Perhaps I should just say “The Rape and Child-murder of Julia Price”, thus giving at least the dignity of truth to her memory. But then I might have done an injustice to the serious ethical considerations of her violator, Austin Clarke (God damn his soul), who claimed he was no paedophile because he had waited for her to ripen. He, he contended, was motivated by love. He worshipped her from afar, he claimed. Each morning he would hurry to his garden gate to see his little goddess leave for school. He would wave goodbye, and he would interpret her cheery acknowledgement as an affirmation of their spiritual union. He had built a fantasy relationship with this golden child. She was destined to be his. He termed it “The plucking of the Flower.”

He had watched her grow, a seedling maturing into a plant, then blossoming into a flower, a flower ready for plucking. Plucking? Assonance has a lot to answer for in the English language.

How he decided that the time was ripe for plucking he did not know. One day it just was. He was suddenly aware of the swelling breasts and that indefinable change in posture that bespoke Woman instead of Child. He made his plans.

Julia Price was a normal child, a happy child, for the most part, her life filled with the small concerns of the post-pre-teener: pop groups, boys, peer group pressures, and momentous decisions on fashions in clothes, footwear and cosmetics. Her sibling rivalries were under control; her brothers were sufficiently older to lead an entirely separate life. Her relationship with her parents was unconfrontational and they coexisted quite happily. Her one complaint was that they all treated her as a child.

Her day, THE DAY, started quite uneventfully. She arose at seven. A quick shower and she dressed in her usual school clothes: fashion jeans, reeboks and sweater. A typical breakfast: Her Father, a uniformed policeman, lowering his newspaper to ask ‘How is my little girl today?’ and raising it before she could respond; Her Mother mentally rehearsing her address to the Women’s Discussion Group, and a couple of brothers too alien to register — just a normal breakfast. They all went their own ways on a morning destined to change their lives.

Austin Clarke was a loner, a bachelor, a petty clerk in a petty firm of accountants. He had lived alone since the death of his widowed mother. He was known as a local busybody and regularly, but unsuccessfully, stood for the local council. He had no apparent friends, but, he claimed, there was always Julia. He watched the toddler grow into a schoolchild, the schoolchild into a young woman. The plant was growing. The Flower was blossoming. Soon she would be ripe; ripe for the plucking.

Interviewing the suspect, I tried empathy. I tried to understand the reasoning, no matter how sick, how illogical it might be. It was important to me to understand just how the simpering creature before me could have done what he did.

Austin Clarke was an unpleasant person. He sat there in front of me, a self- satisfied middle-aged man, making vague gestures of protest in an attempt to negate an unacceptable reality. There was a smugness and complacency about him that grated on me. The failure was ours, he implied, for lacking understanding.

‘Mr Clarke I began, ‘My name is Detective Chief Inspector Cummings. Present are Detective Sergeant Roach and WPC Rawlings. You have already been cautioned and this interview is being videotaped at,’ I glanced at my watch, ‘Eleven Forty-seven,’ Do you wish to make a statement?’

It had been a long and painstaking search. Once the child had been posted as missing, the cumbersome machinery was put into action. Hospitals checked, neighbours door-knocked, volunteers summoned; the search was on. Teams of police and volunteers linesearched the wilderness area, probing and prodding each hole and burrow. Scuba divers swam in murky waters, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be their lot to find a bloated thing that was once a child.

It was one of the line searchers who found her, a pitiful bundle of rags and sprawled limbs already crawling with ants. The cloud of flies that drew attention to the site buzzed busily away as the searcher approached. I’ve found her’ he shouted and attempted to quell a rising nausea. It was, he told me, his first dead body.

By the time I got there the place had been taped. The scene of crime team was busy checking the area and the pathologist was just concluding her initial investigation. ‘Suffocation rather than strangulation’ she said. ‘Dead about seven days, the day of the disappearance most probably. Give you a better idea after the p.m.’

‘Thanks, Doctor,’ I said. I looked at the body, so unbelievably small. She had been a slightly built child, barely pubescent, the budding breasts exposed by the torn sweater, the virginal nipples locked in their tiny tumescence against the pink areolas, the jeans dragged down to the ankles, the sparse pubic hair matted with blood. I vowed to get the bastard who had done this.

The autopsy report was in my hands within twenty-four hours. Death by asphyxiation, caused by a gag — a wad of cotton wool which blocked the airway.

The stomach contents showed that she had eaten an unusual meal. In fact, it was some of the food, obtainable only at the one expensive food emporium in the district that had first led us to the friendly neighbour.

The bastard sat before me smirking and rolling his eyes. There was little doubt as to his guilt. DNA tests would quickly confirm his semen inside the victim. There were traces of her blood on the clothes we seized from his house — the sod hadn’t even taken the trouble to clean them. I felt contaminated.

‘Tell me about it.’ I said, and the interview began. The tape was rolling.

Later that tape would figure largely at the trial that the tabloids headlined ‘The Wrong Arm of the Law’.

It started innocuously. The initial formalities were gone through: name, age, address, occupation. The tape shows the face of the accused and his body from the waist up as he sits across from the interviewing officer, me. The table is fairly wide, not wide enough as it turned out, and the camera is angled so that little is seen of the

interviewer. I suppose I can be recognised by my distinctive hairstyle and my voice and I had clearly identified myself at the beginning of the interview. It was my interview and I must account for what happened. For what it’s worth, I am still trying to figure it out myself.

Certain crimes are more difficult than others for police officers. The killing of a child is one, and that of a fellow officer another. Kids and Cops, but Cops’ Kids? That is the last straw. And yet we are professionals. Julia’s father was, as I have said, a policeman. I did not know him well but I had met him as the distraught and grieving father. I had, in fact, been selected as the investigating officer on the basis that the other officers were too personally involved, but I was feeling involved all right; I know what it is to lose a daughter.

We are trained to objectivity, and at first, everything went by the book. I was calm, almost relaxed, as I took the suspect through the events of the day of the murder. It is a technique, you know, that calm inquiry into the events. Mostly open-ended questions “And what happened next?”, “And what did you do then?” — none of the shouting of threats and accusations seen on American police dramas. It is as though the two of you are sharing reminiscences. If a true rapport is achieved, the accused seems anxious to explain. He goes to great pains to fill in the details as justifications and rationalisations jostle for expression. There is a great relief in confession, and the skilful interviewer offers that relief.

Clarke was no exception. Whilst not at first admitting responsibility for the ‘Accident’, he was quite open about his plans to lure Julia to ‘A Special Picnic’. He proudly listed the foodstuffs he had prepared and packed with such care. He told how he had practised the story to entice the girl to meet him after school, satisfying her need to be regarded as an adult. He was smirking at his cleverness and inviting me to acquiesce.

Julia had told schoolmates that she was meeting a special friend, but this was of little help to the police. We believed she had been speaking of another teenager. Middle-aged men didn’t enter our minds at that point.

Clarke was almost gleeful as he spoke of Julia accompanying ‘Dear old Uncle Austin’ to his special place and how she was delighted with the little feast and the special picnic champagne. He smiled ingratiatingly at me, screwing up his eyes with a knowing look, demanding that I acknowledge his expertise, making me a conspirator in his dreadful plan.

My feelings of revulsion grew.

“And then,” said Clarke, “it was time for the Ceremony!”

“And what was the ceremony?” I asked.

“The Plucking, of course, the Plucking of the Flower, the reason for the picnic.” He started grinning to himself, almost drooling.

“And what was that?” I asked him; trying to keep calm — trying to keep professional as my mind pictured the little body with its escort of flies.

He taunted me. “Do you really want to know? Ask me nicely and I may tell you. Say Please.”

“Please tell me what happened next.” I gritted,

“That’s better.” He said.

And then, in appalling detail, he went on to describe what he had done — ripping the clothes, dragging down the tight jeans (he grumbled about the difficulty), his pleasure at the penetration. He was a heavy man and far stronger than the child. He raped her vaginally and anally (he omitted ‘orally’ for fear, he said, of being bitten a practical man, our Clarke). And so he continued his sickening tale, becoming visibly excited, and always— this human horror — using his dreadful euphemism ‘Plucking’

Too much! Too much!

I snapped.

Now I have killed a man, in front of witnesses, but I still dispute the charge of murder.

How did it happen? I still don’t know. According to the tape, I rose slowly to my feet, leaned across the table, and supported my weight on my left hand. I punched him in the throat with the middle knuckles of my right hand formed into a wedge.

It has been described as a karate blow. Apparently, it crushed the larynx and trachea and shattered the cervical vertebrae. He was dead when he hit the floor —“Plucking” dead!

I was as surprised and shocked as everyone else. What else can I say?

He shouldn’t have laughed! And Now…I too am a killer.

Has evil prevailed?

The End

Copyright H. St. V. Beechey 1999~