Sheila Burg was making her family a great breakfast, omelets, fried potatoes, cubed fruit and English muffins. She loved Saturday mornings, her kids and husband home, no school or work. When it was done, they all sat down together, ate and enjoyed one another’s company.
“I can’t wait to skate. Are we still going to?” asked Amy.
“Yes, your father is giving you a ride and checking on the ice.”
“Do we have to walk all the way home?”
“No, Joseph can take my cell phone; you can call when you’re done.”
The Burgs didn’t believe in cell phones for children, that or video games. When they were eighteen, they could decide for themselves…the same with tattoos and body piercings. Joe only had five more years; she couldn’t believe how fast they were growing up. That thought made weekends even more special.
Sheila was in the kitchen cleaning up the mess from the meal, the kids were getting dressed in layers. It had snowed about four inches overnight but the weather was sunny and crisp, a nice day in the middle of November. The sun was shining high in the sky and through light clouds, increasing the temperature. It was noticeably colder in the shade.
“You kiddos ready? asked Harlan Burg.
“I’ve been ready,” said Amy.
“Almost dad, I have to grab my skates.”
“I’ll go warm up the car, come out in about five minutes.”
He put the shovel in the trunk and turned over the engine.
“Bye mom.” Amy gave her mother a kiss.
“Bye sweetie, have lots of fun!”
Joe yelled goodbye on his way out the door.
The children piled in the car, excitement written all over their faces. Harlan backed out to turn around and headed towards 128th street. He drove east about a mile and there stood the abandoned farm. He pulled in the long drive and followed the dirt road back to the small lake. They all climbed out and Amy started the long process of lacing her skates. Joe went with his father towards the edge of the pond. It hadn’t melted at all and looked frozen solid all the way to the middle.
“It looks fine but let me check it out son.”
Harlan slowly walked on the ice, sliding his tennis shoed feet through the fresh snow. He went out to the center, jumping up and down laughing at himself.
“Looks good,” he hollered to the kids. Joe had his skates on and quickly caught up to his father. Amy was struggling with a tangled shoestring. Harlan decided to walk the circumference of the little lake since the kids would be using the whole thing. Harlan had brought the shovel with him and started making light passes over the ice; it had been a powdery snowfall. Joe kept up with him, skating in the path that the shovel was leaving behind.
“You’re getting good with those things,” said Harlan , “I remember when you first…”
Harlan Burg looked at his only son and saw fear in his eyes. He followed Joes fixed gaze to human fingers sticking out of the snow in the tall cattails. At least that’s what it looked like from where they stood. He told Joe to stay back while he went in for a closer look. Joe grabbed the back of his coat and coasted behind his dad.
“Skate over to your sister right now Joseph, no back talk just do it! Make sure she stays by the car!”
“OK dad,” he said with a quiver in his voice. He headed over to where Amy had gotten her skates on and was entering the ice.
“Hold on Amy! Mom made us some hot chocolate let’s have some.”
“Right now? I just started. Come on Joe I’ll race you!”
Harlan Burg bent down and studied the ground. Oh God, they were fingers and with his eyes followed the lump that looked like a snow covered body. He moved the cattails back with his gloved hand, brushed off the snow and took in the gruesome scene.
It was a young woman who had obviously been strangled, the nylon rope hung loosely around her neck. He brushed her off further and she was lying in an awkward position like she had been dumped. Her arms and legs were at unnatural angles, and her head was tilted in an impossible way.
Beyond the obvious cause if death, Harlan noticed she was missing a finger in her left hand. It appeared as though it had been cut off. He had to make a decision and quick! Call 911 now or take the kids home and report it from there. He chose the latter.
“Come on kids were going home.”
“Ah dad we just got here!” complained Amy.
I forgot my gloves Amy and you know how cold my hands will get.”
Joe climbed in the car and stuffed his gloves under the front seat, while Amy went around and got in on her side.
“Dad, you look white as a ghost, are you that cold?” asked Amy.
“Hush Amy, were not skating today the ice was much to thin on the other side.”
“What did you find dad? asked Joe. .
“Little ears?” reminded his father.
“Oh, that means me, and my ears aren’t that little! I’m eight and they’re growing.”
Despite the circumstances Harlan and Joe laughed. Leave it to Amy.
When the three of them got to the Burg home, Harlan asked the kids to go upstairs.
He explained to his wife what they had found and she was horrified.
“Why didn’t you call 911?”
“Well Joe saw a hand and I didn’t want Amy anywhere near it. I’m going to call now.” He was visibly shaken and pale.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“My name is Harlan Burg and I found a dead girl by a lake on the farm down the street.” His hands were trembling.
“What is the address sir?”
He gave her the address and explained it was the first abandoned farmhouse, on the south side, when going east on 128th street, from highway two.
“Did u check for a pulse sir?”
“No she had been dead for sometime, it looked like she had been strangled, please hurry!”
“I have units on the way now Mr. Burg. Are you at the location?”
“No, I live right down the road, didn’t want my eight year old daughter and thirteen year old son to be a part of this.”
“So, you discovered the body and left the scene?”
“Yes, as I said, I didn’t want my children to see anything!”
“OK… if you have someone to stay with the children could you return to the scene of discovery?”
“Sure, I’ll head back down there now.”
“Thank you Mr. Burg.”
He hung up and told Sheila he needed to go back.
“The operator acted like I committed some kind of crime leaving.”
“Maybe your not supposed to leave.”
“Joe already saw the horrible blue fingers…that was enough!”
“I need to go see if he’s all right, be careful driving back there, hon.”
“I will, love you Sheila,” he half smiled.
” I love you too Harlan.” She game him a big kiss right on the lips.
By the time Harlan got back to the scene there were already Commerce City police cars in force, ambulances with paramedics, the county coroner, and some news teams. They had wasted no time. It was a small town and this was a big case. The population was 46,941 and there were 117 police officers. No wonder twelve cop cars showed up.
There was yellow crime tape around trees, encompassing the area around the picnic table, all the way back to the cattails where the corpse was discovered. There were crime scene technicians working on and around the body, casting tire tracks, footprints and taking samples of skin from the picnic table. If nothing they were thorough.
As soon as the charge officer , Sergeant Sean O’Brien, saw Harlan
he came up to ask him some questions.
“Hi sir, Harlan Burg?”
“Yes sir I am.”
“I’m sergeant O’Brien of the Commerce City Police Department. I would like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.”
“Go for it, said Harlan.”
“What time did you discover the deceased body of this victim?”
“About 45 minutes ago, so 10:45.”
“Have you ever seen her before today?”
“Of course not.”
“Are you sure sir?”
“Hell yes I’m sure sergeant!”
Harlan had regained his composure since first discovering the body ; he was no longer shaken and pale.
“Did you touch the body Sir?”
“No…I wiped some snow back until I was sure it was a body.”
“And you rounded up your kids and went home.”
“Yes, what is this all about?”
“Where were you, let’s say, last Wednesday night, early Thursday morning?”
“Wednesday night I was with my family and Thursday morning I was a work,why?”
“No reason, we just want to clear you as a suspect.”
“Me? A suspect? Do I need a lawyer?”
“No Mr. Burg that won’t be necessary …at this point.”
At ‘this point’. At ‘this point’…that bothered him all the way home.