Under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1971, this is a fully copyrighted and protected work by law. Copyright is owned by and all rights are reserved to Nathanael Miller. No part may be reproduced in whole or part without my written permission. Facebook and Twitter links to this story may be shared; but the work itself and all characters are my intellectual property and may not be shared or reproduced except with written permission. All characters and events are fictitious.
The Norfolk Murderer
(A Short Navy Murder Mystery)
by Nathanael Miller
“Chief? What are you doing here?” Chief Mass Communication Specialist (Select) Dionne Robinson asked Shepherd after unexpectedly stumbling onto him sitting in the dark and quiet Production Room at NEPAC East. It was late on a Thursday, and everyone else was gone.
“Dionne,” Shepherd said, his eyes staring unseeingly at the large white board that listed all the jobs Production had scheduled over a two-week period. “Shouldn’t you be the final night events?”
Robinson nodded, “I’m on my way there. The Chief Li asked me to swing by here and get a CD of music she left here. Are you going to final night?”
“Final night” was, well, the final night of specialized training for the soon-to-be-pinned new Chief Petty Officers. It was a series of challenges and debriefings designed to ensure the new chiefs had both the fortitude to make the difficult decisions (and make them right), as well as ensure a level of humility. Final night happened that last night before the pinning ceremony, which itself was held by tradition on (or as close to as possible) Sept. 16. This year Sept. 16 had fallen on a Friday—tomorrow, in fact.
“No, I’m not going,” Shepherd said. I’ve actually got dinner with some old friends from my F-14 days to go to. No, I’m just here…thinking.”
“What’s up?” Robinson asked.
“It’s been a week, and we have no more clues, leads, signs, or anything to indicate when or where Grey will make his play for the admiral…assuming the admiral is the actual target. I just feel like we’re missing something. Abe Gray feels the same way, but there’s nothing to point to, nothing to give us any empirical evidence we’re on the wrong track.”
Robinson sat, “Wait, didn’t you tell me you’d gotten another note from Grey two days ago?”
Shepherd nodded, and pulled out his phone. “It was another printed on a random laser jet. No way to trace it, but NCIS’ forensics wizards are analyzing the paper and all just in case. Here you go.”
He handed her the phone so she could read the not from a photograph he took of it:
Did you like my note to the newspaper? I figured I ought to have a name so I gave myself one. After all, don’t they call you the Accidental Detective? I hope you and Gray are enjoying the show. You deserve, after all. I’d have put on chief if you hadn’t screwed up my life and my girlfriend’s. I know you saw Carolyn and you upset her. She’s not talking to me now, and after everything you’ve done to me and my girlfriend, now you hurt her so bad she won’t even talk to me? I guess I’ll have to make it hurt you a bit more, huh? You just don’t get it and you keep getting in my business. So sit back and enjoy it because eventually I will make time for you. But in the mean time I have things to do.
“That’s it?” Robinson asked.
“That’s it.” Shepherd said.
“Well, it confirms one thing I’ve said, I’m his primary target. Abe Gray and I went to interview Carolyn Stiles together; but Abe hasn’t gotten a note. So this confirms that ole’ Mr. Gordon Grey is primarily fixated on me.”
“What’s this nickname he talks about? And what did he do in the press?”
Shepherd looked over at her, surprised. Just as quickly his expression changed, “Oh, that’s right, you’ve been pretty tied up with selectee events. Well, yesterday it hit the papers and local TV—Grey sent a letter and photos of his victims to local media claiming credit for everything. Even gave himself a handle—called himself the ‘Norfolk Murderer.’ Fortunately the press didn’t publish the graphic photos of his victims, but they ran the story and NCIS and the base are swamped with inquiries about this serial killer targeting military and military-related people in our area.”
Robinson looked aghast, “Good Lord. Have you been hit by the press?”
Shepherd shook his head. “Nope. Abe kept my name low-key in connection to all of these. Gives me some privacy, but also lets me move around freely while he and the other agents handle the press onslaught. But…moving around freely hasn’t done anything. I’ve got no leads, no evidence, nothing to go on. Just a vague feeling that Grey is waving at me and is about to spring a very big joke on me.”
“That’s no fun,” Robinson said. “Like you said, I’ve been pretty tied up and haven’t checked the news the last few days. Has the national press gotten the story, or just local Hampton Roads press?”
“Just local,” Shepherd said, “But that can change at any moment, you know.”
The two sat quietly for a moment, looking at the board.
“You guys have a lot coming up,” Shepherd said. “That board was not nearly so full up when I was here last week.”
Robinson nodded. “Tell me about it. We’ve got two senators coming Monday after the pinning. The USS Bataan amphibious readiness group’s homecoming from deployment has been fixed for next Thursday. The MCPON will be dropping in for a few days this weekend; I’ve got to coordinate our media coverage of a lunch he’s holding at Bay Vista on Saturday. And public affairs over at NAS Oceana asked for extra help covering their annual air show at month’s end.” The title “MCPON” was shorthand for the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, the highest ranking enlisted Sailor in the fleet.
“Happened to me and Jenny Li when we pinned on two years ago,” Shepherd laughed. We pinned on a Friday, but for us it was the 14th; the 16th that year fell on a Sunday. Anyway, we both had to work Saturday covering the departure of the Harry S. Truman carrier strike group. Soon as you put on anchors, you are The Chief and the demands began immediately. Anyway. What senators are coming? Anyone seriously important? Armed Services Committee Chairman?”
Robinson shook her head, “No. They’re both of Virginia’s senators; I’m not sure of their names. But they’re doing the usual congressional delegation tour thing. They’re still fighting the Navy’s proposal to move a carrier from Norfolk down to Mayport so we don’t have all the big decks homeported here in case something happens.”
Shepherd’s phone beeped. He took it back from Robinson and saw he had a text from Abraham Gray.
“Oh, good grief,” Shepherd said in disgust, clicking through a couple of things. The phone’s screen sent colorful plays of light over his face in the dark room. He heard, his face changing shape into first an incredulous express. “We don’t need this right now. I sure as hell don’t!”
Shepherd clicked back to the original text and handed the phone back across the shadows to Robinson:
Bad news, we just went viral. You’re in it now; our boy sent a second press release that got picked up by a wire service. And we have a leak. Don’t go home yet and call me in one hour; I’m in a meeting now.
A link followed the text message. She clicked it and wast taken to Fox News’ website where a short wire service story was leading the charge across the headlines:
Serial Killer Linked to Norfolk Murder Spree
(NORFOLK,Virginia) – A string of brutal murders across Norfolk, Virginia, has been linked together as the work of a single individual calling himself ‘The Norfolk Murderer” after he sent two manifestos and several graphic photos of his victims to local media this week.
Former Navy Yeoman 1st Class Gordon Grey, the self-described “Norfolk Murderer,” was arrested in March for the murder of Navy Force Master Chief Petty Officer John Stiles on board Naval Station Norfolk. Stiles’ wife was also arrested in conjunction with that murder, but while she remains in custody, Grey killed a brig guard and escaped. He has been hunted by the FBI, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and local police in the Hampton Roads area ever since.
Despite the massive manhunt, Grey is still at large and has claimed credit for multiple homicides around Norfolk.
In May Grey claims to have killed Navy Lt. Robert G. Norman of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 227, as well as Captain Gordon Morrow and waiter Gordon Stewart, both of the now-defunct dinner cruise boat Norfolk Rover. Grey also claims to have killed Morrow’s family in connection with that crime.
In July Grey’s letters said he was responsible for the deaths of Navy Lt. Dale G. Horton and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rex Morgan, both attached to the headquarters of U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
A spokesman for the FBI referred all press inquiries to the local NCIS office in Norfolk. However, Charlotte Webb, field director of the Norfolk NCIS office, said the office had no information at this time.
“This is an active investigation and we are working closely with the FBI and local law enforcement,” Webb said in a statement. “We have fielded a world-class inter-agency team and will release information about the investigation as it becomes available.”
Sources close to the investigation have named Navy Chief Petty Officer Isaac Shepherd as a person of interest in the search due Shepherd reportedly receiving several communications from Grey. It is unclear if Shepherd has been officially called in for questioning yet, but sources close to the investigation stated Shepherd was found to be in possession of Norman’s drivers license following his murder in May.
Dr. Marlin S. Pike, professor of criminology at Old Dominion University, said Grey’s sudden outreaches to the press could indicate both a narcissistic personality while also being a taunting gesture at the law enforcement agencies who have so far failed to catch him.
“He is killing not merely for the sport of it,” Pike said, “But also for the infamy and attention. He craves recognition so much he has even given himself the alias of ‘Norfolk Murderer.’ He is very unstable and dangerous individual.”
Law enforcement has provided Grey’s mug shot to the local press, but Webb stressed Grey will have done everything possible to alter his appearance.
“This kind of killer is extremely dangerous,” Webb said. “If anyone has any information or thinks they see him, call the Norfolk Police Department immediately. Do not approach him.”
“Wow,” Robinson said. “Wait—you had Norman’s license?!”
Shepherd shook his head and dropped his face into his hands before looking up in disgust. “Now that is some incredible reporting! Yes, I had Norman’s license because Gordon Grey mailed it to me to taunt me. That was Grey’s opening move in this game he’s been playing!”
Robinson looked disturbed as she handed the phone back to Shepherd, “Who do you think told them you got that license?”
“Nobody at NCIS,” Shepherd said. “Well, I should most likely nobody. Can’t rule anyone out. But not many people knew I had received the license. NCIS did. The FBI was informed. I think at least a few officials in the Norfolk Police Department were told.”
“That’s a lot of people,” Robinson said.
“And all professional law enforcement,” Shepherd said. “Normally leaks like this don’t come from the deckplate professional law enforcement personnel, so there’s another pretty little problem we have to look into.”
“Why did Abe tell you not to go home?”
“Dionne, Baker Street is probably crawling with reporters right now,” Shepherd said. “Abe doesn’t want me walking into that until we can figure out a response. Hell, it’s getting late and you have a final night. I might have to miss my VF-213 reunion dinner, but I need to call Lt. Watson and get our chain of command informed and then contact Abe. You better get going.”
“I don’t like leaving you alone with this going on, Chief.”
He smiled. “I appreciate that. A lot. But I’ve always been alone; I can take care of myself. Besides, on base I’m safe from the onslaught of the press. And, come on, you’ve seen me in front of the cameras; you know I can handle that. Go!”
“Ok,”She laid a hand on his shoulder, “I’ll see you tomorrow at the pinning ceremony. You and Abe are still pinning my anchors, right?”
Shepherd stood up and hugged her tight, “Di, we wouldn’t miss it for anything. I know it’s not much comfort, but Jacob would be proud.”
She sniffed a bit at the mention of her recently murdered boyfriend. The original plan had been for Jacob Collander and Shepherd to pin her anchors to her collar while Chief Li, her sponsor through the initiation season, put her cover on her head. However, one of her fellow Chief Selectees murdered Collander the previous month. A few days after she had helped Shepherd identify and capture Collander’s murderer, she had asked Abraham Gray to be the other person pinning her. She had been caught up in the unbelievable spate of murders several times during the past few months, and had gotten to know Gray very well.
Robinson was resilient, but Shepherd had known her long enough to see the effort it cost her to keep moving forward, especially as Collander’s murderer was a woman she had been friends with.
They broke the embrace and she turned to leave. “I’m out. Good luck.”
Shepherd lifted his phone to call Lt. Watson when Robinson stopped in the door to the darkened hallway.
“You know,” She said, “Gordon Grey really is a raving narcissist. Either that or he doesn’t like himself much.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Ever since he escaped custody and started this serial killer thing, he’s killed a lot of other Gordons.” She shrugged. “Don’t stay too late.”
Robinson headed off for her final night as a first class petty officer. She never saw the arrested look of total shock warp Shepherd’s face in the half-light of the Production Center.
Shepherd shoved his phone into his pocket and logged into one of the NMCI workstations. The Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) was the Department of the Navy’s worldwide computer network.
He pulled up the wire service article on the screen and read it over twice, cursing himself.
“Good Lord, I’m a screaming idiot!” He said as he read over the names of the dead again. Robinson was right. There were an inordinate number of Gordons. And maybe more…
Pulling his phone out again, he dialed Veronica Bale.
“Veronica? Sparky. Look, I’m on to something. I need to meet you and Abe now. Yes, I know he’s in a meeting but, by the time we both get to NCIS he’ll be out. Yes…this is big. No…I didn’t see it, actually. I’m a damned fool screaming idiot! No, Dionne Robinson spotted it! Ok…right…ok…see you soon!”
He hung up and stared at the story some more, his mind kicking into high gear. He had been right, and Robinson had spotted the proof. But, while this momentary moment of triumph felt great, he also was all too aware they were still stuck at square one.
Shepherd reached the NCIS building at the same time as Bale. She signed him in and then the two headed upstairs to Gray’s office. They passed the time in idle chatter about the news story until Gray came in, surprised he had visitors that late.
“Beyond the news reporting I’m a person of interest?” Shepherd asked, “I still need to alert my chain of command about that. No, Dionne spotted something we’ve all missed. Pull up that news story. Seriously, pull it up.”
Gray slid around behind his desk and logged in. He pulled up the story and looked it over. “Ok, what?”
Bale leaned over his shoulder to read it.
Shepherd shrugged. “Dionne spotted it—Grey has killed a lot of other Gordons. He either really hates himself or he is more of a narcissist than even we thought!”
Gray’s eyes went wide, “I’m a freaking moron! How the living hell did we not spot this?!”
Bale put her hand to her mouth momentarily, and then ventured, “And I’ll bet that Robert Norman and Dale Horton’s middle ‘G’ is for ‘Gordon.’ But Rex Morgan?”
“He was collateral damage,” Shepherd said angrily. “The most likely scenario is that he walked in on Grey murdering Horton, and then Grey killed him to silence him.”
“Veronica,” Gray said, “Here’s a possible link you might want to follow up in looking at those suspicious deaths.”
She nodded, “I’d already thought of that. If there is a ‘Gordon’ theme to his murders…especially if he is responsible for those other deaths…then he really is a narcissist. Killer do things like this to advertise their crimes and taunt law enforcement…or else they’re subconsciously trying to be caught. Sometimes they’re guilty and can’t stop themselves, other times they just want the attention.”
“Ok,” She stood up, “This is important, but what does it do for us now?”
“Well, for one, it means we’re protecting the wrong target,” Shepherd said. “Gordon Grey is not targeting Adm. David Edward Jones. He was feinting, and we nearly fell for it. Think it through—every murder since he started this spree after escaping in March involves a man named ‘Gordon.’ The only aberration is Rex Morgan, and Morgan was just killed only because he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Grey’s is not after Adm. Jones. No ‘Gordon’ connection there.”
Gray nodded, “I agree, Isaac, but we can’t just stand down the increased security around the admiral because of this. Grey killed Jones’ aid in Jones’ building right next to Jones’ office. But…before you object…I’m on board with you. The problem becomes figuring out who his real target is.”
“He was using the admiral as a distraction,” Bale said. “But we still need to figure out who or what he’s distracting us from.”
Gray logged out and swung around to look at Shepherd. “Look, I strongly recommend you don’t stay at the Yellow Duck tonight.”
“The what?” Bale asked.
“He named his house ‘The Yellow Duck,’” Gray explained.
“Why would you do a fool thing like that, Sparky?”
Shepherd shrugged. “First house I ever owned. I mean, come one. Gen. Washington had Mt. Vernon. Thomas Jefferson had Monticello. James Madison, Montpelier. So, I have the Yellow Duck.”
Bale rubbed her forehead, caught between amusement and exasperation.
“I have to go home, or else someone has to go get a few things for me, including my CPAP machine so I can sleep tonight,” Shepherd, who had a raging case of sleep apnea, said. “And my teddy bear.”
“Tell you what,” Gray said, “You can stay with Sarah and I tonight. I’ll go run the media gauntlet that might be at the place and get your stuff,” Gray said. “Have you called Cmdr. Warren or Capt. Messenger? You need to let them know about the news story.”
“I was about to when Dionne pointed out the Gordon connection. I still can’t believe we missed it this long!”
“Ok, well make you calls and then head to my place. I’ll let Sarah know you’re coming. I’ll get your stuff and head over. Just so you know and you can brief your chain of command, Charlotte is going to release a statement tomorrow that clarifies you were a target, not a ‘person of interest.’ That’ll stop the press from hounding you about being under suspicion, but they’re still going to be knocking on your and NEPAC’s doors.”
“Ok, thanks. And I meant that about my teddy bead. Bright red bear sitting on my bed.”
Gray smiled, “I know. Make your calls. I’ll see you at my house in a while. We need to wrap up this stuff early—you and I have to be at Dionne’s pinning tomorrow.”
“Quick question,” Shepherd said, “It’s been a week. You guys find anything in all that footage at Sulfide Services we got you?”
“Some analysts going over have narrowed down several clips,” Gray answered as the three left his office and headed back to the elevators. “I’m coming in early tomorrow to look at them. I’ll meet you at the pinning ceremony.”