Geoff 'the milk' Driscoll found the lifeless-looking body of Gordon Cogan very early one Monday morning in mid-July.
It was, as he would later inform the police, just as the dawn was breaking that Geoff Driscoll turned his battery-powered, cream-coloured, red-lettered milk float into Lingfield Road, Wimbledon, SW19, once again feeling uplifted by the wealth of lush foliage that met his eye. Driscoll was, an observer would note, a man of lithe and sinewy physique, who had been a milkman for in excess of thirty years and, for the greater part of those thirty years, had delivered milk in SW19. Only snow, he found, ever made his round difficult, and that rarely fell in London, but rain and cold and the dark winter mornings he could easily cope with – once he was on his float. On those mornings he ensured that he was always well protected by the waterproof clothing and thermal underwear which he had purchased out of his own pocket, being far superior to the rainwear which was provided by the Merton and South London Dairies, Ltd. There had, occasionally, been those years when Friday, collection day, had fallen on Christmas Eve, thus obliging him and all other milk delivery men in the United Kingdom to work from 5.00 a.m. until approximately 8.00 p.m., when the fatigue forced him to stop collecting for the day. He would then return to the depot, cash in, plug his float into the power supply to recharge the batteries and then travel wearily home, usually arriving too exhausted to do anything but fall into a deep sleep, often in his clothing, and often in an armchair, with the welcoming cup of tea provided for him by his wife – or in later years, by one of his daughters – remaining untouched. It was days like that particular day in July, though, in the middle of the summer in the suburbs of south London, that always made his job seem worthwhile. For here, he found, was south London at its most well-set, being an area of prestigious housing, which he, as a tenant of a council-owned high-rise flat, could only covet, but he nonetheless enjoyed the calm and settled atmosphere, the mature gardens, the frequent glimpse of suburban wildlife: numerous foxes – too numerous, he felt – and, very occasionally, a badger. Both species, worryingly, thought Driscoll, becoming scavengers rather than the predators which nature had intended them to be, and both species, equally worrying to Driscoll, clearly losing their fear of humans. The wildlife made his round interesting but it was the customers who were the particular source of his enjoyment. They could be reserved at times and also aloof, but they always seemed to appreciate the effort which he put into his job, and always, always paid their milk bill, and did so promptly. When Geoff Driscoll had first joined the Dairies he had, as the 'last in', been given the least popular of the rounds, that being the delivery of milk on one of the 'sink' estates where he found the residents unnecessarily surly, and where they frequently avoided paying their milk bill, thus obliging Driscoll to feel that he was harassing them for the outstanding money. He would also often encounter evidence of the previous night's violence on the estate: the burnt-out cars, the broken windows in people's flats, the kicked-in front doors and the pools of dried blood on the concrete. It was also on the sink estate where Driscoll felt that he could not turn his back on the milk float without some person, male or female, pensioner or child, dashing from dark cover to steal a bottle of milk before darting back into the shadows. The cost of stolen milk was deducted from his pay, that being one of the clearly spelled-out conditions of his employment. Turning from the main road into the dull, grey, slab-sided concrete mess that was the housing estate on a cold winter's morning never failed to sink his spirits. Indeed, the very thought of having to drive to the Clifton Towers estate to deliver milk often depressed him to the point that he had to force himself to rise from his bed, especially on the dark mornings when rain was lashing against the windowpanes. Geoff Driscoll felt himself to be trapped because he was the sort of man, not infrequently met, who might be described, and might feel himself to be 'not a people person'. In his life, Driscoll had never known universal popularity. He was, on that particular day, approaching state retirement age and had always felt himself to be the classic square peg in a round hole, never fitting in, always on the edge if not on the outside of any group of colleagues. He was a man who marginalized his life. Any employment which had involved teamwork had proved unsuitable for him and so he found himself pursuing solitary occupations. He was unhappy being a bus driver because the one-man operation involved too much interaction with the public and the frequent traffic jams caused him distress. A postman's job with its very favourable conditions of service would have been ideal for him had it not been for a back injury which prevented him from carrying heavy bags of mail. He had thus gravitated to a job as a milkman with Merton and South London Dairies and started at the 'bottom' delivering to one of the sink estates. He had doggedly stayed at the round, given five years of good service, and his present round had been his reward. That had been some twenty-five years earlier. In that time he had stopped being simply 'the milkman', and had become 'Geoff the milk', being valued by the residents as much as 'Pete the postie' was valued. Here, in 'the village', as it was known, in winter and summer, but especially in the summer, his spirits were lifted each morning by civil humanity combined with nature's bounty. In 'the village' no one stole milk from his float, nor did he ever encounter evidence of any violent act perpetrated during the previous night.
Until that fair Monday morning in mid-July.
The strange, even the oddest thing about the grim discovery, Geoff Driscoll would often, in later weeks and months, recall when telling and re-telling the tale, was that he saw the shoe before he saw the body, even though the latter was in plain sight. The finding of shoes and other items of clothing, even underclothing lying in the roadways or parking bays, or on the pavements was not at all unusual for Driscoll when he delivered milk in Clifton Towers, but finding clothing in the street in Wimbledon Village was, in his experience, utterly unheard of. That morning he had turned into Lingfield Road from the Ridgeway and the parade of shops, relishing the fresh morning air and the blue, almost cloudless sky. He'd driven onwards, leaning forward, resting both his elbows on the steering wheel as the float whirred slowly along the road under the overhanging branches when he saw, some one hundred feet ahead of him, a man's shoe, lying on its side, brown against the dark grey of the road surface. The shoe lay on 'his' side of the road opposite a line of parked motor vehicles. Driscoll eyed the shoe with growing curiosity and slowed the float as he approached it. On the Clifton Towers estate the shoe would not have merited a second glance but here, in Wimbledon Village, it was, he thought, unusual, and one of his late father's often-used expressions, 'The hairs on my old wooden leg tell me something is amiss', surfaced in Driscoll's mind.
Then he saw the body.
Focusing on the shoe, as he had been, it was thus a few seconds before he noticed the body lying to the left of it, half in and half out of the gutter, looking, he thought, like a crumpled pile of unwanted clothing. Geoff Driscoll brought the float slowly to a halt just in front of the shoe, and nimbly stepped out on to the road. He approached the body slowly, with awe and caution. It was, he saw, that of a male – probably, Driscoll guessed, in his late thirties or early forties. The man, he noted, was in a very bloody mess, particularly about the head. The body showed no signs of life that Driscoll could detect. Being of the age he was Driscoll did not, and often thought himself to be the only person in the Western world who did not, possess a mobile phone. As a consequence he ran up the driveway to the front door of the nearest house, which he saw was a rambling three-storey, late-Victorian Gothic-style building with a highly complicated roof line and elaborate turret windows. By then in a state of increasing agitation, he took the stone steps up to the front door two at a time, rang the doorbell and, for good measure, rapped the metal doorknocker – repeatedly so – until he had succeeded in raising one of the occupants of the house, who opened the door and presented themselves in the form of a well-built man with white hair, dressed in a blue Paisley-patterned dressing gown. The man looked down at the small, gasping for breath figure of Geoff Driscoll, pulling a facial expression which to Driscoll seemed to be a blend of curiosity and annoyance.
'Sorry, very sorry, sir,' Driscoll panted, 'but I must use your phone ... or if you could phone ... the police ... and an ambulance ... emergency ... three nines ... to come here ... in the street outside this house ... right outside your house, sir, if you please ... Damn me if there hasn't been a murder.'
The householder resolutely remained calm. He was clearly not going to allow himself to be influenced by Driscoll's panic. 'I'll phone the authorities,' he said softly. 'You had better go and stand by whatever it is that you have found, and you'd also better not touch anything.' He then shut the door of his house, closing it with a gentle click. It was, Driscoll thought, as he turned to return to the road, as if the man had simply gone to the manual and looked up what to do when someone knocks on your door telling you that a murder had taken place outside your house. There was no anxiety. There was no alarm. There was no panic. Just note the information, close the door, make a phone call and, doubtless, return to bed. That was clearly the way of it in London, SW19.
Detective Inspector Harry Vicary, following Geoff Driscoll's route, turned his car from the Ridgeway into Lingfield Road and instantly saw the police activity ahead of him: the white police cars, with just one keeping its blue light relentlessly lapping; the black, windowless mortuary van; the blue and white police tape strung across the road, delineating the crime scene. Two uniformed constables stood on the outer sides of each tape and were firmly turning back any traffic which approached the area of police interest. One or two local residents, Vicary noted, stood at their windows looking out at the incident, but Wimbledon being Wimbledon, a curious crowd of wide-eyed onlookers had not gathered. The pedestrians, on their way to work, were, like the cars, turned away and, unprotesting, found alternative routes, while those who remained at home, for the most part, just got on with their daily routine. Vicary stopped his car close to the police tape. He walked towards it, and the constable lifted it for him as he drew close, half saluting as Vicary bent to get underneath it. Vicary saw two of his team, Frankie Brunnie and Tom Ainsclough, and he also noted the short, stocky figure of forensic pathologist John Shaftoe, all of whom stood close together, and all of whom turned reverentially to Vicary as he approached them.
'Good morning, sir.' Frankie Brunnie smiled and nodded deferentially to Vicary. Brunnie was senior to Ainsclough and so it was he who spoke. 'Quite a start to the day.' Brunnie was a large man, even for a police officer. He was broad shouldered, wore a neatly trimmed rich black beard and had black hair. 'Thank you for coming, sir. We thought you ought to be in on this, sir, right from the start.'
'All right, Frankie, thank you.' Vicary returned the brief smile. 'What have we got?'
'Deceased male, sir,' Brunnie replied, 'with what appears to be extensive head injuries.'
'Battered to death, if you ask me,' John Shaftoe offered. He was, thought Vicary, dressed in a strange combination of ill-fitting cream summer jacket and heavyweight brown corduroy trousers, which were, Vicary thought, more suited to digging an allotment in winter conditions. 'I can't determine any other injuries, but as you can see he is still clothed, and there may be other injuries as yet to be found. There are no defensive wounds to his hands ... again, none which are immediately obvious, but the injuries to the head are extensive. I can feel his skull move in separate places and, by themselves, those blows would probably, in fact certainly would have been fatal. It seems that somebody really wanted this fella dead.' John Shaftoe bent down and lifted the heavy-duty plastic sheeting which covered the deceased and exposed the head and shoulders. 'Meet our friend, Mr Still-to-be-identified.'
Harry Vicary considered the deceased. He saw a man of small stature, with short, neatly cut hair, nominally clean-shaven, but then with a little stubble on his chin, seemingly as smartly dressed as a limited budget would permit and, like Geoff Driscoll, he too thought the deceased to be in his late thirties to mid-forties. Vicary also saw a large amount of dried blood matting the hair close to the man's scalp, and also staining his face and neck.
'The police surgeon pronounced life extinct at ...' Shaftoe turned to Brunnie. 'What was the time again, please, Sergeant?'
'Zero seven sixteen hours.' Brunnie consulted his notepad. 'He, the police surgeon, was one Doctor Paul.'
'Thank you.' Shaftoe replaced the sheet and stood holding his lumbar region as he did so. 'I arrived at approximately eight thirty.'
'An early start for you, sir.' Vicary smiled.
'Yes ... I had planned to come in early to commence a post-mortem which had been delayed. It's going to be further delayed now but that's the rule, as you know: recent corpses with clear suspicious circumstances come first; they get priority. The first twenty-four hours in any murder case and all that ... the other PM is in respect of a corpse which was found washed up at Woolwich Reach. I've glanced at the body ... he must have been in the river for at least a week ... and so I think that he can afford to wait another few hours.'
'Indeed, sir,' Vicary mumbled. 'Indeed.'
'So ... I assume that you will want to know the time of death?' Shaftoe grinned widely.
'If you have the information, sir,' Vicary also grinned, 'but I know what you're going to say ... that's not really a pathologist's job despite the impression given on television police dramas.'
'Yes ... that's the rule, but common sense tells us that he was still alive a few hours ago ... it is a reasonably fresh corpse.'
'Who found it?' Vicary asked.
'The milkman, sir,' Brunnie replied. 'He has continued with his round but will be giving a statement later. I have his details. He is adamant that he saw nothing but the corpse ... no other person or persons acting in a suspicious manner. He's getting on in years, close to retirement, but was really quite calm about it all; at least he was calm by the time I arrived.'
'All right.' Vicary absorbed the information.
'It's a fresh corpse, as you can see,' Shaftoe continued, 'so he was assaulted and murdered last night, sometime before dawn, and his body was then dumped here. There is a little hair growth on the upper lip and chin ... two days' worth, perhaps ... it seems to be much more than a five o'clock shadow, though, of course, some men have to shave more frequently than others. I would say that our friend here is normally clean-shaven but did not, or could not, shave for up to forty-eight hours before he was killed. But, of course, hair will continue to grow on a corpse until rigor sets in, so don't let that mislead you.'
'Dumped here?' Vicary queried. 'You don't think he was assaulted here and his body left where he was attacked?'
'Well ...' Shaftoe paused and looked about him, 'that still has to be determined. Of course, this is very early days, but there is no sign of violence hereabouts ... not that I can see, anyway ... the hedgerows are clearly undisturbed, for instance. He must have bled profusely but there is no sign of blood splatter and, believe you me, blood would have splattered far and wide with this sort of injury ... very far and very wide.'
'One of his shoes, sir,' Brunnie addressed Shaftoe, 'was found a short distance away from the body. In fact, the milkman remarked that he saw the shoe lying in the road before he saw the body in the gutter.' Brunnie then turned to Harry Vicary, 'The shoe is in an evidence bag, sir, but it matches the other shoe that is still on his foot.'
'I see,' Vicary replied, and then turned to Shaftoe for his comment.
'I still don't think he was attacked here,' Shaftoe insisted. 'The shoe could quite easily have fallen off or have been knocked off when the body was removed from whichever motor vehicle was used to transport it here. No ... no ... I am certain, the complete absence of blood splatter and lack of localized disturbance means that this site is where the body was dumped. The murder scene is elsewhere. I mean ... no doubt you'll spray Luminol on the cars parked around here ... and also on the pavement and the road surface ... but as I said, my little naked eye cannot detect any blood spatter so I'm sure this is not the crime scene.'
'Fair enough.' Vicary looked about him, glancing up and down the richly foliaged Lingfield Road, noting it to be long and straight. 'No CCTV,' he remarked. 'That's a shame.'
'The suburbs, sir,' Frankie Brunnie replied. 'It'll be quite a while before the suburbs are covered by CCTV as thoroughly as city centres are covered.'
'If ever,' Vicary growled, sourly, 'if ever. The professional middle-class citizenry won't take too kindly to their every move being monitored. And quite frankly, even as a copper I don't think I would much care for it.'
'Yes, sir.' Brunnie cleared his throat, 'Sir, with respect, I should notify you of another incident the police dealt with last night, also in this area.'
'Oh?' Vicary raised an eyebrow. 'Connected, do you think?'
'Quite probably, sir. It involves a car being set ablaze. Very non-Wimbledon, you might think ...'
'As you say, Frankie,' Vicary nodded in agreement, 'very non-Wimbledon. Very, very non-Wimbledon indeed.'