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The Outcast Dead(3)

By:Elly Griffiths

Im so sorry, Liz, said Judy. But well have to ask some questions about Samuel and Isaac. Is that OK?

Its OK.

Samuel was six months old when he died and Isaac just over a year?

Thats right.

Did you ever find out anything about the cause of death?

Liz looked away, gazing unseeingly at a card showing a lurid night sky etched with the words Safe in heaven. Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy. That was what it said on the certificates.

Nelson and Judy already knew this, having seen the paperwork. SUDI is coroner code for an unexplained death which doesnt need further investigation. Nelson wondered who carried out the autopsies.

Must have been hard, said Judy, not having any answers.

It was almost the hardest thing, said Liz. We just didnt know why. Neither Bob or I smoke, were not asthmatic, neither of us have any heart problems. When Sammy died it was just possible to think that it was just one of those terrible things. But when Isaac was taken  …

Taken, thought Nelson. Odd choice of word. But Judy had been sympathising and empathising, all the time skilfully extracting the pattern of events. They had found Samuel dead in his cot one morning, with Isaac he had seemed listless and floppy, they had rushed him to hospital but he had died in A and E. David, like his older brother, had been found cold and blue after an afternoon nap.

I knew he was dead, said Liz, but I kept trying to revive him. I kept on, even after the paramedics told me it was no good.

Nelson made a mental note to check this story.

Youre a nurse, arent you? Judy was saying.

I was. Before I had  …  before the boys were born.

The boys. It made them sound like a family, a happy band of siblings. But Liz Donaldson only ever had one child at a time, each boy dying before his brother was born. Nelson tried, and failed, to think how this must feel. He remembers now that Liz had suddenly leant forward and grasped Judys arm.

Do you have children?

Judy had looked for a moment as if she might not answer but, in the end, she said, very quietly, Yes.

How many?


A boy. Just over a year old.

Keep him safe, Liz Donaldson had said. Keep him safe.


Phil is already at the site by the time Ruth arrives in the morning. The dig was originally a low-key affair, organised because the council wanted to build new public toilets. Usually in these situations the archaeologists role is simple: they come in before the builders, survey the area for any unusual features and dig a few trenches. There is an unspoken agreement that unless they unearth the lost ark of the covenant, building work will continue regardless. All the archaeologists can do is mark the find and take samples for posterity. Ruth often thinks that there must be multistorey car parks and office blocks all over the country built on top of Roman farmsteads and dead kings. But, as with everything, money talks and building contractors tend to have more money than archaeologists. Toilets are more important than old bones.

But the possible discovery of Mother Hook has changed everything. As she walks down the slope, Ruth sees not only her head of department but the county archaeologist and a man in red spectacles taking photos with a digital camera. Ted is also there, drinking coffee from a flask and looking sardonic.

Here she is, says Phil with massive bonhomie, almost managing to convey the impression that Ruth is late though she is, in fact, five minutes early.

She walks over to the trench, which is fenced off from the main picnic area. Behind them the cafe rises up out of the grass like a giant glass bubble, and opposite, across the bridge, the castle squats, square and secretive. They excavated the womans body yesterday. Now samples have been sent for Carbon 14 and DNA testing. Ruths job today is to examine the context, the grave cut, looking for clues in the infill, searching for any objects  –  glass, pottery, coins  –  that might help her to date the burial. She would like to be able to get on with this in peace but Phil is still hovering excitedly. Ruth notes that he is dressed in his best Indiana Jones casuals  –  safari shorts and a short-sleeved shirt  –  though she cant remember the last time that she saw him do any actual digging.

Mark, let me introduce you to Ruth. Mark, this is Dr Ruth Galloway, Head of Forensic Archaeology. Ruth, this is Mark Gates. Voice lowered reverently. A TV researcher.

Blimey, thinks Ruth, that was quick. Phil must have been on the phone as soon as he saw the bones. She shakes hands with Mark Gates who looks at her appraisingly, as if considering how shell look on TV. Probably wondering where he can get a wide angle lens.

So youre the lady who discovered the bones, Mark is saying.

Ruth doesnt like to be called a lady, but its too soon to get into that sort of conversation and she doesnt want Phil to start rolling his eyes in a humorous man surrounded by feminists way so she just smiles and says yes, she excavated the skeleton but there are still lots of tests to be done.

But youre almost certain that its Jemima Green, Mother Hook?

Well, the dates seem about right  …  begins Ruth but Phil cuts in, Oh, absolutely certain. A woman with a hook for a hand. Who else could it be?

Captain Hook in drag? suggests Ted from the trench. Phil ignores him.

Because if it is her, says Mark, addressing himself to Ruth, my programme would be very interested. Very interested indeed. It would tie in with one of our specials.

What is his programme, wonders Ruth. He doesnt look as if hes from Time Team. Probably some academic archaeology series. On the History Channel perhaps.

What programmes that? asks Ted.

Women Who Kill, says Mark, allowing a certain ghoulish relish to enter his voice.

Nelson is also discussing women who kill. Unfortunately for him the discussion is with Madge Hudson, criminal profiler, privately described by Nelson as Queen of the Bleeding Obvious. Also present are DS Judy Johnson, DS Dave Clough, DS Tim Heathfield. Tim joined the team at the start of the year, transferring from Blackpool where he had been the protégé of Nelsons old friend Sandy MacLeod. He has proved a good addition to the squad, calm and professional, always respectful to his colleagues, deferring to their local knowledge. But theres no doubt that Judy and Clough are both wary of him. Clough distrusts new people on principle, if they are men and graduates, fitter and better-looking than him, his suspicion hardens into open hostility. Judy, who Nelson thought might get on with Tim, seems even more dubious. Their shared resentment has made Judy and Clough draw closer, a miracle in itself, Nelson thinks. He doesnt know how Tim feels about his new teammates. Apart from one slightly cynical comment about being the only black policeman in Norfolk Tim has shown no sign of not fitting into his new environment. His smooth, polite manner makes it oddly difficult to ask personal questions but Nelson supposes that he ought to try.

Now Madge beams round the table, blissfully unaware of the cross-currents of antipathy.

Were looking at a woman here, she begins, reaching, in Nelsons opinion, new heights of Bleeding Obvious A woman suspected of killing three of her children. Now a woman who kills her children is often suffering from depression.

You dont say, thinks Nelson. There was him thinking that infanticide was a sign that everything was going well.

But often they can present a very good facade. Looking perfect can be very important to them.

Despite himself, Nelson thinks of Liz Donaldsons spotless house. She had been wearing slippers, he remembers, so as not to spoil the carpets.

Are we talking about Munchausens? asks Tim.

Clough gives him a dark look, which Nelson notices. Clough always becomes irritated when Tim uses words that are more than two syllables long.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, corrects Madge. I think its possible. Munchausens, she turns to Clough, is a psychiatric disorder where the subject feigns illness in order to gain attention. In the case of Munchausens by Proxy they feign illness in other people, often children, sometimes actually causing the illness themselves.

I know what it is, snaps Clough. There was that case of a nurse, wasnt there?

Liz Donaldsons a nurse, says Nelson before he can stop himself.

Beverley Allitt, nods Madge, convicted of murdering four children in her care and attempting to kill three others. One theory was that she was suffering from Munchausens by Proxy.

Still got life though, didnt she, says Clough.

Yes, she was detained at Rampton Secure Hospital. The Judge recommended a minimum of forty years. Actually DCI Nelson makes a good point.

Nelson looks as surprised as anyone to hear this.

Individuals with Munchausens often have some medical knowledge. Liz Donaldson was a nurse. Shed know about symptoms and treatment. Shed know exactly what the doctors and nurses were looking for.

That was a long time ago, says Judy. She hasnt worked since her first child was born.

That could be significant in itself, says Madge. She may have missed the kudos of being a nurse. She may have wanted to prove that she was as clever, or cleverer, than the medical staff attending her children.


By killing them? Nelson cant stop the incredulity creeping into his voice. He suspects Liz Donaldson but the idea that she murdered her children in order to look intelligent seems to him dangerously simplistic. He can just imagine the Defences reaction if the CPS tried that one in court.

Madge remains calm. She once told Nelson that his hostility to her was actually a sign of admiration, even attraction. Since then, Nelson has tried to avoid her as much as possible. The trouble is that Madge is almost always called in on the big cases. Nelsons boss, Superintendent Whitcliffe, thinks shes brilliant.