Editors note: Haunted Bones by Thomas J. Morrow marks the return of the popular Sunday Serial to OsideNews. Each Sunday we will bring you a chapter of Tom’s 2013 novel, Haunted Bones, a story of two city detectives trying to piece together a series of murders. The victims’ bodies have been preserved and stuffed into the walls of a seaside resort in Oceanside,California.
Authors note: This is a work of fiction. It does not reflect any actual events, and all of the characters are fictional. Any similarity to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
There is a real city of Oceanside, California. It’s San Diego County’s third largest city with a below-average crime rate.
The Grand Pacific Hotel is fictional, but during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were at least two similar resort hotels that did exist, primarily serving railroad passengers and tourists as described in this book.
— Tom Morrow
Oceanside, California is one of the Golden State’s more pleasant beachfront communities. With a population of nearly 170,000 citizens, its residents enjoy a mild year-round weather pattern with temperatures averaging in the sixties seldom varying more than twenty degrees one way or the other.
The city is home to the historic Spanish Mission San Luis Rey. Built in 1798, it’s the largest of the twenty-one missions scattered along the California coastline. The string of missions are connected by the famed Spanish El Camino Real otherwise known as The Royal Road.
During the late 1960s and into the seventies, neighboring Camp Pendleton was turning out as many troops as possible to meet the never-ending quotas for the Vietnam War. Countless recruits, many with less than stellar backgrounds, descended onto the streets of Oceanside causing havoc at every turn. The local police had all but an impossible job of keeping the peace.
In an effort to help curtail the debauchery, the Marine Military Police were assigned to patrol alongside the local police. For a while, it helped; but in the years to come, and well into the nineties, the city’s crime rate began to rise resulting in a less than desirable reputation.
Those wild times took place more than forty years ago. However, the military has since adopted more stringent recruiting requirements, and the Oceanside Police Department has developed a better-trained police force. Together, these two factors have brought peace and tranquility to the city’s downtown area and to its colorful beaches.
Danny Saenz and Joe Stein are hard-working homicide detectives for the Oceanside Police Department. They have a stellar record investigating and closing their cases. So much so that they are considered the premier detective team for the OPD with a 100 percent closure rate. However, in the spring of 2012, they were handed two mystifying murder cases that would all but threaten their record. This is the story about those cases.
There was nothing blue about the Pacific Ocean on this early morning May. The ocean today was the ashen shade of lead gray perfectly matching the thick layer of misty low clouds that rolled in from the sea. Almost occurring on a daily basis, from the last days of April til the warm July sun cooks off the foggy gloom of June, this thick layer of moist, offshore cool air gently moves inland creating a ghost-like atmosphere reminiscent of any Stephen King movie. This natural phenomenon called the Marine Layer is created by the cold surface waters of the Pacific that acts like a giant cooling system that prevents the California coastline from turning into a desert.
During these somber gray days of May, it makes it difficult for one to determine where the horizon meets the sea and where it doesn’t. But today there were three small sailboats bobbing about a few miles from the shore; just that in itself solved the mystery.
Along the coastal walk this early foggy morning, a flock of seagulls scrambled frantically over pieces of bread that didn’t make the trash bin. Skyward, a gangling flight of pelicans, in an imprecision-like formation, soared above the famed Oceanside Pier, the longest on the West Coast stretching some 1,950 feet out and over the water.
As with most early mornings in this seaside community, calm is pleasantly caressed by the soothing, dull roar of the ocean as its waves slowly crash onto the sandy coast. Early bird surfers, riding their boards hundreds of yards from shore, catch the cascading waves that carry them back to shallow waters where they paddle back for more.
But on this early misty morning, the idyllic coastal peace was aberrantly destroyed by the ear-piercing siren of a red and white fire department ambulance racing along Pacific Street towards an old oceanfront home. It was situated on The Strand—a ten block residential avenue hugging the Pacific Ocean and the city’s nearby landmark, the Oceanside Municipal Pier.
Detectives Danny Saenz and Joe Stein also received the call and were directed to the address for a potential intrusion and, what appeared to be, a homicide. The house was a Great Depression-era bungalow owned by a retired Oceanside physician and his wife. The small-framed structure was nestled between modern condominium complexes where wealthy local residents, out-of-state snowbirds, and Zonies seek refuge from the hot and dry air of the desert. All have picture window views of the balmy blue, albeit, often gray Pacific.
Harriet and Homer Dobbins had been married for nearly thirty years. Curious neighbors, standing around the outside of the home, told uniformed officers, who first arrived on the scene, that eighty-three year old Dr. Dobbins was a well-known medical physician. Most OPD officers, who grew up in the city, knew the man. Over the past half-century, he had brought half of the local population into this world before retiring more than a decade ago.
At approximately five o’clock that morning, the doctor called 9-1-1 to report a break-in and a shooting. He also reported that his wife appeared unconscious in her bed and that she looked as though she had been beaten. When the medics arrived, it appeared that Dr. Dobbins’ eighty-three year old wife Harriet had in fact been beaten to death and that her husband had received a gunshot wound to his left side of his abdomen. The bullet appeared to have passed cleanly through his body.
The detectives arrived about ten minutes after the ambulance had transported Dr. Dobbins to the Tri-City Medical Center. Mrs. Dobbins remained on the bed for the detectives to study. The uniformed officers that arrived before them reported the doctor was cognizant but withering in pain. They escorted the detectives back to the bedroom where Harriet was lying in a pool of blood—presumably hers.
About thirty minutes or so after studying the scene and combing through the house, they released the body to a second ambulance crew that had already arrived to take her to the morgue. In the meantime, Detective Stein suggested to his partner that it might be a good idea to go to the hospital and try to question the doctor.
“The sooner the better before he stops remembering. You just never know. I’ll stay here with the forensics team.”
“Yeah, memory’s a funny thing with older people,” Danny said. He left the house. Joe walked over to a tech holding a camera.
“Be sure to photograph the entire scene.”
“We’re on it, Joe,” the tech said with a slight smirk. This task automatically launched as part of the routine when the team arrived on the scene. The detective’s habitual statement was getting old.
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