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Chapter 7

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Photo illustration by Samuel Hoffman, The Journal Gazette

Chapter 7

Stevie yawned as the late afternoon sun warmed the car. She tried to get a good radio signal but wasn't close enough to Fort Wayne. She settled for listening to a CD instead.

She pushed play on her car's CD player. "Saturday, in the park..." began to blare out of the speakers. Chicago, not bad driving music.

She was driving back from Celina, Ohio, after meeting with the mother of the latest murder victim, Celeste Wade.

Stevie had spent time tracking down the families of the murdered women and finding all the information she could about them. That included visiting their hometowns. Today it was Celina.

She'd already visited Defiance, Ohio, and Coldwater, Mich.

This was the story Craig wanted: Talk to family and friends and find out who these women were. How their lives interacted with one another. How they came to die in Fort Wayne.

As she drove, she thought about how the killer might have taken that very route. Police aren't sure how long the victims were alive before they were brought to Fort Wayne, stripped of their clothes and then each dumped in a different city park.

Stevie's heart broke as Celeste's mother, a single mom who was raising three kids by herself, relayed what little information the police would give her about her oldest child's death.

Celeste was a 25-year-old waitress who was last seen leaving work after her evening shift ended. It was routine for Celeste to call her mother after she got off work. But on that night, she never called.

It was only after Celeste's mother reported her missing that she found out why.

Police found Celeste's car. But that's it. Her clothes, purse and cell phone had not been found.

"At least I got her body," Stevie recalled Celeste's mother saying, tears spilling down her face, "and the memories. He can't take those away."

Celeste was a quiet girl who loved to read, her mother told Stevie. She would sit in her room for hours curled up with a book. When she was younger, her mother had to yell at her some nights to get her to go to bed.

She was also clumsy. Her mother laughed at that thought. "I never did understand how she became a waitress being so dang clumsy."

Her mother told Stevie how when Celeste was 10, she was running through the backyard and tripped over the family dog. She skidded on the ground and slashed her left knee. By the time the doctors got her sewn up, she had to have 10 stitches, leaving a moon-shaped scar.

"But she didn't cry," Celeste's mother said. "She actually watched them sew her up. That's probably why she wanted to go back to school and become a nurse." Celeste's mother fell apart after that and Stevie left soon afterward.

There didn't seem to be much about their personalities or home lives that linked the three women. The real similarities were that all the women were twentysomething with brown hair and worked late-night jobs. One was a nurse, one a factory worker and the last, of course, a waitress.

It was a haunting image to think of someone hunting women late at night. Even more haunting that it was happening here, Stevie thought.

The sun was just beginning to sink as she pulled in front of her apartment building. She was feeling the heaviness of the day's events and thought maybe a run in Swinney Park would be a good thing to clear her mind.

As she walked up the front steps, Crandall was standing outside his apartment smoking a cigarette. "You look beat," he said, taking a draw and blowing the smoke away from Stevie. "I haven't seen your byline in the paper lately."

"I've been working on a special story," Stevie said, adjusting the bag slung over her shoulder.

"About those murdered girls?" he asked, taking another draw from his cigarette, keeping his eyes on Stevie. "It's terrible what happened to them. It makes for a great story though, huh?"

Crandall's words sounded so cold and unfeeling.

"When do you work again?"

Still stunned from Crandall's statement, it took her a moment to realize he was speaking to her. "Tomorrow."

"I've got some frozen pizza I planned to throw in the oven. Maybe you can come down, eat and check out my latest work?"

Stevie managed a weak smile and shook her head no.

She was flattered by the offer, but decided she needed the run more than the food. "Thanks, but I think I am going to go for a run and then crash for the night. Maybe another time?"

Crandall threw his cigarette down and smashed it with his foot, twisting it into the sidewalk. "Sure. Another time."

Stevie hated to keep turning Crandall down. She just wasn't sure she wanted to start something she wouldn't be able to see through. Especially now that there was a new possibility – Jason.

By Terri Richardson, assistant managing editor for features.

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