What is Buried in Wolf Lake? When a dog brings home the dismembered leg of a young woman. the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department launches an investigation unlike any before. Who does the leg belong to, and where is the rest of her body? Sergeant Corinne Aleckson and Detective Elton Dawes soon discover they are up against an unidentified psychopath who targets women with specific physical features. Are there other victims, and will they learn the killer’s identity in time to prevent another brutal murder?
Christine gives an overview of the book:
My words were interrupted by the sheriff’s phone.
“Sheriff Twardy . . . What! . . . Tell me again . . . What’s the location? . . .Okay.” I watched the sheriff’s face grow red, the visible sign his blood pressure was climbing. He stood and straightened to his full five-foot-eight-inch height.
“Call the mobile crime lab. Who’s working major crimes this week, again?. . . Okay, good. I got Dawes and Aleckson with me. They’ll meet the crime lab team out there. Send the call information to the squad computers, but don’t put this out on the radio. Flag it as confidential. We’ll find out what we got first.” The sheriff hung up and shook his head. Silver-gray hair framed his red face.
Smoke’s body tensed during the sheriff’s conversation and my own muscles tightened in turn.
“That was communications. This is a new one. A dog just came home with a human leg, appears to be from a female.”
“Where?” Smoke asked.
“Dayton Township, Wolf Lake. You two get a move on. I’ll see you there.” The sheriff led the way out of his office and stopped by his secretary’s desk to fill her in.
“I gotta grab my reports from the squad room. Beat you there,” I challenged Smoke.
Smoke was, hands down, the most skilled driver in the department. He could push one hundred miles an hour on curvy roads. All the deputies were good, but no one was that good.
The squad room was empty so I grabbed my things without needing to converse. I hustled to my squad car. “608, Winnebago County.”
“Go ahead, 608,” communications officer Robin answered.
“I’m clear 10-19.”
“10-4, at 1530.”
Winnebago County had recently equipped our squad cars with portable computers linked to the county communications department, sheriff’s report and arrest records, as well as Minnesota state driver and vehicle registration records. I read the call for service on my computer.
The reporting person was a Tara Engen of 8539 Abbott Avenue Northwest, Dayton Township. Not a name I recognized. There were a number of people who called in to report various extraordinary, sometimes downright unbelievable, things on a regular basis. They were seldom valid complaints. Some of the callers had mental health issues. Others were bored, hyper-vigilant, or just plain too nosy for their own good. But, like the little boy who cried wolf, even our frequent theatrical reporters had a legitimate call from time to time.
It was a suspicious circumstances call. Tara Engen reported her dog found a woman’s leg in Wolf Lake. My mind scanned through reports of missing people in the county. We had our fair share. Most were teenagers who left without telling their parents where they were going and turned up a day or two later. There was the occasional dementia patient who wandered off on foot or in the family car. The majority were found fairly quickly. Once in a while, a non-custodial parent would run off with his or her child. But a missing woman? I could not recall one in the recent past.
How long had the leg been in the water? Days, months, years?
Suspicious circumstances, all right.
A message from Smoke appeared on my screen. “20?” He wondered where I was.
“CR 10, at 50th.” I typed back with my right hand, keeping the squad car under control with my left.
“10-4, crossing 70th.”
Smoke was two miles ahead of me. I pushed down my accelerator, knowing I wouldn’t catch up with him, but I could try. Wolf Lake was about twelve miles from the station. Officially, it wasn’t a red lights and siren call, but to the person keeping watch over a woman’s leg, it would be. The faster we got there, the better.
“710, Winnebago County.” It was Deputy Todd Mason on the radio.
“Go ahead, 710,” Robin answered for communications.
“Show 710 and 723 10-8 with Unit 3.” Mason and Carlson were rolling with the mobile crime lab.
“10-4, at 1539.”
Dayton Township was sparsely populated. Lake Pearl State Park occupied about half the nine square mile area. Lowlands, unsuitable for building or farming, took up another quarter. The remaining ground was rolling tree-covered hills, pastures, and farm fields. The south and west sides of Wolf Lake butted up to the state park.
County Road 10 crossed County Road 27 on the southern border of the Minnesota state park. I slowed down as I approached County Road 27 and turned left. Abbott Avenue was the first cross road and I pulled my steering wheel right. It was a gravel road and dust hung in the air from a vehicle ahead of me. My squad car stirred up more. I saw nothing but a cloud behind me when I glanced in the rear view mirror. I crossed Eighty-fifth Street Northwest, the road that led into the park.
Abbott ran close to the west bank of Wolf Lake and I surveyed the water as I drove by, half expecting a hand to pop up like in the old movie, Deliverance. What had happened to the rest of the woman? Coyotes? Cougars? Coyotes were prevalent and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported occasional cougar sightings. Either was possible, but would an animal leave a leg in the lake? Not likely.
I continued to the north side of the lake and pulled into the Engen’s driveway. An older yellow farmhouse sat on a small rise with a barn and several outbuildings. It was the only dwelling on the lake, built many years before the state purchased the nearby land for the park in the 1960s.
I phoned communications to tell them I had arrived and hopped out of my car. A dog barked in the distance, perhaps from the barn, or a kennel behind the house. He sounded big enough to carry a woman’s leg in his mouth.
Smoke and a forty-something brunette woman stood together near some patio furniture on the east side of the house. Actually, Smoke stood and the woman rolled from feet flat on the ground to tippy-toes in a continual rocking motion. Her arms crossed her body in a self hug as she peered at the ground.
Smoke looked at me as I approached, creased his eyebrows together then blinked at a spot a few feet away. I fixed my eyes on the gruesome sight of a woman’s right leg--from the tips of her scarlet red polished toenails to the top of the thigh. The cut which severed the leg from the rest of the body was clean, not jagged or ragged or torn. Not the work of an animal--a non-human animal, at least.
“Mrs. Engen--Tara--why don’t you have a seat on the chair, there,” Smoke directed in a calming tone. He put a hand on Engen’s shoulder to guide her to the patio furniture.
Engen released a loud breath. She stopped rocking, but shook her hands at her sides for some seconds. “Um . . . I’m gonna be sick.”
She ran a short distance and retched a few times before vomiting. I swallowed and slowly sucked in air through my nose to calm my own churning stomach. Smoke’s eyes traveled from Engen, to the ground and back, for the duration of her sick spell.
Engen’s peaked face was splotched with red circles when she finished. “Okay if I go get cleaned up?” “
Of course,” Smoke assured her. Smoke and I moved closer to the leg. “Hopefully, she’ll be feeling a little better now,” Smoke said.
“Don’t count on it. Not for a long, long time,” I countered.
The grass on the lawn was recently cut, a neatly trimmed combination of grass, clover, and plantain. The pale white leg with its red toenails, on a bed of green grass, struck a frightful contrast. The colors of Christmas on a warm August day. “Okay, this is the creepiest thing I have ever seen,” I said.
“I got a lot more years in than you so I’d have to think about that.” Smoke squatted to get a closer look and moved the readers from his breast pocket to his face. “Yeah, I’d say this would be on my top ten list. Let’s see what we got here.” I could observe perfectly well from where I stood.
“Pretty clean cut. Power saw? Miter saw, fine blade? A butcher’s saw?” he guessed. “Appears to be from a fairly young Caucasian woman--I don’t know, twenties, thirties. Takes care of herself: pedicure, shaved, maybe waxed, legs--or leg--to be precise.”
Smoke squinted against the sun to find my face. “Which brings up the obvious question. Where the hell is the rest of her?”
Christine Husom lives in Minnesota. She is the author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River in the Winnebago County mystery thriller series. Husom is a small business owner, former corrections officer, mental...