Tuesday Tales: The Last Photos on Kim Thorne's Phone
The Last Photos on Kim Thorne’s Phone
Detective Timothy Fox stormed into Lieutenant Mark Barlow’s office, slamming the door behind him. It was just after six in the evening, nearly eight hours after his half-hour drive up to Greenwood Gas Station in an otherwise-desolate Wright County.
“I got it,” Fox said with a smile, holding up a manila folder. He took the seat across from the lieutenant, dropping the folder on the desk as he did. “Her brother just happened to call the phone, so I answered. I told him what was going on and he gave me a few options to try. The code’s only four digits, but I did the math. That’s ten thousand possible combinations. The last one he gave me did the trick.”
“Well, certainly avoided a headache with that one,” Lieutenant Barlow responded. “We wouldn’t’ve been able to make the case to unlock it otherwise for some time, maybe not ever.”
Barlow extended an arm and pulled the folder closer. He opened it and quickly flipped through its contents. Looking up at the detective, he continued, “What am I looking at here, detective? Photos?”
Fox grinned again, still reeling from the thrill of having unlocked Kim Thorne’s iPhone in less than a day. He felt ahead on this one, as if the accomplishment were to speed up the case’s closure by days, maybe even weeks. Realizing he was likely coming off as insensitive, he wiped the smile off his face.
“Those are the last photos on Kim Thorne’s phone. Five photos, to be exact, and all of them were taken this morning, around seven.”
“And when did you get the call about the phone again?” Barlow asked.
“Around nine-thirty, so two hours and some change later,” Fox said. “The gas station attendant, Ted Sanders, said he found it just sitting there. It was laying on the ground near one of the pumps, bloody finger prints all over it.” (He didn’t bother clarifying that there wasn’t a single camera at the station; that place would be lucky to have a functioning toilet.) “So, naturally the guy decides to ring in the discovery, and eventually that gets passed over to us.”
The lieutenant was tracking, although it all seemed like news to him as if he hadn’t been paying any mind when Fox first told him all this that morning. With Barlow (relatively) on the same page, Fox leaned across the desk and put his hand on the folder. “May I?” he asked.
Barlow nodded. Fox took the folder and placed it on his lap, the first of the five photos revealing itself on top. He grabbed it, studying it for a moment before turning it around to show the lieutenant.
“I've looked through these already, of course, so let me walk you through what I’m seeing. The story from my point of view.”
“See here?” he put a finger to part of the photo. “This was certainly taken from inside Kim’s Wrangler. The timestamp on the photo tells us it’s around six forty-five, which makes it the first photo in the series.
“Judging by the landscape, it’s definitely Wright County. That’s confirmed a few photos down, anyway. Looking through the rest of her camera roll, there’s nothing particularly unusual about this. She seems to take photos from the car pretty frequently, especially before some of her hikes. I guess some people stretch to prep for a workout while others get their camera warmed up.”
The detective placed the first photo on the desk. He reached down and held up the second, once again looking at it for a moment before showing it to Barlow. He wasn’t about to overlook anything.
“This was taken ten minutes after the first photo. That’s Kim right outside the green Wrangler.”
“And we found the Jeep, didn’t we?” Barlow asked. It was undeniably a question he was trying to get across as a necessary confirmation rather than what it actually was: ignorance.
Fox looked past the lieutenant’s inattentiveness from earlier in the day. There wasn’t time to slow down. This lead was his and his alone, and he’d be damned if he’d let emotions break his focus.
He turned his attention back to the photo, responding, “Yes, we recovered the car in the lot. I cross-referenced the photos we took of the Jeep with this one, and there are more than a few similarities in location. That’s to say it doesn’t look like the car was moved at all.”
Barlow leaned in for a better look at the photo. His curiosity was piqued. “She looks happy, doesn’t she? What is that, one of those . . .” He snapped his fingers, trying to think of the right word.
“Selfies,” Fox answered for him. “An innocent, joyful selfie outside her car.”
With the third photo in the detective’s hand, he now felt he had Barlow’s undivided attention.
“Looks like it’s the same as the previous,” Barlow remarked. “Same sort of ‘selfie’ thing going on here.”
Fox nodded. He took a finger to the photo as he had done with the other, a professor teaching a lesson on the blackboard to his student (the thought amused him). He moved his finger around the perimeter of the photo. “It’s another selfie, sure. That’s Kim’s go-to, it seems. But look at the background. Her car’s gone. Instead, we see the woods. And if you look really close, you can see the trailhead sign.” He held it closer to the lieutenant, reading it for him, “‘Swanson Creek Trail.’ That’s the trail she went down.”
“It was the only one that fed off the parking lot?”
“No, there were four total,” Fox said. “So this will at least narrow the search a little.”
Lieutenant Barlow had now rolled his desk chair to rest beside Detective Fox’s. Fox was no longer doing show-and-tell as the two studied the fourth and penultimate photo on the desk.
“I know what you’re thinking, ‘another selfie,’” Fox started. “This one’s important, though, as it’s taken just three minutes before the last one.”
Barlow got another good look at it, scratching his chin as he did so. It was yet another selfie, only Kim Thorne was now deep in the Swanson Creek Trail. Behind her was no one, nothing but a seemingly endless path. She was still smiling, somehow even wider than she was in the previous two photos.
“I’m not sure what I’m looking at, Fox,” Barlow said. “These all seem normal to me. They tell a good story, indeed, but—”
Fox didn’t need to cut the lieutenant off; flipping to the fifth and final photo did that for him.
Barlow put his hand over his mouth. “Jesus, what the hell happened to her?” His words were muffled, whispers as a result of lost breath.
Fox sighed, shaking his head. “I have no earthly idea. This is all we have to go off, though. The visual path ends here.”
It was a fourth selfie. Kim Thorne was smiling in it, teeth and all. And yet, it was unlike any of the previous photos of the woman. Her ivory skin was masked almost entirely by large splashes of red. Just outside those sizable spots were smaller speckles of the same color, some of the larger ones dripping down her cheeks like teardrops. She was covered in blood, and while her smile let off happiness, her eyes were wide as can be. She was filled with fear.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” the lieutenant continued. He sat back in his chair, eyes nearly as wide as Kim Thorne’s in that fifth photo. “Is that to say she did this to herself? As if she’s happy about it?”
“Again, you’re as caught up as I am here,” Fox admitted.
The two sat in silence. Despite coming in the room with a sense of relief over unlocking the phone, Detective Fox found himself at a loss for words. Seeing that photo again did that to him. Before, he was fueled by relief. Now, it was all too real.
“Hold on,” Barlow said. He leaned forward again and began sifting through the five photo copies from Kim’s phone. He stopped at the first, the one taken from inside the car. He slammed his index finger on it and looked at the detective. “Anything unusual about this one?”
“I don’t know, it’s the only one that’s not a selfie?” Fox didn’t know where Barlow was going with this.
“Look at the angle of the shot.” He picked up the photo and tilted it every which way. “There’s no way someone in the driver’s seat could’ve snapped this without leaning over and nearly plummeting off the side of the road.”
“Are you saying she was in the passenger seat when she took the photo?”
“That . . .” Barlow started, “or Miss Thorne didn’t take the photo.”
The detective reached in his pocket and pulled out a phone tucked away in a clear plastic bag. It had a sparkly rose gold case covering it. Turning it over, a lock screen displayed showing Kim and a couple friends. Fox typed in the four-digit passcode that had made him feel on top of the world not more than fifteen minutes ago. He clicked around, through the bag, until he got to the camera roll, then he clicked on the last photo in Kim Thorne’s phone. His thumb and index finger were touching tight on the screen until he spread them apart. Fox did this a few times, repositioning the photo slightly as he did so until one of Kim’s wide eyes was center frame and taking up half the screen. “Oh my god,” the detective said through weary breath.
He closed out of the fifth photo and opened the fourth, zooming in there as well. He proceeded to do this for the fourth and third, and when he saw it in those ones, too, he knew his eyes weren’t deceiving him.
Fox flipped the screen to show Barlow. “She wasn’t alone at all.”
Lieutenant Barlow ran behind his desk. He had quickly pulled out his own cellphone to pull up the contact information for Greenwood Gas Station. He was relieved to find some contact information pop up, especially considering the condition (and location) of the place. His fingers couldn’t move fast enough as he dialed the number on the screen.
“Hello, Chester Greenwood, Greenwood Gas Station,” a raspy voice answered.
Barlow darted his eyes at Detective Fox, who shook his head as if to say, ‘No, that’s not the person I spoke to this morning.’
“Mister Greenwood, I’m Lieutenant Barlow from the New Everton P.D.” His voice was rushed, shaking. “I take it you own Greenwood Gas Station?”
“Yessir, that’d be me. Been that way for thirty-two years, matter of fact. Only, I don’t make it out there all too often anymore on account of my legs not working so good. You’ve got my home phone here.”
Do you know if . . .” Barlow paused, looking at Fox again.
“Ted Sanders,” the detective whispered.
“Do you know if your employee Ted Sanders is still at the station at this moment? And by chance can you share his home address with me?”
“Can’t say I’m in the business of giving out my employee’s information,” Greenwood said. “‘Course, no harm here considering I ain't got no Ted Sanders working for me. Never have, neither.”
Both men’s eyelids shot upward at Greenwood’s words.
Detective Fox jumped up from his chair and leaned over the desk phone. “Mister Greenwood, who was the man working at the station today? Can you at least give us his name?”
There was a pause, and Fox thought they might have lost the man at first. Greenwood’s voice came back over the phone, “No man working for me today. Matter fact, only had one extra hand for awhile now, and that’s Kimmy, Kimmy Thorne.”
Detective Fox’s eyes were no longer set on the phone. Now, he was studying the iPhone in his hands. He thought once more about the passcode he had uncovered not long ago, yet he found it was already slipping from his memory, making room for another. He was remembering the last photos on Kim Thorne’s phone, and the man in a gas station attendant uniform staring back at him from within the woman’s eye.