The Vidocq Society: Murder on the menu

by longformphilly

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Adam Higginbotham | The Telegraph | November 2008

Sunlight filters through the blinds of a private dining-room on the top floor of the Public Ledger Building in the centre of Philadelphia.

Lunch – a small salad, followed by chicken and spaghettini topped with cheese and peppers – concludes with lemon tart. Most of the diners gathered around the half-dozen circular tables are finishing their coffee by the time Detective Charlie Fairbairn approaches the lectern to go over the events of August 29, 1985.

A short man with close-cropped grey hair, Fairbairn has flown across three states and driven straight in from the airport to be here, hoping to find a solution to a crime committed when he was only 14, long before he was assigned to cold-case homicide in the police department in Columbus, Georgia.

His face glistens with sweat as he describes the details of the murders – of a woman and her two children, killed in the kitchen of their home, with blows from an elongated axe designed for clearing undergrowth. Fairbairn outlines the crime scene in careful technical language, as photographs are projected on a screen behind him: ‘The body of Erica Currie, a four-year-old white female, was located between the kitchen table and the side door. Several feet from Erica, a section of her upper jaw and her glasses were located…’

The images advance: a pool of blood on linoleum; an axe on orange shagpile carpet; a child’s leg protruding from beneath a table. The few dozen assembled members of the Vidocq Society stare at the screen with professional detachment; at a table near the front a big man in his early seventies bounces a toothpick in his mouth impassively.

Another photograph shows a close-up of the body of Ann Currie, eight months pregnant at the time of her death, her head propped up for the camera by a man who is out of shot. A woman in the audience gasps.

But, being a forensic anthropologist from the New Jersey State Police, she is simply horrified at her colleagues’ lack of procedural rigour:

‘No gloves,’ she hisses at her dining companion, a world authority on ritual murder.

Writer bio: Adam Higginbotham is not one of us, but wrote well about one of our groups. The England-born narrative non-fiction and feature writer has published work in national magazines such as GQWired and The New Yorker. He is the author of “A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite,” published by The Atavist in 2014 and optioned as a film by Warner Brothers.

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