Here’s part II of the DNA detective case M and his crew are tackling.
By N.A. Souer
Did you miss the first installment? You can catch up here.
“So, what do we know so far about the victim,” M asked when the team met once more.
“According to the case file,” Tweak began, “Willow was murdered sometime during the night of August 19th 1997. Her body was found six months later in an abandoned pasture. The police talked to the filly’s grandmother, but did not get any new leads. The case has been idle ever since.”
“Do we know the name of the grandmother?” M asked, “And, if she’s still around.”
“The police report gave a name for the grandmother,” Mousy said, “but whether or not she is still around is another thing. I’m working on locating her.”
“What have you girls learned?” M asked, turning to Sasha and Mama Kitty.
“Well,” Mama Kitty began, “in order for DNA to be matched to a crime someone in your family line must have taken a DNA test through a genealogy test site and then uploaded the results to a public database.”
“So how does it get matched?” M asked.
“Any kind of DNA from a crime scene can be cross-matched and the results compared with other DNA matches on public database sites like GedMatch.”
“When I worked at NPSS, all they did was hoof print me?” M said.
“Yes, but that was long before this kind of advanced technology,” Mama Kitty said.
“So how common is this being used to solve crimes?”
“It’s becoming more common than you think,” Sasha said. “There was a case out in California a few years back that set the precedence. Since then a lot of old cold cases have been re-examined and solved using DNA technology.”
“Ok,” M said, “what else?”
“I did a little hacking,” Mousy said, “and discovered Willow was actually the daughter of an NPSS agent that died under suspicious circumstances.”
“What kind of circumstances?”
“Some public records say the father died of colic, but the official death certificate says the cause of death was unknown.”
“How is that suspicious?” Tweak asked.
“Well, doesn’t it seem strange for a discrepancy like that to be in official records, especially for a government employee?” Mousy questioned, and then turned to M. “Do you think the NPSS agents did not tell you the whole story? Because Willow is not just another cold case, she was the daughter of a NPSS agent that suddenly disappeared, and I’d bet he was placed in . . . “
“Witness protection,” M finished Mousy’s sentence, “and someone didn’t totally scrub the public records.”
“Any chance you could pull some strings to find out the real story?” Mousy asked.
“Maybe,” M said, “but there are no guarantees. Remember this was way back in the late 90s. Also, do we know how long Willow was living in with her grandmother?”
“Up until she was found dead, I guess” Mousy answered. “Could her murder be some kind of bizarre retaliation.”
“Maybe,” Tweak said, “and maybe it was just a random coincidence.”
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” M said. “Let me make some calls.”
An hour later, M had an answer.
“The NPSS agent’s name was Carlose Maloney,” M said, coming out of his office stall.
“That can’t be,” Tweak said. “He was one of the top guys in the whole Saddlebred pony underworld.”
“That’s what everyone thought,” M said. “The story is that Carlose was deep under cover as a NPSS agent, but when his cover was blown NPSS had to pull him out to protect their star witness.”
“This does not make a lot of sense,” Tweak said.
“My source is pretty credible,” M said. “Carlose disappeared right around the time Willow did. He was placed in witness protection and was expected to testify against the whole Maloney crime family’s operation.”
“Well, he probably ended up at the bottom of some lake,” Mousy said, “wearing a complimentary pair of cement hoof boots.”
The next day, when M returned from NPSS headquarters, he found a former client, Diamond Jim Sultan, waiting inside his office stall. Diamond Jim had more money than Rockefeller pony himself, and ran the Saddle Seat riding school where Willow had been employed before her death.
“What can I do for you?” M asked.
“I suppose by now you have heard about one of my school horses?” Diamond Jim said.
“If you mean the cold case being reopened, yes I have.”
“I’m concerned about old history being dragged up,” Diamond Jim said. “It could be very bad for business.”
“Don’t you want to see the crime solved?” M asked
“Of course I do, but it was a long time ago, and I do not want my school’s reputation tarnished. There’s no point in dragging up the past.” He paused, and then added. “Look, I knew Willow. She was a sweet girl, albeit a bit naive, but that was part of her charm.”
“How’s that?” M asked.
“Well she made no secret that she wanted to be a country singer, doesn’t that seem more than a bit unrealistic. She went around wearing one of those ridiculous western stock halters, with all the silver. The thing must have weighed thirty pounds. She was just odd.”
“If Willow was so eccentric, then why did you keep her on staff?” M asked.
“Despite all her quirks, she was a good teacher. I don’t know what else I can tell you?”
“Did you know anything about her personal life?” M pressed
“Nothing,” Diamond Jim said. “She just taught beginner riding lessons at the school.”
“What about this singing business? Did she have any kind of agent or manager?”
“I have absolutely no idea. You might have more luck tracking down some of her old students.”
“What I’d like to do is arrange for one of my associates to work as a school horse,” M said.
“What on earth for?” Diamond Jim asked, shocked by the suggestion. “You can’t possibly think you will find something after all this time.”
“We’ll see,” M said. “I just want my associate to retrace Willow’s last days.”
“That is preposterous!”
Diamond Jim finally left after M got him to reluctantly agree with the plan. What M did not tell Diamond Jim is that he was also going to plant a few new students in the riding school program, specifically Mama Kitty’s sister’s grand-kittens.
M trotted down the barn aisle to see what had happened while he was gone.
“How did it go at NPSS?” Mousy asked, working on his laptop near one of the saddle racks.
M shook his head.
“All that talk about building family trees and triangulating DNA matches,” M said, “it made my head spin.” He looked over at Mousy, and then glanced over at Mama Kitty’s cubical. “I think your mother could make a career out of her genealogy hobby,” he added.
“She probably could,” Mousy said.
“Yeah, well don’t tell her,” M said, “I don’t want her jumping off the payroll just yet.”
“You might have to promote her to the firm’s DNA Specialist,” Mousy said.
“I just might because the so-called expert at NPSS did not tell me anything that your mother has not already found out.”
“So who killed willow?”
“They don’t know yet. So far it’s narrowed down to three grandsons from a fourth cousin on my dad’s side.”
Two days later the team gathered in the feed room, and Sasha and Mama Kitty gave their first report.
“Very few of the current school horses remember Willow,” Sasha said. “One that does is an older horse who teaches the five-gated class. He said she was well liked and everyone missed her when she disappeared. He said the only reason he remembered her is because she used to sing to her students when she taught them to post the trot. She said it helped riders learn rhythm.”
M turned to Mama Kitty. “What have you learned?” he asked.
“Well I’m not sure,” Mama Kitty said. “Most of the students and parents have no idea who Willow was. But I did talk to a Siamese lady who brings her grand-kitten for lessons. She used to ride with Willow when she was a kitten, and remembers one time Willow told her students she’d recorded a demo album. The Siamese lady had totally forgotten about it until she was arranging lessons for her grand-kitten and happened to find a recording on the internet.”
“But Willow died in the ’90s,” M said, “how did her recordings get on to the internet?”
“I have no idea”, Mama Kitty said.
“Here it is,” Mousy announced, then clicked on his computer and turned up the volume.
A sweet, clear voice belted out from the small speakers on the computer, filling the tack room with sound.
“She had quite a voice,” Mama Kitty said. “Sort of a cross between Millie Holiday and Betsy Cline.”
“Is there any way to find out who uploaded this music?” M asked.
“It is hard to say,” Mousy answered. “Anyone can upload anything these days.”
The voice from the speakers crooned out the lyrics, I go trotting after midnight, until the twilight, at the moon’s last hue, just thinking of you.
“It looks like there are only five tracks,” Mousy said. “The titles are Trot Over My Broken Heart, Cantering Fool, Cavaletti Boogie, Jumping Fine, and Lesson Time Blues.”
“Do some searching,” M said, “see if you can find any clue who might have uploaded the music because there’s no way Willow could uploaded her own music from the grave.”
“What about the grandmother?” M asked, changing the subject. “Have we found out anything about her yet?”
“Yeah,” Mousy said, “it turns out she is living in a special needs, assisted living barn. I talked to her grandson and he said despite her poor eyesight, her mind is pretty sharp. We have an appointment set up to meet later today.”
“Okay,” M said. “Can you and Tweak handle that?” Mousy nodded. “Good, then I will take your mother with me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Believe it or not, a DNA stakeout,” M said with a smirk. “NPSS called and said they need an additional DNA sample to confirm a match to Willow’s killer, but the donating party is not exactly going to be a willing participant.”
“Who is it?” Tweak asked
“The Saddlebred crime boss?”
“Apparently that branch of my family is crossed with Hackney ponies and Saddlebreds, which explains why Willow was tall enough to work as a school horse.” M explained. “The genetic specialist at NPSS said it is likely a close relative killed Willow and they need more DNA to confirm it. But it’s not like Vincent Maloney would voluntarily give us a sample.”
A few hours later, M and Mama Kitty watched the big, bay Saddlebred Vincent Maloney enter a posh, equine health club, flanked by two bodyguard thugs.
“We may not be able to get close enough for a sample with those two goons hanging around,” M said.
“All we need is something he’s touched his mouth with,” Mama Kitty said. “Something like a water cup or an apple juice bottle.”
“Lots of luck with that,” M said. “What if I go into the dressing stall and get some hair out of one of his brushes?”
“Unless it still has the hair follicle attached it won’t do us any good,” Mama Kitty said.
An hour later they were still waiting for the big Saddlebred to get done with his workout, watching discreetly from the snack bar over looing the arena gym.
“How about if I see if he used one of those tubes of electrolyte paste before starting his workout?” M asked. “It would be in the tack room garbage, and easy to grab.”
“The chances of getting a usable sample from something like that are pretty low,” Mama Kitty said. “It would be too contaminated. What we really need is a fresh hair sample with the follicle attached.”
“Yeah, well I doubt he’ll stand still and let you yank out some.”
“Maybe not exactly standing still,” Mama Kitty said, jumping down from where she was seated at the snack bar.
“What are you going to do?” M asked,
“I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Just keep an eye on him and signal me if he starts to leave.”
M stayed put and watched as Vincent Maloney worked out with resistance bands in the ring, while Mamma Kitty walked over and jumped up on a shelf near the doorway. There several other felines were relaxing under a sauna heat lamps. Mamma Kitty found a spot on the shelf, overlooking where the horses from the ring passed by on the way to the tack room to change, and lazily stretched herself out. When the big horse left the ring, M watched in amazement as Mama Kitty expertly reached out a paw over the edge and snagged a lock of Vincent Maloney’s mane with one of her claws. After a profuse apology for her supposed careless paw stretching, Vincent Maloney went off in a huff with his two goons in tow.
Mama Kitty returned to the snack bar where M was waiting.
“Well done!” M said, amazed at her feline resourcefulness.
Mama Kitty smiled with pride.
Stay tuned for Part III tomorrow…
N.A Souer (Nancy) got talked into submitting the first Pony Detective story by her mini horse, M&M, who fancies himself a writer. When Nancy explained to M that no one would believe a mini horse could write, he told her if she did not submit his stories under her name he’d dump her out of the cart on the next trail drive. LOL M (and Nancy) live in the south-metro area of MLPS- St. Paul and when M is not writing, he enjoys going with Nancy to visit nursing homes and competing in agility and driven dressage classes offered in on-line horse shows. M also shares ownership of his person with his barn mate, Sasha. Together, they keep Nancy busy and out of trouble, or in trouble depending on how you see it. 🙂