Case closed . . . Or is it?
Christopher Masters, known as ‘The Roommate Killer’, strangled three women over a two-week period in a London house in November 2012. Holly Kemp, his fourth victim, was never found.
Her remains have been unearthed in a field in Cambridgeshire and DC Cat Kinsella and the major investigation team are called in, but immediately there are questions surrounding the manner of her death. And with Masters now dead, no one to answer them.
DCI Tessa Dyer, the lead on the 2012 case, lends the team a hand, as does DCI Steele’s old boss and mentor, the now retired Detective Chief Superintendent Oliver Cairns.
With Masters dead, Cat and the team have to investigate every lead again.
BUT IF YOU’D GOT AWAY WITH MURDER, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WHEN THE CASE IS RE-OPENED?
‘The Roommate’ case:
2012 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Contents [hide] 1 Christopher Masters: early and personal life
2 Modus operandi
3 Police Investigation
4 The Victims
4.1 Bryony Trent 4.2 Stephanie König. 4.3 Ling Chen 4.4 The disappearance of Holly Kemp.
5 Arrest, trial and conviction
7 Further reading.
When the first blow lands, it’s almost a relief. A karmic debt paid. A manoeuvre, at least. She battles at first, of course; kicking and clawing and begging and bargaining all the way from the cold kitchen floor, where they first bounce her skull, through the hall, across the driveway, and into the boot of the waiting car. A car she knows well. A car she’s sat in maybe ten, fifteen times – always the passenger, but always firmly in the driving seat. Queen of the world. Top of her game. Tonight, the gun glinting in the midnight light signals that, for her, the game’s now up. She had this coming. She accepts this. She knows she created this whole sordid mess herself. And yet she’d prayed that they’d stop at a beating – because a beating she could take; bruises fade, fractures heal, even the worst scars can be covered with make-up. And God knows she’d taken enough beatings in her life and still lived to tell the sorry tale. She won’t live to tell this one. She doesn’t deserve to. Even by her standards, this one was cruel. And she is sorry. She knows they don’t believe her, but maybe if there’s a God upstairs, He will. Maybe next time around, she’ll come back as a better person. Th is time around, there was only ever one way this mess was going to end.
We’d prayed for rain for weeks. Or maybe it was months? It’s hard to remember a time when griping about the heat wasn’t a national fetish. When days weren’t spent sighing and swearing and spraying yourself with Magicool, and nights weren’t spent tossing and turning, wondering if sleep was now a pleasure of the past. And then there were the arguments. Christ, there were the arguments. Civil war over air-con settings. Men carping at women, jealous at the sight of us drifting around in lightweight dresses while they sweated buckets in the same suits that saw them through winter. Old versus young: Steele and Parnell crowing that this was no way near as brutal as the summer of ’76, when the rivers ran dry and the tarmac melted, and using your hosepipe was a crime routinely punishable by social death. Of course, we – Th e Young – stated long and loud that, as we weren’t even twinkles in our parents’ eyes in 1976, The Olds’ point was entirely moot and, frankly, not helping. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, we’d endlessly argue, and we’d been dealt this cursed summer. Th e paralysing heatwave of 2018. We were living through it, sweltering through it, surviving it – just – with the aid of desk fans and ice-packs, and the constant yet sagging hope that it might one day rain again on England’s green and pleasant lands. And now here, on a grassy dirt track, running alongside a remote field in the molten heart of Cambridgeshire, our prayers are finally answered. ‘Fucking rain,’ I say, scowling at the sky. All our sweaty, parched misery forgotten in an instant. ‘You don’t get rain in London, no?’ DC Ed Navarro – our crime scene guide, and boy, does he resent it – is smirking in a way that makes me want to flick his pale, waxy face, like a boiled potato with a goatee. ‘Because seriously, you’re looking a little frazzled there. Do you want to go and sit in the car for a bit?’ ‘Why, is it acid rain?’ I bite back. He rummages in his pocket, retrieves an opened packet of Polo mints. ‘Not that I’m aware.’ ‘Well then, I reckon I’ll survive.’ ‘Ah, come on, Kinsella, this is bliss,’ DS Luigi Parnell raises his hands, letting the rain patter off his palms: pennies from heaven. ‘It’s not even that heavy. And remember what the boss says, “It’s good for the garden.” ’ ‘I don’t have a garden.’ I lift my plastic fi le of crime scene photos above my head, a macabre makeshift umbrella. ‘I do have frizzy hair, though.’ Immediately, I regret saying it. Holly Kemp doesn’t have to worry about frizzy hair anymore. Or the fact that her cheap cotton work shirt is getting more see-through by the minute.
Holly Kemp hasn’t worried about anything in a long time. ‘So, yeah, this is where we found her.’ Navarro nods towards the deep ditch at the side of the track, then leads us to a gap in the covering hedgerow, presumably cut away to give Forensics easier access. Just yesterday, a crime scene tent would have stood here, preserving evidence and privacy for the army of white suits going about their crucial black art, but we’re quick to get them down these days. It’s not ‘resource efficient’ – to use the term à la mode – to keep them under guard for a second longer than necessary. Money. Budgets. PR. Stats. The four horsemen of modern policing. ‘Well, of course, we didn’t find her. Lady Persephone III did – that’s a dog, before you ask.’ Navarro pops two mints in his mouth, not bothering to off er them round. ‘Honestly, I don’t know what planet some people are on. What’s wrong with Patch or Rex or Rover all of a sudden? Proper dog names.’ ‘I like it,’ I say, just to agitate him. In my defence, we’re under strict instructions from DCI Kate Steele to play the agitators today. Th e standard ‘up from London’ arseholes who think the rest of the force are an el cheapo version of the mighty Metropolitan Police. Steele’s hoping a blast of belligerence might put a rocket up their backsides. ‘So, any danger of a post-mortem?’ asks Parnell, casualness spliced with scorn. ‘It’s been over forty-eight hours – well over forty-eight hours.’
Navarro widens his stance. ‘Hey, hang on a minute. It’s been over forty-eight hours since we contacted you about the locket, but we only got her back to the morgue last night. You can’t rush forensic archaeology – it’s a fiddly business.’ Parnell pulls an unimpressed face. I opt for majorly unimpressed. ‘And, look, we’ve got a backlog, OK? Our pathologist’s run off her feet.’ I fold my arms, giving up on my file-cum-umbrella. ‘Whereas ours just sits around sharpening her rib-cutters, waiting for a body to roll in.’ ‘Bodies, actually.’ Navarro looks more sad than defensive. ‘Th ere was a pile-up on the M11 a few hours before this. Two cars, five teens, four dead – two from the same family.’ He raps a knuckle on his forehead, knocking out the thought. ‘I knew one of them – not well, mind. I used to coach him at Soccertots. But I’d see him in the pub sometimes, acting the big guy, getting the pints in. They grow up so quickly and then bang . . . gone.’ And then bang, the ‘up from London’ arseholes feel like bona fi de lousy arseholes. We off er quick but sincere condolences, Parnell catching my eye to convey that Operation Arsehole is being immediately stood down. I bring the conversation back to safer ground – the dog with the dumb name. ‘You know, we really should be shaking Lady Persephone III by the paw. She did what we failed to do. She found Holly Kemp. Poor soul’s been missing for years.’
Nearly six years, to be precise. Six birthdays. Six Christmases. Six anniversaries spent wondering if this is the year you get ‘closure’ – that storybook notion they talk about on TV. ‘Er, we? What your lot failed to do, you mean?’ Navarro can’t stop himself – the pissing contest between forces is as predictable as it is puerile. I let the dig pass, mainly because I feel heartsick about Navarro’s ex-Soccertot, but partly because it’s fair enough. Th is is on the mighty Metropolitan Police, no question. ‘So, how in God’s name did she lie here for so long, unnoticed?’ I ask of no one in particular. ‘All this,’ says Navarro, drawing a semi-circle on the drizzly horizon, ‘belonged to an old farmer, Johnny Heath. He died a while back, but he’d let the field lie fallow for years; more to do with bad health than good crop rotation, I think.’ Th e reference is lost on me but I nod sagely. ‘His son lived in America. Didn’t even bother coming home for the funeral, so they say. And he never got round to selling the place when the old man passed because he was making a king’s ransom on Wall Street and didn’t need the money. So aft er Johnny died in 2015, the whole estate just sat here. Th e son paid a local to cut the grass a few times a year, but that’s about it.’ ‘And the tractor wouldn’t go anywhere near the ditch,’ says Parnell.
I pull a photo from my file. ‘And even if it did, she was well hidden.’ Twigs and branches and bracken and logs. It was the logs that were the chilling detail; the logs that proved this wasn’t some tramp looking for shelter who’d died of hypothermia in the night, or a binge-drinking casualty, staggering home across the field. Th e logs were placed on top of the body, no doubt about it. They’d covered it, cocooned it, made sure that a grieving family didn’t get closure any time soon. ‘So, to finish the story . . .’ Another mint in his mouth. ‘Th e son’s luck ran out in the US of A a few months back – redundancy, he says – and lo and behold, suddenly he’s Old MacDonald. Over here like a shot, talking about organic farming, setting up a shop for fools with deep pockets.’ ‘So is the dog his?’ I ask, giving up on Lady P’s full title. Navarro nods. ‘She’d been scrabbling around the same spot for days. He didn’t think much of it until a few days ago when she wouldn’t come when he called. And then when she wouldn’t respond to the whistle either, he knew something was up. Th e whistle always works, apparently.’ ‘A whistle? So she’s a puppy. He’s training her.’ Parnell fancies himself as a bit of an expert, having walked his kids’ dog twice in the last year. ‘Got it in one.’ Navarro wipes the rain from his face with his shirt-cuff . I’m past the point of caring about my halo of fuzz. ‘He thought he’d mastered it, too. But, you know, give a dog a bone . . .’
Not a bone, it turned out. Bones. One hundred and eighty-nine of them which, according to my GCSE B in biology, means seventeen are missing. Lost to foxes or scattered by starlings, we’ll assume. An almost entire female skeleton left to decompose in a ditch, miles from where she was last seen. 6 Valentine Street, Clapham, South-West London. Six years ago, the press dubbed it the ultimate ‘House of Horrors’. More recently, an estate agent called it a stunning, characterful mid-terrace home, with a newly extended kitchen and a real oasis of a garden. Seldom do properties such as this make it onto the market. Which is true, if a little sugar-coated. ‘So why here?’ I ask in place of Why do we do this job when it’s all dead Soccertots and bones and standing in fields in the bloody rain? ‘And I don’t mean, why not Valentine Street? I mean, why here – Caxton? Why this spot, specifically?’ I do a slow 360, taking in our surroundings, which to be frank aren’t much. Apart from the three of us standing here like peasants in a Constable painting and a rusted tractor in the next field, there isn’t a single point of interest as far as the eye can see. Just a vista of bleached land and a temporarily sullen sky. ‘OK, sure, you’re off the beaten track a bit, but you aren’t exactly sheltered. Even at night, you’d have to feel slightly exposed.’ Navarro shrugs, as though the methods of a killer aren’t his to judge.
‘Ah, come on, Ed, help us out,’ says Parnell, all chummy now. ‘You know the area. If you were going to bury a body, would you really do it here?’ ‘Maybe. We aren’t exactly spoiled for choice around these parts. Th ere aren’t too many wooded areas, and Th e Fens, just north of here, is a completely fl at landscape.’ Th e smirk is back. ‘Do you know what my guv’nor says? He says FENS stands for Fucking Enormous Nothing.’ I smile. Parnell laughs generously. ‘Fucking Enormous Nothing, that’s a good one.’ He’s back to business quickly. ‘But seriously though, there must be somewhere safer than this? Somewhere more secluded?’ He considers it this time, rubbing at his goatee. ‘Me, personally, if I’d killed my sister-in-law – which would be an honour and a privilege, I tell you – I wouldn’t bury her at all. I’d weigh her down and throw her in the Ramsey Forty Foot – it’s a big drainage dyke about twenty miles north of here.’ Dragging him from his daydream, I say, ‘You know, you both keep using the word “buried”, but she wasn’t buried, not really.’ ‘Well, she wasn’t under the ground, no,’ Navarro concedes. ‘But he did a thorough job of hiding her.’ I step closer to the ditch, peering at the space left , the nothingness. ‘Hiding is different to burying, though. Hiding’s quicker. Th is person was in a rush.’ ‘Hold on, “this person”?’ Navarro’s eyes narrow, piqued and suspicious. ‘Look, I know we’re skirting around this until we get dental records back, but this is Holly Kemp. The locket, it’s engraved “HOLLY”. It’s got photos of her parents inside. It’s hers. And she’s one of his, isn’t she?’ We say nothing. ‘Well, my guv’nor spoke to the DCI who headed things up back then and they’re still convinced. He admitted it, right?’ He, Christopher Dean Masters, did indeed admit it. And then he denied it, then admitted it, denied it, then admitted it, and so on and so on, until the original investigators stopped giving him the airtime and the warped satisfaction. ‘Believe me, I wish she was one of ours. Our clear-up stats aren’t great at the moment.’ Th is should rattle my cage but depressingly, I hear him. Too many cases and a major drop in the number of murder detectives makes you clinical – brain-fried and clinical. ‘I thought she was one of ours, actually. Th e minute the call came through, I said, Th at’s Ania Duvac, that is. I had a £10 bet with Jonesy, our exhibits officer.’ He clocks my expression and his face flushes – boiled potato to raw beetroot with one misjudged admission. ‘Look, it wasn’t my idea. Jonesy’d bet on two flies crawling up a wall. He’s got a real problem, that one. Anyway, I knew I’d lost my tenner the second I got here. Ania only went missing last September, see. You’d expect to see a bit of muscle tissue still attached.’ He smiles to himself. ‘Th e lads think it’s weird, but I’ve got a real interest in this type of stuff . I know a thing or two about decay.’
Fair play to him. It’s more than I do. You see, policing is generally a conveyor belt of firsts. You walk your first beat, make your first arrest. You brace yourself for the first time you shatter a heart with the words, ‘I’m so sorry to have to tell you . . .’ And despite what the old guard say – the know-it-alls, the thirty-year-service brigade, the retired peacocks propping up the bar at so-and-so’s leaving do, regaling anyone naïve enough to listen about the time they met the Kray twins – you never ever stop learning. Th ere’s no finite number of head-fucks this job can serve up. Today, for example, despite it being four years since I first joined Murder, since I crouched over my very first corpse at my very first crime scene, this – Holly Kemp – is my first set of bones. No blood. No wounds. No gag reflex smell. No small but poignant detail to connect you to your victim. I admit it. I’m finding it hard to connect with just bones. With a skeleton laid out like a science project, or a cheap thrill on the ghost train. Holly Kemp’s photo is all I’ve got to gauge the essence of who she was. Th e ‘famous’ photo. Th e classic news feed fodder. Th e one of the bottle-job blonde with the duck-pout lips. Tan straight out of a bottle. Teeth straight out of a Colgate advert. And ‘tits straight out of a catalogue’, according to Navarro. They found implants among the bones. Silicone’s a hardy bugger to break down. As are rubber soles.
‘Did I see something about footwear?’ I rifle through my file, looking for the relevant print-out. ‘You did,’ confirms Navarro. ‘Th ere was a trainer – pretty distinctive, actually. Possibly custom-made. A photo’s been sent to her mates – they should be able to ID it, hopefully.’ Th ere’s a spark in his eyes; morbid curiosity. ‘Odd though, isn’t it? Th e trainer.’ ‘Yeah. No. Maybe.’ I let him read what he wants into my airy non-answer. ‘Thing is,’ he goes on, the mints click-clacking against his teeth, ‘there were a few scraps of fabric too, sticky patches melded with the bone. Jeans, probably, as they found copper rivets – you know, the tiny bits of metal you get on the pockets?’ I shoot a fidgety glance towards Parnell, who quickly looks away. Navarro spots it. ‘Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the same as me. I mean, it’s hard not to think it.’ He pauses, and for a moment there’s only the dripping-tap trickle of the weakening summer rain and the soft , tidal rush of motorway, God knows how far away. ‘The others . . . they were naked.’ The others. Strangers in life, bound together in death. Names on a Wikipedia page.
Thank you to @Zaffrebooks for the extract of this exciting new book by @CazziF