The Outcast Dead(4)
Author:Elly Griffiths

    ‘A boy. Just over a year old.’

    ‘Keep him safe,’ Liz Donaldson had said. ‘Keep him safe.’


    Phil is already at the site by the time Ruth arrives in the morning. The dig was originally a low-key affair, organised because the council wanted to build new public toilets. Usually in these situations the archaeologists’ role is simple: they come in before the builders, survey the area for any unusual features and dig a few trenches. There is an unspoken agreement that unless they unearth the lost ark of the covenant, building work will continue regardless. All the archaeologists can do is mark the find and take samples for posterity. Ruth often thinks that there must be multistorey car parks and office blocks all over the country built on top of Roman farmsteads and dead kings. But, as with everything, money talks and building contractors tend to have more money than archaeologists. Toilets are more important than old bones.

    But the possible discovery of Mother Hook has changed everything. As she walks down the slope, Ruth sees not only her head of department but the county archaeologist and a man in red spectacles taking photos with a digital camera. Ted is also there, drinking coffee from a flask and looking sardonic.

    ‘Here she is,’ says Phil with massive bonhomie, almost managing to convey the impression that Ruth is late though she is, in fact, five minutes early.

    She walks over to the trench, which is fenced off from the main picnic area. Behind them the cafe rises up out of the grass like a giant glass bubble, and opposite, across the bridge, the castle squats, square and secretive. They excavated the woman’s body yesterday. Now samples have been sent for Carbon 14 and DNA testing. Ruth’s job today is to examine the context, the grave cut, looking for clues in the infill, searching for any objects – glass, pottery, coins – that might help her to date the burial. She would like to be able to get on with this in peace but Phil is still hovering excitedly. Ruth notes that he is dressed in his best Indiana Jones casuals – safari shorts and a short-sleeved shirt – though she can’t remember the last time that she saw him do any actual digging.

    ‘Mark, let me introduce you to Ruth. Mark, this is Dr Ruth Galloway, Head of Forensic Archaeology. Ruth, this is Mark Gates.’ Voice lowered reverently. ‘A TV researcher.’

    Blimey, thinks Ruth, that was quick. Phil must have been on the phone as soon as he saw the bones. She shakes hands with Mark Gates who looks at her appraisingly, as if considering how she’ll look on TV. Probably wondering where he can get a wide angle lens.

    ‘So you’re the lady who discovered the bones,’ Mark is saying.

    Ruth doesn’t like to be called a lady, but it’s too soon to get into that sort of conversation and she doesn’t want Phil to start rolling his eyes in a humorous ‘man surrounded by feminists’ way so she just smiles and says yes, she excavated the skeleton but there are still lots of tests to be done.

    ‘But you’re almost certain that it’s Jemima Green, Mother Hook?’

    ‘Well, the dates seem about right …’ begins Ruth but Phil cuts in, ‘Oh, absolutely certain. A woman with a hook for a hand. Who else could it be?’

    ‘Captain Hook in drag?’ suggests Ted from the trench. Phil ignores him.

    ‘Because if it is her,’ says Mark, addressing himself to Ruth, ‘my programme would be very interested. Very interested indeed. It would tie in with one of our specials.’

    What is his programme, wonders Ruth. He doesn’t look as if he’s from Time Team. Probably some academic archaeology series. On the History Channel perhaps.

    ‘What programme’s that?’ asks Ted.

    ‘Women Who Kill,’ says Mark, allowing a certain ghoulish relish to enter his voice.


    Nelson is also discussing women who kill. Unfortunately for him the discussion is with Madge Hudson, criminal profiler, privately described by Nelson as Queen of the Bleeding Obvious. Also present are DS Judy Johnson, DS Dave Clough, DS Tim Heathfield. Tim joined the team at the start of the year, transferring from Blackpool where he had been the protégé of Nelson’s old friend Sandy MacLeod. He has proved a good addition to the squad, calm and professional, always respectful to his colleagues, deferring to their local knowledge. But there’s no doubt that Judy and Clough are both wary of him. Clough distrusts new people on principle, if they are men and graduates, fitter and better-looking than him, his suspicion hardens into open hostility. Judy, who Nelson thought might get on with Tim, seems even more dubious. Their shared resentment has made Judy and Clough draw closer, a miracle in itself, Nelson thinks. He doesn’t know how Tim feels about his new teammates. Apart from one slightly cynical comment about being ‘the only black policeman in Norfolk’ Tim has shown no sign of not fitting into his new environment. His smooth, polite manner makes it oddly difficult to ask personal questions but Nelson supposes that he ought to try.

    Now Madge beams round the table, blissfully unaware of the cross-currents of antipathy.

    ‘We’re looking at a woman here,’ she begins, reaching, in Nelson’s opinion, new heights of Bleeding Obvious ‘A woman suspected of killing three of her children. Now a woman who kills her children is often suffering from depression.’

    You don’t say, thinks Nelson. There was him thinking that infanticide was a sign that everything was going well.

    ‘But often they can present a very good facade. Looking perfect can be very important to them.’

    Despite himself, Nelson thinks of Liz Donaldson’s spotless house. She had been wearing slippers, he remembers, so as not to spoil the carpets.

    ‘Are we talking about Munchausen’s?’ asks Tim.

    Clough gives him a dark look, which Nelson notices. Clough always becomes irritated when Tim uses words that are more than two syllables long.

    ‘Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy,’ corrects Madge. ‘I think it’s possible. Munchausen’s,’ she turns to Clough, ‘is a psychiatric disorder where the subject feigns illness in order to gain attention. In the case of Munchausen’s by Proxy they feign illness in other people, often children, sometimes actually causing the illness themselves.’

    ‘I know what it is,’ snaps Clough. ‘There was that case of a nurse, wasn’t there?’

    ‘Liz Donaldson’s a nurse,’ says Nelson before he can stop himself.

    ‘Beverley Allitt,’ nods Madge, ‘convicted of murdering four children in her care and attempting to kill three others. One theory was that she was suffering from Munchausen’s by Proxy.’

    ‘Still got life though, didn’t she,’ says Clough.

    ‘Yes, she was detained at Rampton Secure Hospital. The Judge recommended a minimum of forty years. Actually DCI Nelson makes a good point.’

    Nelson looks as surprised as anyone to hear this.

    ‘Individuals with Munchausen’s often have some medical knowledge. Liz Donaldson was a nurse. She’d know about symptoms and treatment. She’d know exactly what the doctors and nurses were looking for.’

    ‘That was a long time ago,’ says Judy. ‘She hasn’t worked since her first child was born.’

    ‘That could be significant in itself,’ says Madge. ‘She may have missed the kudos of being a nurse. She may have wanted to prove that she was as clever, or cleverer, than the medical staff attending her children.’

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