The Counterfeit Drug Murders - Chapter 1
Death of a Friend
Monday, April 23, 2012
Exhaustion overcame Dr. Jean Bennett. She winced hearing the announcement calling her to the fourth medical crisis since the Kitty Hawk General Hospital had admitted Mary Jewel nine hours earlier. Mary’s heart had stopped again. When Dr. Bennett arrived in her room, the resuscitation team had already started the defibrillator.
Mary’s body jolted as the electricity surged through her heart. Dr. Bennett watched in resignation, thinking this may be their last try. After twenty minutes, Dr. Bennett motioned for the team to stop. She looked at the wall clock and declared Mary dead at 7:35 p.m.
Earlier at Mary’s request, Dr. Bennett called her son, Brian, in Alexandria, Virginia. He left work in the afternoon and drove four and a half hours to the hospital on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
Dr. Bennett did not look forward to telling Brian his mother had died. She met Brian in the ICU waiting area, and said, “Sorry, we couldn’t revive your mother after her fourth cardiac event. Her heart suffered too much damage from the earlier failures.”
Tired from the drive, Brian became nauseous and started breathing rapidly because of what he had just heard. He said, “She had told me her heart had recovered since her ablation surgery corrected the irregular heart rhythm three years ago. How did this happen? It’s too soon.” He ran his fingers through his hair in desperation. “I’m not ready to have her leave us. My kids loved her and talked about giving her great-grandchildren when they married. How am I going to tell them and my brother and sister?”
Dr. Bennett mentally reviewed Mary’s medical history. “We assumed we had corrected her heart problems, and I can’t understand how her heart failed so rapidly. If you give me permission, I want to have the medical examiner conduct an autopsy to make sure the hospital didn’t make a mistake. But, I’ll understand if you don’t want her death investigated.”
“I can’t believe she’s dead at sixty-four. I’d like to find out why. Yes, perform the autopsy. Please send the results only to me. I don’t want the rest of the family to hurt more by reading how she died. I’ll tell them what happened. When can you release her body, so we can schedule the funeral?”
“By Friday, unless the medical examiner has too much work. I’ll send you the autopsy results.” Dr. Bennett relaxed since she didn’t have to talk to all the relatives.
“Good, I was afraid it would be longer.” Brian said, believing his mother’s death will crush his brother and sister. They depended on her.
After Dr. Bennett left, Brian called his wife, Sandy, at home and told her what happened, including Bennett’s request for an autopsy. “Perhaps, we should leave our children home. A funeral might be too traumatic for them.”
Sandy had interrupted her accounting career to care for her two grade-school kids. She heard the anguish in her husband’s voice, “I’ve talked to my mother. She’s on standby and said she’ll watch the kids if we need her. When is the funeral?”
“Dr. Bennett told me the medical examiner might hold her until Friday, so not before Saturday.”
His halting voice told her don’t leave me to suffer alone. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate that. I’m numb now, and I don’t know how I’ll cope now that she’s gone.” His heart’s rapid beating slowed as he talked to his wife.
“What did the doctor say caused her death?”
“Dr. Bennett didn’t know, but expressed concern it could be a hospital mistake which she wanted to identify,” Brian said.
“I still remember the bitterness of your mother’s ex-boyfriend, John Short, when she rejected him. He stalked her in person and on email. You should tell Dr. Bennett,”
“I will.” He had suppressed that memory, but his wife’s mention of it caused him to grimace and recall his earlier desire to physically hurt Short.
After the call ended, Brian drove to his mother’s beach house in Duck, a small summer resort located on Bodie Island, the northernmost peninsula of the Outer Banks, nine miles north of Kitty Hawk on Route 12. Duck is a new town incorporated in 2002. Duck’s permanent winter population numbers in the hundreds, but swells to over 20,000 during the summer months.
Mary Jewel purchased a new beach-front home because of the warm climate compared to upstate New York and the beauty of the hilly narrow barrier peninsula bordered by the Currituck Sound on its west side and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Mary liked the easy access to Route 12 which runs through the middle of Duck, and south to Kitty Hawk, with access to the North Carolina mainland, over the Caratoke Highway Bridge.
After he let himself in, Brian started crying when he suddenly realized the finality of her passing. She would never again greet him when he visited Duck, he would never talk to her on the phone, nor watch her play with his young children.
When he composed himself, he called his relatives so they could plan to attend the funeral. Since Brian had not decided the date and time of the funeral, he requested their email addresses to notify them when he had scheduled it. After talking to his sister Eve, his brother Stu, his uncle and two of his aunts, and a few friends, he stopped calling because of the time and his emotional exhaustion.
Brian despaired for his children who had liked staying with their grandmother, without their parents, for two weeks for the last five years. Starting in spring, they looked forward and talked about their summer vacation. How would they react to the passing of their grandmother?
Brian knew he had to sleep to control his emotions so he could make the notification calls and arrange for the funeral. But sleep didn’t come easy. He felt his heart’s palpitations as he thought of how he would continue his life without the steadying presence of his mother. He fell asleep after an hour of tossing and turning. He woke up at sunrise, exhausted, but ready for the day.
In the morning Brian phoned Paul O’Hare. “Paul, it’s Brian Jewel. I’m afraid I have sad news. My mother died last night of heart failure.”
Paul, speechless for a moment, knew Mary, her husband Gary, and her children well. Gary had taught in the History Department at Binghamton University with Paul. He said, “I’m sorry. Last time I talked to her she told me her health was great. Margaret and I had plans to visit her in July. We’ll both attend her funeral. Let us know when and where. I hope Eve and Stu are not too depressed.”
“I’ll email you when we schedule the funeral,” Brian said.
Dr. Bennett waited until Tuesday morning to call the medical examiner, Dr. Simpkins at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville. “Joe, Dr. Bennett from Kitty Hawk. Mary Jewel, a patient of mine, died last night. I didn’t sign the death certificate because I don’t know why she died. I’d need you to do an autopsy. During the last week, two other mysterious deaths occurred at the hospital. I’m concerned we might have made a mistake and want to find out.”
“Send me Mary Jewel’s corpse and her medical records. Are the other two cadavers available?”
“No, their relatives buried them.”
“Too bad. Send over their medical records and bodily fluids taken during their treatment. I’ll see if the three deaths had anything in common after I complete Mary Jewel’s autopsy.”
“When can you release Mary Jewel’s body?” Dr. Bennett asked.
“Have the funeral home pick her up on Friday afternoon.”
Dr. Bennett called Brian, “The medical examiner agreed to autopsy your mother. He expects to release her body by Friday. However, he won’t be able to release the full report on the cause of her death until after the lab completes the toxicology tests.”
“Thank you Dr. Bennett, I’ll schedule the funeral for Monday. I don’t know if the medical examiner will consider homicide as a cause of death, but my wife and I want you to know about the behavior of her ex-boyfriend, John Short. He dated my mother for six weeks. When she broke it off, he threatened and stalked her. He even went so far as to email her he might kill her if she started dating someone else.” Brian felt relieved to tell someone of Short’s behavior who could make a difference.
“Thanks for telling me. Perhaps, you should call the police.”
Dr. Bennett hoped Short and not a hospital mistake killed her patient.
Brian asked Dr. Bennett, “Please have the hospital call the Monroe Funeral Home, to tell them of my mother’s death and ask them to pick up her body after the autopsy.”
He wanted to plan for her funeral including burial next to his father. They scheduled viewings at the funeral home for Sunday and the burial for Monday morning, April 30 at the Austin Cemetery in Kitty Hawk.
Twenty-five years ago, the Jewel family left the cool spring climate of Binghamton, NY, in June, after the Binghamton University spring semester ended to spend two weeks vacationing in warm Kitty Hawk. They liked the stores and restaurants of the 3,000 plus population town. After fifteen years of visiting Kitty Hawk, they purchased their Duck house.
Following Dr. Bennett’s advice, Brian called the Kitty Hawk police department. He spoke to Dave Conner, “My mother Mary Jewel died yesterday. Dr. Bennett told me she wasn’t able to determine the cause of death and has requested an autopsy. My wife and I suspect she might have been murdered by an ex-boyfriend, John Short, who had threatened to kill her.”
“Thanks for the information. When is the funeral?”
“Monday morning at the Austin Cemetery.”
Sandy called Brian a little after 11:00 a.m., “Hi Brian, I’ll be leaving in a few minutes. Mother’s here. It’s raining, so it may take over five hours.”
“It hasn’t started here. I’ll be waiting. Drive carefully.” He needed her and waited patiently for her arrival.
After finishing his phone calls, Brian cleaned the house to prepare for his family’s visit. His first impulse was to throw everything out he didn’t enjoy. But he decided not to since he knew his siblings liked some artwork, rugs, and furniture he detested. Since they’d arrive by Friday, he called his mother’s lawyer and scheduled a reading of the will for Saturday morning.
After a tasteless lunch, he tried to read several draft contracts he accessed on his law firm’s database. Even though he loved being a lawyer, after a half-hour, he realized he couldn’t continue. He sat on the front porch and kept recalling memories of his mother guiding him through childhood, her encouragement for him to enter law school, and her support for his marriage. He alternatively smiled or cried while waiting for Sandy.
When he saw her pull into the driveway, he wiped his eyes hoping to disguise his sorrow. The sight of her long black hair, beautiful smiling face, and slender body as she left the car revived him. While still distraught over his mother’s death, he knew his family gave him a reason to continue.
He rushed down the porch steps and embraced her as she left the car. Her warmth reassured him.
“Brian, you look exhausted. How are you?”
“Until you arrived, tired and sad. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Rather than talk, let’s go inside so you can take a nap.”
They entered his bedroom and fully clothed they crashed on the bed. Her embrace reassured him, his tension left, and he fell into a deep sleep.