WHEN IS A MURDER NOT A MURDER
When the police rushed into 116 Buddleia Avenue they found Louise Slater lying on the sofa dead with Jim Slater beating her and cursing furiously. He was taken into custody on suspicion of murder, it seemed a straightforward case, although DCI. Miller wasn't so sure. When the lab results came back he was even more puzzled.
‘ Everything alright boss?’ DI. Gill asked,
‘ Post mortem results on Mrs. Slater, inconclusive as yet but it turns out her old man couldn't have killed her.’
Gill looked up from his desk, ‘What? but he..’
Miller pushed his chair back, ‘ She died a few hours before we were called out. He was in town at the time at the chiropodist, all verified. It seems like what we found was some sort of outburst of grief.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘Back home I expect.’
Dave Gill squinted at his friend and boss, 'I'd say, “that's that then”, but I know that look, you've got something on your mind.’
That Look- of Miller’s was impenetrable until he had worked out what he thought, which was often crazy and usually right. ‘Mmm something, don't know what; but there's more to this. See if you can find out anything about the Slaters.’
He found out a lot about the Slaters over the next couple of weeks. Speaking to neighbors, local proprietors and Mrs Slaters’ friends he pieced together a very sad picture.
Miller tossed the findings down, 'Jim Slater, what a piece of dog dirt, and his wife, an angel, why did she stay with him?’
Gill walked over from the filing cabinet, ‘ Well I just found out last night that she left him for another bloke about 20 years ago, and Slater being the loving forgiving type ha ha, had her back. And never let her forget it, but from what I gathered he’d treated her badly before that.’
Miller got up and paced around, 'This is all very strange: he didn't love his wife, he seemed to despise her for some reason, and yet he was in such a state when we found him.’
‘Maybe he was overcome with guilt or remorse,’ Gill offered.
Miller shook his head, 'He should have been but he seemed angry.’
Gill asked whether Slater might have been angry with himself, but Miller was thinking and heard nothing.
A couple of weeks later Gill had some news:
‘Interesting development boss, Jim Slater has been admitted to mental hospital.’
‘Really? what's up with him?’
‘The neighbors had been hearing a lot of banging from his house, and he'd been walking around the garden and the street muttering and shouting. I won't repeat some of the things he was saying but he kept referring to, “That bitch”, in pretty atrocious terms. He'd started punching walls.’
‘ Which hospital is he in?’
‘ The one off the Newland Rd.’
Miller looked pleased, 'Mmm, I know one of the consultants there. I think I'll go and have a chat with her.’
A few days later Sarah Cunningham was sat with Mike Miller in a corner of the staff restaurant. She was staring into her coffee and talking half to Mike and half to herself, ‘ So the case is closed. But you're still following it up, “under the radar”, and I'm asked to report on a patient, “under the radar”. Which is another way of saying breaching every code of professional conduct and breaking the law. So I could lose my job and end up in jail! Why can't I have ordinary friends?’
Mike knew that she would help him so he continued, 'Sarah, I’m pretty certain this guy killed his wife, and whether he ever comes to justice or not I have to find out for sure. These are some background reports that Dave put together about the Slaters from people who knew them.’
At that moment Mike's phone beeped a reminder, ‘ Sarah, got to go: meeting with the Boss. See what you can do.’
As Miller was grabbing his coat Sarah asked, “ By the way, this murdered women, how did she she die?’
‘ Natural causes,’ and he was gone.
There were a number of articles about Mrs Slater's death in the local paper over the next few weeks. One in particular risked a libel case due to its scathing account of Jim Slater's character, the only problem was everyone knew it was true.
The shop assistant was wrapping up the coat that Sarah Cunningham had just purchased, ’She came in here you know with that husband of hers, she was a lovely woman, she asked if we stocked a particular brand: Tiklas, Scandinavian, ooh beautiful stuff, anyway she got the name wrong and asked for Rikki-Tikki Tavi, well we laughed. Until. He pulled her away. He was going on about how she'd humiliated him in public, made a right fuss. Dreadful man.’
The telephone went in DCI. Miller's office: ‘ Personal call for you sir, I don't know if you want to take it, it might be a joke: a lady who wouldn't give her name asking for Sherlock Miller.’
Miller smiled, 'Put her through Debbie please.’
‘ Hello Sarah,’
‘ How did you know it was me?’ She sounded surprised.
'Well not because I'm a detective. Your sense of humour doesn't change!’
‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ she said, ‘can you meet me at that restaurant on the bridge tomorrow afternoon, the garden at the back is always quiet then, you're paying. I've got something for you.’
Mike liked this place: relaxed, classy, and slightly bohemian, 'Shall we share a bottle of wine with our food, by the way what are you having?’
Sarah looked up from the menu, ‘ I'll have the Beef and Horseradish platter, no wine for me I'll have a glass of beer please.’
‘ Yes, beef and beer, perfect. Anyway first off, why are you treating a natural death as a murder?’
‘Because I don't think it was natural.’
When their food and drinks arrived and the waiter had gone back Mike was keen to hear what Sarah had to tell him.
She began, ‘Jim Slater is currently in a time out room, which sounds nice but it's a padded cell, he's hitting things all the time. But I think it's what lies behind this that may be important for you: he has a personality disorder.’
‘You're not kidding the guy’s a complete sod.’
Sarah continued, ‘ Yes, but this is a technical term for a group of disorders, one of them is narcissism, and your Jim Slater is a classic case, that is clear from the reports you gave me.’
‘ So what are the symptoms of this disorder?’
‘ Controlling, lack of empathy: indeed a complete inability to understand or care about other people's feelings which they routinely crush. They try to own people, but refuse any kind of commitment themselves, they are very clever at laying guilt trips on people, they are never to blame for anything, they have a massive sense of entitlement,’
‘That last one sounds like my kids!’ Mike laughed.
Sarah smiled too, ‘ but it is taken to very cruel degrees in this disorder.’
Mike was intrigued, ‘ So what's going on with him now?’
‘That's a puzzle: narcissists use people and if those people escape they just move on to someone else, as long as they are feeding off someone they don't care. But there is something else at work here which means he can't move on. I think that is why he is so angry: angry with her for having the audacity to die; so now he has no-one to control.’
‘I reckon I need to do some reading up on Narcissism.’
'Read this then,’ Sarah passed him a booklet,’ It's a sort of dummies guide to personality disorders.’
'Careful, remember I'm paying.’
Gill walked into the office, and noticed Sarah's booklet on the desk,‘ Thinking of becoming a shrink boss?’
‘Don't think so, this job's hard but…. My consultant friend lent me this, have a read of the highlighted section and tell me what you think.’
Five minutes later Gill had finished reading the booklet.
‘ You could change the title from, “ How to spot a narcissist”, to “ How to spot Jim Slater,” ’ Gill observed, ‘it's all there: nasty control freak, puts people down all the time, blames everybody; and it seems his missus was at the receiving end of it all.’
Miller shook his head,‘ How does someone live with that eh Dave?’
Miller was on the telephone when Gill came back from lunch.
‘ Thank you very much for calling, Mrs. Edgely, I'll check my appointments and arrange to come and see you with my colleague, you've been most helpful. I'll be in touch.’ Miller looked very pleased, 'We’re going to Reading, Dave to see Jacqueline Edgely.’
‘ And who is she?’
‘Louise Slater’s sister.’
It was to her sister that Louise had fled twenty years ago to escape her cruel domineering husband. She hadn't left him for another man: the rumours were untrue; she had just left him. And nine months later to Jacqueline's horror she went back to him as he appeared to be having some kind of mental breakdown. After that the two sisters had difficulty keeping in touch as letters were destroyed or hidden, but they did manage to keep up some contact over the years by Jacqueline sending letters to the post office where Louise would pick them up. She was as mystified as anyone as to why her sister stayed in such an abysmal situation.
Mike and Sarah sat down with two coffees,‘ So, I can see through layman's eyes how difficult it would be living with someone like Jim Slater but what does your experience of these things tell you? Could it bring on an early death for instance?’
Sarah thought for a moment, 'Mental pressure of any kind could have that effect, and goodness knows she had more than a fair share. But, there would be symptoms: like high blood pressure, high blood sugar maybe diabetes, low immune system, addictions, but from what that post mortem report says there weren't any signs of these, she just, died.’
Mike kissed his wife goodnight as she went up to bed. The kids were asleep, it had been a lovely evening and he wasn't thinking about work. He turned on the TV. A documentary about the resettlement of Native Americans in the nineteenth century only mildly interested him but he left it on. He was half asleep when a comment caught his attention: “ Many otherwise strong and healthy native men died young for no apparent reason. Sympathetic people who knew them said that as they had been deliberately resettled on land far away and very different from their homelands they felt their lives had been stolen. They died of broken hearts”
'That's it!’ he shouted, DCI. Miller was awake, so was was his wife now.
She wandered back in, 'Are you alright darling? Ha, well I know you're not that's why I married you!’
Miller explained his discovery to Gill
‘ I'd been reading some accounts by people who have lived with narcissists, mostly partners, employees, sometimes kids. They all talk about having the life drained out of them, I'd imagined that being a purely mental phenomenon. But when I heard about the Native Americans dying, “of broken hearts,” as they put it, I realized that was what happened to Louise Slater, Jim Slater crushed and sucked the life out of her until there really wasn't any left.’
‘Huh, a murder that's not a murder, but really is one, that's a first for us. Looks like that is that.’
‘I guess so, but I can't stop wondering what made old Slater turn out like he did?’
Mike Miller was thinking again.
WILF JAN 2019