D r Keller slowly stirred his tea and nodded at the plate of biscuits in front of Nightingale. ‘Please, help yourself,’ he said.
Nightingale picked up a custard cream and dipped it into his tea. ‘She doesn’t seem like a killer,’ he said.
The doctor continued to stir his tea. ‘Sociopaths are adept at concealing their true natures,’ he said. ‘Every emotion they display is learned behaviour. They have no true emotions but if they are smart they learn to mimic them.’
‘They act, is that what you mean? They pretend to be happy or sad or angry?’
Dr Keller nodded. He put his spoon on the saucer so carefully that it made no sound. ‘In a nutshell, yes.’
‘She seems so normal. Even made a few jokes.’
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ said Dr Keller. ‘I’m not suggesting that she’s a danger to you or to anyone else in this institution. But she is insane. I can assure you of that.’
‘Why do you say that? She looks and sounds normal, so how do you, as a professional, come to the conclusion that she’s mad?’
Dr Keller chuckled quietly. ‘Mr Nightingale, we would never put it as crassly as that.’
‘But that’s what you mean, isn’t it? You’re saying she’s as mad as a hatter despite the outward appearance.’
‘She killed five children, Mr Nightingale. And she has expressed absolutely no remorse.’
Nightingale put his biscuit into his mouth, chewed and swallowed.
‘Did she talk to you about the killings?’ asked the doctor.
‘Only to admit that she’d done it.’
‘No explanation, no asking for understanding or forgiveness?’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘Just said that she’d killed them.’
‘That, right there, is textbook sociopathic behaviour,’ said the doctor. ‘A normal person would be full of guilt and remorse. Or would at least offer up some sort of explanation for their actions. But Robyn tells us as little as she apparently told you. Yes, she did it, she killed those five children, but she won’t say one word about what drove her to it.’
‘And that’s par for the course?’
‘I’d say that it applies to a third of the inmates here, yes. She has therapy sessions, one on one with medical staff, and group sessions with other inmates present, and, while she’s pleasant and sociable, she never opens up.’
‘But it’s not denial, is it? If it was denial she would be saying that she didn’t do it, right?’
‘Correct,’ said Dr Keller. He sipped his tea, watching Nightingale over the top of his cup.
‘Earlier, you said there was no cure.’
‘That’s right. She’s hard-wired as a sociopath and nothing we can do can change that. There’s no operation that will alter the way she thinks, and there’s no miracle drug that we can use. She is what she is, I’m afraid.’
‘So she’ll never be released?’
‘I would think it highly doubtful,’ said the doctor.
Nightingale picked up another custard cream and dunked it into his tea. ‘I know this is going to sound stupid, but there’s no doubt that she did it, is there?’
Dr Keller’s eyes narrowed. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘Well, the thing is that, because she pleaded guilty, there wasn’t a lot of information released to the court. She pleaded guilty to five murders and received five life sentences. But there were no details of what she did or how she did it. Her legal team didn’t speak in mitigation, so the media only got the bare facts.’
‘And you think there might have been a miscarriage of justice?’ Dr Keller shook his head. ‘First of all, she pleaded guilty. Second of all, she continues to admit her guilt. And third of all…’ He leaned forward. ‘I’ve seen the files, Mr Nightingale. I know what she did and, considering the circumstances under which she was arrested, I can assure you there is no doubt as to her guilt.’
‘Literally. She was awash in the boy’s blood.’
‘She used a knife – that was in the papers.’
‘She gutted him like a pig,’ said the doctor. ‘But first she slit his throat so deeply that his head was almost severed.’
‘The knife was in her hand when the police turned up. And as I said, she was covered in his blood.’
‘How did the cops know where she was?’ asked Nightingale.
‘That I don’t know,’ said the doctor. ‘But they found her with the body. Covered in blood, holding the knife.’
‘And the other killings?’
‘All children. All gutted. And she confessed to the lot.’
‘But never said why she did it?’
Dr Keller shook his head. ‘Not a word.’
Nightingale took his pack of Marlboro out of his raincoat pocket, but put it away when he saw the look of disapproval on the doctor’s face. ‘This is going to sound a little off the wall, but was there any sort of occult slant to the killings?’
Dr Keller frowned. ‘I don’t follow you.’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘Pentagrams, Satanic ritual, witchcraft symbols.’
‘You’re wondering if the devil made her do it?’
Nightingale shrugged again. ‘Killing five kids. It sort of sounds like human sacrifice, doesn’t it?’
‘It sounds like the actions of a serial killer.’
‘But it’s unusual for serial killers to kill kids, isn’t it? Especially female serial killers. If there are kids involved then there’s usually a sexual motive, right?’
Dr Keller nodded hesitantly. ‘Well, yes, I suppose so. Child killers are generally middle-aged males and more often than not the killings follow on from sexual activity, either as a way of heightening sensations or through fear of being caught.’
‘And in my sister’s case there was no evidence of sexual assault?’
‘None at all,’ agreed Dr Keller.
‘So, if there was a reason, maybe in her mind she might have been sacrificing them. And the fact that she used a knife, that suggests a ritual, doesn’t it?’
‘I doubt that your sister would have had access to a firearm, so that really only leaves knives, strangulation or beating with a blunt object,’ said the doctor. ‘I’m not sure that the knife is significant.’
‘Knives are personal, and planned,’ said Nightingale. ‘She must have taken the knife in advance, which means she must have had a reason for killing the children. She wasn’t acting on impulse or out of anger. She planned it.’
‘You seem to know a lot about murder,’ said the doctor.
‘I was a policeman, in a former life.’
Nightingale shook his head. ‘Firearms officer, but I was also a negotiator. I did a fair amount of psychology as part of my training.’
‘Well, what you say is true, except that your sister is a sociopath so the general rules don’t always apply. She might simply have killed because she wanted to, and the normal constraints that would prevent you or me from killing weren’t there to stop her. She had the impulse to kill and she followed it. You and I and the rest of what we call normal people don’t act on our violent impulses. We learn to control them. That mechanism is missing from the psyche of a sociopath. Killing, to them, can be a natural impulse equivalent to eating or defecating.’
‘But going back to my original question, there was nothing vaguely Satanic about what she did?’
Dr Keller pursed his lips and shook his head. ‘If anything, it was the opposite.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Her last victim. Timmy Robertson. She killed him in a church. On an altar, I believe.’