Murder Most Grievous
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
By L. Stewart Marsden
Sheriff John Belvedere loved when the legal process was followed, and especially when a logical path led to surprising and convincing conclusions, as it did with James Ditter.
With sufficient probable cause, a district judge quickly okayed the search warrant for Ditter’s house, car and cell phone records. Investigators, on entering Ditter’s bedroom, immediately asked for more warrants, including his computer and any other digital recording device.
The department ran an extensive background check, locating every town Ditter had lived in for the past twenty years.
The albums pointed to possible multiple murders of teens in a three-state area. Murder was always bad — but Belvedere knew serial murderers could be, well, particularly heinous. Most heinous.
The local news hounds were on the scent from the beginning. When a public school teacher was arrested — particularly for some sensational reason — there was no limit to the doggedness of reporters. Seems their tenacity was definitely self-motivated. Get a story wired out by the AP. Get national coverage and recognition. A feather in everyone’s cap, all at the expense of the victim and the victim’s family and friends. But the sheriff knew that every once-in-a-while news generated leads, and solid leads were what the department did not have. Just an unfinished binder full of pictures and items of the life of Klerique Shaunasey. And the ten other binders as well.
The SBI and the FBI became involved. Slow and steady wins the race, he knew. But the public and that damn media salivated for information. Information he was reluctant to release, as well as information he couldn’t manufacture.
Klerique was assumed dead. Her body, or any evidence of foul play, could not be found.
America’s Most Hunted jumped into the foray, splashing photos of Klerique, including taped interviews with friends and what little family she had. “If you have seen Klerique, or have any information . . . “
Ditter was released on bond after his first appearance in district court on being arrested. His lawyer, a silver-haired lanky attorney whose trade accouterments were a bolo tie and white cowboy hat, managed to keep delaying proceedings. It was no secret that Lance Jeffries aspired for the job of DA for the 21st district. And he preened and prepped for every media opportunity with that end in mind.
When it turned out that the ten “victims” of James Ditter were not dead, but very much alive, Jeffries used the information like squirting lighter fluid onto live coals.
“My client has not been proved to be connected in any way to the disappearance of Klerique Shaunasey, other than a few pictures and an album he maintained on her. They were not lovers. They were not involved in any untoward way.
“The district attorney has done what he always does, and has followed the path of least resistance to solve this case by convicting an innocent man! Show me the body of Klerique Shaunasey! He can’t! He has strolled out, quote, evidence, to the media in order that my client be presumed guilty in the eyes of the public. Why, we may as well string him up right now!”
It turns out, according to information leaked by an unnamed source, that James Ditter’s ambition was not to murder Klerique or the ten other students, but to help each reach their potential. He anonymously gave $500 to each when they graduated. News bloodhounds were able to verify the donations of the most recent gifts during the last decade.
Sheriff Belvedere never believed Ditter was innocent. He knew in his guts the man was guilty.
In spite of his disappointment in each student “project” — which he revealed later in an interview with Keith Madison, the star of the popular Murder Most Grievous television series — Ditter swore to innocent plans.
“I intended to find one person who would let me help them reach their dreams. It was never about me. It was about them.”
“Yeah, he was a little creepy back then,” said Barry, one of the so-called earlier victims, to Madison. “But he was harmless. When I found out he gave me $500 — gosh, that was a real surprise! Do I think he killed that girl? I can’t answer for sure. I guess we’ll never know for sure. But they haven’t found a body, right?”
With no body, with no forensic evidence that could tie Ditter to Klerique’s disappearane, with no previous murders in tow, with nothing other than albums containing photos and school records of eleven students, Jeffries argued before the court that charges be dropped.
“He didn’t violate any law. There were no inappropriate contacts — no complaints on the parts of those ten students. The only thing James Ditter is guilty of is caring for the futures of students he felt had great potential. Isn’t that, after all, what all teachers should be guilty of?” spewed Jeffries as news cameras caught his performance.
The judge agreed.
Klerique’s brother Jayvon, tried to shoot Ditter when he emerged in front of the courthouse after the acquittal, The event was caught by those dozens of TV and other media cameras, and made national news that night. Jayvon was eventually sentenced two years later to five years imprisonment on several felony counts after accepting a plea arrangement with the new DA, Lance Jeffries.
“And so,” concluded Keith Madison at the close of his episode on the now cold case, “as the mystery of Klerique Shaunasey’s whereabouts and what really happened to her grows colder with each passing year, we leave her with a sense of frustration. A frustration Sheriff Belvedere aptly expresses.”
“She’s out there somewhere. I believe she’s dead. I can’t prove it — yet. And her killer, be it James Ditter or somebody else, will be brought to justice. You can count on that.”
Sedgwick turned off the TV. During the three-year prolonged process, he had moved to Raleigh and gone to work in a rural county library north of the city. He kept abreast of the case online.
Picking up his cell phone, he dialed a telephone number, referring to a scrap of paper he had stuffed in his shirt pocket.
“Hey. Is this Monica?
“Hi, Monica. This is Dawson. Yeah, the guy at the library from this afternoon? Right. I was wondering if you and me could get together and grab a bite sometime soon.
“Well, everyone likes pizza, right?
“Okay, sure. How about tomorrow? I get off around four. Is there somewhere in particular? Yeah, right — I know where that is. Want to meet me there then? Great! So I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Yeah. Bye-bye.”
Sedgwick laid the phone on the coffee table, and opened a small wooden box that sat atop a small stack of New Yorker magazines. From it he took a lock of jet-black hair, bound at one end with a rubber band. He slowly drew the lock under his nose and breathed in deeply, smiling with content.
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Miss the first installment of Murder Most Grievous? Click here.
Copyright © by L. Stewart Marsden, 29 October, 2014