An excerpt from the novel by Nathan Ripley
I drove my Jeep through the narrow, sloped streets around my home before surrendering to the traffic leading downtown. It wasn’t quite rush hour thick, and I was heading in the right direction, but progress was still slow. At least Seattle drivers can handle rain; throw more than three days of snow at the roads, and it begins to look like the least-fun bumper cars ride you can conceive of. I was heading for a 7-Eleven near the Pemberton, where I’d be meet- ing Sergeant Keith Waring after I finished what I had to do.
I’d gone to California to find the bones of Winnie Mae Friedkin, a hitchhiker who’d vanished in 1976. She’d been one of the many (fourteen, give-or-take) victims of Horace Marks, the dull truck driver who’d spent a year doing conventional pick-up-and-kills along the Pacific Coast Highway. If he had a refrigerated load, he picked up young women in Cali, did what he did, then threw them in the back and waited until reaching Washington State to get rid of them. Not exactly a brilliant strategy, but spreading the distance between kill and burial was a sure way of keeping some of those bodies in the ground forever.
Marks had supposedly forgotten most of the burial sites by the time he was arrested in a nearly botched operation that had eleven plain- clothes female cops nervously extending their thumbs along that high- way in 1977, trolling truck stops for rides from likely psychos, or just pretending to be lot lizards. Marks had picked up Officer Dana Brant just north of Newbury Park, and when he reached his strangling hands toward her, she took a Beretta out of her cowboy boot and shot him in the stomach. He’s still in jail, and still suffers from major digestive issues.
I parked a couple blocks away from the 7-Eleven and started putting on my non-disguise. No facial putty, no wig. Just a toque, glasses, and a hooded rain slicker over the top of my perfectly adequate Barbour jacket. The cut of the jacket was too good: expensive stuff looks expensive, even on a closed-circuit camera. The cops didn’t have the time to put much legwork into tracking the calls I made, but if they ever decided to dedicate hundreds of hours to scanning security footage at the stores that sold these phones, I wanted to be more or less covered.
I made a rainy dodge through alleys where a couple of bums were setting up lean-tos with their shopping carts and lengths of blue tarp, the construction-site discount versions of the expensive forensic plastics I used when I was out on my digs.
One called out “Change?” as I walked by. I passed him two loose dollar bills I had in the back pocket of my jeans. I couldn’t say what he looked like, and he couldn’t say what I looked like; he kept his eye on the cash and I kept mine straight ahead, walking in an unmemorable businessman stride through that dirty alley and then onto the suit-and- umbrella crowded pavement in front of the convenience store. I paid for a disposable cell, preloaded with the minimum number of minutes. I’d be using less than five. Maybe ten if pickup times at 911 were bad.
Winnie May was victim number eight, one of the five Horace Marks couldn’t locate for the cops when they drove him up and down the highway in the months leading up to his trial. The files Keith provided showed that even an idiot like Marks enjoyed the concealing game; he liked having the girls out there, in the ground, a hidden monument to what he’d done. The only time he came close to dropping a hint about one of the girls he supposedly couldn’t locate, it went right past Bobby Flowers, the lieutenant who was grilling Marks with decreasing patience. The transcript likely left out a few well-deserved beatings.
I bought Winnie ice cream. She wanted a sundae, hot fudge, only that. Not a cone. I let her finish it before I did her.
Not much in the way of a clue, but that’s the crucial thing about digging through old files. You have to look for things that cops, smart cops, missed at the time. You have to look for things that cops, smart cops, missed at the time. There’s always at least one or two keen guys in the department who look through the file, scanning for details, hoping to amp up their careers by spotting something everyone else missed. But they’re looking for something important.
I’m looking for something so dull, so trivial and off-the-cuff, it escaped everyone’s ears at the time, and all the scanning eyes that looked at this same file until the cops stop caring about a given victim, when the perp has been in jail for long enough that he’s a memory, not a case. And the girl, the body in the ground, is remembered by barely anyone, just as a grainy picture on a true crime site. And by her parents, who won’t forget her until they’re dead as well.
Reprinted from Nathan Ripley’s Find You in the Dark (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2018).