Killer In Pair-A-Dice
March 10, 2000
Juanita Hernandez left her job as the manager of a women's clothing store at a quarter after ten on Friday night. The store, located in the Southgate Mall, catered to women who required plus-size clothing. She loved the pleased expressions on the faces of the women as they left her shop, outfitted with clothes that made them look slimmer and sexier than they had ever thought possible.
Clothing and customers weren't on her mind on this night, however. Her thoughts were on the brand new Mustang convertible she'd picked up from the dealer before coming to work that afternoon, the very first new car she had ever owned. She was looking forward to getting home, where her two teenage daughters were waiting for her to pick them up and take them cruising up and down the Vegas Strip. Thinking these pleasant thoughts, Juanita started across the parking lot.
To avoid any unnecessary dings in the Mustang's midnight blue paint, she'd parked on the far side of the lot, an area utilized only during the Christmas shopping season or special sales. When the Mustang finally came into view, the dazzling white top reminded her of one of Mount Charleston's snow-capped peaks.
As she approached the car, she was gripped by a sense of apprehension. Had some delinquent decided to run a key down its side for sport? Although the lighting was poor, Juanita decided to check her baby for damage before driving away.
Having backed into the parking space, she began her inspection at the front of the car. She slowly worked her way down the passenger side to the rear of the vehicle. A slight smile crossed her face; so far, so good. Stopping to examine the trunk, Juanita's back was to the row of palm trees and shrubs lining the perimeter of the parking lot.
There was a sudden blur as something flashed in front of her eyes. This was immediately followed by pressure on her throat, accompanied by pain as rope fibers bit into her neck. She gasped in shock. Her hand lost its grip on her purse and it fell to the pavement with a thud.
A masculine voice growled into her ear, "I'm not going to hurt you. Don't scream or fight and you'll be okay, understand?" The question was accompanied by a noticeable increase in the pressure on her throat.
"Please don't hurt me." Her voice quivered as she fought against the panic that threatened to overcome her. "You can have whatever I've got. Just don't hurt me, please."
"That's a smart girl," the assailant said as the force on her neck decreased. His voice had become calm and confident. "I just need your help with something. If you do what I ask and don't give me a hard time, everything will be fine."
"I'll do whatever you say," Juanita promised. She was beginning to recover from her initial shock, trying to evaluate the situation and what she could do about it. One thing was obvious; the attacker could kill her in an instant. She'd have to be very cautious. "I'll do whatever you say," she repeated.
There was another blur as the instrument was deftly removed from her throat. "I think I can trust you. Just remember to behave yourself. Don't make me do something we'll both regret." He grabbed Juanita's left elbow with his right hand and led her away, the purse forgotten on the ground.
He steered her past the palm trees to the undeveloped area beyond. As they walked, Juanita knew she had made a mistake. She should have resisted while still in the parking lot. After he'd freed her neck, she should have screamed at the top of her lungs and tried to escape. She should have punched, clawed, kicked or bitten the assailant, whatever it took to get away. But she hadn't. Fear and shock had left her unable to act. Now she was even farther from any possibility of help. The ground was uneven and strewn with rocks. Even if she could pull away, she'd have little chance of outrunning anybody in her high heels and tight skirt. For now she decided to concentrate on being able to identify the attacker to the police.
Juanita glanced sideways at the man. Even in the semi-darkness she could tell he was white and young, in his late twenties at most. His face was clean-shaven, with dark hair worn short. She considered him to be good looking. She was five-foot-five; he was at least a half-foot taller. He appeared to have an athletic build and was dressed in a dark windbreaker and jeans. She absorbed what she could, then looked away. She didn't want him to suspect what she was doing.
"Sharp car you've got," he commented, his tone conversational.
"Thanks, I just picked it up today," she replied reflexively.
"Did you buy or lease?"
Although the conversation was surreal, it was helping her relax. Her heart rate slowed, strength returned to her legs. He sounded like a normal person rather than a monster. Maybe making friends with him would be a good idea. "It's mine, mine and the bank's," she answered, looking at him again, imbedding his profile in her mind.
The man chuckled. "Very few of us really own anything ourselves, do we?"
Before Juanita could answer, she stepped on a large rock; her ankle twisted and she lost her balance. The man increased his grip on her elbow while stepping in front of her, face to face, blocking her fall. "Are you okay?" he asked after steadying her.
"I think I sprained my ankle. It hurts," she said, his handsome face now also filed away.
"We've only got a little farther to go," he said. He repositioned himself, his left hand on her elbow, his right arm crossing behind her shoulders and under her right arm. As he tightened his embrace, Juanita felt his hand brush across her breast. Even through her jacket and blouse, the touch made her uncomfortable.
Several yards ahead the shape of a vehicle emerged. A few more steps and they were there. The man propped Juanita against the side of the black Bronco while he opened the passenger door. "Get in," he ordered, helping her into the seat. Closing the door, he walked around to the driver side and took his place behind the steering wheel. He removed something from the pocket of his windbreaker and tossed it in the back seat.
"Was that what you choked me with?" she asked, running her right index finger over the furrow around her throat.
"What is it?"
"What difference does it make?" he asked irritably.
"You could have killed me with that thing!" she complained.
"If I'd wanted you dead, you'd be dead. Since you're not, don't worry about it." His comment served to reassure her. He didn't want her dead.
The kidnapper started the engine. As soon as he did, Juanita heard the power lock for her door activate. She stealthily groped for the lock button. She wanted to know in her mind that she could open it if needed.
"Don't bother. Your switch is disabled." Soon the Bronco was in motion.
After several seconds of a very rocky ride, they gained the pavement of Sunset Road. "Why this?" Juanita asked, holding up the hem of the bed sheet draped over her seat. He looked at her but didn't answer. They turned off Sunset Road and headed south on U.S. 95.
Neither spoke during the short distance before the kidnapper exited the highway. "Where are we going? What do you want with me?" Juanita demanded, breaking the silence.
The kidnapper turned his head partially in her direction, able to look at her and watch the road at the same time. "You have nice legs and a very attractive figure," he replied.
Juanita pulled her skirt down self-consciously. In a way, he had answered her question. What did he want with her? Robbery? No, that could have been done in the parking lot. Ransom? That was ridiculous! She had no money and her family had no money. She narrowed his motive down to one thing...rape. She shuddered involuntarily, at the same time steeling herself for what was going to happen. Okay you bastard, she thought. I'm no virgin and I can wash your filth away with soap and water. I'll moan and groan and make you feel like a super-stud. But after it's all over, I'm going to make sure you go to prison for the rest of your damn life!
Juanita was abruptly brought out of her thoughts by a sudden change in the quality of the ride. The Bronco began bouncing over rough terrain. She checked their surroundings and realized they had left the main road and were climbing the dirt track up Black Mountain. She'd read somewhere that there was nothing on the top but a few television transmitters. There would be no people, no chance for help. Her thoughts turned to her children, and she strengthened her resolve to withstand what was to come.
"Get out," the kidnapper ordered. His voice had become harsh and without compassion.
Juanita grimaced in pain as she put weight on her ankle, now badly swollen. "Ouch," she said as he pushed her out of the way to remove the sheet from her seat.
"You'll be on your back in a minute, don't worry about it!" he said bluntly.
He left her leaning against the Bronco while he walked a few feet away to spread the sheet over the hard ground. Black Mountain was every bit as desolate as she had imagined. The lights of Henderson and Las Vegas reflecting off the fluffy white clouds provided sufficient illumination to see that there was nothing to see. They were several yards from the peak, unable to look down on what, under normal circumstances, would be a breathtaking view of the Vegas Valley. The gentle breeze was cold. The temperature in Vegas had dropped from a daytime high of sixty-four to the current forty-five. It was even chillier on the mountain. Other than the breeze, the only noise came from the crunching sound of the kidnapper's feet as he walked back to the Bronco.
As she was being led to the sheet, Juanita almost asked again what the kidnapper wanted of her. She stopped herself, realizing that at this point the question would be stupid. "Get on your back. Raise your skirt and take off your panties," came the command.
While she obeyed, he undressed down to his T-shirt. As he was removing his clothes, his thoughts turned to another woman, a woman from his past. The memories caused a rage within him, a rage he had to fight to control. In a few minutes the bitch on the sheet would get what she deserved, what all women deserved.
"Spread your legs!" he ordered Juanita.
"Can't we warm-up a little first, make it more fun?" She was hoping he'd develop an emotional connection to her.
"Shut up and do what you're told!" Getting on his knees between her legs, he was quickly inside of her, pumping his hips furiously.
He was hurting her, but she followed her plan. "Oooh, oooh," she moaned, trying to match his thrusts. "You're good, baby. Soooo good!" Her feigned passion seemed to work as his pace increased. She continued her act, but after several minutes he withdrew. To her dismay, she knew she had failed to satisfy him. For the next hour there were several more attempts at sex, both oral and vaginal, with the same result. She sensed he was becoming very frustrated, but couldn't think of anything more she could do.
Abandoning the most recent effort, he got up and walked away. She stayed still, hoping that he'd believed her performance and wouldn't blame her for his disappointment. When the rapist returned, he sat straddling her chest, his buttocks resting on her stomach, just below the rib cage. He positioned his knees on her upper arms, pinning them to the ground. "It's almost over," he said softly.
Juanita yelped in pain as her arms were pushed into the hard-packed dirt under the sheet, and his weight crushed her. She looked up into his face, searching for an explanation. When she saw his expression, she knew she would not leave the mountain alive. For the first time since her ordeal began, she screamed. She fought to free her arms and her legs thrashed.
The rapist stayed atop her, leaning his weight one way or another to maintain his balance, a smile on his face. In less than a minute Juanita tired and her gyrations stopped. Her sobs of despair continued, carried down the mountain by the breeze, but they would not be heard by other human ears.
As he stared down at her, he remembered the other woman. The words of passion she had used with other men rang in his ears. His smile was quickly replaced by a snarl. "Shut up! Shut the fuck up," he shouted. His right fist smashed into her face over and over. When his fury subsided, he sat still, breathing heavier after his exertion.
Juanita lay silent, chest heaving. Her mouth was filled with blood from her cracked lips. It was difficult to breathe through her broken nose. The fight drained out of her. She said a silent goodbye to her daughters and then began to pray as she awaited her fate.
The rapist continued to watch his now-docile victim while his breathing returned to normal. He placed his hands around her throat and began to squeeze, increasing the pressure gradually, his face expressionless. She again tried to fight, but her resistance was weak and short-lived. When he sensed her going under, he relaxed his grip slightly, allowing her to gulp some air. Then the snarl returned.
"Die you whore! Die!" he shouted, as he resumed the choking with a vengeance. This time he didn't stop until Juanita Hernandez was dead.
The killer maintained his position on top of the lifeless body. For the first time that night he had a total release, his semen soiling the dead woman's blouse and skirt.
* * * * *
Detective Steve Garneau's home phone rang at quarter after six Saturday morning. Just out of bed, he was in the kitchen preparing a pot of coffee. His boss, Lieutenant Dan Daniels, was on the line. Daniels came directly to the point.
"I've got one for you, Steve. A female body was found wrapped in a sheet at Russell Road and Boulder right before six. It was likely dumped there. Looks like strangulation and probably rape."
The location where the body had been found was a short distance from Garneau's house on East Twain Avenue. "I can be there in twenty minutes, Lieutenant."
"Okay, Steve. I'll call Terry and have her meet you there." Theresa Bolton - Terry - was Garneau's partner.
"I appreciate that, Lieutenant. Is everybody else already on the way?"
"Patrol units have established the crime scene. The evidence techs will probably beat you there. It's your call on when to have the coroner's people come out, Steve. There's a good chance this case may be tied in with a missing persons report from last night. I'll have that woman's driver's license sent out to you for possible identification."
"The media know about this yet?"
"I don't think so. I'll be heading there myself in a little while. If they do show up, I won't let them become a nuisance."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. I'll see ya later."
Garneau hung up the phone and headed for the bathroom to grab a quick shave, brush his teeth and comb his hair. As he padded by the open bedroom door, his wife, Chris, called out to him in a sleepy voice, "Work?"
"Yes, honey. I don't know when I'll be back, but it'll probably be quite a while. You and Becky are on your own. I'll catch up with you later."
"Okay," she answered, propped up on one elbow. She wasn't particularly happy that the phone call had interrupted the family plans for the day, but accepted that it was part of his job. She dropped her head to the pillow and was almost immediately asleep.
Steve Garneau was forty-seven, a year older than his wife. Their one child, Rebecca, had recently turned fourteen. The Garneaus were originally from upstate New York. Steve was a veteran cop in the city of Oneida in 1992 when representatives of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department made a sweep of the area. They were recruiting experienced police officers from across the country to join their team. The total package they offered had been too good to turn down. Steve and Chris made their decision and never looked back.
During three years with Metro in the Patrol Division, he had developed a reputation as a first-rate cop. Intelligent and dedicated, he was also blessed with common sense. Steve's attributes did not go unnoticed. He was promoted to detective and assigned to the homicide squad in the Crimes Against Persons Bureau. He had never been happier in his law enforcement career.
Ten minutes after the call from Daniels, Steve Garneau left his house. Clad in a white shirt, brown slacks and a sport coat and tie, he got in the unmarked police car parked in the driveway and started the engine. After radioing the communications center and reporting himself on duty, he headed for the crime scene.