Based on a true story!
A decaying body of an eight-year-old girl is found near a sand dune on the Navarre-Pensacola Beach road. The law enforcement officers soon discover she was actually the second victim and the terror begins in Northwest Florida. Although every precaution is taken by parents and school officials, the killings continue. There is fear in the streets, in the schools, in the playgrounds and in every home. The Sheriff departments of four counties, the FDLE and the FBI seem powerless to stop it.
The Ghost, a mystery thriller about a serial killer in Northwest Florida by Mark Conte has just been released by Solstice Horizon Publishing. Based on a true story about a serial killer who never left any evidence to identify himself. It was as if he committed his crimes and than disappeared like a ghost. The ebook is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble $1.99. The print editions is $15.99.
SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! Prologue and 1st chapter~
“Such men are monsters, who live not merely beyond the unmapped frontiers of sanity but beyond the frontiers of madness as madness is conceivable to most people.”
The Meaning of Murder-PROLOGUE
Alaska is a state of the United States in the northwest tip of the North American Continent and is bordered by Canada to the Southeast and the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean in the North and the Pacific Ocean at the West and South borders, separated from Russia by the Bering Strait. The winters are long and bleak with temperatures often falling to twenty degrees below zero; the bitterness of cold that numbs your fingers and stings any part of your flesh that is exposed to the freezing air and residents do not venture into the marshes surrounding Fairbanks, but this was not an ordinary night in Fairbanks. There was a psychotic killer roaming the streets loose who had killed eleven children and did terrible things to their dead bodies and this was a search mission to find another body of a child and a chance to find something that would lead to the capture of this demon. It could be anyone, their friend, their neighbor, their relative, the postman, the police officer in a parked police car. Then there was the guilt. The night was laden with it. Visions of the dead children hung above the hearts and minds of the good people of Fairbanks, Alaska. There was enough blame to go around for everyone. The parents who had assumed the school was a safe place. The teachers who were entrusted to keep the children from harm. The school bus drivers who only glanced away for a moment. The police who were expected to catch the killer after his first kill and the defiling of the body and body parts and finally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation whose motto was “We always get our man.’ Except this time they didn’t get him and with every discovery of a new body, always an eight-year-old girl, the FBI looked more helpless. Sometimes the bodies were carefully hidden behind a small bushy area. Sometimes they were stuck in crevices in the rock formations and sometimes the new snow had fallen to hide them from being discovered so that the killer could go back over and over again, doing unimaginable things to the body for his deviant urges. When a twelfth child, Kitty Wells, went missing from her school at recess, they knew where to look for her.
Chief Bianco put together the largest manhunt force of city police, state police and FBI agents together with volunteers from the local military bases to try to find the body of the missing child. Fairbanks is located in the central Tanana Valley straddling the Chene River and the Tamana River. North of the city is a chain of hills that rises in steps until it reaches the White Mountains and the Yukon River. To the South of the city is the Tanana River below the river is the Tanana Flats, an area of marsh and bog that stretches for more than 100 miles (160 km) until it rises into the Alaska Range. This is where they had discovered the other bodies. Snow had fallen overnight, making the open land look clean and pristine. However, the peaceful countryside was now being invaded by a massive manhunt with hundreds of law enforcement officers from every agency and from surrounding military bases in search of little Kitty Wells who had disappeared from her school at recess time ten days ago. The line was ten miles across with no more than five feet between each of the searchers. They shouted orders to each other in loud voices, disturbing the night creatures of the forest that walked, crawled and flew overhead, startled by so many humans who usually came in twos and threes to shoot them and hang them on their wall. The larger animals; moose, wolves, and bears didn’t venture anywhere near this invasion of their world. The Alaska Fugitive Task Force, an intr-agency collaborative of Alaska State Police Departments who, along with the FBI had been spearheading the search for the killer flanked the line of searchers on both ends looking for signs that Kitty Wells was another victim of this maniac the Fairbanks Police called The Ghost because it was obvious he had never been arrested and he left nothing of himself the police could use to identify him. It was as if he committed his crimes and suddenly disappeared.
Seven hours later, they found her. Flares went up into the air from members of each group, startling the night with bright colored flashes like exploding stars in angry universe. A fitting requiem for Kitty Wells and her parents. They almost missed her. The new snow had covered most of the area, but her hand was oddly sticking out of the snow, along with her foot. Her skull was crushed as were the other victims. There was ten days of semen in her body. Seasoned State Troopers and police detectives were throwing up all over the snow. A forensic team carefully took everything that was not a part of the forest and finally, the body of the child was carried away.
Although the children were always taken during the day, it was the night that held the greatest fear for the parents of little children. Families walked together or at least with another person to protect themselves and their children from this monster. They called each other every hour to make sure they were safe. They comforted each other and no child was allowed to go out her door alone.
And then it was over.
Spring came to Alaska and the days were long. The sun barely sets in Fairbanks at solstice, making one continuous sunset and sunrise – occasionally displaying outstanding colors throughout the short night. No child went missing for two months. No grizzly body was found in the outskirts of the city and no mobilized search parties were formed. Three months passed without incident. Four months, five months. When six months had passed police chief, Andy Bianco, who along with the FBI investigated every person who had moved from Fairbanks to another city to apprehend this killer. Every transient that came through Fairbanks. Every person who visited or had occasional business dealings in the area as far back as three years and could not find a link.
In his new conference, Chief Dollan said, “Either the killer died a natural death and is buried in a cemetery plot like a normal citizen or he has moved to another area. I am happy that this monster is no longer in our city,” Chief Bianco said, “but God help the people of his new city.”
Nine years later
James Bennett was an ordinary man. He didn’t have the chiseled looks from his father’s side of the family. There was nothing about him that stood out. His mother once said he looked like every other plain man in Orlando, Florida where the family had spent the early years of their lives, and that no one would be able to pick him out in a police lineup. Not that James was the kind of man that could commit a crime, sensational or otherwise. He was just plain James, five foot ten inches, one hundred and eighty-seven pounds, light brown hair, coco colored eyes, looking exactly like a man approaching fifty years of age.
However, that is what Christine liked most about him, a quiet man who was uncomfortable in a loud party and happily accepted his proposal of marriage in the summer of June 2001. Not that Christine was any beauty herself as her father often noted. At five-foot one inch, she was the shortest member of her family and always twenty to twenty-five pounds heavier than she wanted to be. Her hair had already started to turn gray in streaks and her eyes were small and unspectacular. In a way, this was the perfect marriage and the wedding was a blessed event for both families. After all, they were both 39 years old when they married and hope for grandchildren seemed to be disappearing for both grandparents. But love and marriage came to James and Christine and it was a storybook wedding. They moved to Seaside, Florida, and bought a home they called their dream house.
Seaside is in the heart of the 30-A highway that runs along the Northwest Florida coast between Destin and Panama City. It is the birthplace of New Urbanism architecture and town planning in Florida.
The Bennett home was a modest one by Seaside standards, the value just barely seven hundred and fifty dollars. The property “Kano” is a Blue and White Charleston style two-story house with a tower. Inside, there were three queen sized bedrooms, a bunkroom, and three full baths, one of which had a jetted tub. The tower was outfitted with an antique day bed, and was Mary Sue’s favorite daytime hide-a-away. Oak hardwood floors shined from the living room to the bedrooms and there were top-of-the-line kitchen appliances, including a new French-door style refrigerator.
Christine was not a healthy woman and, she was told by the family doctor that the chances of her having a baby were slim. However, three months after the wedding, she was with morning sickness and later that week the doctor confirmed that Christine was indeed pregnant.
James was so happy, he began to become nauseated himself in the morning, shunning breakfast and suddenly getting an appetite for pickles and ice cream and other strange concoctions. The doctor called it sympathy pregnancy. They were an odd pair at the dinner table.
When Mary Sue was born, she was everything her parents dreamed of and a wonderful blessing for her grandparents. A beautiful little girl they could hug and kiss and love and spoil her to their hearts content.
Mary Sue was a gifted child. She walked at eleven months old. She learned to read at three years of age and entered preschool at the age of four, and at five years old, she became an A student in her first grade class which continued until her current fourth grade class. She scored between 95 and 99 on her achievement tests, depending on her mood. She loved to learn. She had a good memory and the ability to learn quickly because she retained everything she learned.
She was already playing the piano like a twenty year old.
Mary Sue had dark high cheekbones and a nose that resembled the great Greek statues of Gods; a feature of which she was very proud. She would, on occasion, hold it high in the air to show her displeasure of a school rule or family law. She had the darkest brown hair among the Bennett family, and she inherited her Uncle Adam’s dimple on her tiny chin.
The night before, she had stayed on the computer until ten PM researching her Composition for her history class, George Washington, the Father of our Country. Her mother finally had to tell her to go to bed.
When Mary Sue awoke that morning, she was excited and ready for her day at school. She ran to the bathroom to take a shower.
James opened the door to her bathroom and called to her.
“Daddy, I’m in the shower!”
“Okay Sweetheart,” James said.. “I just wanted to say goodbye. I’m leaving for work.”
“Goodbye Daddy,” she said. “See you tonight.”
James went down the stairs, kissed his wife and walked out to his car. He had complete faith in life and the world around him. He drove to work humming to a tune on the radio.
Mary Sue Bennett came down the rear circular stairs that led directly to the kitchen, dressed and ready for school with her backpack strapped on her back. She walked to the solid oak wood kitchen table and took the Frosted Flakes box and shook the flakes in a bowl. She poured milk from a carton into the bowl and shoveled two tablespoons into her mouth.
“Do you have to have that back pack on?” her mother said. “Can’t you take that off while you eat?”
“No time,” Mary Sue said. “Big day today.”
“Did you finish your paper on George Washington?”
“I slammed it,” Mary Sue said. “I may get an A+.” She took her last spoon of Frosted Flakes in her mouth and wiped her mouth and chin with a napkin. She rose from the table and adjusted her backpack.
“What’s the safe word?” her mother said.
Mary Sue looked at her mother and shrugged her shoulders.”
“This is important,” her mother said. “What is the safe word a person has to tell you if he says he is supposed to pick you up?”
“It’s not like we have real criminals here in Seaside,” Mary Sue said.
“Rudolpho,” her mother said, “The safe word is Rudolpho.”
“What’s that word?”
“It’s your great grandfather’s name.”
Mary Sue shrugged her shoulders. “Rudolpho, Rudolpho, Rudolpho. I got it,” she said and walked out the door to get the school bus.
Mary Sue looked both ways before she stepped out of the door. Seaside was quiet and beautiful this morning. Even the birds were singing. She walked to the far corner and waited for the school bus. A red van drove by. It had a metal, cartoon termite attached to the roof of the van. The eyes were big and goofy. Mary Sue giggled and the driver smiled at her. She smiled back.
The red van drove to the end of the street, then made a u-turn and drove back to where Mary Sue was standing. He stepped out of the van. He held a tire iron in his wet sweaty right hand. He smiled at Mary Sue, then looked down both ends of the empty street. He gripped the tire iron and swung it hard on Mary Sue’s head, killing her instantly. He caught the body before it hit the ground and quickly threw it on the floorboard of his van. He casually looked ahead of the van, then started the motor and drove away slowly so as not to attract attention.
Mark Conte has had fiction, poetry, articles and guest columns in 67 publications, including Yankee magazine, Crazy Horse, Southern Poetry Review, Potomac Review, Poetry International, Piladelphia Daily News and New York Times. He has two books of poetry, Walking on Water, 1986 and The Judsas Scroll, 2004. He has published three novels, In the Arms of Strangers, 2003, Five Days to Eternity, 2004, Of Flesh and Stone, 2009 and a collection of stories, Delilah and Other Stories. 2001. He was director of the Florida State University Poet series and appointed Master Poet by the Florida Arts Council. He is a member of the Authors Guild and the Academy of American Poets