A final insult

Kelly's life had been tough - but there was worse to come...

Published by: Jean Jollands and Henry Austin
Published on: 6 December 2012

Snuggling up under the duvet, I tried to stifle my giggles. However, my cousin Kelly Elliot, 19, was having absolutely none of it.
‘Come on,' she chuckled, while wiping away the crumbs from our midnight feast. ‘Tell me his name!'
My cheeks blushed at the mention of my latest crush. 
‘Okay,' I grinned, leaning closer. ‘But don't you tell a soul.'
We were on a sleepover round mine and I couldn't wait to tell Kelly, my number one confidante. ‘Well, there's a boy I like called Terry...' I began. ‘He's really cute, but there's a problem.' I explained that Marcia, one of our other cousins, also fancied Terry.
Suddenly, Kelly's eyes darkened. ‘Forget about him,' she shrugged, quickly looking away. ‘Never put a boy first. Family is all that matters.'
Guilt flushed through me. I knew better than most just how much family meant to Kelly.
She'd had a tough upbringing. There were rumours of her family being involved in drugs before my aunt Annie adopted her when she was just five. She'd been part of the family as long as I could remember and my mum Audrey and dad Ray always kept an eye out for her. Kelly was like a big sister to me. 
She'd always made it clear that she would always help me, no matter what.
‘If you ever need me, I'll be here,' she said, smiling.
As I grew older, it was comforting to know that Kelly was watching out for me.
She seemed to love the stability and sense of family that my house offered.
One day a few years later, when she was just 21, Kelly rushed into the kitchen, with a huge grin.
‘I'm going to be a mum!' she blurted. ‘I'm pregnant!' Her eyes glistened with pure joy. ‘Are you serious? I'm gonna be an aunty.' I yelped, hugging her. 
Even though she later split with the baby's father, pregnancy was the making of Kelly. The more her belly grew, the more she glowed.
When she finally pushed little Leah into the world, you couldn't have met a prouder mummy. ‘Isn't she beautiful?' she cried, cradling her new arrival. ‘She's adorable,' I grinned.
When my own baby sister Tracy came along 18 months later, life for all of us couldn't have been sweeter.
‘I hope her and Leah will be as close as you and me,' I said, placing the two babies side by side on a play mat. ‘Are you kidding, these two are going to be friends for life,' she chuckled.
As the girls got older, they couldn't have been closer, sharing their dollies and chatting excitedly whenever I visited Kelly at her fourth-floor flat in New York, USA.
‘It's like watching us years ago at our sleepovers,' Kelly smiled, over a glass of wine one night.
Kelly, a full-time mum, doted on Leah so much, there didn't seem time for boyfriends. ‘Are you still looking for The One?'
I giggled later that evening, feeling slightly tipsy. ‘No, me and Leah don't need anyone else,' she insisted to me, her brown eyes misting over. 
Those words cut through me five years later when, unexpectedly, aunty Annie died. Kelly's adoptive dad Harry had also died years before. ‘It's like everyone I love seems to slip away,' she hushed, as we linked arms at Annie's funeral.
Now that Kelly had lost her adoptive mum, her grief made her dote on Leah even more. But, I was scared she was missing out on her own life.
Three years later, as Kelly's 30th birthday approached,
I was determined to get her out. ‘C'mon, you're getting on now, so you'd better celebrate while you can!' I teased, as we tucked into a Sunday roast round at ours. ‘No excuses! You're having a party!' For once, she didn't put
up a protest. 
‘Maybe you're right...' she giggled, shyly. ‘Guess it's time
I started to live a little!'
I was still thinking about ideas for Kelly's birthday bash a few weeks later, in May 2010, when I popped round to visit our aunt Doris. I'd barely been there a few minutes when Doris' phone started to ring.
Suddenly, a piercing scream rang out from the living room. 
I rushed in to find her violently sobbing, the phone still clasped in her hand. 
‘What's happened?' I shrieked, fear rising in my belly. 
‘It's Kelly,' she spluttered. ‘Kelly and Leah... they've
been murdered!' 
Murdered? No. She had it wrong. ‘Kelly's not dead...' I said slowly, as if saying it would make it true. ‘She can't be,' I whispered, tears brimming. Who'd want to hurt them? Kelly and Leah didn't have an enemy in the world. 
But, over those next hours, my world crumbled around me as my Dad was asked to identify their bodies.
‘It's them...' he confirmed, helplessly. ‘They've gone.'
Trembling uncontrollably, I still couldn't take it in. When the police finally arrived,
I begged desperately for answers. ‘Who did this to them?' I pleaded. ‘And why?' But the officer wouldn't look me in the eye and shifted awkwardly around on his feet. ‘I'm sorry...' he began. ‘But the initial evidence suggests it might be a murder-suicide...'
Suicide? What did he mean? Surely he wasn't suggesting...?
My heart pounded as he explained at 4.20am that morning, one of Kelly's neighbours had noticed Kelly's front door had been left open and rang police, fearing a burglary was
taking place.
‘When we got to the house, officers discovered the naked bodies of Kelly and Leah in the bathtub,' he continued.
‘There were pills scattered around their bodies, indicating that Kelly may have taken her daughter's life before deciding to then take her own.' 
Kelly take Leah's life? Nausea bubbled in my throat as I collapsed into the chair behind me. ‘No...!' I howled, sickened to the core. ‘It's not true! Leah was Kelly's life. She would never ever want to hurt her. Never!'
I remembered that day in the kitchen, when Kelly first announced she was pregnant. ‘I know I didn't have the best start in life,' she confided. ‘But I'm going to make sure this baby always knows just how much their mummy loves them.' I'd promised her there and then that she'd be the best mum ever.
‘She wouldn't hurt a hair on that little girl's body,' I said angrily. After I asked the officer to leave, he mumbled something about continuing their investigations. ‘Why don't you go and find the monster who really did this?' I spat, disgusted.‘How could they suspect
my cousin?' I sobbed to Dad, as he cradled me. As I tried to make sense of what I'd heard, it was like being trapped in a sick nightmare. Images of Kelly filled my head. I remembered the day of Leah's baby shower, when Kelly was just five months gone. ‘I'm having a girl!' she'd whooped proudly to me. ‘My very own little girl, can you believe it?'
I don't think we had ever seen her happier before. 
Disgusted by the sick suspicions, I felt confused and empty. I just couldn't believe
I was never going to see Leah or Kelly again, let alone that Kelly could have had anything to do with it. But, somehow, I knew I had to stay strong for Tracy. ‘How will we tell a six-year-old that she's lost her playmate?' I asked Aunt Doris helplessly that day.
When I returned home, our house was full of grief-stricken relatives and Tracy's face was already stained with tears.
‘Leah is coming back, isn't she?' she pushed, tugging at my sleeve. ‘No,' I hushed. ‘Not like before. But, they'll always be in our hearts.'
Still bewildered, that night we joined the hundreds of mourners who gathered around Kelly's flat and lit candles in their memory. None of them believed she'd hurt Leah either. 
Then, hours later, there was more news. Police arrested Amahal Lynch, the caretaker of Kelly's block of flats. ‘He's confessed to their murders,' a policeman finally announced.
‘I knew Kelly didn't do it!' I wept, trembling through the mix of emotions. 
Officers explained that the autopsy results had revealed that, not only had both Kelly and Leah's bodies been moved, but they had both been strangled. Detectives had quickly identified Lynch as an acquaintance of Kelly's and arrested him. Lynch was even claiming that he and Kelly had been on a couple of dates. ‘He says Kelly and him got into an argument. He then killed her, before strangling Leah to death. He scattered pills around them to try and frame Kelly,' the officer explained to us.
It was the final sick insult. ‘What sort of animal could do that?' Dad spluttered, as images of their last terrified moments filled our heads.
Somehow, we managed to make it through the day of the funeral. Though my legs buckled as I visited the funeral home in Brooklyn. Leah looked so beautiful in her open casket, her face unmarked. It was as if she was sleeping - like she had done at a million sleepovers round at ours. I gasped when
I gazed into Kelly's coffin, though. Despite thick make-up, you could tell her face was covered in bruises. ‘It's like they've tried to twist her mouth into a smile,' I wept.
Kelly and Leah were buried on top of each other. ‘So they'll always be together,' I explained to grieving friends and relatives. Despite Lynch's murder spree, he'd never be able to separate them from each other.
Days later, when Lynch, 20, appeared in court, I wanted to tear him apart as he smiled smugly to himself. However, he couldn't even look me in the eye.
The one small mercy was that he decided to plead guilty to the two charges of second-degree murder. 
In April this year, at Brooklyn Supreme Court, Judge Neil Firetog jailed him for life. ‘You let your base desires take over, then you tried to cover your evil urges in the most despicable manner,' he told him.
As Lynch was handed his sentence, the court began filling with shouts that he should offer an explanation. Lynch, a pathetic figure with his wrists shackled, cleared his throat.
‘People make mistakes,' he finally stuttered. ‘God is good, you know. I repented.'
I couldn't believe his arrogance. He'd murdered two innocent human beings and that was all he could say for himself? How could I even think of forgiving him? I didn't want to see him in jail. I wanted to see him buried underneath it. 
A year has passed now but, when I take Tracy to school, I sometimes see tears trickle silently down her face. There's no comfort I can give her. Yet, when I feel like giving up,
I remember the day when I admitted to Kelly that I wanted to be a writer. We grew up on a rough estate with few opportunities and I thought she'd laugh at my big ambitions. But she didn't. ‘You can do it,' she insisted.
‘I'll always be here to spur you on.' And somewhere, just somewhere, I know she's still looking out for me.

*Some names have been changed 
Raquel Matthews, 17, New York, USA