by Hy Conrad
The tabloid television show Expose was in a ratings slump when its host, Renaldo Jones, decided to expose the Mob. The Mob didn’t seem thrilled by the publicity. Threatening letters and phone calls followed each new broadcast as Expose’s viewership soared. Renaldo took the threats in stride, installing a security system in his country house and boldly continuing his series of fearless investigations.
The murders occurred one Saturday in late October. Four people were in residence at the country house: Renaldo, his wife Jane, Fred Fleer, the show’s producer, and Gregory, their head cameraman. It was a working weekend and Fred started the morning meeting by suggesting that the Mob was old news and that Expose should move on to a new subject.
‘No way,’ Renaldo barked. ‘Two more weeks and I’ll have the New York families cracked wide open. I got some new sources you wouldn’t believe.’ He got to his feet. ‘C’mon, Greg. We’ve got a promo to tape. We’ll shoot it in the woods. Me walking through the autumn leaves.’
Renaldo disabled the alarm. He told his wife to re-set it as soon as they left, then took Gregory and his video gear and headed out the door. In less than five minutes they were surrounded by brilliant sugar maples. Tape was rolling. They did two of the promos and were starting to work on a third when the assassin appeared from behind a rock.
The figure was dressed in camouflage fatigues, gloves and a ski mask. Before either man could react, the assassin raised a handgun and shot. Renaldo screamed and grabbed his leg, just below the knee. A circle of blood oozed through the fabric as the T.V. star collapsed. The figure didn’t fire again but simply turned and vanished into the woods.
‘Can’t move,’ Renaldo moaned. ‘Get help. No, you’re turned around. The house is that way. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t get lost.’
But Gregory did. According to his later testimony, he raced frantically, trying to keep a straight path but failing to recognize any landmarks. It was a full ten minutes before he ran into another human being, Renaldo’s neighbor, a farmer. The two men called the police then ran back into the woods carrying a makeshift stretcher. When they found Renaldo, he had already bled to death from the leg wound.
The second corpse was waiting back at Renaldo’s house. Fred Fleer greeted the police in a state of shock. He had been upstairs, he said, on the phone to New York. Bits of noise had drifted up the from the hall, but he ignored them. And then came the shot. Fred ran to the staircase. There at the bottom, by the open front door, stood a man in full camouflage. At the man’s feet was Jane Jones, lying in a pool of blood. ‘The guy was just standing there,’ Fred stammered. ‘When he saw me, he brandished the weapon but didn’t shoot. He just stood there for a second then disappeared out the door.’
Jane had been shot once in the chest and at close range. The police wondered what made her open up. There was a peephole in the door and the alarm had been on. Why in the world would she turn off the system and open the door to a gunman wearing fatigues and a mask?
A preliminary medical examination of Renaldo’s body produced the following notes. ‘A large amount of blood soaked through the deceased’s left trouser leg. The bullet entered just above the knee, probably severing an artery and causing massive bleeding. A single bullet was retrieved from the leg. No other wounds are visible.’
As the police continued their investigation, other oddities popped up, making the case seem less like an assassination. The unregistered Smith and Wesson .38 that had been used in both murders was found just a stone’s throw from Renaldo’s body. A cloth, probably used to wipe it clean of prints, was wrapped around the handle. Two spent shell casings were in the chamber. A third casing, from the same gun, was found in a ravine halfway between the house and the murder site.
Soon after, a sergeant from homicide located the killer’s fatigues and mask. They had been left in a potting shed not far from the house.
The confused sergeant tried to reconstruct the sequence of events.. ‘Renaldo is shot first. The killer then goes to the house and shoots Jane. He removes his disguise, hides it in the shed, then returns to Renaldo, wipes off the gun and drops it.’ The officer frowned. ‘Why didn’t he keep the disguise on? And why would he dump the gun right there instead of disposing of it? Doesn’t make sense.’