The Winery Killing

Blue and white police crime scene tape fluttered in the vineyard breeze. Otherwise, everything was still. It was almost picking time – the grapes hung fat and green on the browning vines. But there would be no picking here.

The Burch Family Winery is a vineyard in Cowarumup, Westerna Australia. Each year thousands of people make the trip to their cellar door to sample their produce. They have a well-deserved reputation for excellence.hp-ctg-museum-releases

Forensic experts, covered in white anti-contamination suits, crawled over the scene. A woman had been dragged a short distance from the gravel lane, accessing the winery, into the rows of grapes and stabbed. Pickers had found her just after dawn as they began work. Fortunately they were careful to stay away from the scene.

Mason, The lead detective looked over the winery. The crime took place below the Burch Accommodations and Winery, though with the vines and the darkness the killer would have been obscured. He had the suits interview the pickers. As expected they could yield nothing of significance.

Mason didn’t need forensics to find out the victim’s name. Annabel Skirling had been a paying guest at the Burch Family Winery. She’d booked in alone and had tickets for winery tours for the next two days. The Burch family, who took her deposit and taken her to her room, said she seemed polite, but withdrawn – not anxious or fearful, as someone escaping a killer might be.

Somehow the blue skies and fresh air lifted Mason’s spirits. Squalid housing commissions and after dark drug parks are the usual haunts for a homicide detective. For him being in this beautiful environment was a breath of fresh air. ‘When this is over,’ Mason thought, ‘I must come back here for a holiday.’

“I have a print,” one of the forensics guys called. Clad in their white coveralls and goggles Mason couldn’t tell them apart. “A boot print.”

“I want shots of it before you make a cast,” was Mason’s response.

 Cowarump

It was unfortunate but necessary. Not something the Burch Winery wanted to do; but they were obliged to make their guest list for that week available to the police. The family themselves were horrified. For generations their winery had been a haven for people seeking to escape the routine of their lives. Now all that seemed violated.

It wasn’t. Mason knew these things had a way of being accepted. People were more resilient than they knew. Not that they wouldn’t all be altered by what happened, they would. But, for the most part, they’d find a way to carry on.

“The killer wore size nine boots. We’re sending you the details of their make a model,” said the head of forensics to Mason.

The guest list contained the name of three men. Of course no one knew if they’d worn boots or shoes. It didn’t matter. Mason would be sending uniforms to each of them tomorrow. It was likely one of them would be the culprit.

Why? Was the question of everybody’s lips. Why would one guest kill another? A woman he’d only just met. Was he drunk? Was he crazy? He didn’t seem crazy to the staff who’d met and spoken with him that day.

When the trial was done, when the papers had left the story for another, Mason did return to the Burch Family Wines Estate. It was about time, he thought, he treated himself to a weekend away. All the family and staff remembered him. After a few tentative questions they decided he was a guest like any other – someone not really wanting to have their work bought up on their weekend away. Mason was grateful. He had no answer to the important question – Why?

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