Excerpt from Murder In The Yoga Store
The first blow must have struck Jayna Murray so hard in the back of her head that she couldn’t gather her senses to fight back. Muscular and exceedingly fit, Jayna often did handstands and cartwheels for fun at Lululemon Athletica in Bethesda, Maryland, the yoga apparel boutique where she worked. In exuberant moments, she swept colleagues off their feet and spun them around. She was training for a marathon.
Around Lululemon, Jayna was known as the strong one, the woman with the beaming smile and can-do attitude who could handle the heavy boxes and would tackle anything. Anything, that is, except the assault that ended her young and promising life in a hail of blows and blood. Anything except an explosion of rage that remains a mystery to this day.
Rachel Oertli arrived, coffee in hand, just before 8 o’clock on Saturday morning at her shop, her boutique, her beloved Lululemon.
The Bethesda store that Rachel managed is part of a Canadian chain that sells expensive “yoga-inspired” sportswear, the kind that stretches where you need to stretch, clings where clinging looks good, and makes you feel righteous just walking around. But Lululemon is also a high-concept purveyor of a way of life. It’s a shrine of upscale sweat. With its innovative “technical” clothing mainly for women, Lululemon sells healthy living for healthy profits.
The shop is replete with inspirational slogans, like: “This is not your practice life. This is all there is.” And: “Jealousy works the opposite way you want it to.” The cheerful exhortations adorn Lululemon’s signature red shopping bags and some of its apparel. “Sweat once a day,” for instance, was printed inside the cap that was found to contain the blood and DNA of the murderer.
And on this morning, as Rachel made the short walk from her well-appointed apartment across the street—she had timed her commute at 28 seconds—she was keenly aware of how perfectly Lululemon fit into this low-rise block of Bethesda, Maryland, an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. With chic shops and new restaurants, the once dowdy street had been transformed by the real estate planners from drab and downscale to trendy and pricey—and rebranded “Bethesda Row.”
An airy shop with natural wood flooring and an open-beam ceiling, Lululemon blended just fine with the Petra boutique (Sonia Rykiel dresses at $1,500), the posh Bluemercury Salon and Spa (fusion facial for $175) and the tiny but crowded Georgetown Cupcake shop (Red Velvet at $2.75), everyone’s favorite high- calorie indulgence. A busy Barnes & Noble bookstore anchored one end of the block, a gleaming Mercedes-Benz showroom the other. Bright spring fashions already filled the display windows next to the hand-laid brick sidewalks.
Rachel ran Lululemon with a strong hand. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, an outgoing woman with an instinct for retail, she was a no-nonsense manager, a stickler for cleanliness and order.
That morning, Rachel couldn’t believe it when she found the store’s front door unlocked. She swore to herself, upset that Jayna, who was in charge of closing up the night before, must have forgotten to lock up. Even though Jayna was one of her best friends—Jayna sometimes stayed over at her apartment—Rachel didn’t like this kind of carelessness.
Right away, Rachel knew that something was off. A table had been moved, mannequins had fallen over, a flat screen TV had crashed to the floor, and there—right there!—garments were scattered all around. Walking around the table, Rachel saw blood on the floor—bloody footprints. Rachel thought she heard a low moaning coming from the back. She froze, then hurried toward the door.
Rachel burst out onto the sidewalk. It was a cool but pleasant pre-spring morning, March 12, 2011. It promised to be a good sales day in Bethesda, and not only for Lululemon. Right next door, the shiny new Apple Store, bristling with the high-tech toys of our time, projected the slick salesmanship of Steve Jobs into the willing arms of Bethesdans with cash. Only the day before, Apple had released the new iPad 2 to runaway sales. This morning the true believers were already gathering for the store’s 10 a.m. opening.
Sitting before Rachel as she rushed from Lululemon was a young man on a bench, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette, waiting to score his new iPad 2.
“Is everything okay?” asked Ryan Haugh. “Do you want me to go in with you and take a look?” Her voice quavering, Rachel said yes. Rachel stopped halfway into the shop. Scared and breathing hard, she let Ryan go ahead.
He saw bloody sneaker prints running helter-skelter, mostly toward the back. He worked his way past the clothing racks with their $108 yoga pants, $58 sports bras and $68 T-shirts. He passed the changing rooms and bathrooms, walking right past the flat-screen TV.
“Anybody here?” he yelled. No answer. Ryan saw a half-open door with a large chalkboard. It read: “May each of us equally enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.” Pushing on another door, he found that it was blocked—by a human being. Or rather, a human body.
The body lay in wide smears of blood. Assuming the body was that of a man, Ryan reached down and pushed on it. No reaction. Ryan turned to leave the store in a hurry. As he passed the bathrooms, he saw someone else lying on the floor: a woman.
She was surrounded by debris and blood spatter, and had been cut with something sharp. There were lacerations on her hands, arms, upper chest and an especially big one on her forehead, a wide gash that had dripped in a rivulet across her face. She was also bound hand and foot with plastic zip ties, her arms awkwardly positioned on the floor above her head. Her eyes were closed but her chest was moving; she was alive. Ryan flinched when he noticed that her black yoga pants had been ripped open at the crotch.
Rushing outside, Ryan told Rachel that a man lay dead in the store but that someone inside was still alive. “She’s been sexually assaulted,” he said. Rachel called 911: “I’m a little crazy right now….I am so scared that one of my girls is hurt. Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” It was worse than she thought.
Within minutes, Montgomery County Police Officer Christin Knuth roared up in her patrol car. Telling Rachel and Ryan to stay outside, Knuth drew her Glock .40mm handgun and entered Lululemon. She hugged the right side of the shop near the clothing racks, her pistol in firing position. “Anyone here?” she shouted. “Show yourself!” Knuth assumed that “there’s likely someone in this store who is going to jump out and either try to hurt me or try to kill me.”
The officer saw the bound woman lying in the bathroom as she moved deeper into the store. She forced open the door to the rear hallway, stepping into the shocking scene: dried blood everywhere, walls blood-spattered up to six feet high, a red smudge on the rear exit door. Before Knuth, facing toward a wall, lay the body. Knuth saw that it was not a man’s body but a woman’s.
The victim lay face down in a crimson swamp, her blond hair a mass of reddened tangles. A tool box had fallen across her shoulder and neck, its contents spilling out. The black-and-yellow soles of her running shoes faced up, but the toes pointed down. She could almost have been taking a nap. Officer Knuth saw that the woman’s pants and underwear had been neatly slit between her legs, exposing her buttocks. She leaned over to touch the woman’s neck, feeling for life. “I felt nothing. There was no pulse. She was cold. She was stiff.”
Outside, Rachel was sitting in a police cruiser, barely controlling her emotions, telling an officer what she knew. Life suddenly felt upside down. She wondered what could have gone wrong.
And: “Who is dead?”
End Chapter One