Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Five:
Case File No. 05-213
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Where We Left Off:
Gus was able to stop one assassination by taking out actor Vole Avery, a meadow vole desperately seeking a role.
Absent in the Spring:
I know a femur when I see one. It’s a unique long bone of mammals. When you find one whole and properly in tact, there’s no mistaking the bulbous head at the top that bends to one side or the other. That key feature is what makes half of the ball and socket joint attaching the legs to the pelvis of a body.
We were north of Fort Winchester but only by a short distance. I wasn’t sure if Gus and I stumbled upon a crime scene or not. Animals die of natural causes sometimes. Gus decided to go further on and venture to Lithodom, aka The Pit, to chat up any critters while also looking for physical evidence that might have been near the scene. I stayed at the discovery site to look for hair or other remains; and, I had to take photos of the scene.
I had to refresh myself with my forensics studies:
Hair and fibers can suggest, while DNA and fingerprints can absolutely make a connection. The difference is that some evidence shares class characteristics and others individual characteristics. — D.P. Lyle, M.D.
Gus yelled over to me to ask if I had found any tracks in the dirt. I hadn’t found anything new. There were some signs of tracks we took notice of on earlier days. This was early May. The dirt was soft and fragrant. The bone was out in the open on top of all sorts of botanical debris like dead grass, bits of wood from the tree next to it, small pebbles and a palm-sized slate grey rock.
The first thing I noticed about the femur was that it was quite clean and in one piece. I’ll admit it’s getting significantly harder for my eyes to see intricate details without the use of a zoom lens or magnifying glass. I even use the camera zoom on my phone to read descriptions of TV shows now (hashtag old). I couldn’t wait to get it home to clean up and show Oliver Winchester for his input.
After a day of cleaning which included delicate scrubbing with brushes then a soak in soapy water, the bone was rinsed and put in a bath of hydrogen peroxide and water. It came out lovely. If I weren’t afraid of breaking it, I’d have it made into a necklace.
Back at the scene of discovery, Gus didn’t make any progress with the mammal critters of Lithodom. He did, however, find some cooperation in a cardinal who wished to remain anonymous. We’ll call them Cardi C. According to this bird, the Blue Jay Gang has mostly taken over the organized crime operations of this area. There are some creatures that still scare even the blue jays like owls and raptors. Blue jays wouldn’t tear a mammal apart like this. Therefore, it’s more probable that we’re looking for a more carnivorous predator.
Under close scrutiny, this bone is not showing any of the signs that carcasses had like visible teeth marks and scraping lines from gnawing. There are marks that stand out near on the lesser trochanter. This is the protuberance below the bulbous head. The lesser trochanter is an important attachment point for muscles that connect the pelvis to the legs. I had to conclude that markings in that spot were natural as were all of the other parts that weren’t smooth. The smooth layer of bone is compact bone. You’ll see in the photos of the distal end (the part that makes up a third of the knee) that some of the bone looks spongy.
I could not think of a creature that could eat all the meat and gristle off a bone without leaving any marks behind except maybe insects. It was a conundrum. Plus, we had to identify the victim too. This part was tricky since all I could tell at first was that it was a mammal. Instead of bothering my museum fossil contact, I went to someone who specializes in North American dead things, Misty — the owner of Blood Moon Oddities in Pennsylvania. Of course this was after spending days and days trying to compare photos of remains in apps and on websites.
Misty got back to me after a couple days and said the femur looks like a squirrel bone. This was disheartening, but she’s the closest person I know to a forensic pathologist. The Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency has a close relationship with the Supreme Court of Squirrels and the Leverage Squirrel vigilantes. The one thing I knew for sure was that Gus didn’t do it.
Cardi C’s intel led Gus to search for clues and updates on Baroness Elspet-Gray. She was one of the squirrels who wasn’t spending much time at the estate. Had she moved or was she the victim of foul play? According to Cardi C, the Baroness had become a target. Even though she was still referred to as the Baroness, Elspet-Gray had eschewed much of her royal life and responsibilities. She wanted some of the privileges, but not all of the commitments. She fell in love with a commoner and wanted to be out of the spotlight. Being here was her relief from public life.
Since the Baroness had spent long amounts of time away from her nest here at the estate, a squatter moved in assuming the place was available. A barred owl. It’s not unusual for a barred owl to occupy a vacated nest. Naturally, this one didn’t see anything wrong with moving in. It was a young bird out on its own and looking to make a home for itself. In a bit like a Goldilocks scene, the Baroness came back to find a stranger in her nest.
Barred owls are strong and fiercely protective of their spaces once they’ve made a home. Their species is no stranger in the history of murder either.
But how exactly could an owl be responsible for the death of Kathleen Peterson? The Owl Theory essentially posits that a Barred Owl attacked Peterson, got entangled in her hair, and inflicted serious injuries, including the removal of part of her scalp, which triggered a series of events that led to her death after falling down a flight of stairs. The theory first came to light in late 2009, after attorney Larry Pollard, a friend and neighbor of Peterson’s, took a fresh look at the evidence. Her autopsy revealed seven lacerations, including very deep ones in the back of her scalp, and pine needles stuck to one of her hands, which both held clumps of her own hair. As Pollard discovered, the strands in the victim’s left hand contained three small feathers. Also, as Pollard and several ornithological experts noted, the pattern and shape of the cuts on Kathleen Peterson’s head suggest a weapon quite unlike a fireplace tool. If the culprit was an intruder, the finger points to the Barred Owl, a common species in and around Durham. — Joe Bargmann, audobon.org, 2016
The barred owl species sounds like one no one should be messing with despite how adorable they are. This is why Oliver and Gus introduced The Owl Theory into our case just like Michael Peterson’s defense lawyer wanted to do in his trial for killing his wife.
After reading up on the barred owl’s behavior on Audubon, I had to agree with the cat detectives. Baroness Elspet-Gray was our victim and the barred owl who wanted her home was the prime suspect. It doesn’t end here for our story of this barred owl. The plot did indeed thicken. What happened ties into another case.