The Case of the Law School Murders, Part 3
by Nicole M. Mundt
Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a serial fiction piece by the Docket Committee. Each month a new writer will pick up where the other has left off, offering a new piece of the story.
I rubbed my eyes and squinted at the clock. 1:15 a.m. Had I really been out that long? Geez, those whiskeys must have been more than my typical afternoon pit stop.
I’m a cop. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career chasing the never-ending "bad guy." And there’s one thing I’ve learned over and over again: criminals are like mosquitoes—when you swat one, 10 more show up in its place ... because they smell the blood. It’s a thankless job really, and I can’t get through the day without thinking about where I went wrong.
I should have been a lawyer. My father was a lawyer, and his father before him was a lawyer. But I couldn’t hack it. I took the LSAT four times and applied to some of the worst law schools in the country, to no avail. I hear I’m lucky. I didn’t take on the debt. I don’t have the "golden handcuffs." I don’t have a laundry list of failed marriages, friendships, and relationships. I have "free time." The lawyers I know tell me I’m lucky.
I looked around my crummy one-bedroom apartment, the fly tape swinging from the ceiling and Sasha’s litter box in the corner. Yeah, real lucky, I murmured to myself as I got up to pour a drink. It was the middle of the night, there was nothing I was going to accomplish between then and sunrise, so might as well re-wet my whistle and see if I couldn’t start over the next day.
I’d like to tell you I awoke to the birds chirping and the fresh feeling of a brand new day, but instead I was hung over. Hung over and late. My partner, Nancy Dixon, wanted to meet with me at 9 a.m. to discuss her theory of some social activist trying to rid the world of lawyers by knocking off law students one at a time, with different MO’s for each.
This was a left-field theory, and while I wanted to encourage my young study to think outside the box, this one was a bit farfetched. First of all, why would a social activist murder wannabe lawyers? If someone were trying to rid the world of lawyers, they would kill the big time partners at the highfalutin firms—the ones who make more money in a year than I’ve made in 20, treat their employees like dirt, run up their fees, and bankrupt their clients. Plus, someone eager enough to rid the world of lawyers probably would not pick them off one-by-one but instead would get the most bang for their buck and take them out all at one time. They spend a majority of their waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours in the same location, all under one roof. Bombs are easy enough to build. It wouldn’t be that hard.
Targeting law students, on the other hand, would be a waste of time. And besides, lately, it seemed like law students and young lawyers had been coming to their senses on their own and leaving the profession altogether. Those who were sticking around were doing so for the right reasons and were well on their way to starting respectable, moral law practices. Nancy’s social activist murderer was a bit of a toilet theory.
As for Brian Harper, the registrar grunt, I knew it couldn’t be him. True, the man cried tears of rage over being in the top 11, not 10, percent of his class. And yes, he exhibited clear resentment, and therefore had motive. And, sure, he also had access to a list of top students at his law school. But at the end of the day, he lacked the cojones, if you know what I’m saying. Trust me on this. I’m a cop.
I popped some Advil and got myself into the shower, trying to shake off the cobwebs and come up with a delicate way to tell my rookie partner that she watches too much "Law & Order."
Twenty minutes later, I walked into the office, an hour-and-a-half late for my meeting. Nancy stood up at her desk and made a face.
"Sunday, I could strangle you seven ways to Sunday." She giggled at her own joke.
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the coffee pot, pouring myself a cup of stale coffee and motioned for Nancy to sit down.
"We have to start from the beginning here," I told her.
"But what about my—" she started. I gave her a look that said, "Nice try, but we’re not going there," and she snapped her mouth shut. Together, we began mapping out what we knew.
All of the victims were law students in their third year. All of the murders happened in Denver, regardless of where the victims were from or attending law school. Each MO was different, very different. The two who had been killed late last night also were law students at the top of their classes and both from out of state. Anne Warbly was attending the University of Michigan Law and happened to be in Denver visiting her sister’s family. Luke Maybis was from Phoenix and thinking about taking the bar in Colorado to be closer to the mountains.
Warbly’s sister had returned from dinner to find her hanging from the rafters of their house. Anne Warbly had skipped the family dinner to stay in and study.
Luke Maybis had a slightly different story—one that hit me a bit closer to home. The bartender at Don’s Mixed Drinks had found Maybis slumped over in one of the back booths at closing time. The tox screen showed he had been poisoned.
The thought that the killer turned up at Don’s just a few short hours after I had left for the day really ticked me off. I wanted to tell Nancy that I had been at the bar yesterday afternoon, but I knew I couldn’t bear to see the look of judgment in her eyes when she realized I had spent the better part of my day with my other partner—bourbon.
I knew we needed to look beyond the law school link. There had to be something else these five victims had in common. Now, I may be a bit of an "old school" cop, but when the tangible facts aren’t lining up, I do what everyone else in the world does—I Google. I had my team scour each crime scene, to no avail—not so much as a half of a print, much less a murder weapon. Whoever did this certainly knew how to cover his or her tracks.
Nancy pulled out her laptop and popped it open. As the youngest one in the precinct, she had the newest tech gadgets and always searched Facebook first in the hopes that a victim didn’t have the common sense to set their privacy settings. More often than not, it worked. I, on the other hand, rolled over to my desktop PC that had been around almost as long as I had. I went to Google and started with Jeremy Collins and worked my way through the list of victims.
After a few hours on the Internet, Nancy and I had learned that each of the victims, though from very different parts of the country, all came from similar backgrounds. They were all from low- to middle-class suburban families and were at the top of their classes in high school. They all had attended respectable universities, and from Nancy’s Facebook search, it also appeared that they had "enjoyed" their college experiences (if you know what I mean). They all had graduated with GPAs decent enough to get them into law school, but none of these kids was magna or summa, or even just regular cum laude. Each victim also went straight from undergrad to law school, without taking any time to work in the real world. So how did they all end up dead?
I could feel that we were close, so I typed all of the victims’ names in the search bar: Jeremy Collins, Michael Berens, Michelle Zarinsky, Anne Warbly, and Luke Maybis. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly lost, I start with "I feel lucky" and see what Google has to offer. No dice this time, so I did a regular search. BAM! Instant response.
All of the victims were part of StudentLoanFreedom.org, a national nonprofit organization gaining some serious traction in its pursuit of student loan forgiveness. Both Anne Warbly and Jeremy Collins had presented recently at Student Loan Freedom rallies, which had been dubbed "Debt Rallies." Michael Berens had published several articles comparing the student debt crisis to the mortgage crisis and calling for truth in lending practices for student loans. Michelle Zarinsky had even spoken before Congress on new legislation for the forgiveness of student loans. Luke Maybis appeared to be the rogue of the group. He had filmed a YouTube video about "going off the grid" and leaving the U.S. permanently and living abroad to escape his $275,000-plus in student loans, and encouraging others to do the same.
These kids were the social activists. Maybe Nancy’s theory wasn’t so farfetched after all. D
Read the fourth part of the fiction series in the December issue of The Docket. Missed a part of the story? Catch up at denbar.org/docket.