Victor Bethel’s home was a modest but charming one-story house on Largo Drive. The detectives were greeted at the door by an attractive, fiftyish woman with a pleasant face and petite build. She did not seem surprised to see two homicide detectives at her door.
“It’s about Victor, I bet,” she said in a resigned tone
“Yes, ma’am. Unfortunately, it is. He has been arrested for murder,” Zeigler said. McGuire admired the way he didn’t beat around the bush.
“I’m Sheila Bethel, Victor’s mother. Please come in,” Mrs. Bethel said “Buddy! The police are here!” She called out to someone in the house. A man in a wheelchair arrived at the front door.
“Are you Buddy Williams?” Zeigler asked.
“I am,” the man answered. Zeigler decided to get straight to the point.
“Victor called us and confessed to murdering Ryan Townsend. He was very drunk when we arrested him, so we don’t know many details. We’re going to talk to him very soon. If you want, you can go to the station to see him after we question him.” Neither Mrs. Bethel nor Williams answered.
“Neither of you seem very surprised. Do you know anything about this?” McGuire asked.
“When we saw the news report of a man found dead on Middleground Road, Vic broke down. He was never very good at hiding things,” Mrs. Bethel explained. “He told us he took the gun to Middleground Road to practice because he didn’t think anyone would be there at that hour.”
“I asked him why he didn’t just go to the firing range. He still has some credits to use over there. He couldn’t give me a straight answer, but only said he was playing around and accidentally hit Ryan Townsend,” Mr. Williams added. “He promised us he was going to go to the police.”
“Well, it looks like he kept his word. We have a warrant to search the premises,” Zeigler told him. “You have the right to be present as we search.”
“Vic’s room is the second one on the left,” Williams told them. He raised his arm in the general direction of the hallway but Zeigler noticed that Williams had trouble pointing.”
“Well, we don’t want to disturb your house any more than we have to. Do you know if Victor has a .50 caliber Barrett rifle?” Zeigler asked.
“Yes, he does,” Mrs. Bethel told them. “Buddy foolishly bought Vic a $3000 rifle. My son goes through these phases were he gets really excited over something and claims it’s going to be his new life mission. It doesn’t take him long to get bored with whatever it is, and then he just doesn’t seem interested in anything at all until a new passion catches his fancy. A couple of years ago at Christmas, Vic became interested in hunting. He talked about it constantly for a week. So Buddy got him the rifle for Christmas. We found someone to train him to use it, but soon he figured out that he couldn’t hit the wide side of a barn with it, so he gave up. The gun’s been sitting in our gun safe since. I didn’t even know it was missing.”
“Vic took it out the other day,” a voice from another room said. A second later, a young woman appeared from the hallway. She was not pretty; she was plump, had frizzy hair, and wore a sour expression.
“What do you mean?’ Williams asked her.
“He said he wanted to sell it, Uncle Buddy,” the young woman answered. Zeigler felt relieved; he had been dreading asking about the relationship between Victor’s mother and Williams.
“Are you Victor’s sister?” Zeigler asked the young woman.
“Yes. I’m Emily Bethel,” she replied. Zeigler felt uncomfortable in this young woman’s presence in a way he couldn’t identify. “If Vic’s going to need a lawyer, call Todd. He’ll help him.” Emily said to her mother and uncle.
“Todd Hinman?”Zeigler asked. Emily nodded. Todd Hinman had a reputation as a pit bull in court; if he couldn’t get his clients acquitted, which happened so many times, he got them the most lenient sentence possible under the law. Molly’s going to have her hands full with this one, Zeigler thought.
“Do you know if your brother sold the gun?” McGuire asked.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” she answered.
“You live here with your mother and uncle?” McGuire asked.
“No, I live on campus. I’m a law student at University of Savannah. I come here three times a week to take Uncle Buddy to physical therapy, since my mom’s work schedule keeps her from taking him.”
“Is that how you know Todd Hinman?” Zeigler asked. He could tell the young woman felt his suspicion.
“He’s my boss. I intern at his office,” she answered in a somewhat defensive tone.
“Well, let’s have a look in Victor’s room,” Zeigler got back to business. He had remembered that Aaron Anderson was waiting for them at the station, but was momentarily distracted at the mention of Todd Hinman.
Victor Bethel’s room was neat and tidy. A little too perfect, Zeigler thought. He looked at bookshelf and noticed that all the books were arranged alphabetically by author. There was nothing about violence or killers. Bethel, it seemed, was a fan of the classics. There was a whole shelf dedicated to Shakespeare. A referral to the department psychiatrist was going to be in order. The search of the room turned up nothing that could be used as evidence of a murder. Mrs. Bethel opened the gun safe, and to no one’s surprise, the .50 caliber Barrett was missing.
“Well, we are headed back to the station. You are more than welcome to see Victor tomorrow after we question him. Thank you for your time,” Zeigler said. The detectives left the premises.
“Something about that girl-Victor’s sister-gives me the creeps. I’m not sure what it is,” McGuire told her partner once they got back to the car.
“You’re right. There’s something off about that whole family. I just can’t tell what it is, either.”
“I certainly think it would be worth the time to question the family members separately. Also, we need to talk to Courtney and see if we can set up a re-enactment of the shooting with Bethel. If you ask me, for someone who is as incompetent with firearms as Mrs. Bethel claims her son is, Victor sure made one hell of a lucky shot. A search of the surrounding area showed no other bullet holes, and that only one shell casing was found. That is what the report said, right? ”
“Right,” McGuire said. “And I’ll check the financials on everyone in the family. A $3000 assault rifle is not something you buy on a whim for a flighty nephew.”