Murder in the blood

Can you inherit a gene for killing? Daniel thought so...

Published by: Brad Hunter & Polly Taylor
Published on: 19th May 2011

There are some shocks in life you can never really prepare yourself for, no matter how hard you try. And then there are the shocks that are so unexpected, so out of the blue, that preparing yourself for them hasn’t even crossed your mind.
I learned that the day there was a knock at my front door and two police officers told me my husband Richard had drowned.
He’d hit his head and fallen into the water while working on the shore of a property we owned east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. We’d been married for 29 years, and I felt like my world had imploded. 
But while my eldest daughter Brittney, 19, withdrew into herself, my youngest daughter Jennifer, 17, really stepped up to the plate. One day, when I couldn’t get out of bed, Jennifer came into my room and sat with me.
‘Come on, Mum,’ she soothed, stroking my hair and giving me a kiss. ‘Dad would’ve hated seeing you like this.’
The way she was doing it reminded me of how I’d comforted her when she’d been little. If she’d fallen over and grazed her knee, or had a rough day at school, I’d always brushed her hair from her face, and given her a kiss on the forehead.
‘All better,’ I’d always said to her – and, magically, it was.
Now, here she was doing it to me. And, although a kiss on the head wasn’t going to make my grief disappear, I couldn’t have been prouder of Jennifer for the way she was handling all this. She really was all grown up.
Two years later, Jennifer graduated and got a job as an x-ray technician. She moved into her own place, too – just down the road from me, so she could pop over and see me whenever she wanted.
And one day, she had some wonderful news.
‘I’ve met someone, Mum,’ she gushed. ‘His name’s Daniel Hicks, and he’s handsome, funny, interesting… We got chatting at a party and just clicked.’
When I got to meet him a few weeks later, he was just as fantastic as Jennifer had described.
‘Great to meet you, Mrs Morgan,’ he beamed, politely shaking my hand.
They went camping, biking, trips to the ocean – it made my heart glad to see her so happy.
‘You really deserve this,’ I smiled, hugging her.
She never forgot about her mum, though. Five years later, I was having money trouble and she agreed to move into the basement of my house to help out with the rent – and Daniel, 31, came too.
Although they converted the basement into their own little apartment, at night when I got home from my busy restaurant manager job, they both came upstairs and we’d sit down to dinner together, just like a proper family did.
It was a family that grew a year later when Jennifer announced she was pregnant. ‘That’s brilliant!’ I shrieked. ‘You’re going to make a wonderful mum.’
I only had to think about how she’d taken care of me and Brittney in our hour of need to know that.
Daniel was thrilled, too. ‘I’m going to be a daddy!’ he proudly told anyone who’d listen, showing off Jennifer’s scan picture.
But it seemed it wasn’t meant to be. Soon after that, Jennifer suffered a miscarriage.
She was devastated but, once again, she was a pillar of strength, doing her best to support Daniel who hadn’t taken the news so well.
‘He won’t talk to me, he just
sits and stares,’ she fretted over coffee one morning. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Things will be okay,’ I promised her. ‘It’s just a big shock, that’s all.’
They weren’t okay, though. Daniel quit his job as a stonemason, and virtually stopped leaving the house. He just sat brooding, staring at his computer games or the TV.
‘I’m not even sure if this is about the baby any more,’ Jennifer confided. ‘He’s changed. He shouts and swears at me all the time.’
After that, I started to hear their heated arguments coming from the basement, or rather, I’d hear Daniel ranting and raving.
‘Jennifer, I’m worried about you,’ I told her, after I’d heard him yelling for the umpteenth time.
‘I’m worried about Daniel,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve never seen this side of him before.’
She clung to the hope that he’d change, though. When she became pregnant again, a year later, she was optimistic. ‘This will save us,’ she smiled hopefully.
Seemed she was right – as her bump grew, I saw flickers of the old Daniel. ‘I can’t wait to meet you!’ he cooed, rubbing her tummy.
But, one day, when they’d been to the hospital for a scan, he returned to the house in the darkest mood I’d ever seen him in. He stormed down to the basement, slamming the door behind him.
‘Is everything okay with the baby?’ I asked Jennifer as she walked into
the kitchen.
‘Everything’s fine,’ she nodded. ‘We’re having a girl…’
‘Well, that’s wonderful news, isn’t it?’ I asked, confused.
Why had Daniel stormed off?
‘I think he had his heart set on a boy,’ Jennifer sighed. ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.’
But the news had sent him over the edge. ‘I want you to get an abortion!’ I heard him scream at her that night. ‘Is the kid even mine?’
An abortion? He’d been devastated when Jennifer had lost the first baby – now he wanted to get rid of this one voluntarily?!
‘Of course she’s yours,’ Jennifer replied calmly. ‘Why are you acting like this?’
There was no reasoning with him, though, it was like a switch had been flicked. After that he barely spoke, and took no further interest in Jennifer’s pregnancy.
When she gave birth to her beautiful baby girl Emma, she might as well have brought home a toy doll from the hospital for all he cared.
‘He doesn’t even want to hold her, let alone change a nappy,’ Jennifer sobbed one night, cradling 12-week-old Emma in her arms. ‘I’m going to ask him to move out.’
‘I think it’s for the best,’ I nodded. ‘You have to think of your daughter now.’
I couldn’t bear the thought of that little girl growing up around a dad who had no interest in her.
‘Things will be tough at first but, if anyone’s strong enough to handle being a single mum, you are,’ I added, giving her a hug. ‘Plus you’ll have me to help you out.’
It was coming up to Christmas, and I was looking forward to spending lots of time with my granddaughter and spoiling her rotten anyway.
I had even bought her a tiny Santa suit to wear in the run-up to the festivities. Emma always looked gorgeous in fancy dress – I got her the cutest frog outfit to wear as a newborn.
‘We’re going to be fine,’ Jennifer nodded.
The following evening, when I got home from work, Daniel’s truck was gone from our driveway. She must’ve asked him to leave that afternoon…
It was late now, but we’d planned to go Christmas shopping together the following day. I’d ask her all about the split then, make sure she was doing okay.
The next morning, I waited for her at the kitchen table with our usual pot of coffee, but she didn’t come upstairs. Nine o’clock, 10, still no sign of her.
Maybe she’d overslept?
As I walked downstairs to her apartment to wake her, things were eerily quiet. Gently I opened the door to the living room – and saw something that no mother should ever see…
On the blood-soaked sofa was Jennifer, arm-in-arm with Emma. Their lifeless bodies splattered with blood, riddled with bullet holes…
‘Oh my God, no!’ I screamed, my heart pounded in my chest. ‘No!’
I ran upstairs, into the street, crying out for help. ‘Jennifer and Emma are dead,’ I spluttered, as neighbours started to come out of their houses. ‘Daniel shot them, I know he did!’
There was no doubt in my mind he was responsible.
While police went looking for him, Brittney and me just held each other, tried to comfort each other. It was like we didn’t know how, though – that had always been Jennifer’s job.
After six days on the run, Daniel was arrested. He’d driven until his petrol had run out, hitchhiked to California, then used a pay phone to call his dad, who’d immediately shopped him. Thank God.
He was charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. But it didn’t make one bit of difference to the gaping hole in my heart.
I couldn’t eat, sleep, couldn’t even cry. I just stared, dry-eyed, at photographs of Jennifer and Emma, trying to get my head around it. They were gone…
But how could they be gone? Jennifer’s new life with her baby daughter should have just been the beginning. And as for my poor sweet granddaughter, what kind of life had she lived?
She’d had four short months of it, before a man who was supposed to love and cherish her had cruelly snuffed it out. Why? Surely it couldn’t just be because she was a girl? Because my daughter had given birth to her own daughter?
It’d never made sense to me that Daniel hadn’t bonded with Emma. But the idea he could murder her and her mother in cold blood? It was beyond belief, sicker than anything ever portrayed in any horror film.
‘When your dad died, I didn’t think it was possible to hurt any more,’ I sobbed to Brittney. ‘But this pain is rawer. I feel like it’s consuming me.’
The next year, Daniel pleaded guilty to the murders so we didn’t have to face a trial.
Still, I heard gruesome details in court, details that made my blood run cold.
Daniel had shot Jennifer and Emma a total of 21 times. That meant he’d reloaded his gun – twice. He’d continued pumping their lifeless bodies with bullets long after they’d died.
Then he’d sat down on the couch and watched a football game with their bullet-riddled corpses beside him, before getting into his truck and going on the run.
The idea that he’d sat there watching TV in that room – it was wicked beyond belief.
Daniel had also told prosecutors that he hadn’t wanted a baby, and that Emma was so young she would’ve just ‘gone back to where she came from’.
Police had found a note that Daniel had written to his brother Matthew, in which he said he was ‘sick like grandpa’.
What did he mean?
Then prosecutors revealed that years back, his granddad had killed his wife and then himself.
So murder had been in his blood all along. There’s no way Jennifer would’ve known about that – she wouldn’t have been with him if she had.
Daniel was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.
That won’t bring Jennifer and Emma back, though.
I miss them so much that my body physically aches, and the grief overwhelms me.
Even becoming a grandmother again is bittersweet. A month ago, Brittany had a son called Jaylen, and he’s wonderful. But he’s also a reminder of what’s been lost – he’ll never meet his cousin, or his auntie, and one day we’ll have to tell him why.
There are some shocks in life you can never really prepare yourself for. And there are also some shocks you never, ever get over. What happened to Jennifer and Emma is one of them.
Renee Morgan, 56, Seattle, Washington, USA