The Oakland Hills Vodou Murders
by Glen C. Carrington
This book is dedicated to my parents Leonard & Gleanor M. Carrington whose love, sincerity, and dedication to family, friends, and neighbors are unpretentious. It is also dedicated to their parents, my grandparents, Waverly and Sally Carrington, Seldon and Oppie Jones, who are now all deceased but whose lineage carries forward. Steadfastness… honor of family… hard work… and nobility of purpose are attributes that served them well. As Norman Thomas (1884-1968) so eloquently stated… ‘The secret of a good life is to have the right loyalties and hold them in the right scale of values.’
I want to sincerely thank Jewell Grigsby Martin for all the editing work you provided in the early stages. It was very helpful and necessary And also very special thanks to a college buddy, Charles Marshall Tucker and his ‘Jewish mom’, Bertha Berman, for their tireless east coast editing hours which seemed never to end. Your hard and creative work is this book’s pedigree. As Kathe Kollwitz said… “I do not want to die…until I have faithfully made the most of my talent and cultivated the seed that was placed in me until the last small twig has grown.” Writing is only half the task of putting a book together. For your editing help… Thank you… thank you… and thank you.
Then the Lord said unto me, the prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.
She exhaled softly now, barely feeling the viscous onslaught of her attacker. No longer could she sense the warmth of her tears as they involuntarily rolled down her cheeks. She had begun her ascent. Still she could hear the increasingly fading sound of her assailant’s methodical attack. And now, hovering above her nearly lifeless body, she saw her assailant, an ominous figure wearing a wolf’s head! She watched from her new vantage point, the disgorging of feathers by this ‘wolf’ over that which was once her. A strange bloody object was caressed ever so reverently in the wolf being’s hand. It mattered little now…there was a welcoming peace washing over her, a surrendering as her life force flowed ever so gracefully from her limp and battered body…
…On a warm summer morning three months ago, the lifeless body of Hillary Chatham Dillard, was discovered against a tapestry of huge oak trees and stoic weeping willows at a prestigious college located in the affluent hills of Oakland, California. A security guard had stumbled upon her body at precisely 3:27 A.M. while patrolling the North Campus. A twenty-year old junior English and French major, Hillary, was the youngest child of a distinguished attorney who had quietly become an institution. She had been brutally raped, hacked repeatedly with a large sharp instrument and covered with feathers. The severed head of a majestic drake protruded from her mouth, presenting the illusion of a grotesque B-rated horror movie mannequin.
The head campus patrol guard immediately notified the Oakland Police Department. The guard, Edward Ramirez, was interrogated. Preliminary results virtually eliminated Ramirez as the perpetrator. All incriminating evidence pointed elsewhere. Still, Edward Ramirez remained a suspect simply because he had found the body.
Campus resident Woodrow Taft, the University’s Sports Director, confirmed the victim’s identification. School security knew Taft well, a twenty-five year popular faculty member deeply involved in campus life.
Campus security barricaded the crime scene and waited for police instructions. Media scrutiny would be intense. The victim’s philanthropic family held formidable political clout. Franklin Sr., the family scion, headed the Dillard dynasty, an influential legal machine. The investigation therefore required thoroughness, a complete clinical scrubbing.
Hillary, the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls, had been the delight of Franklin Sr. and Heather, her interracial parents. Possessing her father’s academic inclinations and her mother’s grace and regal statue, Hillary had captured the hearts of all who knew her.
Mayor Jim Efferton, a man in his mid-fifties and profoundly politically astute, had always made shrewd decisions. He lusted after even higher elective office.
Retired Oakland Police Detective William Monroe Lincoln became involved after a late night call from Mayor Efferton. Lincoln had previously freelanced for Mayor Efferton who chose him because of his tendency to bypass standard police procedures. Although Lincoln had served for twenty years, no one knew his political or social inclinations. The Detective was known as a ‘straight shooter’, issue focused and a non-meddler.
The following Monday at 6:30 P.M, Bill arrived at the Mayor’s office and was immediately ushered inside by his Honor’s secretary. The Mayor and the Chief of Police sat in comfortable tufted leather chairs surrounding an exquisite teak hardwood table. Only the Mayor stood to greet him.
“Bill, let me bring you up to speed. It’s been three months and no arrests. The political heat is up. We’re hemorrhaging…we need another perspective.”
Detective Lincoln nodded. When the Mayor wanted anyone to speak, he would simply ask.
“You know our priority. Dillard Sr. is updated weekly. For the last month there’s been nothing new. I’ll be frank…the Chief originally opposed your involvement. Are you interested?”
Detective Lincoln faced the Mayor. Any law enforcement official worth his salt would beg to work this case.
“Yes, Mayor, I’m interested. Let me hear what evidence you do have.”
“Chief, please inform Bill of our current status.”
The Chief pulled out several sheets of typed paper and black and white photographs.
“Oakland PD received a telephone call from campus security at Oakland Hills Sky View University on June 1st at approximately 3:35 A.M. A security guard discovered the mutilated remains of a female just a few steps off a North Campus walkway. A visual examination indicated numerous stab wounds, an enormous amount of blood, feathers plastered to the corpse and a severed duck’s head stuffed into the victim’s mouth. There were partial footprints found at the scene, but no fingerprints, notes or any other type of readily identifiable evidence.”
The Chief glanced at these two intense men. Feeling their focus on him he cleared his throat and continued…
“The victim had been sexually violated; seminal fluid was collected. Fifteen stab wounds were identified, each one alone was fatal, and no signs of struggle. No evidence of blood or a foreign substance under the victim’s fingernails. Campus background checks have revealed nothing helpful in terms of identifying a possible suspect. Ms. Dillard was not dating anyone, but was good friends with a Caucasian male. The relationship appeared platonic.”
The Chief flipped the page.
“Said Caucasian male was, at first, very cooperative, although eventually his family provided legal counsel. Now, everything comes filtered through his lawyers.
“The victim was an honor student and reportedly drug free. She attended numerous campus activities, all positive in nature. Her classmates liked her.
“Edward Ramirez discovered the body. He’s been a campus security guard for three years and is not considered a suspect at present. His timeline that evening is well documented and his background check came back clean. He’s considered one of their better guards. Ramirez attends law school during the day. He works third shift.”
“The feathers and the duck stuffed in her mouth are puzzling. Voodoo may be involved. The religion class includes outside workshops requiring attendance at various local religious institutions. Voodoo is one of the religions discussed, but Ms. Dillard never took that class, nor had her friends. Several students are from places where voodoo is practiced. However, nothing links anyone to the crime. Everyone appears to have an iron clad alibi. Any questions, Bill?”
“Do you think the duck was a prop to divert attention?”
“What are other law enforcement people saying? Any opinion on the voodoo angle?”
“They are like me… Puzzled.”
“What do her friends say? What are their suspicions?”
The Chief looked at his notes again…a reflex action for him.
“They’re all over the place. One thinks the male friend is a possibility but offers no proof or reason. Some think it must be a drifter because our victim was such a well-liked individual.”
“Any strangers seen on the campus that evening?”
“Yes, due to ‘Homecoming’. Still, practically everyone was invited. The victim attended before going to an after-party. Ms. Dillard was last seen alive shortly after leaving the after-party around 2:30 A.M. She had left with two girlfriends, but eventually walked unaccompanied to her dormitory, as she was the furthest away. She parted from her two friends at the front door of their building at approximately 2:45 A.M. This was the last known contact. She was in a jovial mood that night displaying no discernable worries and with no other plans for that evening.”
“Was she dating anyone?” Detective Lincoln asked.
“No, not anyone in particular. On occasion, she’d go out with her male platonic friend to do things like shopping or sports.”
“What was the relationship between the young lady and her parents?”
“A solid one. Nobody has reported anything to the contrary. Her parents have acted like you’d expect in this situation.”
“What about her siblings?” Lincoln asked.
“They all appear very upset over their sister’s death. Each one leads a very different lifestyle from the others. We can speculate on the youngest brother’s friends, however. His name is Radcliffe, but they call him ‘Rad’. He indulges in luxury but without any obvious source of income, at least none that the IRS can track. Still, from every indication, Rad loved his sister and would’ve done anything for her. So far, nothing implicates him.”
“What does your gut tell you, Chief?”
The Chief looked reflectively at the Detective while briefly flipping the pages in the manila folder back and forth.
“I really don’t know. I want to say it must be a transient, but what would explain the duck head and feathers?”
The Chief, staring at him, asked point blank, “What do you think, Bill?”
Lincoln sat back in his chair and weighed the evidence.
“No opinion. When can I see the color photographs of the crime scene?”
The Chief responded, “Anytime. I’ll tell Kasolkasky. It’s still his case.” The Chief turned to his boss.
“Mayor, why don’t you briefly discuss Detective Lincoln’s role.”
“Bill, you will have full access to all pertinent information. Right now, the only people who will know you’re on the case, besides us, are Kasolkasky and his two lead officers. I don’t want the press involved yet. Bill, report any and all findings to the Chief. And Ron, you will keep me informed. Are we clear?” the Mayor asked.
“Chief, when will you be informing Brick?” Lincoln asked.
“As soon as this meeting is over.”
“Good. I need to get up to speed on this. Is there anything else?”
Both men shook their head’s no. The meeting was adjourned.
The following morning, Detective Lincoln finished his coffee and checked his watch. He began to dress for his police station appointment. He suspected, now as a police outsider, he would receive limited information. Of course the reverse would be true too. Bill had no desire to put his feathers into their hat.
When Detective Lincoln arrived, he was escorted to Kasolkasky’s office. Lincoln had known Brick for several years and considered him to be ‘one of the guys.’ He was reading a magazine when the door opened and in walked Detective Kasolkasky. Kasolkasky was in his early fifties and looked strikingly athletic. His nickname ‘Brick’ stuck to him after using one to defend himself in a down-and-dirty, back-alley fight!
“Good afternoon, Bill,” Brick greeted him. “The Chief told me you’d be working with us.” Kasolkasky extended his hand.
“Hello, Brick. It’s been awhile since I’ve smelled the inside of a police building. It still reeks,” Bill muttered. The stench reminded him of his high school days in the locker room after a scorching hot summer afternoon basketball game.
“Yeah, some things never change. And they won’t until we start dealing with a better class of criminals.”
Kasolkasky stepped to his filing cabinets where he kept his most confidential information, withdrawing several huge manila file folders.
“You’re welcome to read these here.”
Two hours and four cups of coffee later, Lincoln had completed reading the bulk of the file. Twice, he read the medical report summary, skipping the gory details. He didn’t want to get bogged down in medical minutiae.
He sat back and contemplated everything he now knew, concluding there really wasn’t much. The victim had no known enemies. She was not the political type, but a normal high-achieving student with few real problems. She was from wealth, loved by her siblings, possessed a healthy warm personality and lacked anything shady in her life.
The crime was obviously planned because of the feathers and duck head, but the question remained: “Was the victim chosen randomly or was she the intended target?” Her brother, Rad, had the most questionable lifestyle, but there was nothing linking him to the murder. Besides, Rad adored his little sister. Of course, if he owed favors or great deals of money to some mysterious person or clandestine organization, that might be a factor.
Detective Lincoln’s inquiry would start with the victim’s immediate administration’s contact. He called the college and made an appointment for six o’clock the following evening with school administrator Woodrow Taft. Taft had identified the body.
There are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely by reasoning and experience. Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience.
Roger Bacon: Opus Majur
trans. By R.B. Burke, 1928
Lincoln arrived at Woodrow Taft’s residence promptly at six. Taft lived in a campus apartment adorned with classic Mid-western landscape pictures, a collection of sports paraphernalia that cluttered much of the shelf space and two feline boarders who acted as if they paid the rent.
“Mr. Taft, please tell me about Hillary, and especially what you remember about that dreadful night.”
Woodrow always reflected reverently on his thoughts before speaking. He glanced out the window observing the college’s peaceful serenity and pondered the irony of them sitting there discussing nothing less than a cold-blooded murder.
“Detective Lincoln, with all sincerity…Hillary was a good person. I can’t imagine anyone who’d hurt her. Hillary liked school and had the usual ‘normal’ friends. She wasn’t intimately involved with anyone. I’ve asked, but none of her girlfriends knows of anyone. There is another student, Benjamin Bently, who was her platonic companion. He was interested in dating her but, according to her friends, she wanted their relationship to remain as it had been.
“The police have talked to him and his family has retained a lawyer. In my opinion he’s not our killer. He’s a decent young man from an affluent family who treats people well and has no ax to grind. Excuse the poor idiom, please. Most of the students here are from fairly affluent families and are certainly not candidates for socio-political radicals.”
“Woodrow, just how well did you know Hillary? What was she really like?”
“We had only a general acquaintance, like my other students. I’d met her family at several social functions so, when I discovered their youngest daughter would be attending our school, naturally I re-introduced myself. I encourage staff members to be aware of certain influential families’ offspring. Notably, the Dillard’s are just such a family and, historically, they have been financially generous.”
“She was a French major and spoke the language fluently. Her mother is of French descent. Hillary was elegant and always dressed fashionably. She was well-educated, well-traveled and very opinionated…had her mother’s social flair and her father’s academics. She was an optimist. She believed anyone could achieve anything.”
“Okay, but, can you think of any, let’s say, negatives?”
“No, nothing I can recall.”
“Sex, drugs, or rock-n-roll?”
“No, she wasn’t the type.”
“Woodrow, what was her social temperament? Was she naive?”
Taft took a few moments to reflect before answering.
“No more than your average student.”
“What about her friends? Any flakes?”
“I’ve made a list for you, but I don’t think you’ll find any ‘flakes’ among them. They’re all fine upstanding young ladies. Some of them party a bit too much, but I’d dare say we’re talking about a different type of socializing than you’re obviously interested in. I doubt the killer is a member of this academic community. That’s my honest opinion, Detective.”
“Now, tell me about that night,” Lincoln requested. He wanted some direction from this conversation but, so far, it was like he was driving on sand with slick treads.
“It was a Saturday evening with the big ‘Homecoming’ dance, which as always was well attended. It’s a time when alumni return. Many former students have done quite well.
“I noticed Hillary, but I didn’t speak with her because the auditorium was packed. I saw her visiting with former student, Christine DeVeaux, who has become a rather decent-selling author. Hillary was immediately noticeable from her stylish outfits. That’s the only time I remember seeing her that evening; it was during the height of the evening’s festivities.”
Taft slowly shifted in his seat, briefly looking up at the ceiling.
“I went home at ten o’clock to feed my cats. You must remember, I’ve attended these affairs for more years than I care to admit. I went to bed around midnight and was awakened by the doorbell at three-thirty. It was our campus police; you know the rest.”
“Thanks, Woodrow. Do you know anything about the Dillard family that I should know?” Bill had asked a delicate question and he was now more interested in Woodrow’s body language than in his verbal response.
“No, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing which would be considered significant. I’ve only met them at social affairs. Sorry.”
Bill noticed nothing unusual about Taft’s overall physical response.
“Tell me, are there any rumors floating around campus?” Bill asked. “What are people saying?”
Taft rubbed his chin as though the gesture would somehow increase the thought-flow to his memory bank.
“So far, there has been no logical explanation offered. You’d naturally think that it had something to do with voodoo, but this is America. What do we know about voodoo? I just don’t see Hillary involved in any avant-garde religious cult. To tell you the truth, Bill, I don’t have any rational conclusions.”
“Woodrow, thanks for your time.”
Lincoln got up to leave. They exchanged pleasantries before Bill headed to his car. He was a hundred yards from the murder scene and somewhat curious, but still had one more stop to make. He was soon scheduled to visit the crime scene with the campus security officer who had first discovered the body.
Lincoln left home the following day to meet two of Hillary’s girlfriends on Taft’s list, Alfreda Henry and Mona Goldstein. Mona was Hillary’s roommate when Hillary died. Even though the police had already interviewed both girls, Lincoln wanted to hear their stories for himself.
He knocked on the door at precisely five o’clock. A young lady of medium height with a ‘pleasing to the eye’ body, dressed in designer jeans and a light blue silk blouse, opened the door. A sparkling smile and bold beautiful eyes greeted him.
“Hello, I’m Bill Lincoln with the Oakland Police Department.”
“Hi. I’m Alfreda. Mona is inside. By all means, please, come in.”
“Tell me, ladies, do either of you have any idea about who would want to hurt your friend?”
The two young ladies suddenly got quiet, both shaking their heads.
Mona spoke first… “Hillary was the best. She was friendly, beautiful, fun to be around and always very respectful. She came from a good family, one with values.”
A tear rolled down Mona’s cheek as she sat there; the room became quiet again. Mona looked down and grabbed both knees, hiding her face in her lap.
“I’ve known Hillary since junior high school,” Alfreda said quietly. “She was fun to be with.”
“I understand a young man named Benjamin was Hillary’s friend,” he said to no one in particular.
“Benjamin is a good friend who could no more do something like that than you could!” Mona responded emphatically.
“I heard his family retained a lawyer for him,” Lincoln replied in his most authoritative voice.
“Hell, rich people retain lawyers for everything. If my father knew you were coming here today, he’d have sent the family attorney over. I mean… that’s just how it is with the well-heeled. The family’s attorney is like, well, like family!”
“So, Benjamin is not a very likely suspect I gather?” he asked.
“If you have any doubts you should go meet him,” Mona replied. “Don’t take our word for it.”
Bill observed the two comely young ladies closely. He believed they were sincere.
“What about the feathers and the severed duck head? What do you make of it?”
“It shocked us!” Alfreda asserted. “It sounds like voodoo stuff. I really don’t know what to make of it!”
“I wouldn’t have believed it before the police showed me those awful pictures,” Mona interjected. “It was ghastly, I almost fainted. There’s a damn psycho out there! She stared at Bill, her eyes never blinking, while she waited for a response.
“When was the last time that either of you saw or talked with Hillary that evening?”
They were both eager to respond; talking about their friend was proving to be therapeutic.
“We all left the Homecoming Ball together,” Alfreda answered. “Terri and I were the last ones to see Hillary alive before she left for her room. Mona and Hillary were roommates, but Mona had left for her room about a half-hour earlier than everyone else. Logistically, we get to my room before Hillary’s and the three of us, Terri, Hillary, and I talked for a few minutes in front of Grant Hall. When Terri and I went inside, Hillary started walking towards her dorm room. It was very late and the walkways were empty.”
“I went home and straight to bed,” stated Mona. “I was exhausted! The campus police woke me when they came to tell me about Hill. That was our little nickname for herHill,” Mona said, tearing up again.
“Now, think about this carefully… take your time. Can either of you think of anyone who could do anything such as this?”
Both students shook their heads. Bill eyed each girl intensely. He groped for more questions to ask. “What about any members of her family?”
“No. Hill has a great family”, Mona offered. “They’re classy. They have impressive jobs and they each seem to know all the right people, that is except for maybe Rad.”
“And, what about Rad?” Lincoln asked, his eyebrows rose.
“Oh, Rad absolutely couldn’t have done this. He adored his baby sister. However, Rad’s lifestyle is what you would call, well…somewhat suspect. Why, I don’t even think Hill knew what Rad is really into.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Rad drives the best cars and dresses ‘to kill’, but nobody knows exactly what he does. When you ask, you never get a straight answer. You quickly learn to just go with the flow with Rad. He’s just so cool; everyone knows him, everybody likes him.”
“Yeah, Rad has always been the life of the party,” Alfreda chimed. “I understand that since childhood, Rad has craved the spotlight. It’s just part of his nature; he’s a born extrovert. He enjoys the finer things in life. I’m not sure, though, if ‘hard work’ is in his vocabulary.”
“So,” Lincoln said, “Hillary didn’t know how Rad made his living?”
“That’s right,” Alfreda responded, “She just referred to him as ‘a successful businessman’ if anyone ever asked her.”
“What about his friends and associates?”
“Like Mona said, he knows everyone,” Alfreda replied. “Rad would usually show up with a lady friend, but there were so many you eventually got the impression they couldn’t be very close friends, simply arm ornaments.”
Lincoln was getting a much better picture. “Tell me, ladies, was Hillary religious?”
“No, not really. She’d go to church with her parents from time to time if they asked, but she didn’t go of her own accord,” Mona replied.
“What was her religion?”
“She was raised a Catholic.”
“But she wasn’t faithful to the Catholic doctrines, I take it?”
“No, Hillary was progressive. It was only for conversational value.”
“Was she into some other religion or metaphysics?” he inquired.
Lincoln had what he needed. Bill knew Rad was not the killer, yet he was interested in Rad’s associates and his lifestyle. How could he afford expensive cars and wear fancy clothes? He suspected the father, Franklin Dillard Sr., was not the type to support an offspring’s frivolous lifestyle. Franklin Dillard Sr. was known for hard work and fortitude, so supporting a lifestyle based on easy money would be considered out of character. He thanked Hillary’s friends and left his business card.
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