Dead Men Can Kill
I normally had no trouble finding a volunteer to be hypnotized in front of a group of peers and I was always amazed how frequently the volunteer was female. I tried to imagine what that statistic meant but never could figure out a logical answer. Perhaps because this was a summer class with a mix of college students and working professionals there to further their education, no one volunteered. I therefore reinforced what all school students - and church goers – know: don't sit in the front row or you may get called on. I asked the only person in the front row if he would mind being a guinea pig for the audience. With a reluctant grin, he said okay.
"Luke Fenster, from Denton,” he responded to my request that he identify himself to the class. Denton was a small New Mexico town, situated on the old Route 66, and now I-40, about sixty miles west of the Texas state line. "I'm a junior and I hope to get a job with the FBI when I graduate."
"Please take a seat and relax.” I requested and then turned back to the class.
The room was cool, in stark contrast to the heat outside. I had the lights turned down just enough to encourage Luke Fenster to relax, though I hoped not low enough to encourage the audience to sleep. Actually, this was the one part of my presentation that usually kept everyone awake.
"As I mentioned before in my presentation, unlike what you may have seen in the movies, or heard about from your friends, the hypnotist can rarely cause post-hypnotic suggestions or make people quack like a duck. It really can’t make people do what they would not do in the first place. Its potential in law enforcement is its ability to draw out information from a witness or a victim that may have been forgotten, misplaced in the mind, or blocked out because of shock or emotional trauma.
The best example I can remember from my days as an investigator was a witness’ ability to recall a license plate number that solved an attempted murder. The witness had seen the tag but kept getting confused and frustrated when he tried to recall the numbers. Through hypnotism, he was able to relax and methodically work through the sequence of numbers."
I had heard of other more exciting examples, but the one with the license plate numbers was one I personally witnessed. Plus, it was a very simple example that didn't over glamorize hypnosis. I knew there were legal drawbacks to using forensic hypnotism, and while I didn't delve too much into them I tried to at least make each class aware of the pitfalls.
"What I intend to do with Luke, here, is simply take him back through a series of birthdays that he has experienced and see how far back his memories can remain graphic.” I positioned myself along side of Luke so the students could see what I was doing, as well as seeing Luke. He reclined in the chair and shut his eyes.
"You need to have your eyes open, Luke. Just relax and watch my old watch, just like in the movies.” Using an old watch was not necessary; in fact the pros don't use anything at all. I just found this prop seemed to work well and was normally appreciated by my audience. "Keep watching the watch and let your arms and legs relax. Do you know anything about yoga, Luke?"
He shook his head no.
"Well, we want to follow a similar method here, so just let your whole body relax. Just like going to sleep but keep your eyes open and watch the watch. Listen to my voice, Luke. Focus only on my watch and my voice. That's good, Luke, you’re doing fine, let everything go limp. It's okay to get sleepy. Just try to focus on the watch and my voice.” I worked hard to keep my voice in a monotone and, fortunately, the rest of the students in the room remained quiet.
I repeated my instructions to Luke for about two minutes before I felt comfortable that he was in a trance. "Tell us your full name, Luke.” Although I was never positive, I thought I could tell if my subjects were hypnotized by just asking a few questions and observing how they responded.
"Luke Anthony Fenster," he replied. His voice did sound a bit different and someone from the class "ooooed.” I turned and gave a nasty look in the direction of the sound. Too much noise from the audience could easily break a trance.
"How long have you lived in Denton?" I asked softly.
"All my life.”
"Who do you live with there?"
"Just my grandmother,” he answered.
I stifled an urge to ask him what happened to his parents and went on to the "meat" of the demonstration. "Describe your sixteenth birthday party, Luke."
A small smile again crossed Luke's face. "My granny threw a pool party for me and my friends at the municipal pool. It was fun. There must have been ten kids there. It was hot; the weatherman on the radio said it was over a hundred degrees that day.” I couldn't resist turning to the class and raising my index finger to accentuate Luke's specific recall of something that he heard on the radio that day.
"Okay, Luke, just relax some more. Take a deep breath. Everything is so comfortable.” I waited about ten seconds. "Now, let's go back to your tenth birthday party, Luke. Did any friends come over to celebrate it with you?" Usually I could go back to the eight to ten year old range without any problems, but preferred to hit on ten as my second stop because it invariably was a year I received good recall from my subjects.
"Danny, Steven, Lester, and Mark were at my party. Granny took us all to the Pizza Palace.” Luke answered without any hesitation.
I decided to take a gamble here. "Do you remember what you wore that day, Luke?"
"Yes," he responded, again without any hesitation, "we all wore cowboy gear because we had just come from the junior rodeo."
I turned to the class, again making a mark in the air with my finger."I know you are sleepy, Luke. You are so comfortable. Let me just ask you one more question. Concentrate, Luke. Concentrate only on my voice. Can you remember anything from your second birthday?"
Luke was silent for a second. I really did not expect him to recall anything from so far back and for a moment I thought he may have actually fallen asleep. "There was a pretty cake, my mom was there, and she had made such a pretty cake. And, AAGH!! No! NO!" Luke screamed in such a shrill voice that I nearly jumped out of my chair.
"Luke, snap out of it. Snap out of it… it's okay, it's me, you can wake up now.” I was actually shaking Luke and not realizing it until Dr. Anaya grabbed my arm and asked if everything was all right. Luke looked up at me and out at the class. Although he looked pale, he responded that he was fine.
"Luke, go get yourself a drink of water," Dr. Anaya instructed. Luke lumbered out of the classroom. The rest of the students were talking loudly to each other and asking questions of me and Dr. Anaya about what happened. I began telling them I wasn't sure, but Dr. Anaya interrupted me and told all the students that they had had enough fun for one day and that class was over.
Dr. Anaya walked me out to my car. "Don't worry about the excitement," he said, "I'll probably have more students than you can shake a stick at next term thanks to your little demonstration in there. You obviously made him remember something that scared the miedo, excuse my Latin, out of him. If he was really remembering back when he was two, though, that could have been almost anything. My two year old granddaughter has a fit every time a fly comes next to her."
I acknowledged that Dr. Anaya was probably correct. However, I would have felt better if I could have at least seen Luke before I drove off. He had not come back to the classroom and was nowhere to be seen when we had left the room.
My drive home was not as tranquil as my drive to the university had been that morning. This was my first demonstration that ended on such a strange note. I couldn’t help but think of Luke and to hope that he was alright. His reaction was on my mind for the next four hours as I tried to imagine what may have caused it.
The next few days were uneventful for me. I worked on the yard and the wood work on the outside of my house. Luke was still on my mind. To satisfy my lingering curiosity, I called Dr Anaya the following Monday.
“I’m glad you called, Jim. I’m getting a little concerned myself. Luke never returned to class on Friday. A friend of his told me that Luke left the campus on Friday and that he had not been seen since.”
"Where did he say his home was, Doc?" I asked. I knew he had mentioned it during the demonstration, but at the time it wasn't really relevant to me.
"Denton, shouldn't be too far from you," he responded. “Are you thinking about going up there? We could have someone call him from here, it would be simple enough."
"No, don't do that. I feel kind of responsible and it looks like a slow week ahead for me. I'll just take a drive up there tomorrow. It's a small town. You wouldn't know the address would you?"
"Hold on a minute," replied Dr. Anaya, "yes, here it is: 335 Lima Street, Denton, New Mexico. Let me know what you find out."
I told him I would and hung up the phone. Something nagged at the back of my mind telling me not to wait until the next day to follow up on Luke. In the past I paid attention to these little warnings, but I wasn’t operational now. That was all behind me and my semi-retirement was supposed to be relaxing and healthy. Not the time to get excited about hunches, deadlines, and danger. The odd job once in a while to stay busy and maybe a little fishing and golf; keep the blood pressure down and these days one could live to be a hundred. It all sounded good. But, I couldn't keep Luke out of my mind. Why did I feel that something wasn't right?
All that night, I tossed and turned. I woke up early, fed Chubs my "Heinz 57" dog, and headed off to Denton.
Denton was a sleepy little town that existed only because travelers every now and then needed gas, food and lodging. It was one of the few real blips on the old Route 66, now Interstate 40, between Amarillo and the suburbs of Albuquerque. There was also a small state road that ran north – south through Denton. It was a narrow two lane road, seemingly going nowhere. It was the road on which I approached Denton.
I actually enjoyed these old state roads. Many of them stretched for hundreds of miles through the state. Frequently you could drive on them for miles without seeing another car or person. Early on most mornings, however, if you timed it just right, these roads could be busy with tractors and trucks all returning to the ranches and fields for the day’s work ahead.
I approached Denton from the south at approximately eight in the morning. It was going to be a beautiful day. Only a few small clouds interrupted what was otherwise a perfectly blue sky. As I came down off the caprock into the valley where Denton sat, two prairie antelope bolted from the highway to the protection of the sagebrush.
The rocks of the caprock glistened in the morning sun, casting long shadows across the mesa's slope. A perfect place to film a "cowboy" movie I thought and wondered if any films were ever made out here. If not, the folks out in Hollywood were really missing out. It was easy for me to imagine a wagon train moving along in the valley and then someone looking up and seeing the Indians on horseback on the ridge line watching them.
Actually it was only during rare periods of the past that travelers through the west faced real danger. Those were the periods of time when marauding bands of renegade Apaches or Comanches would terrorize the territory. Driving through this scenic land, I didn’t have the slightest realization that a different, but just as deadly danger, now stalked the unwary traveler through this part of New Mexico.
By the time I reached Denton the town was already awake and active. The large truck stops were doing a brisk business and the Pancake House and its clones were sucking in the breakfast crowd. I decided to join them. I wasn't sure where Lima Street was but I figured someone working in the Pancake House could easily point out the directions I needed.
I ordered coffee and a small stack of buttermilk pancakes. I wasn't particularly hungry but thought I might as well get something to eat in exchange for the information I would want. The restaurant was typical of those catering to the tourist crowd that might pass through any region of New Mexico. There were little baskets of western trinkets for sale by the cash register, paintings of the old Wild West on the walls, and most of the meals were named after characters made more popular by television than anything else. Booths aligned the walls and small tables with vinyl cushioned chairs filled the interior spaces of the restaurant. My waitress was an attractive lady in a sky blue uniform, with brown hair and a name tag that said Sue. She was more than happy to explain to me that Lima Street was a small road that ran west off of North Sixth Street. If I was to head to Albuquerque, Sixth Street was the last paved road turning off of the interstate before I left city limits.
The pancakes weren't bad and the coffee was good. Combine that with Sue's pleasant personality and willingness to give me directions, I left a generous tip and headed towards the cash register to pay my bill. As the cashier was ringing up my bill, I noticed two uniformed policemen walk into the restaurant. Immediately a number of the employees and some of the customers stopped what they were doing and surrounded the officers.
"What's going on?" I asked the cashier.
"Not sure, sir, but I heard there was a murder in town last night. I imagine they may be asking the police if they caught the killer yet. This is usually a quiet town. My guess is that is what all the excitement is about.”
I waited for the change from my ten dollar bill and then walked past the crowd by the front door and out to my car. From the bits and pieces I heard as I walked by the police officers, I figured the cashier’s guess was correct. Remarks such as "a real tragedy", "a shame", and "hope you catch who did it" were comments I had heard myself many times in the past, usually when I was briefing people about a serious crime.
Murder, if that was what it was, is common in big cities, but out here in the small towns of the southwest it is pretty rare. Usually when murders did occur, they were crimes of passion and the police had a pretty good resolution rate in bringing justice its due.
As I pulled out of the restaurant's parking lot, though, I didn't care for the fact that the nagging at the back of my mind was beginning to spread down my spine. I reached back and rubbed the back of my neck but it did little good.
I had no trouble finding Lima Street and was busy trying to read the numbers on the houses when I noticed the police cars and the crime scene tape sealing off a house about a hundred yards down the road.
I wanted to turn around right then and go home. I didn't want to find out what my imagination was already telling me, but I drove on. I knew it was Luke's house before I saw the numbers on the old metal mailbox that leaned precariously out over the curb. I stopped the car and stared at the house. I saw movement inside through the windows but no one was outside in the yard.
"Can I help you?" The question shot in through my open window. I almost jumped through the moon roof. I think my seat belt was the only thing that kept me in the seat. I tried to regain my composure and smiled at the deputy sheriff who had apparently approached me from the house across the road.
"You startled me," I felt silly but I didn't want him to read too much into my reaction. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"What are you doing here?" he responded. "You're not from around here, are you? Why don't you step out of the car for a minute so we can talk."
I didn't like the deputy's overreaction but I knew better than to irritate him. I got out of the car as he called and talked to someone briefly on his radio. I started to identify myself when he cut me off. "Wait for Sheriff Gibbs," and he pointed at a tall slender man in a crisp, clean uniform walking out the front door of Luke's house.
"What's up?" the Sheriff asked, as much to me as to the deputy.
“I’m Jim West, Sheriff. I drove up here this morning from Clovis to see Luke Fenster.”
"What's your business with Luke?"
"He attended a lecture I gave in Albuquerque a few days ago. It's a long story, but after my presentation, Luke left the college and did not return. I wanted to speak to him to see if something I had said or done had been the cause of his leaving the school."
"You haven't seen him since the day of your class in Albuquerque?"
"No, and why these questions Sheriff, has something happened?" I asked, already knowing it was a dumb question and not really liking the way three more deputies had come out and were staring at me.
"Luke and his grandmother were killed last night. They apparently interrupted a burglary, at least that's our best guess at the moment. We don’t have much to work on, mister, what did you say your name was?"
"Jim West," I replied. I tried to stay calm but the hairs on the back of my neck were flashing me all types of signs I didn't like.
"Well, Mr. West, I would like to talk to you some more about this lecture of yours, but not here and not now. Think you could come down to the station around two this afternoon?” asked the Sheriff.
"Sure,'' I replied. One of the deputies was behind my car copying down the license tag information. It seemed pretty obvious that if I didn't show up at two, Sheriff Gibbs wanted to know where he could come looking for me.