Publish Novellas 30 January 2022
EPISODE 2 – PARK
Piecing together the clues results in some surprising revelations in the conclusion of this two-part mystery.
Did you skip prior episode?
“It would have been helpful to know about the security camera earlier. But I am happy we discovered a clue,” says Detective Megan Anthony. “Did you have plans with your family for the weekend?
“Yes, we have a campground reservation at Lassen Volcanic National Park,” the distraught father and husband, Paul Abernathy, replies.
“Could your family have just gotten an early start?”
“Not without telling me. We have been planning this road trip for months.”
“Give me your campground reservation information anyway. It’s a clue. I will have officers look for the limousine along the route.”
By 2:00 AM Saturday morning, there is no ransom demand or contact from family. Detective Megan Anthony considers bringing in the FBI, but evidence of a crime is sparse. Mr. Abernathy brews coffee for the group.
Detective Anthony tells the police sergeant to coordinate a search at Lassen National Park. “Have a pair of officers visit the campsite with park rangers at sunrise.”
At 9:45 AM, the officers at the national park discover three tents at the reserved Butte Lake Campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park with clothing for each family member inside a sleeping bag within the respective tents.
Detective Megan Anthony tells Officer Frank Jacobs, “This case is becoming more bizarre by the hour. But at least we can confirm that we have three missing persons. Let’s put together a timeline and then have the captain make a public announcement.
“According to home surveillance cameras, the family left the home Friday at 7:23 AM in a limousine. Saturday at 9:45 AM, we find clothing that appears to belong to them at the Butte Lake Campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park. That’s a 10-hour drive.”
⚠️ Don’t wait. In the 1970s, virtually every police department in the United States required people to wait between 24 to 72 hours before filling a missing persons report. Law enforcement now recognizes that these are the most crucial hours for locating abducted persons.
At 11:00 AM, the police captain televises a public appeal:
“Last night we received report of a missing mother and her two children—a 16-year-old boy and an 8-year-old daughter. We are distributing their photos and descriptions to the news media, and also uploading information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) website….”
Detective Megan Anthony examines the email complaint addressed to Mr. Paul Abernathy 18 months ago. Thomas Jackson of Carson City, Nevada had a $100,000 life insurance policy on his family. His youngest child died and he received $10,000. His complaint was that the child’s life was not 10 percent of his wife’s value, as the policy indicates. It is the same ratio as the denominations on the pillows.
Carson City, Nevada is a little more than 3 hours away from the campsite. Megan realizes that this may be an interstate crime. So she loops in the FBI. They seek to question Mr. Jackson in Nevada. Agents do not find him at his residence so they keep it under observation.
Saturday afternoon at 2:05 PM, Mr. Abernathy receives a text message from a burner phone that says: “
Pick the most valuable family member for return.”
He agonizes over the choice. Then asks, Megan, “How should I respond?”
With a suspect and motive in mind, Detective Megan Anthony realizes the impossible query is meant to convey empathy. She tells Mr. Abernathy, “The highest denomination on the pillows was for your wife. Is that the way you write insurance payouts?”
“Yes, but I can’t let my children die.”
“We finally have a line of communication. You need to reply.”
Mr. Abernathy texts back, “
How much for them all?”
The return text message says, “
Pick one. Time is running out.”
He texts back, “
The kidnapper then replies, “
Wrong answer. Goodbye.”
Megan grabs Mr. Abernathy’s hand to prevent a hasty response.
“Wait! Before you reply again, let me tell you what I discovered…” She discusses the disparity in the policy payout in the complaint. “Notice the abductor has not asked for any money. Arguably, he paid you $130.
“A short hand is as harmful as one that steals. Mr. Jackson is not the only one affected by the low payout for children. He just happens to be the most vocal, therefore our top suspect. What reply do you think would make him feel you have a change in heart?”
“Using statistical analysis, I have always written policies to favor Capital Insurance. I now feel firsthand the disparity. It is truly insulting to be told that one family member’s life has less value.” Mr. Abernathy sends another text message:
“I now realize that each family member has equal value. As an insurance underwriter, I will amend policies to reflect this. I am truly sorry for devaluing life and hope that you will not repeat my mistake.”
After a 20-minute delay, a text message appears with a motel address not far away. There, police officers find the family unharmed, waiting for their father with the abductor, another disgruntled insurance payout recipient.
The FBI arrest Thomas Jackson moments later when he arrives home in Carson City, Nevada. He confesses to conspiracy interstate abduction. His accomplice, Brian Whitaker, convinced the family that the husband arranged for them to be chauffeur-driven to the national park to get disconnected from technology. Jackson planted the clothing at the campground to mislead investigators.
“My advice to you, Mr. Abernathy, is to tell your family not to enter another vehicle unless they have verbally confirmed it’s from you.”
“Noted, Detective Anthony. Thanks for all you’ve done. I just want to go hug my family now.”
The Abernathy family is reunited. Paul makes good on his promise to revise policies so they are more fair, though still not equal. He offers to pay legal expenses for Mr. Jackson and testifies in his behalf during the trial.
The actions of Mr. Jackson are criminal but he is given a minimum sentence due to the forgiveness of the victim. As someone who now values families more, Mr. Abernathy makes sure that Mrs. Jackson is well cared for during her husband’s incarceration. He also spends more quality time with his own family.
Do you know that Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance policies have the lowest premiums because they cover the most improbable outcomes? Are most insurance policies written to benefit the insurer or the policy holder? Would you be interested in more adventures of Detective Anthony?