Surrender, New York - Caleb Carr

{i.}

The case did not so much burst upon as creep over Burgoyne County, New York, just as the sickness that underlay it only took root in the region slowly, insidiously, and long before the first body was found. My own initial indication that at least one crime of an unusual and quite probably violent nature had been committed came in the form of a visit from Deputy Sheriff Pete Steinbrecher, in early July of that summer. I was then living, as I had been for about five years, at Shiloh, a dairy farm belonging to my spinster great-aunt, Miss Clarissa Jones. Shiloh is centered on a large Italianate farmhouse that is the sole residence in Death’s Head Hollow, one of a half-dozen valleys that lead down from the high ground of the northern Taconic Mountains into the small town of Surrender.

Despite my having spent some seven or eight years working as a criminal psychologist (primarily with the New York City Police Department) prior to relocating to the pastoral severity of the Taconics, I had only occasionally interacted with what passes for local law enforcement during my time up north. Due to severe budget cuts at every level of government, there was and remains precious little law in Burgoyne County. Communities like Surrender long ago lost their town constabularies, as well as their county sheriff’s substations, and what little regular patrolling the latter department can still do is focused primarily on the county seat of Fraser. The residents of the many small communities in the region have thus been left to see to their own safety, which they are happy to do: for Burgoyne County is gun country, and only in cases involving extreme disturbances are either the sheriff’s office in Fraser or the New York State Police contacted.

For these and other reasons, my main criminological efforts since relocating to my great-aunt’s farm (where I’d spent nearly every weekend and summer vacation as a boy) had been less applied than academic. I’d been establishing an online course of study in various controversial aspects of forensic science under the aegis of the State University of New York at Albany. That institution’s first-rate School of Criminal Justice had long offered a range of classes in forensics, both at the undergraduate and the graduate levels; but its senior faculty and officials, wisely taking into account the scandals that have rocked both federal and regional crime laboratories as well as the field of forensic science generally during the last twenty years, had decided, just before my own relocation to their area, to offer complementary courses that would explore the well-documented weaknesses of forensics. Mine had been one of the most outspoken voices attempting to expose those weaknesses; and because my work (and the methods that underlay them) had led to a series of widely publicized conflicts with the NYPD’s crime lab that had ultimately made me persona non grata in the metropolis where I was born, I was not altogether surprised, but was entirely grateful, when SUNY-Albany offered me the chance to help structure their balancing course of study.

Partnering with my closest co-worker in New York, Mike Li—an expert in trace and DNA evidence who had spent years vociferously pointing out the widespread and often fatal flaws that marred the gathering, handling, and courtroom use of such evidence—I gladly accepted the university’s offer, provided Mike’s and my own courses could be taught online. (The lingering effects of a childhood bout with osteosarcoma on my left femur and pelvis had recently made extended travel, even the fifty miles or so to Albany and back, increasingly difficult for me.) The administrators of the School of Criminal Justice, already anxious to expand their presence in the burgeoning world of online teaching, had readily agreed to this condition; and soon Mike and I had established a virtual lecture hall inside a rickety old airplane hangar that sat on a hill behind two large green barns built in the mid-nineteenth century that were the centerpieces of the farm that my great-aunt oversaw with an iron will.

To be more precise, Mike and I had built our Skype-operated classroom inside the fuselage of a pre–World War II Junkers JU-52/3m, a classic German civilian aircraft, the care and maintenance of which had been the passion of my great-aunt’s father. After piloting it from Germany to Senegal in 1935 via a circuitous European and North African route, the old lunatic had shipped the plane to Brazil and flown it north: an adventure that was apparently