Capturing the Devil (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4)(9)

“Yes, Professor.” Thomas moved to do as he was bid.

I rolled my shoulders back, slipping into that familiar cool calm as I stared at the body and divorced myself from imagining her alive and well. What was left of this woman was a puzzle to solve. Later, once her murderer had been caught, I might remember her humanity.

“Victim is a woman roughly fifty-five to sixty years of age.” I glanced around the crime scene, no longer sickened by the blood that coated nearly everything like a layer of macabre rain. A small wooden pail lay upturned on the ground near my feet. Judging from the strong scent of hops and barley, it had been filled with beer. Another swift appraisal of the room suggested she may have been well into her cups—alcohol thinned the blood and made it hard to clot. Which explained why there was an excess of it splattered everywhere.

“She was possibly too inebriated to fight off her attacker.” I pointed to the upturned pail. Uncle—despite the ghastly scene surrounding us—seemed pleased by this observation and motioned for me to continue. I bent over the

body, ignoring the pitter-patter of my pulse. She’d sustained so much trauma that a foul odor was already present. Even with coldness seeping in from cracks near the window, the putrid scent hit the back of my throat.

I swallowed rising bile quickly. There was no preparing for that tangy-sweet smell and no forgetting it. The stench of human rot haunted me almost as much as the victims we inspected.

“Bruising around the neck indicates strangulation.” I reached for the clothing covering her face and paused, turning to Thomas. “Are you through with this part of your sketch?”

“Almost.” He went back to his journal, holding it up and angling it, comparing the scene before us to his drawing. After adjusting the drape of the clothing, he looked up. “All right.”

Without hesitation, I removed what turned out to be a dress from her face and pulled her eyelids back, searching for conclusive proof strangulation was the cause of death.

“Petechial hemorrhaging is present. Our victim was strangled before other…”

I paused while Uncle rolled her carefully onto her side. My gaze halted on two X s carved into her buttocks, momentarily distracting me from my observation. I took a quick breath. “Before other nefarious acts were performed on her person.”

“Excellent.” Uncle leaned over, inspecting the corpse for the same clues, then carefully placed her back as she’d been found. “What do you make of the dress draped over her face?”

I stared down at her body, naked except for where the murderer had laid her bloodstained clothing over her head. Whenever we conducted a postmortem on a corpse in the laboratory, Uncle used bits of cloth to cover victims. They were ice-cold and lying on our sterile slab, but they deserved respect. Her indecent state was another way the murderer tried—quite literally—to strip her of her humanity.

“Perhaps he felt ashamed,” I said, looking upon the body as if I were the killer. Sometimes it was too easy to do. “There could’ve been something about her that reminded him of someone else. Someone he possibly cared for.” I lifted a shoulder. “She might even be the person he or she was fond of.”

Uncle twisted his mustache. He looked like he wanted to pace around the room, but it was too small with the three of us inside. “For what end? Why would a person—who so brutally carved open a body—be concerned with covering her eyes? What might that say about him?”

I glanced at Thomas, but he was lost to his own investigation again,

sketching everything as Uncle had requested and more. He knelt down, capturing each stab wound, each angle the blade had entered from perfectly. It reminded me of the time he was practically nose-deep in one of the Ripper victims. A chill tickled my spine. I did not enjoy the similarities of the cases.

I drew my own focus back to the scene before us, contemplating this murderer. Perhaps he also wished to shame her. “I imagine he—or she—didn’t want to look upon the face of his victim,” I said. “It’s possible he didn’t want to think of her as a person.”

“Very good,” Uncle said. “What else?”

Ignoring the blood smeared on the body, I focused on the stab wounds.

Whoever had committed this act had been enraged. There were so many punctures, it appeared as if they’d struck her again and again and again. Each encounter with the blade more brutal than the last. They were furious, but whether or not that fury was directed at the victim or simply projected onto this woman was a mystery. The murderer could have slit her throat in one clean swipe. He didn’t choose that merciful route. He craved pain—it delighted him.

“Most of the knife wounds were made postmortem. Along with X s that have been carved into her… buttocks.” I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment. Miss Mary Jane Kelly, the last Ripper victim, flitted through my mind once again.

“Our victim was also disemboweled, though we’ll know which organs—if any—

were removed upon our internal examination. Given the sunken appearance of her lower abdomen, however, I believe something has been taken.”

“All right. Let’s get this next part over with, then.” Uncle took his spectacles off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “What makes this murder different from the murders in London?”

I snapped my attention to Uncle’s. “You’re not honestly considering this is one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, are you?”

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