Switchblade(2)
Author:Michael Connelly


    Below the initial entry was a short second paragraph added to the log by Homicide detectives Rodgers and Quinlan after an initial assessment of the case and identification of the victim had been confirmed.

    02/10/92 additional—victim ID through fingerprints

    William Ratliff—dob 7/14/73

    multiple 646(b) 92-94

    SID 94-00064 (prints, clothing, knife, tape)

    No suspects at this time



    The second entry meant that the nineteen-year-old victim had been identified through fingerprints that matched those taken during multiple arrests for prostitution and soliciting. It also mentioned that the Scientific Investigation Division was processing all evidence from the crime scene. The shorthand on the entry indicated this included all collected fingerprints, the victim’s clothing, a switchblade knife that may have been the murder weapon, and the tape that had been used to bind him.

    “What do you think?”

    Bosch looked up at Emily, who was still standing next to his cubicle.

    “Well,” he said. “I remember this case and—”

    “You were a detective in ’92?”

    There was genuine surprise in her voice.

    “It was only twenty years ago,” he said, smiling. “I actually was on the homicide table at Hollywood Division and worked with these guys, Rodgers and Quinlan. But it wasn’t my case, and that’s not why I remember it. What I meant was that I remember reviewing this case when I was transferred to this unit and ’92 became one of my years. I looked through all the open cases from that year. There were a lot. We had the riots that year. Anyway, I looked at this one and I don’t remember there being any workable leads. I don’t remember this name—Patrick Sewell—being in the file.”

    “Okay. Is there anything you can do with it?”

    Bosch shrugged.

    “I’ll follow up, see if I can find out who this guy Patrick Sewell is and go from there.”

    “Okay.”

    “Meantime, if the anonymous tipster calls you again, try to get him to me. Tell him a detective needs to talk to him.”

    “Okay, I will.”

    “Thanks, Emily. You have a good day.”

    “You too, Harry.”

    Bosch smiled because she had used his first name.





    The evidence box from archives took three days to get to Bosch after he formally made the request. By then he had already pulled the murder book from the Records Division and reviewed the case again. Billy Ratliff was a homeless kid who ended up on the streets of Hollywood at age fifteen. He was small in stature with blond hair and a toothy smile. He fell in with a group of fellow runaways who squatted in abandoned apartments and buildings and sometimes lived in city parks and homeless shelters. They were drug users and panhandlers and prostitutes. Billy was known to engage in all three activities and was in and out of juvenile halls and then jails after he turned eighteen. He always came back to the boulevard and the so-called “rat pack” in which he eventually served, as the oldest, in the capacity of alpha male.

    The investigative theory contained in the murder book was that Billy’s street life took a fatal turn when he crossed paths with a psychopath who took him into the kitchen of a closed restaurant for an exchange of sex for money or drugs. According to the autopsy report, Ratliff was stabbed seven times in the chest and torso with a rage and ferocity that were evidenced by indentations in the wounds made by the hilt of the killer’s knife. The murder was classified as a hate crime because a psychological profile of the killing drawn up by a department shrink concluded that it was likely motivated by homophobic rage.

    No next-of-kin notification was ever made in the case. Members of the rat pack provided little investigative help about the crime and were not even sure where Ratliff was from, though records at a youth shelter called My Friend’s Place had a file on Ratliff that said he was from Long Beach. Rodgers and Quinlan could never locate anyone from Billy Ratliff’s family. Nobody claimed his body and it was cremated at taxpayers’ expense.

    Nowhere in the murder book did Bosch find the name Patrick Sewell. It never came up in interviews and wasn’t in the routine harvest of names of local miscreants and possible suspects known to be operating in the Hollywood area at the time. The detectives also pulled lists of suspects in other hate crimes that occurred in Hollywood in the previous year and nowhere did Sewell come up on the radar.

    Despite there being no mention of Sewell in the murder book, Bosch had no trouble tracking him down twenty years later. A check of law enforcement databases spit out a Patrick Sewell serving a life sentence at San Quentin for a murder committed in Orange County four years after the Billy Ratliff killing. Bosch requested the case records from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and learned that the murder Sewell was in prison for was the stabbing of a man Sewell had picked up at a gay bar in Irvine.

    The case had several similarities to the Ratliff murder, most notably that both victims had been homosexuals stabbed with a switchblade and that rage was clearly part of the motivation. In the Orange County case, Sewell had stabbed the victim with such force that at one point his hand slipped over the hilt of the knife and he cut himself, transferring his own blood to the victim and leaving the evidence that would help convict him.

    This gave Bosch an idea. Ratliff had been cremated, so there was no going to the interred body to look for evidence. But according to the evidence report in the murder book, the switchblade had been found at the crime scene submerged in an industrial-size sink full of rancid water. It was surmised that the suspect had attempted to clean the weapon in the dark waters of the sink and left it there in panic or so that he would not be found in possession of it.

    When the stored evidence from the Ratliff case arrived from archives, Bosch found that the sealed box contained the switchblade along with Ratliff’s clothes and the gray duct tape that had been used to bind and gag him. Bosch’s name was on the chain-of-custody receipt on the box. He had been the last one to open it seven years before while he was reviewing unsolved cases from the years assigned to him.

    Back then he was quickly going through cases, looking for obvious investigative points of origin such as fingerprints and DNA sources. This time was different. This time he would go deeper. He had a clue to work with now.

    Bosch took the entire box to the Regional Crime Lab, where he left its contents with various experts—the clothing to be viewed under lighting that would make body fluids fluoresce, the duct tape to be checked by specialists using new methods to expose fingerprints and fibers, and the switchblade to be examined by a DNA expert.

    The knife was most intriguing to Bosch. Though ostensibly cleaned by the killer and left submerged in contaminated water for an estimated nineteen hours—the span from time of death to discovery of the body by a city inspector and then the draining of the sink by a crime scene tech—there was still a chance that microscopic DNA could be found on the weapon. The knife was cheaply made and stamped HECHO EN MEXICO on the blade. It had been found in the closed position, meaning sometime between the murder and the weapon’s abandonment it had been closed, presumably by the killer. Bosch pointed this out to the DNA intake tech he brought it to and asked him to check the channel in the knife’s handle where the blade was hidden when not extended.

    A week later Bosch received a call at his desk from a criminalist at the crime lab. His name was Jack Hardy and he said he had been given the task of disassembling the switchblade from the Ratliff case.

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