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The Runaway

Man standing on side of the road with a duffle bag

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

“I’ve got it, let me just put it close to me now. You wanna make sure you get my voice pretty clear… Is uh this good?”

“Yep! That’s perfect.”

“Great. So you said this is for a podcast? You know I listened to a few of those… I usually get bored halfway through but sometimes they’re pretty good stuff! So um, how many uh people you’ve got listening to your show?”

“So, Weird- W.E.I.R.D. County Mysteries is our newest show and it covers some of the more bizarre cases internationally. Normally we get anywhere within 200,000 downloads a week. But now, with season two, we’re doing this marketing push by setting Weird County Mysteries in a town called “wyrd”! So we expect a lot more views.”

“Whew! Your kidding? That’s good. That’s really good! Well alright! * How um- What do you want me to say?”

“Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself? Say your whole name and tell us a little about your history with the police?”

“Oh sure uh, My name is uh David Blare. That’s B-L-A-R-E. and I served on the Wyrd County Police Department for just about thirty years. That’s um, W-Y-R-D, not like the name of your show.”

“Got it.”

“Anyway, I started in 1996 as a detective. Before that I was a uniformed officer for about eight years. That was in um 1988. No, ‘87. In ‘96, when I became a detective, I worked in narcotics for about six years before transitioning over to homicide after that. And I stayed there, in homicide, until I retired in May, 2017. And um… What else do you wanna know?”

“No, that’s great! I think we can just jump in now and talk about some of your cold cases. Is there any case that you worked on or were close to, that you could talk at length about?”

“Is there any case I could talk about? Whew well, I just don’t want to get in the way of any ongoing cases you know? Take it from me when I say we got a lot of good men and women who are working hard to get these things solved so I really can’t let the wrong information got let out… But I’ll just be sensitive with that stuff. So sure! What do you wanna hear?”

“Up to you! Whatever you’re comfortable talking about.”

Up to me? Well, huh. Pressure’s on! I’d hate to bore all your fans. Hm… Oh ho I got a good one for ya. It was pretty popular back then and I’m sure today it would make for a good show. There was this doctor over at St. Augury’s who would kill his patients and later, at night, sneak bodies out of the morgue so he could-

“Oh, um. Sorry, could you actually maybe talk about a case other than the Dr. Denver’s story?”

“Huh? You heard of that one?”

“Yeah… I mean, it’s a great story- tragic! Horrible. But a lot of other shows have covered it to the point where it’s kind of become overreported so…”

“Overreported? Oh. Yeah, well- that’s alright. Pretty simple case anyway.”

“Do you have a case that maybe didn’t get a lot of press or would be new to our listeners?”

“Oh sure uh- let me think here…  Hm… Yeah. Let me ask you, you ever hear the name Michael Forthayes?”

“Michael Forthayes? No.”

“Ha! Didn’t think so. It wasn’t one of them big cases you podcasters would know. No, and really if you would look into the case today you’d find the same report everywhere: Single guy has a mental break down, runs away across the country, and later dies in a parking lot. Suicide. It was a pretty open-shut case to be honest. But that sure doesn’t mean we weren’t left with questions. Looking at the crime scene, Michael’s strange behavior, and the handful of curious reports from eyewitnesses, you’d be dead lying if you weren’t scratching your head. *  And the way he died, as violently as he did? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, it was 2010 and early in the morning. August 21st or uh 22nd- you’ll want to double check that later. Anyway we got the call at the station. The manager of a Benny’s Burger, I think it’s a Dollar Store now, found a dead body in their parking lot.. But the manager thought it was just one of the homeless folks sleeping but it was odd to them ‘cus, ya know, why would you sleep in the middle of a lot? But they got closer…

Then they saw the blood… a lot of blood.

We got on the scene early, around six, six thirty… Believe me when I say, I’ve seen a lot of homicides and this? It was a mess… ‘Course we would have to wait for the official autopsy report but looking at all that blood and seeing that knife… I knew how he died. And I also knew he didn’t go quick. This fella was covered head to toe with cuts and stab wounds. Forensic team checked it later and counted Michael being stabbed twenty two times. My thought at the time was whoever had done this really must have hated him.

We questioned the manager and anyone who might have been around at the time. And we had the forensic team collect any evidence they could, but there wasn’t much there. I see the way you’re lookin’ at me- you’re suspicious. I get it. It’s hard to believe we could write off a scene like that as suicide. Well, I’ll let you know upfront that this case wasn’t your average walk in the park, oaky? And near the end of it all the investigation was handed off to some government agency. They made the final call, not us. But back then I believed or maybe still-  I believed at the time that this was a homicide. And we treated it as one. Now I feel if I’m gonna do any justice in explaining myself I gotta tell you the story the way it unfolded for us. Step by step, in the same sense it came about in the investigation. Maybe by the end “suicide” won’t seem so illogical.

Now right away we were able to identify this guy as Michael Forthayes. He still had his wallet on him along with an out of state ID. And a few feet from his body was a duffel bag with some clothes, shampoo, toothbrush, and even his passport. All of those things tell a suspicious story but what really got us was the money. Inside the bag was… Five thousand dollars. Stacks and stacks of seemingly brand new cash. At first we thought this fella might have robbed a store or something. Sure would explain why it looked like he had a go bag and was running.

So we make some calls, when we were back at the station, to see if there were any recent reports of theft. We checked locally and even reached out to departments all the way over in Phoenix. That’s where Michael’s personal address was listed.”

“Arizona? That’s a long way from Wyrd.”

“Ha. Yeah, not exactly next door neighbors to the Granite State is it? But hold on cus it gets weirder. So we check for robberies and get nothing. Now while all of this is going on we ran a background check on Forthayes for any criminal history. Aside from a few small charges of drug possession a couple years before, he came back clean.

I tried getting in contact with his family. Single, no kids. I found out his parents lived in… Dallas, I believe, at the time and he only had one brother. His name was Jordan and he lived in Phoenix, like Michael. Now when we made notifications his parents were understandably heartbroken but I guess Michael was something like estranged from them for repeatedly stealing money and his drug offenses. So really only the brother kept in touch. Though when we actually got in touch with the brother… he was kind of an odd one to talk to.”

“How was he odd?”

“Well it was kind of in his demeanor. When I first called him over the phone he kind of- * It’s like he was expecting that call. He was upset, no doubt about it but… I don’t know. Something about the call just didn’t sit right with me though so I asked him about it and we had this long talk. He told me Michael would go through these “cycles”. Hang around the wrong people and get caught up in drugs. He’d go to rehab, the brother would pay his bills for a while but as soon he was off the hook he was right back at it. That was like routine for a while and so he said that for awhile he’d seen something like this coming… said Michael was just due for tragedy. That’s how he said it… “due for tragedy”…

But there was this turning point. From what I gathered, about three months before Michael died, he and his brother came to a sort of ultimatum. Jordan basically said “You quit the drugs or I quit loaning you money.” I guess that was enough incentive because Michael took a turn for the better. When he got out of rehab that last time he seemed to be out for good. Later, Jordan said he got a decent job with a construction company and even started to build up a savings for himself. But as you can guess, this didn’t last forever.

It was a little more than two weeks before Michael died. Jordan said Michael just showed up at his door one night. He told me he almost didn’t recognize him ‘cause Michael had cut off nearly all his hair. And he looked so disheveled almost like he hadn’t slept, let alone changed his clothes, in days.

Now, Jordan, his first thought is Michael’s on drugs again but there was something that just felt off. He said he didn’t see Michael’s car anywhere on the street. He asked him where it was and Michael said he “parked away where no one would notice.” Then, before he could ask anything more Michael held out a few hundred dollars. He said he needed a place to stay for a few days. Somewhere to sleep…

Something was definitely wrong and Jordan knew it.

Now, he didn’t take the money but he invited Michael inside. Michael was “jittery”, according to Jordan. The slightest sound in the house would spark his attention and he’d ask a dozen times if they were alone. They were, but Jordan said Michael didn’t show any sign of believing it. Then Michael started insisting that they make sure every door and window was locked. At this point Jordan had enough and demanded some answers. He was sure Michael must have relapsed and so Jordan pressured him. Michael only gave vague responses and Jordan says what he remembers from that conversation is… fuzzy at best.

It was mostly ramblings. Nonstop, Michael would say he needed to “leave town” or “drive away” then he’d go quiet. Tell Jordan not to worry. That everything would be fine. Things like that.

But one thing was clear to Jordan- the only thing he could understand for sure… And you gotta make sure that you and your listeners hear this.

Michael believed, with everything in him, that he was going to die.

And I don’t mean the same way we might think. I mean sure, we all know we won’t live forever. What I mean is he believed, in the short time coming, death was right behind him.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well what we learned through Jordan, others, and even some of the evidence we found was that Michael had a dramatic belief of fate.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I mean you or I might believe in the idea of fate… Things happening for a reason… maybe its destiny… whatever… But to Michael it was more than that. Rather than just an idea, fate was almost… like a living thing to him.

“In his duffle bag- the one found next to him when he died… was a crumpled business card for a “Miss Aerie Medium”. The only thing listed on it was a nonexistent website domain and any search for her pulls up nothing. From what we could guess it was some independent psychic business.

Now I’m not saying there was anything truly supernatural involved. It was weird, yeah, but nothing came of it. But it supports the idea that Michael was influenced by some… *  unrealistic ideas.

Those ideas became pretty clear to Jordan when Michael’s tone took a darker turn. Michael was worrying hard about something. Fear and conviction was written all over him when he leaned into his brother and quietly told him, “I’m going to kill me.””

“So he was contemplating suicide?”

“Maybe. But Jordan said it was weird. ‘Cus Michael wasn’t saying it like he was making a decision. It was more like he was dreading a decision being made for him.

Anyway, after hearing this Jordan sets Michael down on the couch. Figures he’s in no good mind and needs some rest and they could sort things out in the morning. Well, come that morning, Michael’s gone. Seems he got up and left in the middle of the night…”

“Is that the last time he saw Michael?”

“Yep. Jordan tried calling him over and over. But Michael never answered. We were never able to find his phone so I think he might have gotten rid of it at some point thinking maybe someone was tracking him through it. Jordan says he tried his apartment a few times but Michael wasn’t there either. After a week of not hearing back, he went to report Michael as a missing person. But there was nothing outright to suggest foul play, so the Police over in Phoenix were a little slow to jump on the case. Of course, not long afterwards Michael um… That’s when Michael died.

So anyway, that’s a long way of me saying the family didn’t know much. They didn’t know where he was going, why he was running, or even how he got that five thousand dollars. That last question we’d find out ourselves. See up till then we assumed Michael stole the money. Well, pulling his bank statements, we learned every single dollar belonged to him. He had completely emptied his entire savings account.

For a minute we had to consider maybe Michel was planning to start a new life but that didn’t explain how he ended up stabbed to death in the middle of a parking lot.

We could feel we were running short on leads to follow. The lot where Michael died had no surveillance cameras and witnesses were basically none. We pushed out a picture of Michael to the media and asked anyone with information to come forward. It took a little work but we were able to eventually piece together his movements before he died.

Up at a gas station, just out of state, one cashier said he remembered serving Michael- This is about a week before he’s found dead. They remembered him specifically because he paid for his gas with a hundred dollar bill and left the change. Apparently he was in such a rush that he was practically sprinting between the store and the fuel pump.

One of the more unique reports came a few days later. Two women say that they saw someone who vaguely matched his description with a second person while at a Castello’s Diner, maybe 100 miles outside of Wyrd. Now, I hear this, and my ears perk up, because not only do we have a possible sighting of Michael, but we have Michael with another person. So I wanted to talk to these women right away.We bring ‘em in. They were nice, real cooperative. And so I speak with the first witness, because it’s best to talk to them alone, and I’m just surprised at what I hear.

So, witness one says she was at the diner and saw Michael, by himself, sitting at a booth. She remembers him because he was wearing a jacket with the hood up and she said he just gave off “bad vibes.” And every so often she’s looking back at him, checking to see if he’s ordered anything, if he’s left, whatever. I think she felt a little uneasy with him around.

Anyway, about a half hour goes by, this guy already has his food, and she notices someone else sitting across from him. This new guy must have just come in because she didn’t notice him before. And she gets a bad feeling from this new guy because of the way the guy in the hood was acting- like suddenly he was really, really nervous.

She says this new guy, who she describes as “clean shaven with long hair”, is saying something to the hooded guy but it’s too quiet to hear. The whole time he’s talking, the hooded guy just has his head down, doesn’t eat a bite of his food. Eventually, the clean shaven guy gets up and leaves. Doesn’t even order anything. The hooded guy just watches him, almost like he’s making sure the guy was actually gone. He waits around for a long while, just looking out the window and doesn’t touch his plate once after that. He was still there when the two witnesses left.

Now, when I hear this story I’m thinking, “Well hell, this great!” This testimony puts our victim in contact with this other guy, just days before the crime. The clean guy is shaping up to be a real person of interest, when before we had none. There was only one problem though. When we speak with witness two? The reports- they don’t match.

Witness one said that they thought the guy in the hoodie was Michael. But this other witness says no- the hooded guy definitely wasn’t Michael at all BUT Michael might have been the second person who had left early. So really, as much as I want to use it, the lead lost a lot of value.”

“It’s not worthless though, right? If there’s a chance the hooded guy was Michael, isn’t that a big deal?”

“Sure! Don’t get me wrong, we followed the tip. But having two witnesses identify two different people as you vic- it’s shaky- and even if we were able to find this guy and we found out he had something to do with Michael’s death, there’s no way this witness testimony would even be usable in court.”

“Was there no one else in the restaurant that could back up what they saw?”

“We tracked down as many people as we could but there wasn’t anyone who could supply a stronger statement. Even the waiter said they recalled serving someone wearing a hood but couldn’t remember their face.

Now, I don’t believe in keeping all my eggs in one basket. While we’re following this tip, I’m also tracking down maybe three, four others at the same time. Most don’t pan out but some push the case forward.

Through one of those tips, we were able to track Michael back to a Holiday Inn on the way between Phoenix and here. The tip came from one of the hotel staff working at the front desk. She says she was working a late shift when, around 11:15, she sees Michael walk up to the door. But he just pauses there… Doesn’t come in… Sort of looks around… and leaves…

Then, maybe a minute later, he comes back and does it again. Waits outside. Looks around. Leaves… The clerk who saw this says Michael did this four separate times before finally stepping inside the hotel. When he does, Michael goes up to the clerk and pays for a room with cash.

She says Michael acted impatiently. Like he was really rushing to get his room key. When she hands him it though, he suddenly got very serious.Then, he said something to the clerk that really confused her… And it had me scratching my head…

He tells her, “Don’t give me another room key. Even if I’ve lost this one.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“Exactly. I don’t think I have a good answer to that but I speculated and thought on it for a while. It almost seemed like Michael was suffering from some sort of mental break. He didn’t seem to be thinking rationally. ”

“What did the clerk do? Or did she not question it?”

“I think she was a little confused just like you and me. But Michael left and she didn’t say anything to him. And Michael never did ask for a second room key. It was all just… strange.”

“I’m sorry if I’m jumping ahead, but you haven’t said it yet. Did you get any kind of confirmation that Michael had relapsed and maybe was taking drugs before he died?”

“Well like I said before, I’m telling you the story the same way it unfolded for us. Up till that point we hadn’t gotten the full autopsy report or toxicology so I had no idea what was or what wasn’t in his system. But as you’re starting to see, Michael’s behavior isn’t anything normal and given his history of drug abuse and what Michael’s brother had to say, a familiar story started to come together.”

“And what story was that?”

“Well for one, it reminds me of something I was told a long time ago… Do you know Ashley Bright?”

“The Criminal Detective? Yes! She closed the Three-Town-Murders in 24 hours! We covered it in season one! Did she work this case?”

“Ha no no. Nothing like that. I met Ashley a few years back- she consulted with us on a separate case. Our perp there wasn’t an addict like Michael but was a pedophile and Ashley told us something interesting; she said recidivism for this kind of behavior is most likely to happen at the 90 day mark… There’s something biological about it. Now – Michael isn’t a pedophile obviously BUT Ashley told us that this pattern of behavior is applicable to many kinds of things including addiction. And wouldn’t you know, Michael’s been clean for-”

[interrupts] “Three months!”

“Exactly. Now another thing. I saw it all the time when I worked in narcotics, an addict steals some money to pay for their addiction or they “borrow” from their dealer. In any case, they usually end up on the run. Michael used to hang around rough people, as his brother said. And it was pretty clear Michael was running away from something or more likely someone.”

“But if Michael stole something, what was it? You said all of the money in the duffel bag was his own. Did he have any drugs in there?”

“It’s possible there was some there at some point but we didn’t find any. So if he did, then the assumption is whoever was after Michael took it after they killed him.”

“Then why not take the money too?”

“Maybe it wasn’t what they were after. Maybe all they wanted was to punish Michael for stealing. Kill him to set an example.”

“But you said at the beginning this case was a suicide. I guess I’m having trouble believing this could be classified as anything other than a homicide.”

“That’s because I haven’t gotten to the evidence…

Now, at the scene of Michael’s death there were two pieces of evidence that we thought, without a doubt, were the key to solving this case. One item, as you might have guessed, was the knife that was used to kill Michael. The other, hair samples.

Results from the knife came back first. The only set of prints we found on it matched Michael. Now, remember at this time we are still looking at all possibilities in this case, including homicide, so we look at that and think, “It’s possible there was a struggle and the killer wore gloves.”

Then we got the autopsy report. And what I saw on the scene matched up with what was on paper. Michael died due to blood loss from the numerous cuts and puncture wounds. Though, only a few of those wounds were actually fatal.

We also got the toxicology report at the same time and that’s when we started to have some doubts. You see, Michael’s blood tested clean for most common drugs. Meaning he had been clean for a while. And definitely clean when he died.”

“What? Then why was he acting so bizarre?”

“Could have been a lack of sleep. Or maybe Michael’s fear of dying was just that intense. But as far as the department was concerned, it was a psychological episode. Which means we come down to the last bit of evidence. The hair.

Now, the hair samples… We were confident they pointed to our killer. For one, Michael’s hair was short when he died and these samples were long- shoulder length at least. And the other thing, they weren’t just found a few feet from the scene, we found numerous strands in Michael’s left hand which gave us the impression that he was fighting with his killer.

So we send them off to the lab, we get a DNA profile, and do a little test and comparison… Almost immediately… we get a hit.

The DNA for the long strand of hair? Was a match for Michael Forthayes.”

“I’m confused… It was Michael’s hair? How is that possible?”

“That’s what I want to know. Things weren’t right with this case and I swear I keep digging into it but the hole only gets bigger. And I keep running over all the facts, the evidence… and what I always come back to is that interview- the one with the two women at the diner.

When I did that interview I brought along an older picture of Michael for reference. When I showed it to woman one she said without a doubt the face matched the hooded guy. But when I showed it to woman two she said that’s not possible… because only the second guy had that long curly black hair…

Things were well past strange. ‘Bout this time I start poking my nose around. I want to know who Michael ran with back in Phoenix, his extended family, where and when he pissed, ate, and shit every single day leading up to his death… And I look at his rehab records… or I guess the lack thereof…

Only thing that exists is a “certificate of rehabilitation” from some company called “Real-Life”.  Of course, there’s no record of a “Real-Life” and they sure as hell weren’t in Phoenix anymore; packed up and moved to God-knows-where.

I did some deep digging on their company though. It was pretty clear that “Real-Life” was nothing more than a front. Following a line of fabricated parent companies was like chasing a ghost. But eventually I ended at a name. “O.V.A.C.” And before you get excited I’ll let you know you won’t find a word about them. Trust me when I say you’d have better luck winning the lottery tossing coins in a wishing well than getting a lead on that name. And given the lengths I had to go to find it, I suspect they meant it that way.

Now, as if the hole I’ve been digging couldn’t get any bigger, the government gets involved. Says, “they’re taking over the investigation.” Now I don’t know why, but they seemed awfully interested in this O.V.A.C. group. When I gave my report they soaked up the details like a sponge. Of course there wasn’t much there to soak up. Anyway, no sooner than it’s handed over to them, the case is closed. Cause of death: Suicide.

“What?!? But was about this case says suicide? What about the hair?”

“You want the easy answer? Michael had long hair once before. And hair gets stuck to your clothes all the time. Maybe, at the exact moment he died, some of those strands just happened to come off in his hand. Maybe Michael ran away because of a mental breakdown. Maybe who those two girls saw at the dinner wasn’t Michael…

Maybe Michael decided to take his own life…

See, like I said, you can put a dozen pretty bows on this case and call it wrapped up, but it sure doesn’t answer all the questions.”

“But who kills themself like that?”

“You know, they had one of their forensic scientists look at the state of Michael’s body, and they claimed that every one of his twenty-two wounds could have potentially been self inflicted. After all, only a few were fatal. Hit those places last, and it would look like you were in a fight for a long time.

Now, when you’ve got a dead man with a recent and unstable behavior, no witnesses to his death, no surveillance, and no evidence to suggest someone killed him? Well… suicide makes for an easy answer…

But I don’t know…  “don’t give me a key”? The two versions of Michael? O.V.A.C.? And why was the government asking about tapes?-”

“Tapes? What tapes?”

“Um. I- I don’t know. It was an odd case. Very odd…”

“So… what do you think really happened?”

“… Ahem. Well, um. How do I uh take this-”

“Oh just press the button on the-”