“I want to start by saying that I’ve been doing this for a while and in the twenty years I’ve been on homicide I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
My deposition in the case of the Mills Family Murders was a long time coming. I’d had plenty of time to prepare. I decided to set the stage with an earlier murder case, one that had opened the door for me into just how depraved people could be. Just how fucked up almost all of us were.
The lies began early. If you’re going to lie, start at the beginning; set the precedent. Begin lying like it was the skin you’re born in. Begin laying the groundwork for the pretext that you plan to live inside until acquittal, guilt or bleeding out and fucking stick to that shit… believe it like your Momma’s last name.
The house was kind of a throw back as far as San Diego properties go. A wannabe Victorian from the late fifties it mixed the beach feel with post-war military chic. The porch was sparse. A slightly rusted faux wrought iron chair and an ashtray lifted from the lounge of some Jiffy Lube or fly by night Smog Check. Sparse and Spartan would be catchphrases for everything about this case.
When I arrived I chased off the Community Service Officers and Forensic Investigative fucks that crowd the scene. They always want to hang on the detective’s nuts and swing around, living the dream. It’s not my fault you never put in the time on the street and I don’t give a fuck what your test scores are. You’re the help. Get the fuck out.
I work in a spiral pattern. I start outside. That’s one of the reasons I chase off the help so quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I show up late enough for the forensic fucks to get the establishing shots, detail the curtilage, get me some nice eight by ten glossies of the silly blood splatter shots that Nancy Grace creams over. I don’t want any of that. I want the details. I want the love notes. Let me give you an easy example of what I’m talking about.
I want you to imagine a mom and pop grocery, your regular almost 7-11. Cigs and pints of booze, expired milks, lotto, hot dogs and whatever local ethnic quick bites the owner swears are fresh. Dad runs the books, Mom keeps the house upstairs, and Daughter runs the register. Let’s add into the mix that Dad has beat Mom since the day they arrived from Korea circa Sanford and Son. Mom hasn’t been downstairs except to cook in ten years. Dad started molesting little Ji-Yung around the time E.T. came out; usually, when she would sit up front and restock the tootsie pops that he would give to the pretty ladies who stopped by. It started out over the clothes and stayed that way, for a while.
Ji-Yung was thirty-seven when she smashed Dad’s head in with a credit card swiper that most of the forensic fucks wouldn’t even recognize. When I got to the shop and kicked the fucks out I let the family advocacy rep stay with Ji-Yung. She had built a little fort around herself with bags of chips and pastries in the southwest corner of the shop, swiper still in hand, breathing that rhythmic ‘hee hee hee’ thousand-yard stare hyperventilated triumph noise that most of the violently vindicated know so well. It took me three hours to even enter the shop.
Outside looked like a regular urban quickie mart sandwiched in-between a payday loan joint and a closed down yoga studio. Its main discerning feature (to me) was the small dog-eared gate due south of the main entrance on Fifth. It was only three feet wide and freshly painted. What stood out to me immediately was the way the latch was worn. It was a stainless steel fixture. Stainless takes on a certain kind of cloudy crosshatched patina when it is allowed to weather. When it takes some abuse, say from constant friction against other metal, it takes on a slightly less cloudy yet darker more polished finish almost like it was scribbled on with a pencil. Someone came through this gate every day.
The easement to the tiny back patio was unremarkable. Concrete sidewalk, bare on both sides, eerily bare actually. Not a single weed, snail or rock; just dirt, watered and left to dry a thousand times. Around the back was the same concrete slab you’d expect in an urban duplex backyard except again, nothing else. Bare packed dirt, a well-used hibachi and one of those turkey fryer propane stands with a splatter ring around it that screamed stir-fry instead of gobble-gobble.
I know. You’re asking why it took me three hours. I almost missed it. She almost made it so subtle that it faded into the wood grain. She was almost too careful. Her love note; “Doum,” Korean for Help. It was so easy to miss not because it blended with the wood grain, no… It took me almost an hour of staring and half a pack of smokes. It was the goddamn wood grain.
You see, ever since Daddy started touching her, Ji-Yung had come home from school, entered through the gate and scratched the character for Doum into the fence with her thumbnail. She did this nearly every day for 26 years.
The day Ji-Yung beat Youn’s face in with the American Express card swiper she had already done a few other things. She had come home from the Trader Joe’s up the street with the cabbage that mother had asked her to get. Passing through the gate she scratched Doum into the fence (seven feet down the way from the gate for approximately the 21,672nd time and no, I didn’t count, one of the fucks did) and made her way in the back sliding glass door past the hibachi. Youn yelled at her to hurry and shot his regular barrage of insults about tardiness and respect as she made her way upstairs to shed her jacket and show mother the cabbage. When Min-Ju looked up at her to take the cabbage her eyes were hooded. Her lower lip was swollen and a small trickle of blood still oozed from where Youn had struck her. She would not meet Ji-Yung’s gaze. “Was it because of the Kimchi?” Ji-Yung asked.
Min-Ju nodded slowly “Kimchi.” She lisped over her fat lip.
“Fucking kimchi.” Ji-Yung let out one syllable at a time.
Ji-Yung set out down the small hallway toward the linen closet where mother kept the modest first aid supplies. Min-Ju was always meticulous in the way the closet was kept and normally no one went into it but her. Ji-Yung however, knew where things were kept. As she reached for the cotton swabs and antibiotic ointment she knocked the bottle of peroxide to the ground. Bending to pick it up from the worn crescent of carpet in front of the linen closet door her eyes caught the small marks on the bottom inside of the door for the first time.
Marks that could only have been made by someone small, close to the ground.
Someone kneeling as she was now… someone making some act of contrition… someone begging for forgiveness.
Her brain had registered the words even before her mouth would make the sounds. Mi-an-he. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Mi-an-he over and over. Love notes.
Her body began moving even before her brain knew what her heart understood. Ji-Yung left the supplies and made her way to the bedroom where mother still sat in the chair near the window.
The chair from which you could just see down to the gate near the front of the store… The chair where mother had sat every afternoon for years.
Surprisingly, mother easily let go of the small pillow in her lap. She’d always held something while sitting in that chair and for years it had been a small pillow, usually one she had sewn herself. When Ji-Yung was a young girl she had always tried to steal the pillow to sleep with. Mother had always spanked her and told her to never take her “worry pillow”.
Ji-Yung always said, “But momma, I want to put my dreams into the pillow so you won’t have to worry!”
This would always stop the spanking and mother would say through a pained smile “This pillow only holds nightmares Ji-Yung, not dreams.”
Ji-Yung took the pillow from mother’s lap and stood behind the chair. Her voice was tired when she said, “You always knew. You let him.”
Mother’s voice had no fight left in it. Her hands still limply lay open from where they’d fallen when Ji-Yung took the pillow. “Mi-an-he” she whispered. I’m sorry.
The pillow was just big enough to cover Mother’s face. Ji-Yung was just strong enough, just determined enough to create the seal needed to hasten asphyxiation. Somehow the fates conspired for Ji-Yung to have begun the suffocation on the down slope of Mother’s exhalation. Mother’s hands never left her lap. It happened as quickly and reverently as murder can. When she was done Ji-Yung fixed Mother’s hair and placed the pillow back in her lap even folding her hands neatly atop it. If not for the broken blood vessels in Mother’s eyes and the spreading bruise on her neck and face the idiots from forensics would have stalled in their immediate cause of death.
Ji-Yung didn’t waste time after that. There was no ceremony in what was to come next. She stalked straight down stairs and with out a word locked the front door to the shop, turned the sign to “Closed”, rounded the counter, lifted the ancient credit card swiper that sat next to the lotto scratchers and Five Hour Energys and beat her father, her protector, her molester’s face into a red, pink and grey flat mass. When she was done she went to the back of the store and took a bottle of water from the cooler. She sat near the Potato chips and took a few sips. She worried at a few stains and flecks of brain and skull on her sweater and finally fell against the potato chip rack. Sitting among the mountain of yellow, white and red bags she dozed briefly in exhaustion. After an hour she called nine-one-one and stated simply “I killed them.” And set the phone down. As the adrenaline release started to fade and remorse began to settle on her she began to hyperventilate softly. That was how the first responder’s found her. She’s never really returned from that day.
To Be Continued…