Sampler: What Lies Beneath Stillwater by Susan Clayton-Goldner
October 5, 2022
Review: Something very sinister had gone on and Radhauser is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths and heinous and unthinkable crimes.
When an infant’s skull is revealed during a groundbreaking for the new homeless shelter behind Harrison Mortuary, Detective Winston Radhauser immediately opens an investigation.
While cordoning the scene, Radhauser spots a giant of a man standing at the back of the gathering crowd. He’s crying. The two of them lock gazes for an instant before the big man scurries away.
Radhauser turns to Sister Anne Monique, a long-time resident of Ashland who knows the history of the mortuary better than anyone. When she’s told about the discovery, she seems almost frightened.
She tells Radhauser The Stillwater Home for Unwed Mothers preceded the mortuary and housed pregnant women, most of them teens. Dr. Stillwater sold the property in 1973. When asked about the man at the groundbreaking, the sister says Roosevelt Levingston had been the home’s caretaker.
Medical Examiner Steven Heron and his forensic team excavate the site. The remains of more than twenty infants are discovered. Forensic anthropologists estimate the bones are thirty to fifty years old. Cause of death is unknown.
What went on at the Stillwater?
What caused the death of so many newborns?
Who buried these children?
Radhauser won’t stop until he has the answers.
Sampler: What Lies Beneath Stillwater
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
It was hardly the type of day you’d expect to discover a dead baby.
The late-afternoon air was warm and scented with lilacs. Forsythia splashed the landscape with yellow blossoms. Daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods were in bloom, and many locals had come out for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Tadeas Phan Shelter for the Homeless.
Ashland was a postcard-perfect kind of town, set in the rolling foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, with a population under 20,000. Tourists often described it as a little section of England set down in southern Oregon. An Elizabethan theater nestled into the hillside above Lithia Park, Ashland’s crown jewel.
Two ravens took flight from a nearby spruce, rising stark and lonely against the cloudless sky. Their sleek black bodies gleamed as if coated with oil.
Detective Winston Radhauser had plenty of things he’d rather be doing, but it was a quiet Tuesday and he came out of respect for Mau and Lien Phan, parents of the young murdered boy for whom the new homeless shelter was named. He glanced at his watch. It was two thirty. Plenty of time for him to be present at the groundbreaking and still make it to the obstetrician’s office in time for his wife, Gracie’s, ultrasound. Though the pregnancy had caught him off guard, he was now excited about adding a third child to their family. He secretly hoped for another girl—one they might name Hope after his baby sister who’d died in infancy.
Radhauser watched as the birds circled above the scene. One alighted on top of the sign, half the size of a billboard, that read: FUTURE HOME OF THE TADEAS PHAN SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS. The bird cocked its head, neck craned as if interested in what was going on. The second one landed beside the first. They edged along the top, their talons flexed and curled as they gripped the sign and stared at him with beady, black eyes.
A chill of foreboding raced through his veins.
After Mayor Gladstone cut the ribbon and delivered his boring and yet melodramatic speech, he pushed the blade of his shovel into the already softened ground. The mayor smiled. Reporters snapped photographs and video cameras rolled.
Mayor Norman Gladstone was short and on the portly side, and always looked a little rumpled. He often wore a hat to cover his bald head. This afternoon, he had on a black beret, slanted to the right.
Radhauser had seen the mayor in a fedora, a cowboy hat, and a newsboy’s cap, but the beret was a first. With his round and slightly reddened cheeks, he looked more like a wilting jack-o’-lantern than the suave Frenchman he’d tried to emulate.
The crowd cheered as the mayor lifted the first scoop of dirt. Again, the cameras erupted in blinding bursts of light.
Seconds later, a human skull, no bigger than a softball, rolled onto the ground at his feet. The mayor jumped back. His dark eyes bulged and a look of horror spread over his face. Cheers turned into a collective gasp. Bystanders automatically took a step backwards.
As if he were about to faint, the mayor clutched his ample belly and leaned against the sign.
It took a moment for the shock to sink into Radhauser’s brain. When it did, he shuddered, then snatched the roll of crime scene tape from the backpack he always carried, and slipped on a pair of latex gloves. He’d had one baby-stuffed-in-a-garbage-bag case when he’d been a rookie in Tucson, and he hoped he’d never have to see another one. “I need everyone to move away—at least twenty feet.” He spread his arms and pushed through the crowd, trying to separate them from what might be a crime scene, then called for backup.
Sister Anne Monique made a sound like a small animal being crushed. Though she normally dressed in street clothes, she’d worn the more traditional habit and wimple for the groundbreaking. She let go of the string of balloons scheduled to be released at the ceremony’s closing and covered her face with her hands. A few spectators pulled curious children away from the skull, trying to draw their attention to the multi-colored cluster of balloons rising into the bright April sky.
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