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The Prologue: Possessed

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In his starched, blue-shirted uniform, Houston P.D. officer Ashton Bowie circulated through the 18th floor hallway of The Parklane, one of Houston’s most stylish high-rise addresses, a smoky glass and off-white paneled structure that soared over the sixteenth hole of a lush green golf course. In daylight, floor to ceiling windows from the thirty-five floors offered breathtaking views of the city’s impressive skyline.

At 3:41 a.m. when the 911 call hit, however, darkness cloaked the nation’s fourth largest city. On the phone, a desperate-sounding woman pleaded for help. Yet the apartment number on the transmission posed a problem. Dispatched to an assault in progress in apartment 1801, once he stepped off the elevator, Bowie saw that the apartments were designated by the floor number and a letter. Where was the crisis? In apartment 18A? 18D? Behind which closed door?

A fit man, Bowie worked the graveyard shift in this section of Houston, dominated by the elegant museum district, the hallowed halls of Rice University, and the expansive facilities that made up the Texas Medical Center, the largest hospital and medical research complex in the world. Among H-town’s most expensive neighborhoods, the area suffered its share of common crimes, burglaries, robberies, and the infrequent carjacking. This type of call, one potentially involving violence, was rare.

In The Parklane, Officer Bowie circulated slowly through the hallway, listening intently, assuming the assignment could involve a domestic violence situation, among the most dangerous for any officer. Entering a private residence where two people fought in the middle of the night, perhaps one armed, was unpredictable. When tempers and emotions flared, anything was possible.

Suddenly from deep inside apartment 18B, Bowie heard a woman’s moans, muffled by a thick door. He walked up and listened. Confident that the sobbing came from inside, his hand on the gun in his holster, he knocked.

“Police! Open up!”

A slight hesitation, then the door cracked open far enough to reveal a slice of a woman’s face, mostly concealed behind the door. “Did you call 9-1-1, ma’am?”

“Yes,” the woman said, her words slurred.

At five-foot-five, the woman appeared of Latin descent, thick, long dark hair held in a clip at the top, falling about her face and gathering around her shoulders. Something dark and red lined her forehead and cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. The woman looked unsteady, weaving slightly.

Not answering, she eased the door open a bit wider, and the officer’s eyes trailed down her shapely body. Exposed to the light from the hallway, Bowie judged that the smudges on the woman’s forehead, cheeks, and chin resembled blood. Her hands, her hair were streaked. Her lacy black tank top revealed little, but thick, dark blood saturated the legs of her jeans, especially around the knees. So much blood. The scene recalled a garish horror movie, one where the art director had been ordered to ramp up the gore. In real life, so much blood meant only one thing; someone was dead or dying.

“Are you hurt?” the officer asked. The woman didn’t appear to be, but he wondered if it was possible that the blood was hers. The woman shook her head no, and Bowie caught a strong whiff of alcohol.

“He was holding me, and he wouldn’t let go,” she said, an eerie hollow whine to her voice. Now that he’d heard her speak, Bowie realized the woman had a pronounced Spanish accent, garbled by what appeared to be an over-consumption of liquor. “I said, ‘Stefan! Let me go!’”

“Who is Stefan?” he asked.

“My fiancé,” she said. “Come in.”

The woman stepped back and opened the door into the foyer. She then pointed into the apartment, down a short hallway, one that “T”ed off at a wall that separated the entry from the apartment’s interior. Officer Bowie stepped inside, his hand still hovering over the service weapon in his holster, his eyes surveying the scene.

“Are there any weapons?”

“No,” she said, choking out the word.

Once inside, Bowie’s eyes trailed the brief hallway’s off-white walls. Low to the floor, dark red smudges, spots and streaks spattered in a chaotic pattern. More blood. Beside him the woman sobbed. “He was holding me. He wouldn’t let me go,” she wailed. “I told him, ‘Stefan, please! Please! Let me go!’”

Then Bowie saw the man sprawled on the floor, on his back, at the end of the hallway, his hands flung above his head. Beside him, near his face, more crimson pooled on the off-white carpet. At first the officer, who walked forward for a closer look, assumed the cause of so much bleeding must have been a bullet. That, however, didn’t seem to be the case. Careful not to contaminate the scene, Bowie bent down for a closer look, and judged this was something else. He wasn’t sure what. It looked like the white-haired man on the floor had been attacked with something, beaten about his head. Dozens of cuts, dents and bruises pocked the face and scalp of the man on the floor, garish seeping wounds.

“Sir, sir!” the officer said, but there was no answer. From the look of the man, Bowie hadn’t expected one.

“I tried to give him CPR,” the woman said. “Can you try?”

Yet the officer never started CPR. The blood on the carpet was already drying. In Officer Bowie’s estimation, any opportunity to save the man had long passed. Judging from the coagulating blood on the carpet and the cold, pale look of the body, the man on the floor had been dead for some period of time.

“What happened?” Bowie asked, turning his attention fully on the woman.

“We were arguing,” she said. As she talked, she grew calmer, but her voice was urgent, and her words rushed out in a torrent, jumbled, perhaps a result of the alcohol the officer smelled even more clearly now that she stood beside him. “He wouldn’t let me leave. He was holding me, and he wouldn’t let me go. I said, ‘Stefan, let me go!’” This time when she recounted what she’d told the dead man, the woman held onto the vowels, turning her entreaty into a plea: “Pleeeeease, Stefan! Pleeeeease, let me go!”

Officer Bowie looked down and again considered the man’s corpse, his face covered in a bizarre patchwork of wounds. The woman said there wasn’t a weapon, but it was obvious that she hadn’t done so much damage with her hands. She’d used something. “What did you hit him with?”

The woman’s face twisted into a pained grimace, and she pointed a bloody finger toward something on the floor near the dead man’s head, a size-nine, cobalt blue suede stiletto, its five-and-a-half-inch heel stained with blood that held tufts of what appeared to be strands of the dead man’s white hair.

“My shoe,” she said. “I hit him with my shoe.”

In the year that followed, the shockwaves of the killing inside Parklane 18B reverberated past the streets of Houston, mesmerizing the nation and the world. A sexy woman’s shoe might have been a recurring weapon in movie plots, but on that awful June morning, in a posh Houston high-rise, it became reality.

Compounding the mystery surrounding the case was the identity of the dead man; Dr. Stefan Andersson, a brilliant scientist and researcher who held patents on the interactions of hormones and steroids, and the way both impacted women’s bodies during pregnancy. At the University of Houston, Andersson, an esteemed professor, lectured medical students.

Yet questions emerged from that night when the call went out and homicide detectives flooded Andersson’s apartment. Was the professor living a double life?

Those who knew him described the brilliant scientist as a quiet, kind and generous man. But Ana Trujillo, the woman who’d beaten Andersson almost beyond recognition, labeled the dead man in vastly different terms. She called him controlling and abusive, to the point where she had no option other than to defend herself with the only weapon available.

“He wouldn’t let me go,” she insisted, when she described to investigators the events of that night. “He pushed me… he grabbed me… he.…”

But who was Ana Trujillo? And was she to be believed? Why, if not fearing for her life, would she kill the man? Perhaps a clue waited on at the scene of the killing.

After Trujillo was transported to Houston Police Department’s homicide bureau for questioning, the forensic unit took over Andersson’s apartment. One officer inspected Trujillo’s purse. Out of the black leather sack with a drawstring, he pulled a pair of white tennis shoes, a black-and-white, snake-patterned wallet, and one more item: a thin, stained and worn book with a white-wire spiral binding. Its gold and purple cover bore the title: Tarot.

The paperback was open to page twenty-one. That particular text explored the meaning of card number thirteen and bore a chilling illustration of a skeleton on horseback, holding a sickle and wearing a hooded cape.

On the night she killed Stefan Andersson, Ana Trujillo had the Tarot book in her purse open to the death card.

Chapter One

Decades pass, yet childhood memories remain. Early experiences imprint and shape, the good and the bad, the hopeful and the disappointing, the joyous and the tragic. Adults may try to overlook their pasts, but can they ever truly be forgotten? For the child within calls out, reminding the adult where he came from, branding who he will be, how he will react, and forever influencing his self-image, his relationships, and his life.

In Stefan Andersson’s case, his beginnings would not only impact how he lived his life, but eventually how he died.