Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Five:
Case File No. 06-214
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Where We Left Off:
It’s important for you to go back to the previous case file because it’s the precursor to this one. Baroness Elspet-Gray, an eastern grey squirrel of nobility, returned to her nest at the estate where she only stays part of the time. She was murdered by the squatter.
Death Comes as the End:
On May 9, 2021 during our adventurous patrol, I was trying to convince Gus that it was time to end our outside shift. He refused, luckily, because on the way from the bird feeding tree to the fairy garden, Gus discovered another body.
I could not believe it. We were casually walking at the line of trees behind the fairy garden. Sometimes, I feed the birds and squirrels there. The peanut can was already empty though. I looked down and saw Gus smelling something where roots rise up out of the ground. The area beneath the trees is covered in brown dried evergreen needles while above the ornamental apple tree was full of gorgeous white blossoms. It was before the worst of the hot temperatures. The air was still crisp without the humidity New Jersey is known for. It was a time before dead things smelled of rot quickly after dying.
I let Gus search the immediate area for tracks and other possible clues around the fairy garden. A blue jay landed on a branch nearby, but he was only interested in seeing if we had peanuts left. I took photos of the crime scene of the decapitated corpse even though it was both sad and disgusting. I briefly considered using my pruning shears to cut off the feet in order to create a magickal talisman, but I didn’t. By the next day, the headless carcass was missing! Lesson learned: when you want body parts, you better take them otherwise, the body may be gone by the next day.
Oliver and I had a dandy of a time doing research on this one. First, we had to confirm that owls did eat squirrels which was done in the previous case file when the squirrel Baroness Elspet-Gray had been missing and a bone was identified as part of her remains. Then we had to narrow down the most likely types of owls for our area. We already know that Great Horned Owls are around from finding their feathers and hearing them. Likewise, we’ve heard the Eastern Screech Owls nearby. When I heard a sample of the “whoo” call of a Barred Owl, I thought we had come to a conclusion. The visual inspection at the scene and then comparing photos had me 90% convinced that Gus discovered a Barred Owl.
Jump to the case file of the deceased squirrel’s femur found not too far away from this owl corpse and we have a connection. We believe this headless Barred Owl was the one who murdered and ate Baroness Elspet-Gray. It was time to identify the owl since we knew the motive was essentially Grand Theft Nest.
Oliver’s CIs did not want to discuss owls. They were terribly frightened at the notion of being overheard. The voles and chipmunks clammed up and metaphorically slammed their doors in our faces. They really dove back into their burrows.
With no informants willing to talk, I headed to the internet. There should be a virtual way to run the red yarn from one browser tab to another. I learned a lot about Barred Owls including their strong monogamous commitment and their dietary choices.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Strigiformes
- Family: Strigidae
- Genus: Strix
- Species: S. varia
The Ancient Rome Connection:
I foolishly thought that strix was linked to striations or stripes; and that strigidae sounded like strega (Italian witch like Strega Nona). I was surprised to learn strix is also related to words for witches! I guess I wasn’t as far off as I thought. One of the references about the word strix says it’s likely related to the word striges (now you can see how strigidae and strix have similar roots).
Where does the word striges appear? In Ovid’s Latin poem Fasti. Striges were witches who were punished for being cannibals or something like that. Somewhere along the tale, striges morphed into being who weren’t cannibals but would still kill children. Yadda-yadda-yadda there was a newborn prince who needed to be protected from striges. Ovid basically invented a new goddess by taking the Roman goddess Cardea and changing her to Cranea and *drumroll please* makes her a rape survivor! Yay, white men writing women, am I right?
Ovid specifically states that Cranea is the goddess of the hinge which was already the goddess Cardea. I guess he just didn’t like the name as it was. Janus raped her and as recompense, he bestowed the nymph the rank of Goddess of the Hinge (doors). Included in the deal — maybe she had a good attorney — Janus also gives her a wand of whitethorn.
This brings us back to taxonomy and what we have here in New Jersey far from ancient Rome. Whitethorn is the Irish version of the crabapple tree like the ornamental apple tree where Gus found the decapitated body!
Goddess of the Hinge with a whitethorn wand and worshipped by pagans > striges/witches > owls as associations with witches > S. strix (owls) > the barred owl S. varia in New Jersey
And that’s how we connect the dots from Italian witchcraft to our murders.
Who killed this owl?
This year has brought us new residents of the wildlife and cryptid variety. The baby deer and devil-deer are growing. Arkadi the volkalak was spotted. A momma bear and three cubs were spotted. And a bobcat was sighted. Plus, there’s been a huge take over in the fauna organized crime: Cheeks Moretti isn’t as powerful as he was; Chipcent Donofrio has overtaken Moretti in terms of their community; but the Blue Jays are now in charge of criminal operations.
Was it a crime of opportunity?
One theory is that the owl was young and inexperienced. Despite being able to kill rodents, a predator could have taken advantage of this owl diving down to get a mole or something. A fox, for example, could snatch a young owl out of the air.
Another theory is that this murder was retaliation for the death of the Baroness. Did the Leverage squirrels get tipped off on the murder leading them to hire a professional outside their organization? Like a bobcat?
Last theory is that this is a case of ridiculously incredible timing. A predator wanted to eat the owl. It took one day to kill it and have a taste. Then it came back the next day to pick up the body leaving no trace.
Gus and Oliver mulled over the evidence and have come to the conclusion that the owl murder was done in retaliation for the murder of the Baroness. After plying Richie “The Boot” Cyano with enough peanuts in exchange for information, we learned the owl went by the name Stryker.
Case Status: Closed