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Crime Scene Tours Ltd. had built their business, some would say, on the basis of appealing to people’s morbid curiosity for grisly acts of murder, and Liz and Colin Stevenson therefore had no qualms at all about conducting tours around the scenes of the most notorious murders in recent history.

    Their coach tours to places such as Hungerford in Berkshire were considered by some to be in the worst possible taste.  However, the seemingly endless applications for tour tickets, principally from American and Japanese tourists, indicated that there were plenty of people out there with an appetite for the macabre.  The business had flourished so well that the Stevensons could now employ actors to conduct the ‘on-site’ storytelling, drawing on the their ability to speak with passion and evoke a real sense of foreboding and menace.

    The tour company was, of course, precluded from visiting those areas where police investigations were still open but there appeared to be nothing to stop them visiting other infamous places.  They were wise enough, however, not to upset the sensitivities of victims’ families and thereby attract unwanted publicity, so quite often the tours would be ‘enhanced’ by a slight shift in the location or a modest embellishment of the facts.

    A particular tour on a July day in the heart of the Bedfordshire countryside had brought a party of tourists to a typically English pub on the outskirts of a village, overlooking a serene lake with woodland beyond.  The group which included Bob and Grace Hansacker of Pocatello, Idaho, had been treated to the inclusive genuine English Ploughman’s lunch.  Bob Hansacker was unimpressed. “They can’t get much goddam ploughing done with this amount of bread and cheese and a few salad leaves,” he grumbled.  The Hansackers were seasoned travelers and were wise to a variety of tricks designed to dupe the unsuspecting tourists.  They were therefore treating this latest venture with a large amount of scepticism, and the lunch had not helped to disabuse them of the thought that this was another rip off.

 

    Colin Stevenson had met up with the coach at the pub for a bit of a public relations exercise.  His arrival in a top of the range Mercedes did nothing to alleviate the jaundiced view that the Hansackers had already formulated.  After a few platitudes Colin said, “I hope you are all enjoying the trip.”

Silence.

    “Well, things are going to get really exciting now.  Your guide will be with you shortly and she will take you on the journey of the gruesome and grisly.”

    “Probably describing our guide,” said Bob Hansacker to his wife, who suppressed a giggle.  Colin Stevenson sensed the disquiet of the group and made himself scarce. “Enjoy the day and we hope to see you again sometime.”  With that he disappeared inside the pub.

    Bob Hansacker’s mood lifted slightly with the appearance of a pretty young blonde lady.

    “Hi, everybody, I’m Adele and I’ll be taking you on the trail of one of the most gruesome murders ever committed in these parts.  We shall be following the victim’s footsteps to  the place where the body was found.  The story behind the murder is particularly heart-rending in that it involves two young lovers and an innocent man being sent to prison for the crime.” 

    “An actress.” Bob Hansacker said to his wife.

    “Absolutely,” she responded with a grimace.

It was only the fact that Adele was wearing denim shorts and had legs that would not have been out of place on a catwalk that Bob Hansacker’s attention remained undiverted. 

    Adele continued: “We shall be taking the path around the edge of the lake towards the woods on the other side. I would ask you all for the purpose of safety to please keep to the path.”  The sun was high in the sky and generating an uncomfortable heat.  A few of the group secretly wished they were staying in the pub garden.  The path was clearly defined and marked a regular route from the pub garden around the lake which glistened in the sunlight.

    The path rounded the lower edge of the lake and branched off towards the woods.  Their guide stopped at this point and addressed the group.  Her arms spread theatrically. “Imagine if you will a bright summer day just like this one.  It was in the warmth of the evening that our victim walked this path from the garden of The Royal Standard back there towards these woods.”  She gestured to an opening where the path disappeared quite abruptly into a density of trees and shade.  “Reports suggest that she was on her way to a secret tryst with her boyfriend, but there have been several different theories since that July evening in 2005.  She was alone when she left the pub garden, but the question remains - why was she alone and heading into these woods just when the sun was going down? ”  She spread her arms with the palms of her hands upwards and raised her eyebrows in a gesture of mystery and intrigue.  Grace Hansacker sighed heavily.

    “She’s doing her best,” said Bob who had clearly acquired a soft spot for this young blonde creature.

    The group was led into the wood where the thick canopy of leaves shielded the woodland floor from the sun’s heat and permitted only a subdued sombre light to filter down.  It was either the sudden change of environment or a genuinely sinister feeling from the knowledge of what had taken place amongst these trees and shrubs, but each individual member of the group felt a distinct clamminess on their skin.  The group had walked for about fifty yards before Adele turned to face them and spoke in a voice that had a much deeper resonance, almost reverential. 

    “I shall now lead all of you to the exact spot where the body was found.”  So saying, she left the path and started to wade through waist high ferns.

    Bob Hansacker was keen to strike up a conversation. “Excuse me, miss...er, Adele...you said that she was alone in here?”

    “Yes, that’s right.”

    “Did they ever get anyone for the murder?”

    “David Collins.”

    “Was that the boyfriend?”

    “Yes. He was the last person to see her, and there were witnesses to say they had been seen having an argument in the pub earlier in the evening.”

    “You described the person as innocent earlier?”

    “Some say that the evidence was purely circumstantial and that the police just needed to find a killer.  He always pleaded his innocence...”   There was an unspoken ‘until’.  She continued, “He hanged himself in his prison cell.”

    “How did the girl die?”

    “We’ll get to that in a while,” said Adele and plunged deeper into the undergrowth.

    The air grew musty with the smell of leaf mould and damp earth.  The denser more shaded parts of the wood grew colder and darker.  Adele told the group to stop as she walked several paces further on.  She pointed to a spot of ground. “This,” she said, pausing for effect, “is where the body was discovered. A very shallow grave of dirt, leaf mould and bracken.  It had lain undiscovered for several days before a dog unearthed the putrefying remains. It was, as the newspapers like to describe it, a frenzied attack, the murderer having inflicted sixty two stab wounds to the face, neck and torso.”

Nobody spoke.  The cold, dispassionate way in which the facts had been delivered left everyone numb. Grace Hansacker felt a little queasy.

    Everyone was startled by a sudden flash of light.  Several of the group shrieked.  One of the Japanese in the group muttered what was presumably an apology and quickly stowed the camera back in his pocket.  As he did so a voice could be heard a little way off.

    “Hello? Hello?” The frumpy figure of a middle aged woman, her badge with Crime Scene Tours Ltd. snagging on the bracken, was thrashing through the undergrowth towards them.  She was frowning severely as she said, “Who on earth told you to come out here?”

    A faint shaft of sunlight pierced the treetops and illuminated the spot where Adele had been.  “Adele led us this way.”

    “Adele? Adele? Are you trying to be funny? Adele Jameson was the name of the murdered girl.” People in the group gasped. 

    Bob Hansacker clapped his hands ironically. “Nice one Ms...?”

    “Deborah.”

    “Well nice acting all around, Deborah, but just a little overdone.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Me and Grace have seen this all before with the playacting and all but we got evidence this time.” He gestured to the Japanese man with the camera. The man retrieved the camera from his bag and turned on the digital display screen. It showed a picture of a young blonde woman lying on the woodland floor, her decaying face and body matted with dried blood.

 

END

Bio:  Wally Smith has written several prize-winning short stories and has self-published three novels.  His one act plays have been performed both in the UK and abroad, and most recently at the INK Festival 2018. Some of his work can be seen on his website: www.wallysmith.co.uk and his blog: silverscouse.wordpress.com  Twitter: @scousescribbler. 

 

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