An excerpt from The 9th Victim: the first body is found.
Referred to naively in police files as the first victim, the first body found was discovered in late January on a Wednesday. The body appeared like an apparition out of the fog to Donald Mercer. Donald had been searching the creek bed of McKenzie Creek Park just off the road in the early morning for cans and bottles, anything he could return for a refund. He ambled through the winter broom, his gloved hands melting the shaded frost as he ran his fingers tightly along the brush.
It was unseasonably warm for January and the leaves did not crunch around Donald’s feet as he stepped but rather sprang gently back up from the ground as though barely disturbed. Nature was not marking his path.
At first glance the body looked to be a pile of debris. Nothing more sinister than an unwanted sweatshirt thrown over a bag of illegally disposed trash and partially caught in the storm drain to wait in the stagnant, half frozen water.
Due to the angles Donald had thought there might be bottles in the bag.
He tentatively made his way deeper into the ravine, cautiously placing each foot on the slightly frozen soil, not wanting to slide into the dank marshy water. While halfway down Donald took a step, his left foot sinking into the soft mud up to his ankle. He swore loudly, wrenching his leg back up, the mud squelching and sticking to his leg, resisting his escape, holding him in place.
In his statement Donald described that moment, imitating the sound of the suction as his foot finally released from the mud and describing a prickle that suddenly ran across his neck as he got free. He said it was like a sixth sense trying to stop him from reaching that figure in the water, to save him from an unspeakable terror.
He says his hands started to tremble and he felt cold deep in his bones.
The fog was lifting, slowly burnt off by the rising sun and as he got closer the smell of rot hit his nose, faint but unmistakeable.
The body was of one Willie McKaig, a lifeless lump floating half frozen in the creek bed, cradled almost lovingly by the icy mud and brittle reeds. The face was half submerged but still easily identifiable and the body was bloated from days in the creek. Willie’s skin was mottled and distorted with shades of grey and purple that are never found in living tissue.
It looked like Willie had just fallen in and drowned. Drunk as usual.
There were no slide marks or sign of struggle in the foliage around the ravine to indicate he had slipped in, but Donald thought he may have toppled over the top of the storm drain from the road. Perhaps Willie had been resting on the railing.
Donald scrambled back up the hill his search for bottles forgotten, and walked straight to the police station a few blocks away. The mud was still settled in his left boot and it squished around his toes with each step.
Donald was calm when he arrived at the station, appearing detached at first, though very disturbed.
Yes, he was sure it was Willie McKaig. No, he did not touch the body. Yes, he had come to the police station right away. No, he had not seen Willie in days nor had he thought to look for him. No, it did not look like anything untoward had happened.
After the interview was over Donald threw up, the smell of rotted flesh mingling with dirty creek water still clinging to his nostrils and inescapable. He could almost taste it.
It wasn’t until the body was removed that anyone noticed the three thin yet precise cuts across Willie’s throat. The cuts first appeared like just another set of bloated wrinkles and upon closer inspection looked as if in some last ditch attempt to save himself Willie had grown gills extending on either side from his Adam’s apple to his ears.
That someone had murdered Willie McKaig was not a surprise.
Nobody had liked Willie, not even his four children and especially not his two ex-wives.
Willie was a long retired logger, forced to stop working after his left arm and right knee were shattered in a bar brawl. He was well known in Williams, having lived in the town for just shy of thirty years though the host of assault and battery charges under his belt and a reputation for theft made sure Willie was never considered a local by the community. Nobody wanted him.
He was a mean and vicious man and, though no one would say the words aloud, it was a relief to have him dead.
The popular theory was that Willie had pissed off one of the fishermen or transients at the bar where he was last seen on Saturday and finally picked a fight he couldn’t win. Nobody was coming forward and, in the spirit of honesty, no one was looking too hard.
It wasn’t until the second body was found a month later that any connections were made and that people started to care about Willie’s murder.
The fact that the only item missing from both victims’ wallets was their IDs, the way both bodies were so carefully disposed, and the exact same three cuts across the throat – two of which were made post mortem. The similarities were too close to be coincidence.
Williams had its first serial killer.