Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C. December 2007

LA BEFANA. Sofia Akadiou, 32. Former UNICEF health worker who survived an attack on a village in the Central African Republic that left her blind in one eye and required the amputation of her right foot. After her release from the hospital, she began to relive childhood trauma in which she tried to shield her brother and sisters from their abusive, tyrannical mother.

She was particularly agitated by her inability to walk quietly, first with crutches, then with her prosthesis. She said to nurses and to a physical therapist, on several occasions, that her mother worked nights and required silence during the day. When reminded that her mother had died several years earlier, Akadiou apologized for her confusion. A hospital psychologist diagnosed PTSD.

After conversion, Akadiou entered the homes of her victims (usually through an unlocked entrance) and, while the parents slept, suffocated the children. Afterward, she tidied the children's rooms--hung up clothes, put away toys, straightened book shelves, pulled the bedcovers smooth and tucked them in under the mattress.

Akadiou targeted her victims in supermarkets, shopping malls, and other public places: a parent responding with anger and impatience to a child's tantrum could trigger her memories of her mother's rages. Akadiou believed that by "quieting" the child and cleaning up, she could save the child from punishment.

Poughkeepsie homicide detectives nicknamed her "La Befana" during the search for the children's killer, based on the character from Italian folklore. She was responsible for the deaths of nine children.

After taking Akadiou into custody, ACTF agents obtained family records from her childhood. When Akadiou was twelve, her younger brother died from an overdose of barbiturates. The death was ruled accidental. In light of Akadiou's trauma and subsequent acting-out of her delusion, it seems likely that Akadiou drugged her siblings to keep them quiet and out of her mother's eye.

Sleet hissed against Stephen Reyes's office window. It sounded like home: winter driven sideways off Lake Michigan and down the streets of Chicago. Through his open office door, he heard Esther Falkner venting the day's violent impulses on her keyboard (the only real proof that she had any). Daphne Worth's crepe-soled boots laid down an almost sub-audible beat on the carpet in the bullpen as she jogged down the aisle to Hafidha's sanctum. Just beyond Reyes's office door, Brady declared, "It's not a copycat. Y'all got yourselves one UNSUB, not two," and the moment of drawl told Reyes he was hearing the phone consult with Houston PD.

Each weight of paper in the file on the desk in front of him had its own voice: bond shushed against bond, tissue copies crunched and crackled. The heavy photo paper made a dull thrum, like a slack guitar string, when it flipped past his thumb.

To hear criminal investigators tell it, evidence spoke; all one had to do was listen well. But in photographs and printed records, sound was only speculation. Audio tapes of interviews carried no visual information. Video recordings of witnesses, suspects, and crime scenes had sight and sound; but they lacked the smell of bleach, the vibrating tension of the person just outside the frame, the subject's reaction when the red light went dark.

Sometimes evidence spoke like a parakeet: language without context or continuity.

Reyes turned the pages of the file (shush, shush, crackle, shush) until he reached the photo of Sofia Akadiou taken after her arrest. It said nothing about her face when she opened her door to Reyes and the arresting officers: how her eyes showed their whites, and her sallow skin lost what little flush it had. It didn't note her terror, not of the men on her doorstep, but of something behind her, something that made her press a finger hard to her lips, begging them to make no noise.

The house, when they searched it, was empty.

The photo couldn't tell how Akadiou had trembled and flinched in the interview room where she was cuffed to the bracket under the table, how she squeezed her eyes and mouth tight closed and shook her head hard when homicide detectives came to get a statement. They swore they asked questions. On the video of the interview, their lips move. But there are no voices recorded, no scrape of the shifted chair, no clink of the cuffs on the metal bracket.

Akadiou's photo was mute, too, on what happened when Reyes asked that she be moved to a quiet, empty office, or when Reyes joined her there twenty minutes later sock-footed and careful to muffle the closing door. On the desk in front of her he laid a pad of wide-ruled, fibrous paper, so soft it was halfway to being cloth, and a new blue crayon.

No rattle of paper or the scratching of pencil or pen.

You know, her face had said. You will take this weight off me. You will protect them. You will keep them safe from her.

Evidence could only speak of what it knew. Evidence never knew everything. Justice ought to be based on more than evidence. Mercy had to be. If Sofia Akadiou had understood that, she might have been able to silence the voice inside her. The parents of nine dead children in Poughkeepsie understood it sometimes, when the quiet in their second bedrooms and backyards and the mutter of "If only I hadn't..." in their heads didn't overwhelm it.

So it was up to Reyes to understand it for them, to keep faith with Akadiou's silent charge to him.

You will protect them. You will keep them safe.

He listened to the sounds his team made as they did their work, and hoped his best would be enough.