The 911 operator took a call from a much panicked woman at 11.28 p.m. on a cold Monday night.
“Help! Please, I need help,” the lady gasped.
“What is the nature of your emergency, Ma’m?”
“My daughter, my… baby…Astor…has gone missing…” the woman stammered.
“Your daughter is missing, did you say?”
“Her name is Astor, did you say?”
“Can you please state your name and address, ma’m?”
“Huh? Of course…Rhonda Marshall, 203, Lincoln Street.”
“Ma’m, the police shall be at your residence soon”
“Thank you…thank you!” the woman gasped, and hung up.
The 911 operator immediately contacted the Boston PD.
11.44 p.m. The Marshall residence
Boston PD Detective Ansen Cole (Homicide) was standing in the living room of 203, Lincoln Street.
“Mrs. Marshall…please calm down,” Cole said, unsuccessfully trying to calm down the panicked Rhonda Marshall, who had been crying inconsolably since the police had responded to her distress call.
“I’m…I’m…sorry. I…I must…must get a hold on myself” stammered Rhonda, dabbing at her face with a huge silk handkerchief.
“Good, Mrs. Marshall. Now, I must ask you some very important questions about Astor, okay. The sooner you help me get the answers, the sooner I can find Astor, okay,” Cole said in his smoothest voice.
This statement seemed to have worked on Mrs. Marshall like a charm. She immediately stopped crying, sat up straighter on the sofa and even managed a weak smile.
“Go on…ask your questions, Detective.” she said, this time not stammering at all.
“Okay. When did you last see Astor?” Cole asked, holding a pen and small notepad in his hand, ready to take notes.
“9 p.m. last night, when I put her to bed.”
“That was the daily routine for her?”
“Yes. You see, Detective, Astor was only seven. When you inculcate good habits in children from childhood, do they grow up to be responsible adults.” replied Rhonda Marshall, smiling again.
“Yes, yes. Very true. When and how did you find out she was missing?”
Rhonda’s smile faded and her face became grim again.
“I usually go to bed myself by 10 o’clock; but I was up late tonight, preparing a plan for an upcoming function at the local Community Center. I’m the organizer and convener of the Center’s activities. I got up at around 11.15 to get a drink from the kitchen. So I thought to just check on Astor before resuming my work. I went into her bedroom, and…and found her bed empty!” she looked about to start crying again.
“Alright…alright,” Cole spoke hastily to prevent that eventuality, adding, “What did you do then?”
“I proceeded to look for Astor, first, of course, in the upstairs rooms. Bathroom, other bedrooms, study…she wasn’t there. Then I proceeded to the rooms downstairs, and then the front and back yards. I couldn’t find her anywhere”
“Then you called 911?”
“Okay. How many of you are there, in this house?”
“There are three of us. Astor, me and my husband Graham. He’s in the merchant navy…he’s abroad, in England on a trip. I’ve called him, of course, and he’s on his way back here. He stays away from home for more than ten months of the year,” Rhonda replied.
Cole was scribbling away furiously in his notepad.
“Do you suspect anyone of having taken Astor? Any enemies, perhaps? Seeking vengeance?” he asked.
“No…no. Ours is a nice community…I wouldn’t suspect these people for a moment. No…I do not know about any enemies who would wanna take away Astor for settling personal scores,” Rhonda replied.
“What was Astor wearing?”
“Light pink pajamas. With Daffy Duck printed all over them. Her favorite” Rhonda replied, sadly.
“Alright. Any unusual details you may have observed, Mrs. Marshall, when you went into Astor’s room?”Cole asked.
“Of course not, Detective. I was shocked senseless when I saw Astor was not in her bed. My mind was preoccupied and not looking for things out of the ordinary,” Rhonda replied, indignantly.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Marshall. I was just asking so that I could get something to go on with. Even the smallest details can help crack a crime like this,” Cole apologized immediately.
“That’s quite alright, Detective” Rhonda replied, satisfied with his explanation.“I’ll need a recent photo of Astor, of course” said Cole.
Within minutes, he was holding a Polaroid photograph of Astor Marshall in his hand. Astor Marshall was a cute, chubby seven year old girl. Her eyes were blue, like her mother’s and her auburn hair cascaded down to her shoulders in curls. In Cole’s opinion, she was a beautiful child.