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Chapter 1 - The Nature of Truth

On the Importance of Evidence

It’s rare for someone to witness a murder and live to tell about it. It’s more likely they saw what they thought was something else, something innocuous. It takes a certain kind of person to see the neighbor digging in their yard and think “I bet those bags of lime are to make a body decompose quicker.” There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to buy zip ties, duck tape, and a hack saw with cash. Maybe they’re doing some home reno, maybe they’re finally picking up things they needed, maybe they really are planning a murder. But murderers are so rare, what’re the chances that you’re seeing one for real?

Which is why a witness, objectively speaking, is worthless. Anyone can make words come out of their mouth in whatever order is the most convenient for them, that aligns the best with the version of reality deep-seated in their brains.

No, it’s all about the evidence. The reason someone like Jack the Ripper could run free was due to the lack of evidence or the mishandling of it. They didn’t have DNA matching in the 1800s, nor ballistic markings for bullets, or luminol, or fingerprint databases. You needed a literal smoking gun to have conclusive evidence. We’ve progressed a fair bit since then; even school children know that you leave behind invisible traces of yourself at a crime scene.

So any cases where there’s a lack of DNA evidence is quite extraordinary. The case of Jamie Doe didn’t lack DNA; it had too much. The scene of the crime was a slaughterhouse, namely one of the large refrigerated rooms. There’s cow DNA everywhere, shed hair and skin cells from workers, blood from their own accidents, and yet there’s large swatches that have almost no DNA due to cleanings with powerful chemicals. Criminals who think they’re smart do this to erase evidence, but there’s always “background radiation” of the people who live and work in a space. A lack of any DNA is itself a clue. But not for a slaughterhouse; if anything, you’d be disgusted by discovering the lack of sanitation.

But there was a pool of blood, beneath a body, and there was a match, in that we know the blood came from the vic. But we know nothing about them. No DNA matches to any records, not even familial matches, nor did any of the other biometrics. They didn’t release a photo in hopes of someone recognizing them, there was no ID or any other distinguishing clues to go off of. The lack of any details was odd, and you can imagine the theories people came up with. None of them I found satisfying. It was most likely that this truly was a person they had no info on and the body was in too gruesome a state to share photos with the public.

You don’t need to know anything about a victim to hunt down a suspect, though. You can measure stab wounds and get an idea of the blade involved; a steak knife will leave a very different hole compared to a hobby knife. The dimensions were quite odd, not like any sort of knife you’d get at a store. The building owner, G— Gutteridge, was an avid collector of knives, as it turns out, and he was in possession of a knife that fit these exact dimensions. Open and shut, right?

But there was no DNA or blood on the knife, it was perfectly clean. Why? Because it was at a repair shop. Someone else had to have used a similar blade, another handmade specialty knife, and Gutteridge’s car, phone, and credit card records just happen to have him in the area of the shop and the area of the crime both the day of and the day after. The refrigerator muddied the estimated time of death, but employees would have noticed a human body, so the window was very small.

Still, it had to be him. I went over the case again and again throughout my shift, scribbling down theories between deliveries. At this point, all the evidence was circumstantial, there was plausible deniability, he could have gone to some other part of the massive building, he could have visited another shop on the day of the murder. I knew I should give him the benefit of the doubt, it’s what everyone deserved, innocent until proven guilty.

Yet something told me it was him, I just knew. An innocent person didn’t act like that on the evening news, they didn’t stand in the way of the investigation and then brag about the lack of conclusive evidence. The case had been stalling for months. Something had to change, or he’d get away with murder. Even if the Western Stags shut him up permanently, there could be no real conclusion or justice without an admission of guilt.

Once I got home for the night, I checked the thread once more. No update. But I felt that I had all the pieces to the puzzle already. I knew it was a ridiculous notion, I wasn’t a spunky hero of some dime novel that could see something no one else could. I wasn’t any more talented than the other forum members, and I definitely  wasn’t in a better position to solve this than the police. Yet that self-important notion wouldn’t leave and I decided to indulge it. I—and more importantly, no one else—had anything to lose if I failed. Things would only remain as they were.

I made my way to the long, low shelves where I stored all the information on the cases I followed. There had been an attempt at some point to have the colors and numbering create some sort of cohesive system, but it had since long been forgotten; at some point the cost of materials was more important than organizing for someone else’s sake. I pulled out the binder labeled [F12] - all the info on the Jamie Doe case was inside.

It was late, in my daze I didn’t think of the proper way of doing things, I simply sat on the cold floor and had my [evidence binder] laying in front of me. I studied each of the pages, every detail I’d already examined and re-examined countless times, as did countless others. The cheap plastic of the sleeve holding the pages slid under my fingers. I recited the facts of the case to myself, hoping that something would spawn an idea.

If the weapon was anything else, it could make other suspects. There was too much blood for exsanguination to have happened elsewhere, and there was only 2, maybe 3 hours for the body and blood to appear. The building was closed, only someone like a manager could get inside…or the owner. He had no reason to kill Jamie Doe, but so did no one else, they could have been anyone, so the motive could be anything. At this point, it was irrelevant.

My hand stopped at a page. It was the worst piece of evidence, one that had sent shockwaves among the true crime community and had Gutteridge gloating for weeks. A [bank record], showing the transactions on Gutteridge’s debit card. The cops had gotten it via a subpoena, of course, but some enterprising individual at National Bank thought it was a good idea to sell a copy, which made its way onto the Internet and eventually to me. I pulled it out to glare at it, one line highlighted yellow.

Nick’s Knife and Blade Emporium, the premier location for purchasing, selling, trading or repairing edged weapons in the city, had run a transaction for $47.72 on February 10 — the day after the murder. The suspect didn’t have an alibi, but the only possible weapon did. The blade could have been paid for the day after it was picked up, but the shopkeeper attested otherwise. There were multiple ways the cash register could have requested the bank at a later date, but there was no way to prove it. The store had no cameras and there were none on the street to show that Gutteridge went inside on any specific day. 

This one damn [bank record] had torpedoed any hope to nail him for the murder. The DA could argue that this wasn’t conclusive, but to the eyes of a jury, it was ironclad. A bank wouldn’t lie for such a small amount, for a nobody like this. If he paid in cash, then that could be suspicious, but there was nothing off here. Arguing otherwise would only help the defense.

I glared at the document, inspecting it for any discrepancy, anything I could have possibly missed. Even under the plastic, under the highlighter and crappy scan job, the details were clear. February 10. The murder was February 9, there was no doubt about that. My right hand twitched. Was there was something, anything that I was overlooking? The page in its little plastic frame was mocking me. “You just can’t will me out of existence, nothing can change the truth.”

“You’re wrong.”