The Outcast Dead(5)
Author:Elly Griffiths

    ‘By killing them?’ Nelson can’t stop the incredulity creeping into his voice. He suspects Liz Donaldson but the idea that she murdered her children in order to look intelligent seems to him dangerously simplistic. He can just imagine the Defence’s reaction if the CPS tried that one in court.

    Madge remains calm. She once told Nelson that his hostility to her was actually a sign of admiration, even attraction. Since then, Nelson has tried to avoid her as much as possible. The trouble is that Madge is almost always called in on the big cases. Nelson’s boss, Superintendent Whitcliffe, thinks she’s brilliant.

    ‘Women kill for the strangest of reasons,’ she says now, smiling seraphically.

    ‘So do men,’ says Judy. ‘I mean Munchausen’s doesn’t just affect women. What about the husband?’

    ‘Munchausen’s by Proxy primarily affects women,’ says Madge. ‘And I understand the husband wasn’t present when any of the deaths occurred. Which, incidentally, might be a factor. Liz may have been trying to reclaim her husband’s attention. She might also have resented the fact that Bob’s career was going well while hers seemed to have stalled.’

    Madge seems to be on first-name terms with both of the Donaldsons, though they have never met. Once again, career envy seems a very flimsy motive to Nelson. Michelle gave up her job as a hairdresser when their children were born. She’d gone back to it when the girls were at secondary school. As far as Nelson can remember, there hadn’t been any angst about it. It was just what you did.

    ‘It’s all conjecture though, isn’t it?’ says Clough. ‘I mean, there’s no evidence.’

    And that’s the problem. There is no real evidence. They are still waiting for the autopsy on David. The deaths of the first two children were recorded as ‘unexplained’ but Nelson has wheeled in an army of experts who say that the reports could point to asphyxiation. It was this that led Nelson to bring Liz Donaldson in for further questioning. Somehow, though, the press got wind of it and, with no further evidence forthcoming, he has had to release her without charge. He is aware that he walks a knife edge. The press coverage is teetering between evil child killer and wronged mother. One false move and Nelson himself will be the big baddie in all this. Then Whitcliffe will sack him and he’ll still be no nearer to finding out who killed Samuel, Isaac and David.

    Thinking of those names, he says now, ‘Could there be a religious link? All three boys had biblical names.’

    ‘Liz Donaldson isn’t religious,’ says Judy. ‘She had the boys baptised in the Church of England but there’s no record of churchgoing. It’s not as if she was Born Again or,’ a swift glance at Nelson, ‘Catholic.’ Judy, like Nelson, was brought up a Catholic.

    ‘Why pick religious names then?’ says Nelson.

    ‘They’re fashionable aren’t they?’ says Clough, whose first name is David. ‘Lots of kids these days called Noah and Joshua and the like. Doesn’t mean anything.’

    ‘Isaac was almost sacrificed by his father,’ says Tim. ‘Samuel was called by God. David was the chosen one. They’re also all Old Testament prophets.’

    ‘You seem to know a lot about it,’ says Clough.

    ‘I was brought up in a highly religious household,’ says Tim mildly. ‘I’m agnostic myself.’

    That figures, thinks Nelson. He has already noticed that Tim likes to keep his options open.

    ‘That’s an interesting line of thought,’ says Madge, giving Tim a warm smile. ‘The child as sacrifice.’

    Nelson thinks of something Ruth once told him about children being buried under doorways, sacrifices to Janus, the Roman God of beginnings and endings. Aloud he says, ‘This isn’t getting us very far. We’re awaiting the autopsy results on David. If there’s any evidence of suspicious circumstances, we’ll get Liz Donaldson in again. She’s bound to crack soon.’

    ‘I wouldn’t be too sure,’ says Madge. ‘Remember she might almost enjoy pitting her intelligence against yours.’

    Judy snorts, as if implying that Nelson is bound to come off worse in any battle of wits.


    When Nelson gets back to his office, his PA, Leah, tells him that his warlock friend has called.

    ‘Cathbad?’ says Nelson.

    Judy, who is hovering in the doorway, gives an involuntary exclamation.

    Nelson turns. ‘Did you want me, Judy?’

    ‘No.’ Judy backs away.

    Left alone, Nelson calls his friend who is, strictly speaking, a druid and not a warlock. He misses Cathbad, who recently moved to Lancashire. Raving mad though he undoubtedly is, you can always rely on Cathbad for some interesting conversation.

    Cathbad comes straight to the point. ‘Liz Donaldson is innocent.’

    ‘What do you know about it?’

    ‘I just know,’ says Cathbad, maddeningly elliptical as ever.

    ‘Oh, OK then. I’ll call off the enquiry. Nice of you to call.’

    ‘Sarcasm is a defence mechanism, Nelson.’

    ‘I need all the defences I can get.’

    ‘I know Liz Donaldson,’ says Cathbad, softening slightly. ‘She’s a lovely person. It’s unthinkable that she should do something like this.’

    But the unthinkable does happen, thinks Nelson. I think about it all the time. Aloud he says, ‘I can’t discuss the case with you, Cathbad.’

    Cathbad sighs. All the way from the north, Nelson’s country. ‘Be careful, Nelson,’ he says.

    ‘Careful of what?’

    ‘If you convict an innocent woman, you’ll be cursed.’

    This, Nelson knows, is not a joke.


    Ruth begins the long drive home in a less than placid frame of mind. She had been looking forward to a peaceful day’s digging but Phil has ruined it by hanging around with his TV pal, asking stupid questions.

    ‘Find anything interesting?’ Mark peered into the trench, scuffing the perfect edges with his trendy red converse.

    ‘Some glass,’ replied Ruth, pointing to the neat row of objects on the tarpaulin. ‘Looks Victorian.’

    ‘Why would there be glass buried here?’

    Ruth sighed. ‘All sorts of reasons. It’s in the topsoil which is just a jumble of accumulated objects, rubbish, builder’s debris, that sort of thing. There may be no association with the body at all.’

    ‘What if you found something really exciting? Her diary, for instance?’

    Ruth didn’t ask why Jemima Green’s diary would have been buried with her. It’s possible that the woman couldn’t even read and highly unlikely that she kept notes of her crimes. Feb 8th 1866 Busy day. Went to market, scrubbed floor, killed a child. Instead she said, dryly, ‘That really would be a significant find. Excuse me. I must get on.’

    When Mark saw her brushing dirt from a piece of bone, his excitement knew no bounds.

    ‘Is that human? Looks like a child’s.’

    ‘Animal,’ said Ruth. ‘Probably a sheep.’

    ‘I’d love to have some shots of Ruth cleaning bones,’ said Mark to Phil. ‘Do you have any spare bones we could use?’

    ‘Oh we’ve got lots of bones,’ said Phil heartily. ‘Bones all over the shop in our department. Isn’t that right, Ruth?’

    Ruth ignored him.

    As a matter of fact, Ruth did find something rather interesting in the trench. Luckily she made the discovery when Phil and Mark were at lunch (she’d declined the invitation to join them though Ted had acquiesced on hearing the word ‘pub’). She was just thinking about sitting down for a solitary sandwich when she saw something glinting amongst the chalky soil. Brushing away the dirt she saw that it was a medallion, silver alloy perhaps, tarnished and green with age. Ruth peered at it, trying to make out the image. It seemed to show two heads. Madonna and child? St Christopher? Didn’t he carry the infant Jesus somewhere (to a soft-play centre perhaps)? She thought of Janus, the two-faced god and of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, sometimes depicted with three heads. Or could the image be something more unusual and more sinister? She sat back on her haunches, thinking. There was no guarantee that this medal belonged to Jemima Green but it was found at about the right depth. In any case, it was a curiosity. She imagined Mark’s frenzied excitement: ‘Was Mother Hook a devil worshipper?’ On a sudden impulse she slipped the medal into her pocket.

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