Harris: This is Inspector Steve Harris of the National Crime Unit, with me is John Graves, a researcher for the National Computer Crimes Unit. It is… four thirty two PM, on the twelfth of July, two-thousand and fifteen. Mister Graves is here voluntarily to discuss the disappearance of his fellow researcher Andrew Norton.
Graves: Just one thing Inspector, I resigned. So I’m no longer with the NCCU.
Harris: You’ve tendered your resignation but you’re serving your notice and still being paid at present. So far as this investigation is concerned you’re still part of the NCCU until your resignation is accepted and processed.
Graves: Figures. So where do you want to start?
Harris: For the record could you describe the nature of your work and your relationship with Mister Norton.
Graves: Our group is a small team that investigates reports about online… nastiness of various kinds. We try to identify people in supposed snuff pictures and videos, children from child porn pictures, and trace creepy people. It’s a tough job in a lot of ways and nobody really expects us to make too much of a difference. I mostly work on the sexual depravity and Norton on the grotesque stuff. Our relationship, such as it is, is that of co-workers.
Harris: Why did you resign?
Graves: I’d rather not talk about that. I’d already tendered my resignation before Norton disappeared.
Harris: I’m afraid I have to insist. I’m sure you understand that you may be a suspect.
Graves: As you can imagine, staring at this grim fucking shit all day, every day, seeing it in your dreams and so rarely being able to make a difference wears on you. I began to disturb myself, so I decided to get out.
Harris: So you admit to a disturbed state of mind?
Graves: Not exactly. Norton was a lot twitchier than me it’s just like… well, you ever talked to firemen?
Harris: Can’t say I have. Can you get to the point?
Graves: The point is that burnt human flesh smells a lot like cooking bacon and one of the most horrible things about dealing with a fire is salivating and feeling hunger around disfigured and burnt human remains.
Harris: I don’t follow.
Graves: For God’s sake. I spend all day looking at images of sexually abused men, women, teenagers and children. Drugged, abused and subjected to all manner of fucking depravity. After a while it stops making you vomit and you start looking forward to the less bad ones. Do I have to spell it out?
Harris: Please say calm Mister Graves, I believe I follow your point. So what about Norton? You said he was more twitchy than you were?
Graves: He has a lot more experience than I do. He’s been looking at scenes of torture and death for a couple of years now. I don’t think he’s ever managed to get really callous to it. We used to talk about work, who else are you going to talk to, right? He was still trying to make sense of it all. To understand the why and the how of it.
Harris: That seems healthy to me, but I’m no psychologist.
Graves: I don’t think you can make sense of it. Maybe that was gnawing at him. Maybe if you could understand, really understand, the mind of a killer you’d be one. I try not to think about it. I try to concentrate on the job.
Harris: When do you think he started to go off the rails?
Graves: Maybe a fortnight ago? Things started to change around then I think.
Harris: Do you think anything triggered it?
Graves: Video 19121314.
Harris: What’s that?
Graves: I never watched it, but it’s the latest ‘hot thing’ around the fora we keep an eye on. A supposed real snuff video, though most of them turn out to be fake.
Harris: I don’t know it, can you tell me what you do know?
Graves: It’s a short, grainy low-resolution video of what seems to be a couple of kids, wearing big suits, maybe belonging to their fathers, stabbing another kid, slowly, to death with kitchen knives.
Graves: That’s a Thursday afternoon for us.
Harris: Was it real?
Graves: Norton thought so. I didn’t. He gave me some stills so I could try and find the kids involved.
Harris: And did you?
Graves: No, not enough to go on. It was too low resolution and there were a lot of image artefacts.
Graves: I mean… like when a bird flies in front of your satellite dish, yeah? Interrupts the signal and makes it break up? All those little squares and lines?
Harris: Right, got you. Norton thought it was real though?
Graves: Right, he was convinced. Obsessed even I’d say. He kept working on it.
Harris: He ever get like that about a case before?
Graves: Not a case, exactly.
Harris: Can you explain?
Graves: Norton used to take breaks by looking into urban myths and scary stories people used to share. He got especially obsessed with the Waukesha stabbing.
Harris: I don’t know that either.
Graves: Couple of kids got obsessed with a made up supernatural character and attacked another girl. Stabbed her a dozen times.
Harris: That’s nuts.
Graves: Like I said, that’s a Thursday to us. Anyway, that wasn’t the only case like it. There were others, all in America though. Ohio, Florida, Pine Ridge. He wouldn’t shut up about them.
Harris: And this related to that?
Graves: He thought so.
Harris: So this video came across your desk, and that’s when he started acting up?
Graves: Started acting up more. He was always a bit jumpy and grim. I think he was drinking, but he did his work so I didn’t begrudge him or report him.
Harris: You should have.
Graves: I know, I’m trying to be honest here.
Harris: How did he act up?
Graves: Little things at first. He gave up smoking and started vaping. Looking back, I think it was so he didn’t have to leave his desk.
Harris: So he was working non-stop?
Graves: Yeah, and taking his work home. It’s a rule, generally, that we don’t do that. Psychologist says it’s a bad idea to stay stuck in that stuff. We all break the rules sometimes, if we’re on to a lead, but he was taking stuff in and out of work on a USB drive, I’m sure of it.
Harris: What else?
Graves: He turned off his nightlight.
Harris: Can you explain that?
Graves: We’re working on screens all day, so we want to keep the daylight off the screens so we can see. Keeping it dark also helps us pick up details in the pictures that we might miss. Even the slightest difference can provide a location or an ID. We keep little nightlights or LED lamps so we can find stuff on our desks. He turned his off.
Harris: Anything more that struck you as odd?
Graves: Yeah. We don’t face the public, so we wear mufti most of the time. Save when the brass or a politician is coming around. Even then we don’t usually see them. They’re there to see the glamorous stuff like the organised crime data. They don’t bother with us. He started wearing a suit though, every day. Suit and tie. Said it made him feel more professional and better able to concentrate. Told me some bullshit story about Magritte.
Graves: Some surrealist painter. I don’t know. Didn’t make him really look more professional though. After a couple of days it looked like he was sleeping in it, and he stank.
Harris: The drink?
Graves: No, stale sweat and piss and… like ozone. I thought a computer was burning out for a while, but it was him.
Harris: And you still didn’t report anything?
Graves: No, he told me he was closet to figuring it out. I assumed he meant cracking the case.
Harris: But you did report him, the same day he disappeared.
Graves: I was worried about him. I tried to get him to come out for lunch and he wouldn’t. I hadn’t seen him eat for a few days. I brought him back a sandwich and tried to sit with him for lunch, but he wouldn’t eat and I couldn’t stomach it around his smell. Not that close. So we just ended up talking.
Harris: What did he talk to you about?
Harris: Anything you can remember, no matter how stupid, might help.
Graves: He’d been pursuing those same leads. He had this crazy idea that it didn’t matter if monsters were real or not, so long as they could inspire people to do horrible things. He said they were just as real as they needed to be when that happened. There was some other nonsense as well, things he’d read on conspiracy sites and had gotten from crazy people on Youtube. Things about this Tibetan idea of a ‘tulpa’.
Harris: What’s that?
Graves: The idea that ideas and thoughts can become real. He said it was a metaphor for how things shape people’s behaviour. Religions, memes, that sort of thing.
Harris: Cat pictures?
Graves: No, well yes, but memes are any idea that can be transmitted. At least in theory. It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s nuts.
Harris: And that’s when you decided to report him?
Graves: That was the final straw, yes. He sounded insane. Smelt insane. Looked insane. I couldn’t cover for him any more. He wasn’t on the verge of a break, he was on the verge of a breakdown.
Harris: I think that’s about it. Thank you for your cooperation Mr Graves. You’ll remain on the payroll until your resignation is complete, but you’re not expected to work.
Graves: I can go then?
Harris: Yes, just one thing though. [Interference] He didn’t just disappear. He did have a breakdown.
Graves: Shit [interference].
Harris: I’m afraid [interference] stabbed his wife and daughter [interference] times, before disappearing.
Graves: If I can [interference] help. Please do let me know.
Harris: Interview ending, the time is [interference].