It started out as a game, a fun way to pass the lonely nights. It had
been easy, quite ingenious. He had wandered the shopping mall looking
for a truly handsome man. A sales clerk in a large department store was
By day he was—his day name didn’t matter. By night he was Troy
Hunter. Troy Hunter mattered. Troy Hunter was someone important.
He spent hours shooting photos of the sales clerk with a telephoto lens.
Most people had forsaken the 35mm camera for their simpler iPhones, but
Troy Hunter knew the value of taking pictures from across the room.
A little shading, a few highlights in the hair and a deepening of the
blue eyes and Troy had created a perfect photo of himself. Or, at least
a perfect photo of Troy Hunter.
He set up his Facebook account, posted the handsome image of himself,
created a fake biography, and began sending women friend requests.
With few exceptions, the women readily accepted him as a friend. He
concentrated on women in his state. He quickly amassed five-hundred
friends. Then friends of friends began sending him friend requests.
Facebook was the perfect tool to mine for women. He established
friendships by agreeing with the pathetic women who always posted
slogans like, “It doesn’t matter if YOU think I am fat, I know I am
He always posted some comment like “I think you are very
That would get the conversation going. Then she would update her frumpy
photo with a new selfie. She would fix her hair, put on makeup and take
a selfie shot so that her big breasts were clearly visible.
Troy would pull a cute puppy video from the news feed and post it on his
timeline, commenting, “This is the cutest puppy ever.”
Numerous women would flood his page with comments on the puppy. After a
while, he would select a dozen of the most attractive, needy women and
begin to post comments singling them out.
Susie Johnson would post “I cooked a pot roast for dinner tonight. A
photo of a pot roast surrounded by carrots and potatoes would accompany
Troy would post, “Wow, Susie, that looks great. Your husband is a
Soon Susie would move to the private messaging, and they would strike up
a friendship. He juggled ten or twelve women at a time.
Troy’s woman of the month was Tracy Slade, a single real estate agent
in Burleson, Texas. He would concentrate on her entirely for now.
Tracy had caught Troy’s attention when she posted, “Nothing hurts
more than love.”
Her next post said, “When you put everything you have into a
relationship and get nothing in return, it is time to move on.”
Tracy changed her Facebook masthead photo every week. Each new photo
was a little more daring, a little fewer clothes and a lot more makeup
to cover the wrinkles. At first, Tracy’s selfies had garnered
comments like “nice,” “pretty lady” or “looking good, mama.”
Now the only comments on her pathetic pleas for praise came from Troy.
Her Facebook page said she was thirty-two, but Troy suspected that was
off by ten or twelve years. She was scaring the hell out of forty-five.
A former obscure pageant winner, she was still pretty. She obviously
worked out and maintained a slim, toned body. Her dyed jet-black hair
completed the package of a woman desperately trying to hold on to her
youth and fading good looks.
Troy began complimenting her and bragging on her appearance. He sent
her pictures of his little dog, a cute Poodle-Chihuahua mix named
Charlie. He positioned his camera to take a photo of Charlie sitting
between his legs. His tight jeans accentuated his muscular thighs and
impressive package. He wasn’t surprised when several private messages
appeared in his message box. He smiled when he saw one of them was from
“I thought it would be nice to have our discussions in a more private
setting,” Tracy messaged him. She sent him her personal email.
Although he was online and incognito, Troy was still a little shy. He
was never aggressive or suggestive. He always let the ladies take the
lead. It was always the women who made the first sexual innuendos.
They had been emailing for three months, getting to know each other,
when a heavy ice storm hit Texas on Sunday night. Troy emailed Tracy
asking if she was being affected by the storm.
“I am iced in today,” Tracy answered, “but this is Texas, the sun
will be shining tomorrow. Just as long as it clears up in time for the
weekend. I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and some
“I am an orphan,” Troy typed. “It must be nice to have friends
and family for the holidays. I envy you.”
“You should join us,” Tracy invited.
“I live out of state, remember,” Troy emailed.
“I wish you lived here,” Tracy replied. “I bet my nights
wouldn’t be so cold and lonely if you were here.”
“I would like that,” Troy typed.
“Have you given any thought to our meeting,” Tracy asked.
“Honestly, I try not to think about it,” Troy answered. “Your
friendship means a lot to me. It is enough that you take the time from
your busy schedule to chat with me.”
He sent her two more emails, but she didn’t respond. He was frantic,
afraid he had scared her or made her think twice about being so familiar
with someone she had never met.
After an hour, he turned off his computer and went to bed.
Troy looked out the window at the melting ice. Tracy had been right;
the sun was shining. He made coffee and dropped two pieces of raisin
toast into the toaster. He had a big day ahead of him at the office.
Things were beginning to shape up on his job.
He turned on his Ipad and checked his emails. He had three—sent after
midnight—from Tracy. He drank his coffee as he read them.
“Sorry, I didn’t answer your last emails. My electricity went
off,” Tracy wrote. The next email said, “How would you feel about
filling out a compatibility questionnaire?”
The last email had the questionnaire attached to it. “If you want to
fill it out, that is great. If you don’t want to bother, that is
He quickly typed, “Have to go to work right now, but I will definitely
fill out the application tonight. I am applying to be your beau,
right?” He typed in three smiling Emojis.
“Is that a position you would like,” Tracy typed back.
He didn’t miss her double entendre. “I would like any position with
you,” Troy replied.
“Have a good day,” Tracy emailed. “I look forward to receiving
the application. I have three favorite positions, and I am certain you
can fill all of them.”
Major Ricky Strong wondered what made men prey on women. In recent
history, the Texas Rangers had not handled any cases of women preying on
men. Oh, maybe to relieve them of their wallets and credit cards, but
never to kill them just for the sheer thrill of killing.
Strong read the detailed report on the last body they had discovered in
the Colorado River. Just like the three previous bodies they had fished
from the lazy-moving waterway, the women had been strangled, and their
hands had been severed to prevent fingerprint identification. The news
media had deemed the killer the Hacker because the hands had been
removed with a hacksaw. Ricky hated it when the news media glorified
sick murders by giving them nicknames.
There was extensive dental work, but no indication who the dentist might
be, so there was no way to identify the dead woman from her dental work.
She wasn’t in the DNA database so for the fourth time this year; they
hit a dead end.
Like the others, the body had deteriorated so badly the facial features
were non-existent. The Rangers’ forensic artist used digital software
to create 3-D images of the four women. Except for small variances, the
post-mortem reconstruction of all four women looked the same. The
killer definitely had a type.
The only difference between their latest body and the other three was
the missing breasts. The killer had removed Jane Doe 4’s breasts.
Ricky surmised it was because she had implants. The Rangers could use
implants to identify the victim.
No doubt about it, their serial killer knew all the tricks of forensic
identification. Ricky wondered if he was an employee in the law
enforcement community. The lone identifying mark on the woman’s body
was a chain tattooed around her ankle.
“Major Strong, Deputy Director Rhodes, is on the phone for you,” the
receptionist announced over the intercom.
Deputy Director Rusty Rhodes rarely called Ricky directly. Probably not
going to like this, she thought.
“Did you get the file I sent over this morning,” Rhodes wasted no
time getting to the purpose of his call.
“Yes, sir.” Ricky wondered why the Texas Rangers were handling this
“I want you on it,” Rhodes barked.
“Why us,” Ricky asked.
“All of the women match the description of State Senator Christine
Richmond’s sister. She is bringing us hair and some fingernail
clippings so we can get the woman’s DNA. I told her to see you. Make
certain the lab runs it against all four Janes. Do it while she waits.
Better yet, take her to lunch while they run it.”
“Isn’t she that arrogant bitc…”
“Yes, she’s the one,” Rhodes interrupted. “Handle her with kid
gloves. She is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and we need the
approval of our budget requests. I need those additional funds for more
officers and vehicles. I am counting on you Strong.”
“She is still furious with us for arresting her when she chained
herself to the front door of that abortion clinic,” Ricky chuckled.
“We should have left her there.”
“Yeah,” snorted Rhodes as he recalled the brunette beauty’s drive
to close all abortion clinics in Texas. “It always amazes me that the
zealots think it is okay for them to break the laws to protest about
“This will be my first interaction with her,” Ricky said,
“hopefully, I can start with a clean slate with her.
I just studied all the files on the murdered women,” Ricky said, “If
we can get a break on just one of them, I bet we will find they all have
something in common that led them to a float down the Colorado.”
“Definitely a serial killer,” Rhodes agreed. “Oh, and Major, all
the women fit the description of Senator Richmond. She and her sister
Ricky opened the spreadsheet on her desktop computer and studied the
sparse details the agency had about the dead women. All four women were
five-six, slender, had never given birth, and were natural brunettes.
The lab had determined the women to be between thirty and thirty-five
Ricky had never met Senator Christine Richmond but had seen her in
television interviews, and her photo was constantly on the front page of
the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. No doubt about it, Christine
Richmond was a beautiful woman. She was also very ambitious. It was no
secret the party was grooming her for governor and then president.
Yeah, I’ll have to handle Senator Christine Richmond with kid gloves,
Speaking of the devil; Strong’s door swung open and Senator
Richmond—in all her glory—made her entrance. As usual, she was
surrounded by aides and flunkies.
“Oh,” Richmond exclaimed, “pardon us, I thought this was Major
“It is,” Ricky stood and smiled. “I am Major Strong.”
“Oh, I see,” the senator shrugged her shoulders indifferently. “I
was expecting a …,” her sentence trailed off as if she knew she was
about to say something politically incorrect.
“A man,” Ricky finished the sentence for her.
“An older officer,” Richmond smiled playfully, as she covered her
faux pas. “You are very young to be a major.”
“I suspect we are about the same age,” Ricky bantered. “We both
know age has nothing to do with ability.”
“Still, I find experience more desirable,” the senator smirked.
Ricky wasn’t certain what they were discussing, now, but was sure
Senator Richmond would get her way with any man. That is why she
probably prefers dealing with them, Ricky thought.
“Please, have a seat,” Ricky motioned to the chair across from her.
She scanned the senator’s entourage. “There are additional chairs
in the waiting room if you would like to wait for the senator there.”
Christine nodded, and the group disappeared.
“I believe you have some items that will provide your sister’s
DNA,” Ricky leaned across her desk.
Senator Richmond removed a baggie from her designer purse and handed the
items to the ranger. “The hairbrush and toothbrush are hers. I
assume the fingernail clippings are, too. I found them in her bathroom
“I will take these to the forensic folks,” Strong said. “It will
take them a couple of hours to run all four matches. You and your, um,
party might want to go to lunch. We should have the results by the time
you get back.” She had no desire to dine with a woman who had been
disappointed she wasn’t a man.
“I would like to accompany you to the lab,” the senator said. “I
will send my staff to lunch. Perhaps you and I can have lunch.”
Ricky nodded. She holstered her .357 Sig then carefully covered it with
her jacket. She didn’t miss the body scan Senator Richmond did on her
as she moved from behind her desk. She subconsciously smoothed her
black skirt and walked to the door.
The senator dismissed her followers and walked to the lab with Ricky.
Their heels made a pleasant clicking sound on the polished tile floor.
The forensic investigator assured them she would have the results in two
hours or less.
“Where would you like to have lunch,” Ricky asked as they walked to
“You choose, Major.”
Ricky pulled her car into the parking lot of the Roaring Fork
restaurant, a favorite of her coworkers.
“A booth,” the major instructed the hostess. “A very private
“A glass of Merlot,” Christine informed the waitress.
“Coffee for me,” Strong nodded. “I am on duty.” She pulled a
small spiral notebook from her pocket and flipped it open. “Do you
mind if I ask you a few questions about your sister?”
“I will do anything that will help you locate Kara.”
“Was she in a relationship,” Ricky poised her pen to make notes.
“What do you mean,” Richmond asked.
“I mean, was she dating anyone,” Ricky frowned that she had to
explain the simple question.
“I don’t think that is important,” the senator said softly.
“If you want my help,” Ricky held her gaze, “You need to let me
decide what is important. Was she seeing anyone?”
“A man, you mean,” the senator hedged.
“I mean, was she intimately involved with anyone of any gender,”
Ricky frowned. “Lovers and spouses are always our first suspects.”
“No boyfriends or girlfriends that I am aware of,” Richmond mumbled.
“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place,” Ricky said
wearily. She hoped Senator Christine Richmond wasn’t always going to
be this difficult.
Christine shrugged. “What else do you want to know?”
“Has she broken up with anyone, an angry boyfriend or…”
“No,” Richmond blurted.
“Your sister is gay, isn’t she,” Ricky said intuitively.
Richmond sat silently and sipped her wine.
Ricky nodded and continued her questions. “I’ll take that as a yes.
Did she have any problems at work, anyone who clashed with her or
“No. Look, Major, I don’t want my sister’s sexuality made the
focal point of your investigation.”
“I will do my best not to taint your reputation, Senator,” Ricky
frowned. She was finding the woman increasingly unlikeable.
“I was wrong to bring this problem to the Rangers.” Christine shook
her head as if clearing it of irrational thoughts.
Ricky inhaled deeply. “Does your sister have any distinguishing
marks?” Might as well draw her a picture, Ricky thought. “You
know, like tattoos, scars, birthmarks, or old broken bones. Anything we
can look for on the bodies.”
Christine leaned across the table increasing the privacy of the booth.
Her perfect breasts strained against her blue silk blouse as if seeking
freedom. The top button was unbuttoned, providing a clear view of the
woman’s endowments. Ricky slowly pulled her eyes away from their
struggle to escape the blouse.
The Senator looked up into Ricky’s blue eyes, “Kara had a breast
augmentation about three years ago.”
Ricky’s eyes uncontrollably darted from the Senator’s eyes to her
breasts and back to the woman’s eyes.
“Mine are real,” Richmond whispered thru clenched teeth.
“I, I,” Ricky stuttered, embarrassed that she had been caught ogling
the Senator. “Did she have a chain tattooed around her ankle?”
“Yes,” tears filled Christine’s eyes. “You have her, don’t
“Let’s wait until forensics finishes with the DNA,” Ricky said
softly. “I don’t like to jump to conclusions.”
“I put the lab report on your desk,” Becky informed her boss. Ricky
nodded and led Christine into her office, closing the door behind them.
She was sure the woman would not want an audience when she confirmed the
latest victim was the senator’s sister.
The senator tossed her long, black hair back, away from her face and
looked around the room. Major Ricky Strong had received several awards
for Valor and Courage Under Fire. Annual marksmanship awards attested
to her ability with a handgun. Her awards and certifications hung
around a law degree issued to Erica Leigh Strong from the University of
Christine moved her gaze to the Ranger who was studying the report.
Ricky raised her eyes slowly and looked into the senator’s eyes.
Christine knew she didn’t want to hear what Ricky Strong was about to
tell her. She closed her eyes to stop the hot tears welling up behind
“Jane Doe 4 is your sister,” Ricky gently said. “I am very sorry.
I wish I had different news for you.”
Senator Christine Richmond blinked back tears and put on a brave
façade. She said nothing, not trusting herself to speak.
Major Strong watched as the woman’s face began to crumble. Creases
moved across her forehead. Perfectly arched brows knitted together as
tears rolled down high cheekbones to form rivulets in the dimples on
either side of her perfectly shaped lips.
Fighting the urge to hold the senator and console her, Ricky rummaged in
her desk drawer and produced a box of tissues. She shoved the box
toward Christine. The senator nodded her thanks and took the tissues.
The noise outside her office told Ricky the senator’s entourage had
returned from lunch. She stood to open her door.
Christine caught the Ranger’s hand, “Please.” Her pleading eyes
said more than her words. Ricky nodded and left the room.
“We are still waiting for information,” Ricky informed the
senator’s staff. “Senator Richmond would like you to return to your
office. A Texas Ranger will escort her home later.”
The staffers milled around for a few minutes, not certain what to do.
The person who seemed to be in charge looked at a message that had just
dinged into his phone. “She wants us to leave,” he scowled as he
led the exodus from the Ranger’s headquarters.
“I truly appreciate you driving me home,” Christine said as she
wiped the tears from her eyes. “I don’t want my staff to see me
“Yeah, it would pretty much destroy your stone-maiden myth,” Ricky
“Stone Maiden, is that what they call me?”
“Don’t be coy,” Ricky raised an eyebrow. “You know it is. I am
betting that is how you keep people at arm’s length.”
“Well, aren’t you miss observant,” Christine smirked. She stared
out the window on her side of the car. She didn’t want to engage in
conversation with Major Ricky Strong.
Ricky pulled her car close to the wrought iron gates that protected
Senator Richmond from the rest of the world. Christine pushed a button
on her iPhone and the gates slowly swung open. The car traveled up a
long road that ended in a cul-de-sac in front of an impressive two-story
“Nice,” Ricky whistled. “Do I need to walk you to your door,
“I have imposed on you enough, Major,” Christine said coldly.
“You will let me know if you find any more information on my
sister’s killer.” She opened the car door and moved to swing her
legs out of the car.
Ricky caught her arm. “I am truly sorry this happened to your
sister,” Ricky said honestly. “I will do everything I can to catch
Christine Richmond’s brown eyes darkened, “I know you will. Thank
you.” She slipped from the car and ran to her front door.
Excerpted from "Too Strong to Die" by Erin Wade. Copyright © 2017 by Erin Wade. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.