Chapter 227: A Murder Performance

At exactly 10 o'clock, we all gathered in the conference room. Besides the usual officers we often cooperated with, I noticed a fresh face. Xiaotao started with a brief account of the case before we each stated the clues we had obtained so far.

First of all, the victim’s identity had been determined! A detailed investigation showed that the victim wasn’t involved in any enmity with anyone. Neighbors described him as an eccentric man who seldom had contact with others. His only interests were smoking and drinking.

The incident had taken place in an old area of the city so there weren't any surveillance videos. However, according to residents, a short man wearing a tank top and a face mask was seen wandering the nearby area at about 11 that night. But because of his face mask, they weren’t sure what he looked like.

Then, an officer whom I had never seen before shared his findings. It turned out that he was a bomb disposal technician from the bureau. He said that the explosion showed signs of artificial tampering and the murderer’s technique was quite professional, having constructed a crude homemade bomb using magnesium strips, an alarm clock, phosphorus extracted from commercial fertilizers, and the gas tank in the victim's house. The angle of the blast allowed for an immediate collapse of the entire building structure which demonstrated how professional the murderer was, comparable to a demolition expert!

After Bingxin shared the lab results, Xiaotao asked me if I had anything to say. "I just drew a picture,” I said, standing up. “Let's all have a look at it!"

Xiaotao asked an officer to turn on the projector and placed my pencil drawing on it. When the drawing was projected onto the white screen, the officers looked alarmed.

What I drew was a man in armor walking on red-hot charcoal. I summed up my hypothesis, "This is what it looked like when the victim was murdered!"

"Why would anyone specially forge a suit of armor just to murder someone?" asked Xiaotao.

Staring at the screen, I said, "Don't you think his death resembles a sort of performance?"

"Performance?" Xiaotao looked at me in consternation.

“Doesn’t this remind you a lot of torture by the Bronze Toaster?” I prompted. “Ancient people had little to amuse themselves with, so what better entertainment than an execution? They used to watch executions with relish, the ancient equivalent of watching a movie. The murderer tortured the victim with much effort and then destroyed the body with an explosion. There seems to be no point to that entire process. I imagine he must’ve recorded the torture so others can enjoy watching it, or perhaps it was for his own gratification."

When I put forward this hypothesis, there was immediate opposition. "But there was no armor found at the scene,” argued one of the officers.

"The victim was tortured elsewhere,” I concluded. “Just think about it. How loud would someone scream if they were tortured in such a cruel manner? The victim was most likely tortured in a secluded location isolated from everyone else, perhaps an underground club, where the murderer tortured the victim to satisfy his audience’s twisted urges."

"Song Yang, isn’t your idea a bit exaggerated?” Xiaotao remained skeptical. “If such a place indeed exists in Nanjiang City, why haven’t we heard about it?"

"I'm sorry, I might have gone a bit too far with my speculations but I still think the performance nature of the crime is a valid explanation," I said.

Other officers seemed to agree with me as well, but another policeman asked, "How do you explain the pinhole camera we found at the scene?"

"Perhaps the behind-the-scenes boss didn’t trust the person who destroyed the corpse and asked him to record the whole process,” I ventured. “Or maybe the destruction of the corpse was another performance!"

As soon as the words fell, the room erupted into vociferous discussion. Xiaotao rapped her knuckles on the table, motioning for the room to settle down. "If this is the case, then this crime is a serious provocation to the police and the murderer must be arrested!"

Xiaotao assigned tasks to the officers, mainly to investigate the surrounding areas of Nanjiang City and to look for secret rooms, basements, old warehouses and places of the like to determine the first crime scene. But I was a little worried because I had a nagging suspicion that this was the first of a serial murder case and we would soon discover the next victim.

A few days later, we hadn’t made much progress with the case. Although Lao Yao found the video converter at the crime scene, it was severely damaged so he couldn’t recover any data at all. During the rubble removal, the fire brigade found the remaining corpse fragments, including the victim’s internal organs. At least the victim’s family would have a complete corpse to bury. But the murderer had been so thorough that even the restoration of the corpse contributed little information.

One week later, a loud commotion suddenly broke the calm of the night. The local police had been alerted by the sight of flames from a distance and contacted the fire brigade. When they arrived, they found a car ablaze in the middle of nowhere and quickly got to work. But after the fire was extinguished, what appeared to be human remains were found in the car so they immediately called in the criminal investigation department from the city.

By the time Xiaotao contacted me, it was past 4 in the morning. Dali and I arrived at the scene which was a no man’s land sandwiched between two roads. From a distance, a team of officers could be seen collecting evidence around the scorched car in the middle."Where’s the body?" I asked.

An ugly expression swept across Xiaotao’s face. "How should I put this?” she said. “The body has fused into the car. See for yourself!"

Dali was about to tag along and take a look at the body, but I stopped him. This time, I was expecting a grisly picture. As I had imagined, the body had indeed melted and integrated with the car. Incomplete internal organs and pulverized flesh were strewn all over the interior of the car, a spectacle almost too horrendous to endure. An officer even ran to the side to vomit for fear of damaging the crime scene.

 

I felt the impulse to curse at the murderer’s use of explosives to destroy the corpse. It made me, a Traditional Coroner, completely useless!

"Do you think it’s the same murderer?" I asked Xiaotao.

"It certainly looks like it!" She held up an evidence bag with a scorched pinhole camera inside.

The car was surrounded with debris but no evidence had been found. I decided to examine it myself so I swept the surrounding area with the Autopsy Umbrella and got Xiaotao to turn on the ultraviolet light. Unsurprisingly, I found a pair of footprints in the grass heading to and from the car. The footsteps were slightly heavier going to the car, indicating that the perpetrator was carrying the victim’s body. After he dropped it off, his footsteps were obviously lighter without such a heavy burden on him.

Judging from the size of the footprints and stride length, that person was about 1.8 meters tall with a sturdy and muscular body. How did I come to that conclusion? When the suspect was walking to the car, his footprints were slightly heavier on the left, suggesting that he carried the victim’s body over his left shoulder. That alone required certain strength.

Xiaotao immediately assigned an officer to photograph the evidence while I continued walking with my Autopsy Umbrella to track the direction of the footprints. They eventually disappeared on the gravel by the road. There were many tire tracks on the road, but the footprints I was tracing had been destroyed due to traffic.

"The trail has gone cold again..." Xiaotao sighed in disappointment.

I told her she could turn off the ultraviolet light. "The explosion has two perpetrators,” I said, carefully observing the ground. “One of whom was the boss or the superior who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When his subordinate carried the dead body, he stood by the side giving orders. There might have been a dispute between the two as suggested by the push the subordinate gave his boss."

"How could you tell?" asked Xiaotao, stupefied. 

It was already spring and weeds had begun to sprout. Pointing to the ones by the road, I explained that a patch of the tender leaves that grew at the top had been neatly pinched off which led me to believe that a man was standing here at the time. The weeds that grew at different heights triggered his obsessive-compulsive nature so he subconsciously nipped them with his fingers.

Since there were no footprints on the road, they had most likely driven here. Not forgetting the car that had exploded, there were two cars altogether so there must have been two people.

Generally speaking, two people would usually cooperate in carrying the body. Yet only one set of footprints were found walking back and forth the road to the crime scene while the other person remained standing here, illustrating the relationship between the two.

From one of the footprints that was deeper at the back of the heel, I observed that the person standing in the grass had leaned backwards. Did he slip? The possibility of that was very low. It hadn’t rained in the past few days and the grass was rough enough to provide ample friction. If he hadn’t slipped, then perhaps the person carrying the body gave him a push as he passed by to show his dissatisfaction.

The fact that he wasn’t afraid to push his boss hinted that they might not be superior and subordinate in a true sense, but perhaps senior and junior.

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