach the same conclusion.
“Does anyone have eyes on Michael?” Annette asked.
“You’re not going to believe this, but he just got back to town a few months ago. He bought a place in the city with his new fiancé. He’s taking over for his dad,” Roux said.
“Now, listen, Annette. You aren’t a detective anymore. I’m happy to bring you in on this, but you have to work with us. I know the timing is suspect and you want to jump on him, but we missed him last time. We need to make sure we have what we need first this time. No mistakes.”
After the second murder in 2009, the police thought they were dealing with a copycat. The term ‘serial killer’ never crossed their mind. Then, the third victim turned up at a street fight outside Temple University. Seventeen people were involved and, for the second time, witnesses placed Michael Tempazio at the scene.
Michael Tempazio comes from a lucrative family in Philadelphia. His father is one of the most highly regarded research dermatologists in Philadelphia. Annette knew the Tempazio family personally. Her son, Peter, went to grade school with Michael and his family was always on the police department’s radar. They were versatile, always using their status to get their son out of trouble. Forget the fact that Michael tried to sell bad skin products in high school, resulting in the hospitalization of Peter’s girlfriend as a result of harsh chemical burns.
As soon as Michael was identified at the scene of the third fight, Annette was convinced he was their man. Evidence, on the other hand, was harder to come by. The family again used their status, this time to block warrants. They treated Annette with contempt and disdain while playing a kind, and spotless family in front of the judges. They were like chameleons, adapting to each environment with the persona that served them best.
The killer was similarly versatile. Fingerprints and DNA at the scene consistently led to dead ends, tire treads and footprints rarely matched from scene to scene, let alone to Michael. Over time, Annette started to feel the corpses piling on top of her. By the beginning of 2010, the Cornea Killer had racked up a body count of fourteen victims. Annette had to act and decided to file charges against Michael. Her evidence was deemed circumstantial, however, and Michael was quickly released on bond. The case was thrown out a few days later. Annette laid awake every night waiting for another murder call, but none ever came. Her case ran cold.
“It’s been ten years,” Annette said as she continued to sift through the files. “He’s getting married and just bought a house. Why now?”
“We were hoping you could tell us,” Roux said. “We are in the process of obtaining the security footage from Xfinity. I’m planning to review it first thing tomorrow morning. I expect I’ll see you then?”
Annette nodded curtly.
“Welcome back, detective.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Annette said as she walked into the Lieutenant’s office the next morning. “I needed to wait for my son to get to my mother’s. She needs extra care these days.”
“I expect nothing less of Peter. Glad to hear he’s back in town,” Roux said.
“Did you see anything interesting on the tape?” Annette asked.
“Have a look yourself.”
The video opens with Michael walking around the crowd with a few friends. He visits a beer stand, kisses a girl on the cheek, and walks away from the group. He walks out of the range of camera one. It takes a few seconds for camera two to pick him up. In the time he is in and out of the blind spot, the fight has erupted in camera one’s frame. In camera 2’s frame, Michael stops abruptly and stares intently at something out of frame.
“What’s he staring at?” Annette asked.
“We can’t tell from the footage, but look,” Roux pointed back to camera 2 as Michael turns around to watch the fight. Then, he takes off into the crowd as the fight spirals out of control.
Annette watched as more people joined the chaos. People are knocked to the ground or thrown into other bystanders. It’s absolute madness. It lasts another few minutes before security disperses the crowd.
“That’s pretty much it, Net. We lose him in the crowd.”
“Wait,” Annette said. “Rewind that for a second.”
Curious about what Annette saw, Roux rolled the tape back. They watch the fight as five people, ten people, then fifteen join the disturbance. A man wearing a black hoodie joins the fight from the blind spot between camera 1 and camera 2. He steps in with purpose, shoving his hands into the victim’s face. But it can’t be. Michael has already fled the scene. The victim immediately brings his hands to his face as he falls backward into the crowd where he is trampled to death.
“Pause it there,” Annette said.
She studied the screen intently, looking for any clues to the hooded man’s identity. A heavy, silver ring gleamed off an awkwardly bent finger as if it had healed poorly after being broken.
Annette’s heart sank into her stomach.
“I need to go. Right now. Send back up to Country Meadows Retirement Community.”
Annette sprang out of her chair and raced for the door.
“What’s going on, Net?”
“Do it!” Annette screamed over her shoulder.
The drive from the police department to the retirement home was the longest ride of Annette’s life. She could feel the bile rise in her throat with each passing second. She screeched into the parking lot at a dangerous speed. She needed to get into that building. She could feel her heart race as she sprinted towards her mother’s room. She fought the tears of rage that threaten to escape her eyes.
“Mom!” she cried, only to find her mother’s room empty.
“Where is Rachelle?” Annette demanded.
“Peter took her for a facial,” a wide-eyed nurse said.
Annette sprinted for the beauty room. Peter was standing over Rachelle, offering to help with her facial.
“Please, Peter. Tell me that this is some horrible mistake,” Annette whispered as she entered the room. Not him. Not her only child.
“What are you talking about?” Peter asked.
“Don’t lie to me, Peter,” Annette said. “I saw the tape. I saw what – I saw you.”
Annette sighed and allowed her tears to fall freely. The grief made her feel lightheaded and woozy. She gripped the doorframe for support.
“Mom, it’s Michael. You know this. It’s him – his company. His dad’s company. They did this,” Peter shouted. “They did THIS!”
Peter held out his hands to show the burns on his fingertips. Blood oozed out of the fresh sores that peppered his peach flesh.
“His dad’s company MADE THIS. REMEMBER? It’s the same stuff that sent Sadie to the hospital,” Peter’s voice shook.
He took a deep breath to regain his composure.
“We gave you everything you needed to connect him to these murders,” he continued. “His product, his DNA at the scenes, everything. You’re supposed to be the best detective out there, mom. HOW COME you could NEVER make the arrest?”
“I always said the killer was versatile. Adaptable. Like a chameleon. I always said he would twist facts and spin stories to shine light on all the wrong angles,” Annette whispered. “I just never thought to look under my own roof.”
Annette could hear the familiar stampede of police boots rushing down the hallway behind her.
Peter lathered chemicals across his hands. He stepped in front of his grandmother and reached towards her face.
“I’ll do it,” Peter said through gritted teeth. “I’ll do it if you let them take me away.”
“Annette!” Lieutenant Roux yelled down the hall.
“Peter, don’t you dare,” Annette growled.
In one swift motion, Rachelle raised her cane and struck her grandson across the face, sending him tumbling to the ground.
“Watch his hands!” Annette said as the police swarmed the room. “He has chemicals all over his hands!”
The police drug Peter to his feet to face his mother, but she was staring at her mother in awe.
“Don’t look at me like that. Where do you think you got it from? I’m no fool,” Rachelle said.
“Annette!” Roux shouted, snapping his fingers in her face. “You passed out for a few minutes there. Were you hurt?”
Annette stared at the flashing lights of the police cars.
“Where is my son?”
Roux pointed to another ambulance; the medic was treating him for the wound on his head. Annette wanted to vomit and cry at the same time. She opened her mouth to address her son, but nothing came out.
“Dispatch to Lieutenant Roux.”
“Another donnybrook’s just broken out at the Flyers game.”
Annette’s head snapped up to stare at her son. He said ‘we.’ A cunning smile spread swiftly across his face.
“You didn’t think I was the only one, did you?”