Bryce Carlton looked out of place in the dingy station house as he filled out a missing person’s form. ‘I last saw my sister Friday night,’ the millionaire playboy told the attentive female officer. It was now noon on Monday. ‘We’d gone to this new restaurant on the other side of town to meet some friends. The Amber Grill. Tracy and I got there early, sat down and had a drink. As usual, we got into a fight — about money. Tracy caused a scene and just stormed out.’ He wrung his hands. ‘I should have followed her, but I didn’t.’
‘And that’s the last you saw of her? Friday night?’ Bryce looked embarrassed. ‘Our friends arrived at the Amber Grill about eight. We had dinner then hopped in my car to go out to my beach house. Tracy was supposed to join us. She never came back to the restaurant, so we went without her. You have to understand. Tracy can be stubborn. I’m her guardian until she turns 21 next year.
She doesn’t like the fact that I control her money.’
‘Did you hear from her at all during the weekend?’ ‘I tried calling the penthouse but she wasn’t in. Saturday morning she phoned the beach house. She said she was fine and was spending the weekend with a friend. When I asked what friend, she got mad and hung up. This morning I came back into town. Tracy wasn’t at the penthouse and none of her friends had seen her. That’s when I came to you.’
The officer was about to dole out some words of comfort when the news came in. Tracy’s body had been pulled out of the river. It floated to the surface near a little-used pier within the grounds of the family tannery, Carlton Leather, about a mile from the Amber Grill where Tracy had last been seen. She had been shot once in the head and a preliminary autopsy placed the time of death as sometime Sunday evening. The tannery had been closed for the weekend and it was assumed the killer gained entry through an unguarded side gate.
The deceased was dressed in a gray evening dress, the clothing still mostly intact. A rope was found tied around her waist, the end of the rope partly frayed and partly cut clean, as if with a knife. Police divers entered the river and discovered the other end of the rope. It was tied around a large rock and was located directly under a wastewater drainage pipe from the facility. Divers took water samples to test for pollutants.
The police began their investigation with Tracy’s boyfriend, Clyde Olmsted, a young man who worked at the tannery. The last time he’d seen Tracy, he said, had been Friday afternoon when she dropped by work to tell him she couldn’t see him that weekend. ‘Her brother had talked her into going to the beach house. Of course, I’m not welcome there. Bryce wouldn’t even let me have dinner with them Friday night.
He didn’t approve of me. If Tracy changed her mind about going away, I don’t know why she didn’t call me. I hung around by myself most of the weekend. Doing laundry, that sort of thing.’
Gina Tadburn, the dead girl’s best friend, came next. ‘Tracy wouldn’t have gone to Clyde. She was tired of him. They were on the verge of breaking up, whether he knew it or not. Something must have happened after she left the restaurant. Otherwise she would have called me. I can’t see her spending a weekend alone, that’s for sure. ‘
Both Gina and Clyde mentioned the victim’s only enemy, Anna Hart. Anna was Bryce’s fiancee. The millionaire’s sister and his future wife had never gotten along and had even been known to engage in fist fights. Since both women were approximately the same size, their brawls usually ended in a draw.
Anna was quick to volunteer her alibi. ‘I didn’t join them at the restaurant because I wanted to get the beach house ready for the guests. I drove out Friday night. Got there about two hours before the others. The house is an hour and a half from the city and all weekend I don’t think any of us was alone for more than an hour at a time. Not for the entire weekend.’
An interview with the Carlton maid also failed to shed light. ‘Friday evening?’ she said, trying to remember. ‘Oh, yeah. They were fighting about everything. Which dress to wear, the gray or the brown? Should she wear a hat? How early should they leave for the restaurant?. Should they go someplace for drinks? They were still arguing when they left. About 6:15. I think Miss Tracy stuck to her guns. Gray. No hat. And they settled on going someplace for drinks before the restaurant.’
The police checked with Tracy’s other friends, then contacted hospitals and hotels of any size within a hundred mile radius. The results were pure frustration. No one had seen Tracy Carlton from the time she stormed out of the restaurant to her estimated time of death on Sunday. ‘Where was she for nearly two days?’ the homicide chief wondered. ‘Young heiresses don’t vanish. Wherever she went, it wasn’t very healthy for her.’