DEAD GUILTY

A DIANE FALLON FORENSIC INVESTIGATION

BEVERLY CONNOR

Praise for the novels of Beverly Connor

‘‘Calls to mind the forensic mysteries of Aaron Elkins and Patricia Cornwell. . . . Chases, murder attempts, and harrowing rescues add

adventure.’’

to this fast-paced

Chicago Sun-Times

‘‘Connor combines smart people, fun people, and dan gerous people in a novel hard to put down.’’ — The Dallas Morning News

‘‘Outstanding. . . . Connor grabs the reader with her first sentence and never lets up until the book’s end. . . . The story satisfies both as a mystery and as an entre?e into the fascinating world of bones. . . . Add Connor’s dark humor, and you have a multidimen sional mystery that deserves comparison with the best of Patricia Cornwell.’’ — Booklist (starred review)

‘‘In Connor’s latest multifaceted tale, the plot is ser pentine, the solution ingenious, the academic politics vicious . . . entertaining... chock-full of engrossing anthropological and archeological detail.’’

Publishers Weekly

‘‘Connor’s books are a smart blend of Patricia Cornwell, Aaron Elkins, and Elizabeth Peters, with some good, deep-South atmosphere to make it authentic.’’

Oklahoma Family Magazine

‘‘Crisp dialogue, interesting characters, fascinating tid bits of bone lore and a murderer that eluded me. When I started reading, I couldn’t stop. What more could you ask for? Enjoy.’’

—Virginia Lanier, author of the Bloodhound series

‘‘Beverly Connor has taken the dry bones of scientific inquiry and resurrected them into living, breathing characters. I couldn’t put [it] down until I was finished, even though I wanted to savor the story. I predict that Beverly Connor will become a major player in the field of mystery writing.’’

—David Hunter, author of The Dancing Savior

‘‘Combine[s] forensic anthropology with some pretty sharp antagonists. There is something about ancestors and bones that adds unspeakable excitement and fore boding to a mystery story. . . . Connor’s style is origi nal and fresh.’’ —Midwest Book Review

ALSO BY BEVERLY CONNOR

ONE GRAVE TOO MANY* AIRTIGHT CASE SKELETON CREW DRESSED TO DIE QUESTIONABLE REMAINS A RUMOR OF BONES

*Published by Onyx

DEAD GUILTY

A DIANE FALLON FORENSIC INVESTIGATION

BEVERLY CONNOR

To Charles Connor

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to give thanks to Judy Hanson and Terry Cooper for patiently answering my questions.

‘‘Rule number one of crime scene work: If it’s wet and sticky and it ain’t yours, don’t touch it.’’ —Terry Cooper,

crime scene specialist, Georgia Bureau of Investigation

KNOTS

Bowline Figure Eight Knot Stevedore’s Knot Fisherman’s Bend Handcuff Knot Waggoner’s Hitch

Chapter 1

‘‘If I’d known she was so afraid of snakes, I wouldn’t have hired her,’’ Diane Fallon muttered as she parked her car behind a patrol car on the hard shoulder of the small two-lane dirt road. She could hear the screams of her museum assistant director still ringing in her ears as she took her case from the backseat and climbed out.

Two guys and four young women dressed in cutoffs and tanktops stood in a knot talking to each other on the opposite side of the road between a beat-up pickup and a Jeep. A blonde, cell phone to her ear, stretched up on her toes, as if that would give her a better view into the woods. The words ‘‘See anything’’ leaped out of the crowd.

On Diane’s side of the road, two men, tanned and athletic, stood next to a patrol car with what looked like surveying equipment in a pile at their feet. One of them appeared restless. He started to light a ciga rette when the other stopped him, pointing to the dry weeds.

The onlookers turned their attention to Diane as a patrolman approached her, spawning a minicloud of dust with each step. He was a young freckled redhead, and he squinted at the sun though his dark glasses, his khaki shirt wet with spots of perspiration around his collar and under his arms.

‘‘Nothing to see here, lady. Get back in your car.’’ He motioned with his hand as though he was direct ing traffic.

‘‘Forensic anthropologist.’’ Diane held out identifi cation that hung around her neck. ‘‘Sheriff Braden called.’’

The patrolman attempted a smile, nodded and pointed to the woods. ‘‘You have to work your way through the woods there. It’s dense at first, but you’ll come to a deer trail. Follow it about a quarter of a mile.’’ He hesitated a moment, a grimace distorting his features as he nodded toward the two men next to his car. ‘‘They say it’s not normal.’’

Not normal. The kind of death they called her out for usually wasn’t. ‘‘My crime scene crew will be here soon. Send them down when they arrive.’’

‘‘Sure thing. Spray yourself down good. Lot of deer ticks in these woods.’’

She thanked him, retrieved a can of bug repellent from her case and sprayed herself from head to toe before ducking through the underbrush. She followed orange tie markers through brittle flora until she found the deer trail.

About four hundred yards into the woods, a breeze brought a brief shot of relief from the heat but carried with it the aroma of death. Pushing her way through a thicket of wild shrubs, she saw the sheriff through the leaves. He and several deputies stood in an open ing under large spreading trees, staring at the crime scene,

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