A Quiet Cul-de-Sac
Sultana Rafay couldn't have been happier than at this moment. It was the early evening of July 12, 1994, and Sultana had just gently laid out her Muslim prayer rug in the family room of her new home in Bellevue, Washington, an affluent suburb right outside Seattle. She had so many gifts for which to thank God: Her husband, Tariq, a gifted structural engineer and bridge builder, had recently started a new, $59,000-a-year job as a project manager with Alpha Engineering. Her nineteen-year-old son, Atif, a brilliant student and in many ways her best friend, had just finished his freshman year at Cornell University and was home for the summer. She loved spending time with Atif, discussing classic literature and philosophy. She wished that Atif would join her in prayer, but understood that, for now, her son didn't share the family's love of Islam. In fact, Atif had told his parents that he didn't believe in Islam. The three had held spirited discussions at times about religion, but Sultana thought Atif was just going through a phase. With time, she believed, that would change. Sultana and Tariq were devout Sunni Muslims and had long been active in religious and cultural events.
Also at home was the Rafays' twenty-year-old daughter, Basma, who since birth had needed special attention. Sultana was happy that Basma seemed to be adjusting well to her new neighborhood.
The Rafays' new home was in the Somerset section of Bellevue, a postcard-perfect community of contemporary houses built among tall Douglas fir and western red cedar trees that, on this cloudless summer evening, cut jagged silhouettes against the deepening blue sky. The Rafay home sat at the top of a cul-de-sac, with large living room windows that looked out at the houses below. Sultana felt as if she was on top of the world.
Even though it was after 9 P.M., the soft summer daylight was only slowly yielding to darkness. Nearly everyone in this peaceful, hilly neighborhood had settled in for the night. It was so quiet; neighbors said you could hear the slightest sound, from a door closing inside a home to someone walking across a driveway.
Sultana was a devoted mother. Her smooth face was dominated by her big brown eyes and radiant smile. She looked younger than her fifty-six years. Sultana had met her husband while earning a master's degree in nutrition at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. They had quickly fallen in love. Tariq had written poetry for her, a loving tradition he continued throughout their marriage. Once her children were born, Sultana had decided to become a stay-at-home mom. She prided herself on her dedication to her children and on running a well-organized household. It bothered her that there were still moving boxes around her that had not yet been unpacked. Scattered on the window ledge in front of her were half a dozen books and some business files. Perhaps tomorrow she would finish tidying up the family room.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, Tariq had put on his long-sleeved blue pajamas and turned in for the night. He was in his usual sleeping position -- lying flat on his back in their queen-sized bed. With his head comfortably positioned between two pillows, Tariq was sound asleep. It was a warm evening, so he had left the covers at the foot of the bed. Like Sultana, Tariq was fifty-six. He was a slender man of medium height whose face bore the constant serious look of scientific intensity. He had a large, bulblike nose and dark eyes that were underlined with brownish folds, the permanent markings left from a childhood of poverty in his native Pakistan and years of hard work in Canada and the United States. Tariq was known as a solemn man, but at home he had a dry sense of humor. Where others might not get the joke, Sultana would often break an awkward moment with a giggle. She was her husband's best audience. But on the night of July 12, 1994, Tariq wasn't in a mood for jokes. After a week of long workdays that often stretched into the evenings, Tariq was using his Saturday night to catch up on his rest.
Down the hall, Basma was in her room, getting ready for bed. She had laid out the clothes she planned to wear the next day on the clean carpet between her bed and closet. Atif wasn't home. He had left the house earlier in the evening with his best friend from high school, Sebastian Burns, who was also on summer vacation, from Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Both boys had graduated from West Vancouver High School in June of 1993. Sebastian had been staying at the Rafays' for several days, visiting Atif. The boys left the house around 8:30 P.M., planning to eat, take in a showing of The Lion King at a local cineplex, and then go hang out in downtown Seattle.
Back in the Rafay family room, Sultana, dressed in a traditional Pakistani abaya and flip-flop sandals, finished smoothing out the wrinkles of her prayer rug. She took off her reading glasses and placed them on the carpet, just above her right shoulder. Sultana paused for a moment, taking several deep breaths to focus her concentration. She then slowly kneeled down and began to pray.
As she softly mouthed her words of thanks to God, Sultana never knew who suddenly ended her life with a crushing blow to the back of her head with an aluminum baseball bat. She rolled to one side, with blood from her fractured skull flowing onto her prayer rug and the family room carpet. The killer then made sure. He smashed her skull in exactly the same spot again.
Whoever delivered these merciless strikes stood by Sultana's lifeless body and had an unexpected moment of compassion or shame. The murderer placed a silk scarf across Sultana's bloody face and head.
The killer quickly moved on to the next target. He seemed to know exactly where to go. Blood drops left a red trail from Sultana's body to the stairs. He made his way upstairs, then down the lighted hallway to the master bedroom. He crept in undetected. Tariq was still asleep in his cotton summer pajamas, still faceup on the left side of the bed, with his right arm lying gently across his chest. His left hand was touching Sultana's pillow. Taking aim, the killer raised his bloody bat high and delivered a perfect deathblow to Tariq's forehead. Forensic experts later determined that this first strike must have killed Tariq, because they believe he never moved. There were no defensive wounds on his arms or hands.
But whoever did this wasn't satisfied with his efficient kill. He raised the bat again and again, pulverizing Tariq's head. Blood spatter and brain matter flew in all directions and would later be found on every wall of the room, and even the ceiling. It was as though a balloon full of blood had exploded.
After his murderous frenzy with Tariq, the killer stepped back into the hallway. Small drops of blood showed that he now quickly made his way down the hall toward the last surviving member of the Rafay family, Basma. The killer must have been running -- the blood drops had a forward smear, a pattern that resembled paint being thrown from an artist's brush. Basma was awake. God only knows what she had heard and what it must have been like to wait behind her bedroom door for the monster to enter.
Breathing heavily, frozen with fear, she must have watched the doorknob turn.