Author:Michael Connelly
    An Original Story

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    The saying goes that hope springs eternal. So too with homicide. At the Los Angeles Police Department, a decade of successes by the Open-Unsolved Unit in closing old and sometimes forgotten murder cases created a steady stream of inquiries from the loved ones of victims. They came from around the world, from any place there was an unquenched desire for justice. Every day came the calls and e-mails and even visits. People asking about cases, hoping to spark the interest of the squad that investigated the past, seeking its hidden killers.

    So high was the tide of hope for justice and closure that the OU Unit could not handle all the inquiries and still dedicate the time needed to the actual investigations. The department dug into the budget and hired a sorter—that is, a civilian employee who worked out of the OCP, the Office of the Chief of Police, and sorted through the dozens of requests that came in each week, sometimes each day.

    The sorter’s name was Emily Robertson and her main tools for dealing with case inquiries were the department’s murder logs. These leather-bound books contained a chronological list of every murder committed in the City of Angels going back to 1896. One page, one murder. There were more than fifty of these somber volumes on the shelves behind Emily’s desk. When an inquiry came to her or was referred to her— whether it was a phone call, an e-mail, or a walk-in—it was Emily’s job to find the reference to the case in the murder logs. By confirming the case and the year of the crime, Emily then knew which detective team in the Open-Unsolved Unit she should refer the inquiry to for follow-up. Each of the eight teams in the unit was assigned specific years of responsibility. Any unsolved cases from its assigned years went to that detective team.

    Sometimes the follow-up took weeks, sometimes months. Every detective in the unit carried a sizable caseload, with investigations under way at varying stages. With more than six thousand unsolved murders on the books, there was no shortage of work. If the referred case proved workable—that is, if there was evidence that bore analysis with contemporary technologies and investigative techniques—then Emily would step out of the picture as the detectives took over. If the review of the case determined that there was no means of proceeding or evidence to analyze, then it was referred back to Emily, who had the difficult task of informing a family or a loved one that the case still remained unsolved and unworkable—a dead end.

    Detective Harry Bosch enjoyed the sight of Emily Robertson when she came into the squad room each Friday morning with the week’s sorting of inquiries. Not only did it mean the possibility of fresh cases for him to work, but he also liked talking with Emily. She was an attractive woman of about forty. She was too young for Bosch, though he could still think about it.

    The main attraction for Bosch, however, was that she spoke with emotional fervor about the cases she had sorted and the people who had come to her. She was the gateway between people whose questions had gone unanswered for so long and the detectives they hoped would bring resolution. The bottom line was that although Emily was not a detective, she understood the mission. That everybody counted or nobody counted. She seemed to take every case to heart, and that was a pitch over the plate to Harry Bosch. Indeed, the word around the squad was that Emily had seen a newspaper story announcing the sorting position and left a successful career as a legal secretary to take the job at a considerable reduction in pay.

    The Billy Ratliff case began for Bosch with Emily. On a Friday morning more than a year ago, she entered the OU squad room with the usual stack of green files she had prepared, one for each case she had sorted. Bosch watched her from his cubicle and waited. His partner that day was on vacation, so Harry waited patiently by himself to see if a file or two would come to him. Emily made her way around the room, dispensing files, sometimes with a conversation, sometimes leaving a file on an empty desk because the corresponding detectives were out in the field or off duty.

    She waited to come to Bosch last. She had one file left in her hand when she arrived at his cubicle.

    “Good morning, Detective Bosch.”

    “Good morning, Emily. When are you going to start calling me Harry?”

    “I’m sorry. I always forget. Harry.”

    She nodded, as if trying the name out and seeing if it worked.

    “What do you have there?”

    She handed him the green file.

    “There is not a lot in there. This one was anonymous—came in yesterday. He didn’t say much but I was able to find the case. Nineteen ninety-two. One of your years.”

    “Sure is.”

    Bosch opened the file. It contained only two sheets of paper. One was a photocopy of the page from the murder log where she had found the case recorded. The other page was just a few notes from the anonymous call she had received. Bosch read this page first.



    vic: “Billy” 1991–95 Hollywood—stabbed

    “Patrick Sewell killed that boy.”

    That was it. Bosch looked up at Emily and smiled.

    “You know, maybe next time you get one of these, you should transfer it down here,” he said. “This doesn’t sound like a family member. This is a tip and it should’ve gone to the tip line, where officers take the info and can ask questions, or if it’s an old case like this, just transfer it down here.”

    She nodded.

    “I know, I know. I tried to put him on hold so I could transfer the call and he said he wouldn’t hold. He said, ‘I told you all I have to say,’ and then he hung up.”

    Bosch frowned.

    “And you think you got the name right?”

    “I think so. He said it twice. He said, ‘Patrick Sewell killed that boy. Patrick Sewell.’”

    “Okay. So he gave the suspect’s full name twice but only a partial on the victim’s. Just Billy.”

    “Right. And there were a lot of murders in the nineties. I started looking through them all until I saw the name. They didn’t know who it was at first, then they updated it with the name. William Ratliff. I think this is the case. I didn’t find any other unsolved cases in the Hollywood area with a victim named Billy or William.”

    Bosch nodded again and looked back down at the file to read the entries on the log page.

    187 W/M 20s—08:40 2/9/92—1628 N. Vine

    R/O Whitcomb (6A67) called to scene by city building inspector Oscar Reyes. Victim in abandoned/burned restaurant (Brown Derby). Victim stabbed multiple times torso/c. Wrists bound behind back. Victim naked. Hollywood 187—Rodgers/Quinlan.

    Bosch knew that the famed Old Hollywood restaurant where the body had been found had been destroyed during the 1992 riots. It stood partially intact afterward but was abandoned except by the homeless for almost another two years before being leveled and turned into a parking lot.

    Bosch distantly remembered the murder as the Brown Derby case. This was not because of any involvement on his part in the investigation in 1992 but because he had reviewed the stored evidence and case records—contained in a binder called a murder book—when he was assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit and given responsibility for the year 1992. He rated the cases he reviewed on a scale of one to five, with a five designation meaning there was highly viable forensic evidence that could be followed up on. But his memory at the moment was that he had rated the Brown Derby case a one or a two after he ran fingerprints collected at the crime scene and got no matches in the data banks, where millions of prints were stored. He didn’t recall there being any DNA or other evidence worth pursuing using modern technology and science.

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