Corpse in the Camera [A Lt. Mark Stoddard Mystery]
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by J. D. Crayne
Description: A New, Exciting Lt. Mark Stoddard Mystery. Mark Stoddard, Police Detective in the small Northern California town of Pomo, investigates two intriguing and baffling deaths. The first case opens when a brush clearance project reveals a crashed car in the middle of a berry patch, with the skeleton of its owner still inside. The remains, as Stoddard shortly discovers, belong to a man who vanished from the town without a trace during World War II, and apparently without leaving behind anyone who cared. Was it murder, or a simple traffic fatality? Stoddard is still scratching his head over that one when the curator of the town Historical Society's museum is found in the museum's storage area with a large dent in her skull. There's no doubt about this one being murder. As events unfold, Stoddard begins to suspect that the deaths may be connected, even though they are separated by over sixty years. His suspicions become a certainty when an elderly acquaintance, who just happened to know both the photographer and the curator, is found in a welter of blood on the sun room rug. Why were these three people killed, and who killed them? Was it the woman who once posed for the local camera club, and sold herself on the side, or perhaps the curator's husband, whose visits to the hairdresser involved more than a simple trim? Does an innocent and fluttery old lady, reminiscing about her youth in California's Bay Area, know more than she is willing to admit? Does the local florist have a better motive than anyone suspects? Tracing a trail of smut photography from the locked trunk of a 1938 Packard through the local Seniors Center, to the home of a famous artist's model, Stoddard finds himself walking through a tangle of love and hatred as he searches for the solution.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2003
eBookwise Release Date: July 2004
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [218 KB]
Reading time: 171-240 min.
"Watch out for snakes," Doreen said nervously, as her spouse grubbed around the base of a wild blackberry vine with a heavy hoe.
He straightened up and wiped the back of one leather-gloved hand across his forehead. "It's too early in the season for snakes."
"It's spring, and I saw a fence lizard yesterday. If there are lizards, there are probably snakes." She hugged herself and wrinkled her nose. "Regular snakes are bad enough, but rattlers scare the hell out of me!"
"Forget it. We're making enough noise that any self-respecting snake will be long gone." Ted Antonelli leaned on his hoe and surveyed the mess that he was making. The tangled mound of vine had been reduced by about twenty feet, and Doreen had dragged the debris some distance away, to a slash pile in a clearing on the slope, where they would soon burn it to ashes with the help of a couple of cans of kerosene. He squinted up at the sky. It was clear, bright blue, with just a few cottony clouds floating through to give it interest. The sky here never failed to enthrall him, although he supposed that eventually the magic would fade and he'd get used to it. Pristine blue by day, and a riot of stars at night, Mendocino County skies were so different than those of Los Angeles that it was like being in a different world.
"It's going to be nice, isn't it!" Doreen said. "Once we get all of these vines out of the way we can build the terraces and put in the water system, and have a really nice garden!"
"You sure you're not going to miss all of the blackberries?" he said, teasing. "Blackberries on ice cream, and blackberry pies, and blackberry grunt?"
"You don't even know what blackberry grunt is!" she said, laughing. "I'm going to buy some nice civilized berry vines and plant them along the fence."
"Wait a minute! I'm grubbing these out and you're going to replant them?"
"Thornless ones, with bigger berries."
"I'll bet they won't taste half as good," Ted said, bending back down to take another whack at the vine roots. "None of the big fancy modern stuff ever does."
"We'll have melons, and squash, and corn," she went on, ignoring him. "I want to plant some plum trees too, and an apricot..."
Ted's hoe hit something hard with a metallic "clink" and he bent down to look beneath the overhanging berry vines. "Damn, more trash! This hillside must have been part of the local dumping ground." There was a long scraping sound as he dragged his hoe blade along something hard.
"What is it," Doreen asked, coming over to look. "So far we've got parts of an old wood stove, a dented milk can, and a rusty fifty-gallon drum."
"It's a car," Ted said slowly. "A whole damned car. And there's ... something in it."
Doreen peered over his shoulder, where he was holding some of the vegetation aside, and then scampered up the hill to their house, to call the police.
* * * *
Detective Mark Stoddard, of the Pomo Police, took a statement from the young couple while a group of crime scene people stood around talking and a County work crew cleared the rest of the bramble patch from around the car and its skeletal occupant.
"You bought this place when?" he asked.
"A little over a year ago," Ted replied, while his wife stared at the clean-up crew and twisted a red bandana in her hands. "But it was just the vacant land, two acres of it. The house was one of those kits. You know, the company delivers it in truckloads and you get some contractor to help you put it together. We were living in Ukiah while we were building it, and just moved in last month."
"So, you never did anything with this end of the property?"
"Couldn't! This mess of vines covers a good half acre. I think that's why the property was so cheap, frankly. I was going to have a guy with a bulldozer come in and clear it off, but he wanted more than I wanted to spend, and we'd already spent a bundle having him level the pad for the house and leach field, so I figured we'd just do it little by little."
The whine of a chain saw whipped through the air as one of the workers cut off a sapling that had grown up between the car's rear bumper and frame.
"Who sold the property to you?"
"We got it through Prestige Properties. The agent's name is Jerry Wohl. I'm not sure who actually owned it. I made out the check to Markam Associates, but I think it originally belonged to some lumber company."
"Very likely," Stoddard agreed, glancing around at the second-growth Douglas fir that covered most of the nearby hills. He flipped his notebook shut and tucked the pencil into his jacket pocket. "Well, it's nothing to do with you two. The lab will say for sure, but it looks to me like this car's been here since before any of us were born. When the tow truck gets here, we'll have them take it over off that way and then up the hill, so it doesn't muck up your property. Do you know who owns the rest of the land around here?"
Ted shook his head. "No idea. It's just vacant land."
Stoddard nodded at the two and made his way down slope to see how the crime scene crew was making out.
"What's the story?" he asked, as he skidded to a stop beside two County morgue attendants and a uniformed patrol officer, who were peering in through the open windows of the black sedan.
One of the attendants looked at Stoddard and shook his head mournfully. "Pack rats," he said.
"Yeah, I wish the guy had kept his windows rolled up. Between the vines growing through it from one side to the other, and a couple of generations of pack rats building nests inside, it's going to be a real mess to get the remains out."
"What about the doors?" Stoddard asked.
"Oh, rusted shut!" the attendant said cheerfully.
"I've got a call in for a guy with a cutting torch," Officer CeeJay Michaelson said. "Ukiah has one of those Jaws of Life rigs that we could borrow, but I didn't figure there was that much of a hurry."
"There's not exactly a need to get him to the emergency room," Stoddard agreed, looking into the front seat along with the morgue men. Whatever the local wildlife had left undone had been taken care of by decades of time and weather. The bones were dirty white and scattered; the clothing a tattered heap of rags. The skull had fallen loose from the spinal column and was lying half hidden in a pile of leaves and twigs on the passenger side floor. Most of the car's interior was filled with a towering heap of twigs, shredded upholstery, and small branches, punctuated by snaky lengths of green-leafed berry vine.
Stoddard straightened up and walked around to the rear of the vehicle with CeeJay. The County work crew had cleared the vines and brush away from the rear and right side of the car, and were working on the front, where the vehicle's trip down the hill had been interrupted by a good-sized oak tree.
"1942," CeeJay said, lifting a foot to tap his toe at the rusted rear license plate.
"That was back when people got new plates every year and not just little bits of bright plastic to stick on the old ones," Stoddard said, jiggling the corroded chrome trunk handle. "My dad used to talk about cars like this," he said. "Trunk handles, running boards, and wind wings."
"You suppose there's anything in the trunk?" CeeJay asked.
Stoddard shrugged. "Deal with that when the tow truck gets it over to the body shop. If the guys there can't open it, we'll have to have the fellow with the cutting torch do it. I hope there's not another body. We're going to have trouble enough trying to figure out who this one is."
"Accident, do you think?"
"Yeah, probably. Missed the turn on the road up above and came down the slope into the tree. If he was a drunk driver we'll probably never know it." Stoddard shook his head. "Poor devil. I hope the crash killed him and he wasn't a long time dying down here, praying for somebody to show up."
* * * *
Stoddard lugged the large cardboard box in through Warren Legacy's office door and dropped it down on the desk with a thump that rocked the inkwell and made the owner of Legacy Antiques wince. The detective flicked a finger at some long square pieces of wood that stuck up from the carton, said cheerfully, "Here it is!" and dropped down into one of the visitor's chairs in front of the desk.
Warren Legacy, a slightly plump, gray haired man, in his late fifties, grimaced. "Your phone call was cryptic, to say the least. What is this?"
"I'm hoping you can tell me," Stoddard said. "As I said on the phone, we got it out of the back seat of a 1938 black Packard sedan that was half way down a hill. The remains of the driver were in the front."
"Fascinating." Legacy stood up, straightened the jacket of his brown tweed suit, and peered into the carton. "Have you any idea how long it had been there? The car, I mean."
"It had 1942 California license plates. That's as far as we've gotten. I've got a guy from the Pomo Body Shop trying to open the glove compartment and trunk. We took one of the front doors off with a cutting torch, but I didn't want to cremate anything important."
Legacy lifted a piece of rusted mechanism out of the box and set it down delicately on his desk blotter. He frowned down at some other fragments, finally picking up a dirty circular object, which he rubbed between his fingers.
"Camera equipment," he said, pulling open one of his desk drawers and taking out a paper towel to wipe his fingers.
"Yeah?" Stoddard prompted.
"Yes. It must have been a large format camera. The bellows is gone, but what's left of the frame looks like one of the old four by five or five by seven models." He reached over to a table next to his desk for the latest edition of the twice-weekly Pomo News; spread it open on his desk, and began to lay out the delapidated remnants on it in some approximate order.
"Who would use something like that?"
"A professional photographer, or a very dedicated amateur," Legacy said. "This was an expensive camera in its day, and would probably have been used for studio portraits, or the sort of scenic vistas printed in travel books. These pieces here..." he tapped one of the sticks protruding from the carton, "were a very good oak tripod, once upon a time."
He studied the bit of mechanism he'd first taken from the box, and next looked at a squarish wire frame made of three straight pieces and one curved one. Then he walked over to one of the bookcases that lined the room.
"Hmm, hmm, hmm," he said softly to himself, as he traced a finger along the shelf and then took down a fat dark green volume and thumbed through it.
"Ah, yes! It is ... or rather, was ... a Speed Graphic. They had three viewfinders. One where the photographer sighted through the lens, one that was on top of the box, and this wire hoop which flipped up over the top of the camera and was used to capture fast action, like players in sporting events." He walked back to his desk; laid the open book down; and rummaged in the carton. "This sheet of metal was part of a film magazine," he said, holding up a thin plate. He took a ruler out of his top desk drawer and laid along the edge of the magazine. "Five by seven."
"Can you give me a date?"
"Only within a decade or so. The curved wire at the top of the hoop viewfinder was used on what today's collectors call the 'Pre-Anniversary" model. That was made from 1929 through 1939. Still perfectly usable, of course, if they're kept in good condition, but I'm afraid this one is rather beyond salvaging." He smiled wryly, stacked the fragments back in the carton, and wiped his hands on the paper towel before picking up the reference book and returning it to the shelf.
"That fits in with the 1942 license plates," Stoddard said, musing. "I suppose a photographer would keep a camera like this, even if it was a bit old?"
"Most definitely," Legacy said, straightening the knot of his red and black paisley tie, and sitting down again. "The Speed Graphic was a queen among cameras. Anyone who owned one would have cherished it. Since the negatives were five by seven inches, the pictures didn't have to be enlarged. The fidelity to detail and depth of field are really amazing. Cameras like this still bring very handsome prices from collectors--most of whom actually do use them. Of course, I am talking about those people who have their own darkrooms and do their own processing."
"That would leave me out," Stoddard said, lifting the carton off of Legacy's desk and tucking it under one arm. "It's all I can do to work one of those little disposable doodads. Thanks for the help. I guess I'll check our files and see if anyone was missing a studio photographer back in the early forties."
"It might be interesting to look through the city directories of the period too," Legacy said, "just to find out what photographers' studios there were around here in 1942. Of course, your man may not have come from this area at all. He might have been on a trip up here from the Bay Area, or even Los Angeles, to take pictures of the scenery."
"So he could have been working for some magazine, or a newspaper?" Stoddard said, with his free hand on the doorknob.
"Possibly, or he might have been a freelance photographer. Those were the war years, you know. People moved around a lot."
"Not the sort of thing I want to hear," Stoddard said with a wry grin, and lugged his carton out of the room.
* * * *
Back in his office at the Pomo Police headquarters building, which was the only police building in town, Stoddard set the carton full of camera debris out of the way on the floor; sat down behind his desk; and started a computer search of the archives, blessing the foresight of an earlier Chief of Police, who'd had all of the hardcopy records scanned and stored. It certainly beat having to grub around in dusty filing cabinets in the department basement.
However, as convenient as the modern system was, it could not produce what wasn't there, and Stoddard found no report of any missing person for the years 1942 through 1943 that hadn't been resolved, in one way or another.
He leaned back in his chair and stared at the monitor screen. Whoever the dead photographer was, no one in Pomo had reported him missing. Stoddard supposed the skeleton was a "him," although there were certainly women photographers and darkroom artists back in the 1940s. Presumably that was a question that the medical examiner would answer. He was debating about sending a missing person query to the other police departments in the County, when the phone rang.
"Detective Stoddard," he answered casually, his mind still on missing persons.
"Hiya! This is Jerry, down at the Body Shop. We got your Packard trunk open. You wanna come down and pick up the stuff?"
"Oh, there was something in the trunk then?"
"Yeah, there's a couple of boxes and some other junk. I didn't monkey with it. Figured you'd want it left alone."
"Thanks. I'll be right over."
Stoddard drove down Commercial, and then south on Main Street to the Pomo Body Shop, left his white pickup in one of the marked parking spots, and walked over to the big corrugated metal garage, where the Packard was sitting on a trailer at the far end of the building.
Jerry Fuentes, owner of the body shop, was cleaning his hands with some waterless grease remover out of a large can, and waved as Stoddard walked up. "You didn't waste any time getting down here. I hope it's worth your while," he said. He led the way around to back of the car, wiping his big hands on a blue shop towel as he walked. "Nice old car. It's too bad you guys had to take a torch to the door. Who owns it? I'd kind of like to buy it and fix it up."
"It looks like a heap of junk to me," Stoddard said mildly.
"Oh, no! The radiator is jimmed up from running into something..."
"An oak tree."
"...and the upholstery and wiring are shot, but the body and frame are in good shape, and there's less than 70,000 miles on the odometer. Even the paint job might polish out okay." He ran a caressing hand over the back fender as they walked by.
"You see a lot of cars that have been wrecked, right?" Stoddard asked.
"Yep. Body Shop, that's the name of the business. They don't come in here just because someone kicked the tires."
"So, how fast do you figure this car was going when it hit the tree?"
"Oh, nothing much. Max, twenty-five, thirty, miles an hour. It's just the radiator that's mucked up, not the frame. Of course, the frames on these old babies were built to last. Not like modern cars, where you ping 'em at ten miles per hour and the whole front collapses."
The trunk lid had been removed and was leaning against the side of the car. Stoddard peered into the trunk interior. There was the usual collection of repair tools--jack, wrench, air pump--a cardboard box with the top flaps folded together, and an old metal file box.
"Okay, I'll take the boxes away. Send the bill to us, as usual."
"Will do. What about the car?"
"Have you got room to keep it here for a while?"
"Sure. I can take it off of the trailer with a hoist and put it down by the back fence. No one's going to drive it away, that's for sure. Oh, I almost forgot. I got the glove compartment open for you too. It looks like mostly maps and papers."
"Is there a registration or pink slip?" Stoddard asked, hopefully.
Jerry shook his head. "You wouldn't find the registration in the glove compartment back in the forties anyway. That was when the law said you had to have the registration on display. All of the auto shops sold holders for them that snapped around the steering column, or clipped on the sun visor. If it's still around, it's in the junk your guys shoveled out of the front. The key's still in the ignition, by the way. You want me to try and get it out?"
"Sure, if you think you can."
"I'll give it a good squirt of penetrating oil and let it sit for a couple of day. Let me get you a bag for the maps and stuff."
"By the way," Stoddard asked, when Jerry came back with a large plastic bag from one of the local markets, "what gear is it in?"
"Neutral! Checked that first thing. I was just sort of curious. The transmission's in neutral and the emergency brake is off. Was it at the bottom of a grade when you guys found it?"
"Yeah, about sixty feet off the road; maybe thirty feet down slope."
Jerry nodded. "Yep, that'd do it. Bouncing down a hill like that, it could have popped out of gear easy enough. These old manual transmissions do that going down a grade sometimes, if you're not careful with 'em."
Stoddard transferred his booty from the Packard to the cab of his truck and drove back to headquarters. He was sitting at his desk, trying to figure out how to get the locked file box open, when Ted Wilder, the other Pomo Police detective, sauntered in and folded his lanky form into one of the spare chairs.
"Chris told me you came in looking like you'd been on a scavenger hunt. What is all this stuff?"
"It's from the trunk of that old Packard we pulled out of the berry patch. The stuff in the bag is from the glove compartment."
Wilder leaned over and lifted the plastic bag off of the top of the cardboard carton. "Mind?"
"Be my guest! I haven't been through it yet. I'm trying to figure out how to get this file box open without snapping the lock."
"Assuming that anything important is more apt to be in a locked box than a cardboard one?"
Wilder pursed his lips for a moment, and then said, "Aren't there some old metal boxes like that in the store room? There were file folders in some of them, before we got the computers. The locks are pretty rinky-dink, and I think half of the keys are the same."
"Good thinking!" Stoddard said. pushing back his chair and standing up. "I'll go see if there are any keys in any of the boxes."
Wilder nodded. "I've got a can of penetrating oil and a couple of screwdrivers in my desk; I'll go get them."
By the time Stoddard came back with a collection of flat punched metal keys, Wilder was squirting oil into the lock and onto the hinges of the file box. A few more minutes and three keys later, they were able to force back the lid, its stiff hinges squealing in protest. There was silence for a moment, as Wilder filpped through some of the items in the box.
"Ooo-la-la," he murmured after a moment.
"Yeah," Stoddard said. "Now I know what Warren Legacy meant about fine detail and depth of field."
Wilder was just expressing his appreciation of the blonde in the white Cuban heels and fancy garters when a voice behind them said, "How are you doing on the berry patch case, Mark?"
"Just fine!" Stoddard said, as both detectives turned around to smile brightly at Chief of Police John Treadway. "Take a look."
Treadway came forward. His eyes widened, and he ran one hand through his already untidy red hair, leaving most of it on end. "Where did you get these!"
"They're clues," Wilder said. "I get to look for fingerprints on the blonde when we find her."
"Seriously now!" Treadway said.
Stoddard grinned. "They are clues, I guess. The photographs were all in this filing box, and it was stashed in the trunk of the car."
The Chief bent closer and scanned the pictures again, his untidy red hair flopping forward over his forehead. "These are practically pornographic," he said. "No, they are pornographic. And that girl..." he stabbed a finger at a slender girl with bobbed hair, sitting on a couch half-covered by a patchwork quilt, "...looks like a minor to me."
"To me too," Wilder agreed, "but if the dating is right she was a minor over sixty years ago, so I wouldn't worry about it."
"She'd be a little old lady of around seventy-five by now," Stoddard said. "By the way, Chief, how's your mother getting along these days?"
"Very funny," Treadway said wryly. "What are you doing with all this?" He waved an inclusive hand over the photographs and box of papers."
"There's nothing much I can do until we find out who the deceased was. The papers in the box, and the stuff in that plastic bag all came from the car. I'll go through them and see if there's anything useful. Aside from that, I'm just waiting to hear from the lab folks, and from the medical examiner. He's got a lot on his hands, but says that he can probably get around to examining the remains by the day after tomorrow."
Treadway nodded. "Okay. If you don't come up with anything by the end of the week, just turn it over to the County and close the file. It's not worth spending much time on." He turned to Ted Wilder. "We need to talk about the marijuana abatement program. Have you got the schedule ready to submit to the State?" The two men walked off down the hall, discussing plans to get Pomo's civic hands on as much in the way of State matching funds as possible, and left Stoddard to his papers and pinups.
The photographs, he decided, after laying them all out on top of his desk and sorting through them, were of just four women. There was the blonde with the garters, a rather ample Latina with penciled eyebrows, a sultry beauty with a pout--whose long hair might be light brown or medium blonde--and the teenager. The latter, he discovered, with the aid of a magnifying glass, had a spot of some sort on her left thigh; a birthmark, perhaps, or a scar. He idly considered putting a picture of the nymphet in the local newspaper with the heading, "Did you know this woman?" and chuckled suddenly. If she turned out to be someone's strait-laced, church-going, grandmother that would cause a fuss. No, most likely the women were long gone; either moved away or dead these many years since. Sad, really. That blonde had been a real beauty. He closed the top of the file box gently and turned to the carton of papers.
They were no help at all. Half of the box was full of photography magazines--mostly the nude model sort--with a mixture of Life, the Saturday Evening Post, and a few issues of National Geographic thrown in. No mailing labels, no brown paper wrappers with addresses. The loose sheets were articles torn out of newspapers, some ribald cartoons, and outdated pinup calendar pages. He upended the bag of stuff from the glove compartment onto his desk: Three road maps, a disintegrating pair of fur-lined driving gloves, a small flashlight, two matchbooks, and a box of long-decayed Luden's Cough Drops. Stoddard handled the road maps gingerly. There was one of Mendocino County, one of the San Francisco Bay Area, and one of Sacramento. He set them carefully aside and studied the matchbooks. One of them was from a bar in Ft. Bragg, and the other was from some kind of strip joint in San Francisco. They all had telephone numbers with prefixes, rather than the present day's long strings of numbers. Interesting, Stoddard thought, but none of it seemed very helpful. These bits and pieces did show that the skeleton had been, in life, familiar with the northern part of the state and that was enough to chew on for the evening.
The next morning he drove down to Ukiah to see if the lab people--three efficient professionals who were on loan from the big lab in Eureka and lived in fear of being sent back--had found anything interesting in the debris that had been shoveled out of the Packard.
It was a pleasant April day, with a few white clouds scudding across the sky, and Stodard enjoyed the solitary drive south to Ukiah, listening to some of the more impractical ideas for governmental reform trotted out by public radio. He parked in one of the lots at the complex of buildings that housed the County offices and walked past the groomed lawns and bright flowerbeds to the morgue. He strolled in, waved at the receptionist, and headed down one of the corridors to the forensics lab.
Coleen LeGrange, a neat middle-aged woman with curly gray hair, looked up from her desk as he pushed in through the swinging doors. "Come to pick up your bags of yard trash?"
"Hey, that was high quality stuff!"
"Right. Fifty gallons of dried leaves, rodent droppings, twigs, cotton, and shredded leather."
Stoddard perched on the corner of her desk. "And what did you find?"
"I ought to make you sweat for it. I went through every ounce of that trash with a magnifying glass for you."
"Come on, it could be worse. At least it was dry, right?"
"It was that. Even with a mask on I may never forget the smell of powdered rat shit." She sighed and got up from her chair. "Okay, let me show you what we got."
Stoddard followed her over to a large flat file, where she pulled out a drawer filled with neatly labeled plastic bags and carried it over to one of the lab tables. "This is probably the prize of the lot," she said, opening a bag containing a flat black object and some fragments of paper, all encased in separate plastic sheet protectors. "Leather wallet. Badly deteriorated, but we managed to get pieces of a driver's license, some business cards, and twelve dollars in cash out of it--two fives and two singles."
"Were you able to get a name off of the license for me?"
"Yes, but only a partial. The last name is Flynt, with a middle initial of 'L', and there's a birth date of September 10, 1910. The first name ended with the letters 'an' but the rest of it is gone."
"Damn good work, Coleen. Thanks!" Stoddard took out his notebook and started writing down the information.
"Buy me a drink sometime!" she said, pulling another set of small sheet protectors out of the bag. "Here are the cards. They all seem to be the same, what's left of them. None of them have the full text left, but piecing it together from all eight of them it looks like 'Flynt Studio, Fine Photography, and some address in Pomo. I couldn't bring up the street or house number, and if there was a phone number on the cards, it's gone."
"That fits," Stoddard said. "We found the remains of an old camera and tripod in the back seat, and a collection of dirty pictures in the trunk."
"My, my. It sounds like Mr. Flynt had quite a business going."
"Mister? You're sure of that?"
"Well, not sure! If you want it to be positive, you'll have to wait for Victor to measure the pelvis, but with the rat-gnawed remains of a pair of size eleven oxfords, and a rusted fly zipper from a pair of trousers, I'd say it's pretty likely."
She slipped the cards, inside their protectors, back into the bag and reached for another sack. "This is a conglomeration of bits and pieces. Celluloid, paper, imitation leather, and a couple of metal snaps. I think it was one of those old car registration holders that wrapped around the steering column. Sorry there's not enough left of it to do you any good."
She held up the bag. Stoddard peered at it, and nodded.
"This seems to be the remains of a key case," she said, holding up another bag. "It was one of those kind with little brass clips for keys, and it fell apart over the years."
"That makes sense. The car key was still in the ignition."
Coleen nodded. "Simple gravity. The weight of the metal hooks and the other four keys pulled the case apart so that it eventually fell on the floor. That's about it," she said, putting the bag back in the drawer. "Aside from zippers, snaps, and buttons, the clothing is almost a total loss. There are some fragments of wool suiting--a brown and cream herringbone pattern--shreds of cotton underwear, and most of a pair of hand knitted gray wool socks. Since the bottoms of the socks were down inside the shoes, they were protected a little more. There are some scraps of felt and twill tape that might have come off of a hat, plus cotton and leather from the upholstery. The vegetable matter is consistent with the area where the car was found. I've got a full list and the analysis typed up for you. I left out the rat dropping count."
"Thanks," Stoddard said gravely.