Summer of Love & Murder
Joshua’s eldest son, Joshua “J.J.” Thornton Jr., has graduated at the top of his class from law school and returns home to spend the summer studying for the bar exam. However, to Joshua’s and Cameron’s shock and dismay, J.J. moves into the main house at Russell Ridge Farm, the largest dairy farm in the Ohio Valley, to rekindle a romance with Suellen Russell, a onetime leader of a rock group who’s twice his age. Quickly, they learn that she has been keeping a deep dark secret.
The move brings long-buried tensions between the father and son to the surface. But when a brutal killer strikes, the Lovers in Crime must set all differences aside to solve the crime before J.J. ends up in the cross hairs of a murderer.
Praise for Lauren Carr’s Mysteries:
“Lauren Carr could give Agatha Christie a run for her money!”
- Charlene Mabie-Gamble, Literary R&R
“As always, Lauren Carr brings an action-packed story that is almost impossible to put down. Her mystery plots have so many twists and turns that I didn’t know if I was coming or going. And the action just didn’t stop from the very beginning till the very end.” – Melina Mason, Melina’s Book Reviews
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Eleven Years Ago—Dixmont State Hospital, Outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Hard to believe this was once a state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital,” the young Pennsylvania state trooper said to his partner, an older officer who seemed unimpressed with the long history of the century-old hospital that rested on top of a hill overlooking a major freeway and railroad tracks.
Heavily damaged by fire and decades of neglect, the complex’s main building had once been a historic landmark, a toast to what had been considered cutting-edge psychiat- ric treatment back in the 1800s. More than a century later, the many buildings that made up the facility lay in ruins, decaying, and the grounds were overgrown and covered in trash left by kids, psychics, and filmmakers.
“Only goes to show you how quickly the state of the art can become out of date,” the older officer grumbled. “Do you have any idea how many crazies died here? How many are buried in that cemetery?”
“Which is why it’s one of the most haunted places in the world.” The young officer uttered a sinister laugh.
An unmarked police car rounded the curve in the road that weaved up the long hill from the highway down below. Recognizing the woman driving the cruiser, the older trooper muttered something under his breath.
“What is it?” his partner asked. “Gates.”
Before the older officer could answer, the unmarked car pulled into a parking space next to their cruiser.
“Detective Cameron Gates,” the older trooper said in a low voice as he watched the slender woman with shaggy cinnamon-colored hair climb out of the cruiser. “Was on leave most of last year because she—” He made a motion with his hand to indicate drinking.
“Good morning, Fred,” she said to the older officer. “I see you’re keeping the new recruits well informed on who to know and who to stay away from, as always.”
“Detective Gates,” Fred said with a stiff smile before introducing her to his partner. “Detective Gates is with Pennsylvania’s homicide division.”
Struck not only by how attractive she was but also by how young she appeared to be, the young officer shot her a grin. She couldn’t have been much over thirty, if that.
With a polite nod to the young police officer, she asked, “What have we got?”
“A dead body,” the young officer answered. “A creepy dead body.”
“They’re going to tear the place down,” Fred said while leading her down the battered concrete walkway, around the long main building, and to the abandoned building behind it.
“I heard all about that,” Cameron said, watching to make sure that she didn’t trip over rocks or the broken cement on the uneven path. “The owners tried to have the place renovated so that they could build a shopping center a couple of years ago. Ended up causing big landslides down onto Highway Sixty-Five and the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. It took the state weeks to clean up the mess.”
“So now they’re just mowing the whole place down.” Fred led her around the corner of the main building. A sec- ond abandoned building came into view.
“This is the dietary building,” the young officer said. “They found the body in the walk-in freezer.”
“A lot of kids hang out here,” Fred said.
“It’s supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the country,” Cameron said. “An abandoned mental hospi- tal. Legends. No one around. Perfect place to bring girls. You scare them and then hold them tight and hope to get lucky—or to get drunk.”
“You should know,” Fred said with a wicked grin.
Ignoring him, she asked, “Could one have accidentally gotten locked inside and suffocated?”
“Doubt it,” Fred said. “They found the freezer door locked from the outside and a broom handle jammed in the latch.”
“Sounds like someone didn’t want whoever was inside it to get out.”
They climbed the steps up to a loading dock. The garage-type doors had been removed, providing a wide open path into the kitchen area. Pennsylvania’s crime-scene investigators were already at work examining the area out- side and around the freezer; its rusted-out door, which was wide open; and its cavernous interior.
Near the activity, three men and a woman wearing hard hats were giving their statements about how they’d made the discovery to a few uniformed officers.
After showing the officers the gold shield she had clipped to her belt, Cameron waded through the officers and investigators and stepped inside the musty walk-in freezer. Taking note of the rotten food that had been abandoned decades before resting on the rusty shelves, she slipped evi- dence gloves onto her hands.
Having seen more than her share of dead bodies as a homicide detective, Cameron did not think that much could surprise her—until the medical examiner moved aside to let her see the body slumped in the corner.
Aware of her colleagues around her, Cameron fought to hold back the gasp that wanted to escape from her lips.
She had expected a decayed skeleton—nothing more than bones and rotten clothes. Instead, the dead body that had been reported was just that—a dead body whose flesh was dried and petrified and the texture of beef jerky.
“Never thought we’d find a mummy right here in Pittsburgh, Gates,” the medical examiner, an older man, said with a hearty chuckle.
“Not really, Doc,” she said. “How?”
“Freezer is airtight,” he said. “Electricity was turned off in the eighties, when the place closed down, so it wasn’t on. Sealed tight as a drum so that the elements and insects couldn’t get to him. Body couldn’t decompose. It dried out and mummified.”
Cameron squatted down to peer at him. His thick locks were blond and combed back off of his forehead. Still, even in death, not a strand was out of place. He was wearing baggy white pants and a matching jacket with shoul- der pads that had yellowed slightly with age. Dark-brown splatters across his shoulders and on his pants indicated
blood. Under the jacket, he was wearing a blue collarless shirt.
“I see blood,” she said. “Cause of death?”
“Beauty of mummification is that it does preserve evi- dence.” He pointed to the scalp. “There’s evidence of blunt- force trauma to the head.”
Cringing, Cameron reached down to pick up one of his hands. In spite of the decay, she was able to make out cuts and bruises on it. “Hopefully, for his sake, he was dead be- fore he was sealed up in here. It could have taken days for him to die if he’d had to wait to run out of air. Any ID?” She proceeded to search his pockets.
“None,” the medical examiner said. “No wallet. No money. No driver’s license. Nothing.”
Resting next to his legs was the neck of a guitar. The broken strings hung loose like chopped-off vines. After con- firming that the instrument had already been recorded and photographed by the crime-scene unit, she slipped it out from under the dead man’s hand and found that the neck of the guitar had been violently broken off of its body. On the exposed wood of the neck were stains that were the same brown hue as the stains on the dead man’s white suit.
“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked while searching the floor, and then she spotted the shattered body of the black guitar behind the dead man.
“Could this have caused the head wounds?” Cameron asked the medical examiner.
“Won’t know until I get him back to the lab.”
Cameron knelt down to peer closely at the victim’s fin- gers. Despite his condition, she was able to see the callouses on his hands. Pleased to have made one discovery, she sat back on her haunches. She took in his clothes, which at one time—during his life—would have been considered very stylish. But then they were old and discolored.
“We may not know his name, but I do know one thing about John Doe,” Cameron said. “He was a musician.”
“Whoever beat him to death couldn’t have been a fan,” Doc said.
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!
Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, romance, and humor.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
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